art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Guest Blogger Pat O’Day Sleeps Over at Ballhaus Ost’s Hotel Berlin

Museum overnights have become well-established, but I had never heard of a sleepover at a theatre venue before. So I was curious when I read about theatre Ballhaus Ost’s temporary project Hotel Berlin.

Ballhaus Ost, Berlin

It was not booked out, so I just turned up and chose between three categories; mattresses on the floor in a dorm sold for 13€, while bunk beds and private rooms came for just a few extra euros. Most of the rooms, however, did not come with doors.

I got my hand-stamped at the door, night-club style, and then tried to find my bed among the 75 scattered all over the listed ramshackle six-storey building. Less than half of the almost forty guests finally decided on staying overnight, so everybody could pretty much have their pick regardless of which category they had booked. If you felt like it, you could sleep on stage or next to the bar.

Artistic director Tina Pfurr welcomed the guests. She introduced the people actually living at Ballhaus Ost: designer and performer Lisa, Brazilian architect turned mixed media artist Fernanda, and octogenarian former circus acrobat Herr Diano, who can no longer afford the rent in Prenzlauer Berg.

The members conducted entertaining tours of the building, full of anecdotes about the theatre company’s ten year history, the history of the building and adjoining enclosed park – a cemetery that is now also used for wedding receptions. Recently, the space has seen conflicts over apparently incompatible uses. For example, when a co-working space was separated from experimental theatre rehearsals by only a plywood panel.

At first, the founders of the theatre company had rented only the theatre hall, but then they made a hole in the wall to take over the empty spaces as offices and living quarters on the sly. Some rooms are filled to the brink with props, trash, or kitschy memorabilia. There are surprises all over the place, like a game room with a miniature bubble bath in the basement.

The diverse art work is even more interesting. Fernanda presented a bedsit installation where every item apart from a suitcase was covered in white paint. She said she wanted to demonstrate what it feels like to keep moving from one furnished flat to the next where nothing really belongs to you and you have no personal connection to the objects you chance upon. She also reflected that she was a victim as well as a perpetrator of gentrification.

In between tours, there were staged live links between Tina and the company’s off ground rehearsal, which quickly descended into chaos.

At midnight, we gathered at a long table where an architect explained how the partially dilapidated building structure could be preserved and generate more income for the company. Ideas included adding a new floor on top of the building, tree house offices and camping in the park, and a regular hotel service. Afterwards there was a vegetarian or vegan pasta dinner (for a small donation) that Lisa and her crew had prepared.

Shortly afterwards, I retired to my bed. Time passed quickly. The atmosphere made it easy to start conversations with other visitors, artists, and performers. The night felt like a weird mix of sleepover, museum tour, school trip, gallery walk, TED talk, late night dinner, and of course unconventional theatre.There was also a complimentary breakfast. The night porter even got up before 5 am to serve it to one guest who needed to leave early. All of that for a very competitive price that probably no nearby hostel can beat.

Hotel Berlin was on at Ballhaus Ost from 7 – 18 September 2016.

Berlin, food, Life in Berlin, restaurants and bars

Celebrating the Burger’s 60th Birthday

If you find yourself walking down Prenzlauer Allee and see a massive burger where the planetarium should be  – don’t panic. You aren’t suffering from one too many beers or hallucinatory hunger cravings.

Berlin Planetarium made to look like a burgerLieferheld, Germany’s online food delivery service, has covered 800 square metres of the planetarium’s dome with 1082 mosaic panels to make it look like a giant 3D burger. It’s an unusual sight, possible only because the planetarium is currently closed for renovations until Spring 2016.

As readers of this blog will know, the Bavarian and I are big burger fans. It’s one of the few things we agree on. Like us, the burger is a curious Anglo-Deutsche combo. Most people associate hamburgers with the U.S – Lieferheld are using the opening of the first McDonald’s, in April 1955, as a marker for the burger’s 60th birthday – but the word hamburger does not come from the English word ‘ham’. In fact, in Germany, if you use ham in something you call a ‘hamburger’ or ‘beefburger’, you’re breaking food laws.

