Two hidden Italians

Two hidden Italians

I have always thought that Berlin’s free spirit has something Southern European about it. Maybe it’s because of the huge number of immigrants who have come to Berlin from around the Mediterranean and the general feeling of live and let live. Berliners also love to hang out in cafés and there is a long tradition of wonderful Italian restaurants. I have listed quite a number in the ‘Café Society’ chapter of ‘Berlin Unwrapped’, but here are two more discoveries, slightly off the beaten track. They both have that cosy, family-run atmosphere which lifts the soul in the depths of a Berlin winter. Germans call this vibe ‘Gemütlichkeit’ and Berliners can find it in their favourite local Italian restaurant, where they often pop in for an authentic bowl of pasta and sit chatting over a glass or two of Chianti.

Delizie d’Italia is on the eastern edge of the city centre in Kollwitzstrasse, one of those cobbled, tree-lined avenues with unassuming flair in Prenzlauer Berg. As soon as you walk in the door, the ochre-painted walls and red-checked tablecloths transport you to Italy. Originally, Delizie D’Italia was simply a delicatessen. But customers wanted to sample what they intended to buy and by popular demand it evolved into a fully-fledged Italian restaurant.

Preparing for guests at lunchtime

The menu at Delizie d’Italia features fresh pasta, meat and fish creations from the Italian region of Campagna – no pizza here. Locals love this place and in the evenings the candle-lit tables are often fully booked. In summer, the restaurant spills out on to the wide pavement outside, under the spreading maple trees. Service is friendly and efficient, without a trace of attitude found in more hip establishments. Delizie d’Italia offers a catering service as well, where you can order meals to serve at home or in the office. The restaurant is open from noon until midnight, Mondays to Saturdays. It is a15-minute walk from Senefelderplatz U-Bahn station or just three minutes from the M2 tram stop at Prenzlauer Allee/Danziger Str.

The Delizie d’Italia supports Naples

On the western side of the city in Charlottenburg, on the corner of Richard-Wagner-Strasse and Zillestrasse, is another Italian gem, Papageno. Named after the comical bird-catcher in Mozart’s Opera ‘The Magic Flute’, Papageno is only a stone’s throw from the Deutsche Oper. So it’s no surprise to find that opera and ballet goers love to eat here either before or after a performance. The nearest U-Bahn station is either Deutsche Oper or Richard-Wagner-Platz.

Papageno’s ‘Gemütlichkeit’

Papageno’s opening hours are 5pm until midnight, Tuesday to Sunday. The food is divine; cooked by a chef who often appears in the restaurant to flambé one of his creations, or to check that the guests are happy. I recommend trying the Antipasto Papageno, a “surprise appetizer for two people”, followed by the pasta dish of the day, which is always something with seasonal ingredients. You can look at their menu online and will see that the prices are very reasonable. The wine list is good too.

Post-opera conversation

I love the atmosphere at Papageno. It’s definitely ‘gemütlich’ and authentic Italian, with a warm welcome from the staff. Apart from the essential red-checked tablecloths, the walls are covered with beautiful framed photographs, a variety of chandeliers hang from the ceilings and there are some fabulous antique wooden cupboards and mirrors. Best of all, there is a grand piano in the front room of the restaurant with an impressive candelabra bearing witness to magical evenings of musical entertainment. Check out the events on Papageno’s Facebook page.

 

Book ahead for Boros

Book ahead for Boros

In a city where so many buildings were devastated in war or destroyed in its aftermath, it is incredible to find in its very heart an edifice that has not only survived intact, but which has become the perfect fusion of history and modern art. This massive, ugly, 18-metre tall concrete construction is the ‘Boros Bunker’, once a huge air-raid shelter, now transformed into a unique art gallery. It stands like an indomitable fortress on the corner of Reinhardtsrasse and Albrechtstrasse, very close to Friedrichstrasse Station and was originally built in 1942 to protect thousands of railway workers and travellers to Berlin from the allied bombing. The city authorities have never attempted to demolish it, for fear of damaging the nearby Deutsches Theater.

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The Boros Bunker

When the war ended, the Soviets used the bunker briefly as a prison and then in GDR times it became a cold store for imported fruit and vegetables, earning it the nickname, ‘Banana Bunker’. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the labyrinth of rooms hosted techno dance parties and fetish raves. There are still visible traces of these former uses of the bunker; the bullet-studded façade has small rampart-like windows, faded neon graffiti decorate some of the interior walls and the two-way stone staircase, pipes and vents have been preserved. At the entrance, the original heavy steel door is held open with an ancient leather strap.

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Detail of the scarred exterior

Advertising guru and contemporary art collector Christian Boros bought the monstrous bunker in 2003 and over a period of five years, a team of architects converted it into a 3,000-square metre exhibition space and added a stunning open-plan penthouse flat, complete with roof gardens and a pool, which has become the Boros family’s Berlin home.

