On the anniversary of German reunification, Martin Robinson shows you where to drink away the past in Berlin
The Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago this week. It was completed on 13 August 1961, and was initially constructed by the Soviets to surround the British and US-controlled West Berlin, dividing it from the rest of East Germany, and the Eastern side of Berlin. Despite years of border shootings, Cold War tension and the basic absurdity of a city split in two, it wasn’t until 9 November 1989 that the politburo made a small announcement that regulations for border crossings were being dropped.
First a brave few citizens on both sides discovered that the slightly baffled border guards weren’t going to shoot at them, and then came the crowds, the hammers and drills – and David Hasselhoff – and the wall came tumbling down.
Berlin’s reputation, way before the Nazis came, was always that of a wild, debauched city. And even while the wall was up, West Berlin was a site of defiant hedonism, gleeful decadence and protest art, the famous home of David Bowie in the late Seventies.
Today Berlin is a symbol of unification, yet the shadow of the wall is still there. In fact, much of the edge that the city retains – and inspiration it delivers – is in the way historical buildings have been defiantly transformed into amazing social establishments. Wherever you go, you see the young bar, club and art scenes resurrecting old buildings (although they’re now increasingly battling the big corporate money buying up real estate), particularly in the formerly completely walled-in eastern district now known as Mitte. Each place you visit feels like a symbol of freedom, which adds to the sense of excitement. With anniversary celebrations beginning in Berlin, here, we give you a starter guide to just a few of the reclaimed party palaces; but with the fastest moving bar scene in the world your best bet is to just hit the streets yourself.
This imposing Bauhaus building was the HQ of the communist regime. The spy file of the GDR’s (German Democratic Republic) Ministry Of State Security, known as the Stasi, was stored here, making this place essentially the real life Ministry Of Truth from George Orwell’s 1984. It now merges punk and Thirties glamour with a Damien Hirst shark hanging in the entrance. It’s a private member’s club of course, unless you book a room, which you should, because you’ll find the club upstairs buzzing and very reasonably priced, meaning you’ll be there insanely late. The Stasi would not have approved, which is well worth another round.
Try: the excellent espresso martinis. Quite a chatty drink, it turns out.
Jewish Girls’ School
This survived the Nazis and the Stasi, and is now the ‘House Of Art And Dining Culture’. It has galleries, a museum and some brilliant restaurants. The Pauly Bar is the only time you’ll ever drink in a school gym (hopefully).
Try: a local German wine for a change. Or at least an Austrian one.
Le Croco Bleu
Housed in the machine room of the old Botzow Brewery Building, it is named after a story about two crocodiles who escaped from Berlin Zoo and were kept in the basement. You feel like you’re drinking in the factory at the end of The Terminator.
Try: The Acu Acu cocktail – made with rum and absinthe.
Hotel de Rome – rooftop terrace
The hotel is too posh to stay in, but was once the Dresdner Bank HQ. The swimming pool in the basement used to be the jewel vault, but content yourself with drinking on the rooftop terrace and figuring out where the Wall’s gun towers must have stood.
Try: the Berlin Mule. In fact, try a few.
The TV Tower was built in the late Sixties as a massive ‘f*ck you’ gesture to the West by the GDR, and remains the tallest structure in Germany. Now it’s an impressive landmark (it was supposed to look like Sputnik 1), with a restaurant at the top – don’t eat there, just have a drink in the bar until the view goes a little blurry.
Try: having patience with the queue to get in. It moves surprisingly fast.
Made from décor scavenged from the Palace Of The Republic, the parliament of the GDR – yep, the repressive Reds liked their offices plush. Now it’s been ‘liberated’ to become Liberate, where you can toast the past with a million cocktails. It’s chic but never forbidding, as with the best of Berlin bars.
Try: booking a table.
(Images: Rex/PA/Soho House Berlin/Pauly Saal/Le Croco Bleu/Hotel de Rome Berlin/TV Tower/The Liberate)