Instead, ‘hamburger’ comes from the city of Hamburg, and therefore has German roots that go back further than 60 years. The Hamburgers, however, do not seem to take much pride in their culinary heritage – last time I was there, I couldn’t find a good burger joint.

Berlin, on the other hand, is a great place for hamburgers (check out my Top Five Burger Joints in Prenzlauer Berg) and, according to Lieferheld, Berliners order more burgers per head than the people of Hamburg – or any other German city.

As part of the celebrations, Lieferheld is offering English Man in Berlin readers a 30€ voucher for their site. Of course, you don’t have to spend it on burgers – you can also order pizzas, sushi, Indian…Just leave a comment below, telling me which burger you think is most popular on Lieferheld: BBQ & Bacon, Chicken, Vegetarian, Cheeseburger, Hamburger? First person to guess correctly will be emailed a voucher code – good luck!

food, restaurants and bars

Neighbourhood Italian: Mami Camilla

The Bavarian and I have recently finished watching HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and have started watching Rome. We tend to get immersed in our dramas. While watching Boardwalk Empire, which is about boot-legging in 1920s prohibition era America, we got through one bottle of Laphroig and three bottles of Woodford Reserve. Rome, set in the 1st century BC during Ancient Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire, is more difficult. In lieu of being able to buy slaves, raise armies, or crucify people, we settled on going out for a nice Italian.

This may sound simpler than buying slaves, raising armies, or crucifying people, but finding a good Italian restaurant is no easy task – even in Italy. I once stayed with an Italian family in Montalto di Castro, about 2 hours from Rome, and when we visited the capital, we did not eat. According to them, the restaurants in Rome were for tourists; most of them were not run by proper Italians, and they did not use good tomatoes. It was not until that night, when we got to the pizzeria down the road from where they lived, that we finally got to eat.

So, the rules are clear; the restaurant should be local, run by Italians and use good produce. Mami Camilla in Bötzowviertel, Prenzlauer Berg, ticks all these boxes.

18

It’s a quiet place. Simply decorated, softly lit, with solid wooden tables and background music that does not try to compete with the sound of conversation or the clink of cutlery.

The food has a strong South Italian influence; the owner is from the Amalfi Coast and the chef is from Puglia. They get special produce delivered from Italy as well as adapting their dishes to suit the season (working with berries in the summer, pumpkin in the autumn).

10For starters (between €10-15) we had burrata, an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, with apples, and cardoncello mushrooms baked with pecorino cheese, for the mains (between €15-25) the Bavarian enjoyed swordfish with baked red pepper and squid tagliolini, while I experienced the best ravioli I’ve ever tasted (made with rosemary, lemon-zest and goats cheese, topped with berries).  For dessert (between €5-10) we shared a tiramisu. To accompany, we had a bottle of Negroamaro Primitivo from Puglia.

pizza at mami camilla'sThe fact that everything is freshly made to a high-quality is reflected in the price and the time it takes to make certain dishes. It’s worth it, but if you don’t feel like going all out, they also have a wide selection of excellent, regularly-priced pizzas – made Neapolitan style.

There’s something for everyone, so the clientele range from couples to groups of friends and families with children. It’s refreshing to find a place like this that has a relaxed atmosphere and friendly service.

The Bavarian’s verdict: “You can say what you like about the Italians, but they know what they’re doing when it comes to food.”

Mami Camilla, Hufelandstrasse 36, 10407 Berlin, is open from Monday to Saturday 17:00-23:00, and Sunday 12:00 – 23:00. For reservations, call 030 40981537 / 0176 24686552, email info@mamicamilla.de or contact them via their Facebook Page.

Berlin, food, Life in Berlin, restaurants and bars

Top Five Burger Joints in Prenzlauer Berg

Oh dear, I’ve been neglecting the blog. Apologies. My first children’s book is coming out in a couple of weeks and The Bavarian and I have been very busy. One of the things we’ve been doing is conducting some research. A survey in fact, of burger places in Prenzlauer Berg…

5. Stargarder Burger, Stargarder Straße 75, 10437 Berlin

Stargarder Burger Prenzlauer BergThe main reason this place made the list is the price. You can get a burger, chips and drink for €6 – bargainous!

There’s plenty of choice, including a couple of vegetarian options, but nothing mind-blowing.