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Christian and Karen Boros and their penthouse home

Inside the bunker, floors and walls were cored out to create more height and airy galleries, enabling visitors to view the works of art from various vantage points. But the original oppressive and labyrinthine design by the Nazi architect, Karl Bonatz, has been retained. There is still a palpable sense of total exclusion from the outside world and of a refuge not only sought by the beleaguered citizens of Hitler’s Berlin, but also by hard-core partygoers in the reunified German capital.

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The original ‘double’ stone staircase

Since opening the Sammlung Boros (‘Boros Collection’) in 2008, Christian Boros and his wife Karen have hosted two long-term exhibitions, comprising of selections from the family’s collection of 700 artworks. Boros #2 opened in 2012, featuring a total 130 exhibits. This second collection shows works from the early 1990s alongside more recent acquisitions. The installation of the artworks is as unusual as their surroundings and artists are invited to install their works themselves, in order ‘to create connections between the work, the artist and the space’. Artworks include sculptures, paintings, multimedia exhibits, drawings, photographs and sound pieces, each installed in varying rooms around the bunker. The Boros collection contains works by contemporary artists such as Damian Hirst, Olafur Eliasson, Elizabeth Peyton, Wolfgang Tillmans, Anselm Reyle, Manfred Pernice, Tobias Rehberger, John Bock, Wilhelm Sasnal, Michel Majerus and Ai Wei Wei. No photography is permitted, but the pictures below (taken from the internet) are examples of thought-provoking installations featured in the current exhibition.

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There are no information labels or brochures available in the Boros Bunker; the only printed material is a first-class catalogue of works on sale, which is a veritable collectors’ item. To visit this gallery, you have to book a guided tour in either German or English and learn about the history of the building and its contents from a knowledgeable guide. I have experienced both the first and the second Boros collections and was very impressed on each occasion by the young art historian who led our group. In just 90 minutes they managed to pack in a wealth of fascinating background details on the bunker itself and its owner, and shed welcome light on the significance of the artworks on display and the intentions of its creator.

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Explaining the context

If you are in Berlin over the next couple of weekends of January 2017, you still have a chance to see the second Boris Collection before it is dismantled, although there are no guided tours available. Then the building will close until April, while the third Boros Collection is being assembled and installed. Booking opens online in March. Check out the Boris Collection website for full details and make sure you reserve your visit well in advance

A Tip-top Night Out

A Tip-top Night Out

For the final blog of 2016 here is something joyful – a recommendation for a tip-top night out to a Berlin comic operetta; something to lift the spirit and warm the soul. It is dedicated to those people who were tragically involved in the terrible Christmas market massacre of 19th December. I had been standing on that very spot only a week before, buying Christmas Lebkuchen hearts, and while the dreadful event was unfolding I was posting my last blog about four magical markets. It is a very sombre scene now on Breitscheidplatz, where a mass of candles and flowers marks the scene of the murders.

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Flowers and Candles on Breitscheidplatz

But Berlin is the ultimate city of resolute survival. Tonight, there will be more fireworks than ever at the Brandenburg Gate and the show will go on at every venue imaginable. For a night out that conjures up the cabaret atmosphere of pre-war Berlin, I can recommend the Tipi am Kanzleramt, a marquee theatre hidden away in the Tiergarten, only a stone’s throw from Angela Merkel’s office and the Reichstag. The Tipi is a permanent venue for variety acts, cabaret, musicals and chansons, but has the nostalgic feel of a Spiegeltent, where travelling artistes bring music, magic and a touch of decadence to the general public.

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The Tipi am Kanzleramt

Until the end of January, Berliners are flocking to see ‘Frau Luna’ (Mrs Moon), a ‘burlesque and fantastic operetta’, composed by Paul Lincke, and first performed in 1899. Lincke had previously worked at the Folies Bergères in Paris and in 1908, he became principal conductor and composer for the Metropol Theater, whose spectacular revues were the capital’s biggest attraction. He is considered to be the father of operetta in Berlin, and has the same significance for the German capital as Johann Strauss for Vienna and Jacques Offenbach for Paris. On his 75th birthday, Lincke was made an honorary citizen of Berlin. Now this new production marks the 150th anniversary of his birth.