The Bavarian says, “Average burger, average chips, average burger place.”

4. Kreuzburger, Pappelallee 19, 10437 Berlin

Kreuzberger Prenzlauer BergBerlin’s very own burger chain. The first one opened in 1996 in Kreuzberg and now there’s one in Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg too. They have a wide range of burgers and many are named after different areas of Berlin – Charlottenburger (with Haloumi), Oranienburger (with fried egg), Prenzelburger (with salami, jalapenos and cheese)…

There’s also a selection of vegetarian burgers and, if you feel like something different, burritos and hot dogs.

The Bavarian says, “Try the Bavarianburger!”

3. The Bird, Am Falkplatz 5, Prenzlauerberg 10435

The Bird Prenzlauer BergThis burger and steak joint has been popular since it opened in 2006. It’s run by New Yorkers and in true American style, the portions are hearty and the staff friendly. They make everything from scratch, with good quality products. It’s always packed, so if you’re planning to go, book ahead or be prepared to wait. When we went, there were no vegetarian options, so I ended up with a big plate of chips. The chips were good. According to my fellow researchers, the burgers were also good but overpriced. Overall, we felt the place was overrated.

The Bavarian says, “To save money, take a vegetarian or someone on a diet.”

2. Burgerie, Schönhauser Allee 50, 10437 Berlinburgerie prenzlauer berg

In Prenzlauer Berg fashion, the burgers in this place have been robbed of their greasiness and made wholesome with a dash of je ne sais pas . They are made on a lava stone grill (I have no idea what that is) with organic ingredients and all that lark. The thing is, the burgers still taste great. Highlights include the French Burgy (with Brie and Cranberries), the Whiskey Burger Pikante (with spicy Whiskey-Sauce and red onions) and, if you’re really hungry, the SuperBurgy de Chef (double beefburger with grilled chicken strips, bacon, cheddar cheese twice and a sauce of your choice). There are a variety of vegetarian and fish burgers and the prices are reasonable.

The Bavarian says, “The most politically correct burger I’ve eaten.”

1. marienBurger, Marienburger Straße 47, 10405 Berlin

marienBurger Prenzlauer BergIt’s steamy and small, but if you want a good, honest burger, this is the place to go. You can see your food being made, you’ll get yelled at when it’s ready, the portions are good and the prices low. Highlights include the Chilli-Cheese Burger, the marienBurger and the vegetarian grünkernburger.

The Bavarian says, “The original burger, no fuss.”

food, Life in Berlin

Supermarkets, Socialism and Chocolate Biscuits

McVities Dark Chocolate DigestivesIn England, you can stroll into a supermarket and pick up almost anything from star fruit to various Indian pickles, Quorn products, tortillas, short crust pastry and frozen, well, everything really.

Here, I’ve had trouble at various times locating; canned chick peas (which are currently stocked in the exotic foods section at the Kaiser’s in Schönhauser Allee Arcaden, and are sometimes available in supermarkets, sometimes not), passion fruit, Mexican food products that I can buy without ending up in the same financial predicament as Italy, Weetabix, mint sauce, maple syrup, frozen sweetcorn, sweet potatoes, decent tea like PG Tips…Things that I consider pretty basic, but are obviously not.

So now I consider recipes very carefully before deciding whether hunting down the ingredients like a cave person of the Ice Age is actually worth it. And, when guests from England come over, I request gifts of self-raising flour, salt and vinegar crisps and dark-chocolate covered Digestive biscuits.

When I was a child, we used to visit India with suitcases stuffed with Cadbury’s chocolates and cheddar cheese, but this stopped several years ago. “We get everything here,” they said.  And they did. Deutschland has not yet reached the same level.

The Bavarian loves it when visitors come bearing gifts. My cousin recently brought with her four packs of Chocolate Digestives. We finished them in one week. (That’s 1.6 Kgs, and around 8000 calories.) I say we, but mostly it was The Bavarian, who stuffed a whole one into his mouth at a time, as one would a Pringle. If anyone out there has attempted to stuff an entire Digestive into their mouth, you’ll know that it’s almost impossible. Even The Bavarian, who has a big mouth and a talent for stuffing as much as possible into it, was struggling. I watched him for a while, to see whether he would catch on to the fact that these things had to be nibbled, or dunked into tea and bitten, but after while I felt it was my duty to intervene.

Me: Why are you eating them like that? They’re not Pringles.

The Bavarian: Because they’re only safe from you once they’re in my mouth.

In our flat, it sometimes feels as if we’re living during wartime, when luxury goods are in short supply and people resort to hoarding or gorging whenever they get their hands on some. I like to think that The Bavarian’s paranoia is not caused by my voracious appetite, but by some kind of collective consciousness inherited from being born in a nation that has suffered two world wars; when his grandmother passed away, they found stacks of food stored not only in the kitchen but in wardrobes and under the bed.

Despite the fact that most supermarkets are useless, they seem to be opening up at the same rate as Bubble Tea joints in Prenzlauer Berg. Within a mile of where I live, there are no less than fifteen supermarkets. This year, Prenzlauer Berg saw the opening of Germany’s biggest Vegan supermarket (Veganz, Schivelbeiner Straße 34, 10439 Berlin) and Kochhaus (Schönhauser Allee 46 10437 Berlin) .

kochhaus berlinKochhaus’s products are organised around recipes. At each table you will find a suggested dish – carrot and ginger soup, spaghetti carbonara etc – along with all the ingredients you will need to make it, a little card to take home with the recipe on it, and any equipment you may need – so in the case of the soup, this would include serving bowls and a hand blender.

At first I was flummoxed as to why anyone would shop here…it’s über-expensive (on the board at each table, it tells you the cost per dish per person, which averages out to about 4 or 5 euros, for which you might as well save yourself the hassle and eat out in this city), and restrictive – you can only buy stuff that relates to the dozen or so recipes they suggest, everything is sold in small quantities measured out for two or four servings, and there is only one choice of product per table – so if you need salt, you’re going to have to pick the only bottle of salt on the table, which is pink and from the Himalayas and has been blessed by the Dalai Lama and is therefore more expensive than gold.

On the surface, this supermarket can be seen as a symptom of just how far Prenzlauer Berg has moved from its poor Socialist past, but essentially, being given just one choice of product per item harks back to the days of shopping during The Wall.

According to Barry Schwartz, who gave an interesting talk at TED about the paradox of choice, the official dogma of all western societies – that if we are interested in maximising the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximise  individual freedom, and the way to maximise freedom is to maximise choice – is paradoxical because people don’t actually like having too much choice. It produces a) paralysis – a study of voluntary investment plans showed that for every ten mutual funds the employer offered, the rate of participation went down two per cent – and b) if we overcome paralysis and make a choice, less satisfaction, because the more options there are the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option you chose.

This is all very well and good, and maybe the people of Prenzlauer Berg are happy with less choice, but it probably means that we won’t be seeing any Chocolate Digestives in the aisles any time soon 😦

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature

Not In Kansas: An Evening of Literature in English

This promises to be a good evening: Writers read out a diverse range of literature in English (did I mention I’m organising it?)

Come along!

Visit our Facebook Event Page

Life in Berlin, Literature

New poetry evening at St Gaudy Café

Thursday evening saw the first of a monthly poetry evening called Rage into the Night at St Gaudy Café, Prenzlauer Berg.

Unlike most poetry events in Berlin, this was not a Poetry Slam – which tend to be open mic competitions with a strong focus on performance – but an altogether more sombre affair featuring a line-up of four quite well-known poets.

First up was Will Carruthers, a poet-musician who is mostly known for playing bass in the bands Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized. Despite his Chesterfield roots, Carruthers is very much a Hackney type – from the way he wears his tilted hat along with a blazer and jeans combo to his gruff cockney voice. In keeping with the whole trendy East-London thing, he read his poems from an Apple laptop.

His first few poems – about the end of the world and different places he has slept in – were uninspiring. (His claim that there is a poetry in place names is true, but only to a certain extent). His poetry, almost prosaic in style, really came to life with a couple of poems based on his experience of meeting his father for the first time and then hearing of his death. He also read a doggerel with flair towards the end of his performance.

Odile Kennel, a published Franco-German poet, fiction writer and translator living in Berlin, followed Carruthers. Her mellifluous voice and calm, concentrated air contrasted with his performance. As these poems were in German and French, I don’t feel qualified to comment on them, except to say that she was hypnotising to listen to.

Next up was Catherine Hales, a British poet and translator living in Berlin since 1999 who has recently published her first full-length collection titled Hazard and Fall. Her poetry is dense and full of meaning, and, judging from the selection she read, she leans toward the non-linear and the sonnet form. She read some pieces from her new collection, which incorporated contemporary cultural references such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dexter. Because of its complexity, her work is probably better read (and re-read) rather than listened to once.

On the other hand Martin Jankowski, with his charming character and booming voice was made to perform. He is another Berlin-based poet and writer and although many of his works were banned by the Stasi, his work became popular in the days leading up to the fall of the wall. He read his poems in English and German, although I’m not sure they worked as well in English as they did in German. He ended the night on a high-note by performing one of his poems along with Carruthers, which sought to answer the question ‘What is it like to have Malaria?” (You had to be there…)

The next Rage into the Night is to be held on 3rd June, but keep an eye on the St Gaudy Café website for details.

Life in Berlin, News, politics

May Day, Schönhauser Allee

Preparations for the 1st May around the Schönhauser Allee area started a day early; shops boarded up their windows and a police presence in Mauer Park prevented anyone from carrying in glass bottles and weapons. The result was a festive atmosphere, a ratio of two policemen per civilian and a disconcerting absence of beer bottles.

Today, contrary to my expectations, the atmosphere was much the same. I had heard that Berlin turned into a regular war zone on May Day, and this year had the potential to turn violent since a Neo-Nazi march was due to make its way from Bornholmer Strasse, through Schönhauser Allee to Landsberger Allee. The aim of the anti-demo protesters was to stop the demonstration, which the police have the right to do if it turns violent.

As it turned out, the approximatley 600 Neo-Nazis barely managed to make it out of Bornholmer Strasse; they were due to start their march at 12, and, after fires were started and arrests made, got moving at about 2.30 only to be turned back at the corner of Bornholmer Strasse and Schönhauser Allee and sent back home.

Some 250 Neo-Nazis foresaw that their effort to demonstrate might prove futile, as happened in Dresden in February of this year, and started an unofficial and therefore illegal protest on the Kudamm. Bottles and stones were thrown, and they were promptly arrested.

However, around the Schönhauser Allee area, there was hardly any violence. Music played, while families with children, punks, anarchists (mostly identified by their Schwarzer Block style clothing) and hippies danced, sang, shouted slogans, sat in the road, drank and ate and had a party in the traffic-free streets. The atmosphere was so laid back that someone even dragged a sofa out on to the road to sit on.

The diverse crowd no doubt reflected the fact that almost everyone is against the Nazis, and the politicians took advantage of the fact. Wolfgang Thiere, Deputy President of the Deutsche Bundestag (The Bavarian accidentally stepped on his foot once) sat down at Bornholmer Strasse to stop the march, and on the corner of Greifenhagener Strasse, Christian Ströbele, the Green MP for Friedrichshain, gave a speech. Representatives from the SPD, DKP (communist), the Left Party and the unions (Verdi and DGB) were also waving their flags around.

There was a massive police presence; between six and seven thousand police from all over Germany have come to Berlin for the first of May.  Most of them seemed to come from Bavaria, which pleased The Bavarian greatly.

Police dogs barked while helicopters droned above (apparently, the police increase the sound of their helicopters in crowd situations to make their presence felt) – but there was no need for all that as everything remained peaceful apart from a few trouble makers.

Tonight, however, will probably be a very different story – in Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg it is almost certain that Molotov cocktails, stones and bottles will be lobbed, street fights will break out and cars set on fire.

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Sorry about the spelling mistake in the above video – can’t seem to replace the video on YouTube, so I’m just going to leave it!

Life in Berlin, politics

Summer in Berlin

Yesterday, it felt like summer for the first time in the city and the Berliners were out doing what they do best; lounging around in parks, cafes and restaurants. 

Mauer Park, Prenzlauer Berg
Mauer Park, Prenzlauer Berg

In Prenzlauer Berg the place to be was Mauer Park, where people were playing frisbee, basketball, bowls, walking on tightropes, juggling, barbecuing, singing, dancing, making music, listening to music, talking, sleeping, taking off their clothes and tanning, strolling around the flea market, eating and drinking beer….lots of beer. 

In the middle of the park, there was a mad version of karaoke going on, where anyone could step up from the crowd of about 500 people and entertain them with a song. I’ve just found out that this is a regular Mauer Park tradition – they even have a facebook page –  here’s a clip from last year…

Ah, I love Berlin in the summer. When it’s sunny in this city, the punks, families and bohemian types all come out to play and the city flaunts its laid back, cool vibe that is part of its charm. 

Next weekend however, Mauer Park will probably be very different, no matter how sultry the weather; on May 1st Neo-Nazis from all over Europe are gathering in Prenzlauer Berg to demonstrate, and where there are Nazis there are leftists and other protesters.

Although Mauer Park is traditionally a place where people gather on the 1st May, and has seen its fair share of riots, it has calmed down in recent years. In 2009 there was no rioting at all, just a party. This year however I expect Mauer Park will become a battle field, very different from the peace, love and beer atmosphere of yesterday.

history, Life in Berlin, politics

The Anarchists of Friedrichshain

They cannot be ignored any longer – the anarchists are demanding attention. 

Cars have been burning in Friedrichshain every night over the past few weeks due to police raids and the shutting down of ‘housing-projects’, buildings illegally occupied by anarchists and usually identified by graffiti or the black-and-red flags flying from their roofs or windows. In addition, on 3rd December anarchists attacked police stations, cars and government buildings in Berlin, coinciding with anarchist riots in Greece over the anniversary of the death of a 15 year old boy who was shot and killed by police one year ago. All this proved to be a bit too much for the Interior Senator of Berlin, Ehrhart Körting from the SPD, who further fuelled the fire on Wednesday by comparing the radical left to fascists. 

No doubt, as many an exasperated Berliner will tell you, especially around the 1st of May, when nothing short of a full blown war breaks out on the streets of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, these anarchists don’t really have any ideological purpose – just some vague sense that they are against everything in the world, a tendency toward violence and the knowledge that there is a scene for this kind of thing in Berlin. We’ve all seen the images of anarchists taking part in anti-capitalist riots whilst wearing Nike trainers, but there is also something unique about the anarchists of Berlin that is related to the city’s history. 

DDR Flats
DDR Flats

Most of the city’s artists, intellectuals and generally unruly types have traditionally lived in Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain because this is where all the old houses are. In the 1970s the totalitarian communist state calculated that it would be cheaper to build brand new blocks of flats fully equipped with modern amenities rather than to renovate the old houses – which resulted in these beautiful buildings you can see in the photo. 

Consequently, lots of people moved out of their old apartments into brand new homes, leaving many of these old buildings empty. The people who replaced them and deliberately chose  to squat in these old flats with only one toilet per floor and no central heating or hot water, did so because they refused to have every aspect of their lives controlled by the state. 

To this day, these houses have not been renovated and the people living there are still sharing toilets and so on. There’s something admirable in that, as is there in being alternative in a country where people will stand at a crossing and wait for the green man to flash before they step out into the road even when there isn’t a single car in sight. It is also quite an achievement that the anarchists of Berlin set fire to so many cars that there’s a special website that keeps count of just how many Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and Volkswagens, are lost to them everyday.

It’s a shame that these housing projects are being shut down in Friedrichshain- they make Berlin colourful and original.  Just as the DDR tried to dictate how people should live, the capitalist ideology is forcing itself on these buildings which will all eventually be renovated and occupied by richer, more agreeable types.  In Prenzlauer Berg this gentrification has already happened – the Bavarian and I are part of the new, trendy crowd that are replacing the alternative lot. The result? Prenzlauer Berg is boring. Most of the houses have been renovated and look the same – a classier and subtler homogenisation than the DDR blocks – but a homogenisation none the less. 

I think I might have to go and set a car on fire….

The Spiegal has a good Berlin squat eviction gallery, as does the Taggespiegal.