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The original cast of Frau Luna in 1899

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German postage stamp commemorating Paul Lincke

Frau Luna has a crazy storyline, which involves a group of ordinary Berliners going to the moon on a home-made craft. It’s full of mad scenes and characters, but the main theme of escapism and chasing dreams comes clearly through. There are plenty of foot-tapping and hand-clapping songs, especially ‘Das ist die Berliner Luft’, (‘That’s the Berlin air’) which is Lincke’s most famous composition and has become the well-loved anthem of Berlin. (Follow this link to see the Berlin Philharmonic perform it as a march). Frau Luna is not considered suitable for non-German speakers because of the German dialogue and jokes, but the music has instant appeal and there are slick dance routines. My English-speaking friend loved the glamour of the whole spectacle, staged in festive silver, black and white. You can get a flavour of the show from this trailer on You Tube.

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The 2016 production of Frau Luna

Not all the entertainment happens on stage in the Tipi am Kanzleramt. Members of the audience sit at tables and can order (or pre-order) food and drink. The menu features Berlin specialities as well as beers, wines and Sekt from Germany and Austria and prices are quite reasonable. People-watching becomes part of the fun and the traditionally-dressed waiters provide impeccable service, under considerable pressure.

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The audience arriving in the Tipi

The Tipi programme also includes plenty of shows and acts in English. In summer 2017, it features ‘Cabaret – the Musical’ once again and the Kit Kat Club will be recreated in the Tipi tent theatre. Tickets can be bought online and need to be booked early, especially for the best seats. Follow this link for the Tipi website.

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‘Cabaret‘ in the Tipi, 2016

City Centre Magic Christmas

City Centre Magic Christmas

Last December I wrote about two fairy-tale Christmas markets on the outer edges of West Berlin. For this year, here are four city centre markets with great atmosphere and historic charm. The setting is a key factor and even without the merest sprinkling of snow, these markets have backdrops that make them special. They are most magical after dusk, when the stalls and trees are strung with lights. Look out for the traditional ‘Herrenhuter Sterne’ (Moravian stars) which originated in 1830; they hang outside stalls and shops all over Germany and have a unique glow.

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Traditional Herrenhuter Stern

The market in the grand courtyard of Schloβ Charlottenburg has a tempting variety of food stalls on offer, many of them in festive-shaped constructions. Try the venison goulasch, the suckling pig or the fried green cabbage, as well as any kind of sausage imaginable. Mulled wine comes in different flavours with extra shots and the mug only costs an extra two euros as a souvenir.

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Magical skyline at Charlottenburg

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Every kind of ‘Wurst’

The Charlottenburg market has plenty of Christmas decoration and craft stalls too. Here the traditional wooden ‘Weihnachtspyramide’ and carved figures are better value than in the shops, but make sure they originate from the ‘Erzgebirge’ (Ore mountains) if you want the genuine article. The huge wooden nativity scene and the musicians playing Christmas carols add to the nostalgic feel, but there’s an element of the modern fairground in the mix.

 

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Carols and the ‘candy train’

Another popular market laid out in front of beautiful historic buildings is the ‘Weihnachtszauber’ market on Gendarmenmarkt, where the Konzerthaus, flanked by the impressive twin French and German churches, provides a dream setting. There’s a charge of one euro to enter this market, although it doesn’t seem to keep the numbers down. Last Friday evening it was extremely full and we had to fight our way through the crowds. In the middle of the market is a stage for the live entertainment and many of the stalls are crammed into large tents. It’s all very jolly, especially in the food tents with their Bierfest atmosphere and cheerful service. The Gendarmenmarkt market runs until New Year’s Eve.

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In front of the Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt

If you are looking for something more low-key and smaller-scale, take a stroll along Sophienstrasse, just a couple of minutes from the Hackescher Markt. This an ‘Ökomarkt’, where all the goods have ecological or organic pedigree and are generally hand-crafted. Sophienstrasse is lined with beautifully-restored buildings, including the oldest baroque church in Berlin, Sophienkirche. The shops have traditional medieval metal signs hanging outside and the old-fashioned street lamps and metal railings of the church cemetery contribute to a Dickensian atmosphere. This market is only open on Advent weekends until 7pm. No Easyjet revellers here.

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The Advent scene on Sophienstrasse

You can also escape the tourists at the ‘Lucia market’ in Prenzlauer Berg, named after the Nordic goddess of light. Set up in the ‘Kulturbrauerei’, a former brewery complex from the 19th century, the market stalls feature traditional Scandinavian handicrafts, food and drink. The historic brick buildings form a spectacular backdrop and there is a family feel to this market, with its carousels and children’s art gallery. The Glühwein flows for the adults, including several unusual Scandinavian varieties. Next to one of the drink stalls is an added attraction; a wood-fired stove where market-goers can sit on benches warmed by electric radiators and slip their arms into a thick sheepskin coat.

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Something for all the family at the Lucia Markt

An Object Lesson

An Object Lesson

Das Museum der Dinge is a fascinating treasure-trove. Its name translates into English as ‘The Museum of Things’ and its nearest equivalent in London is the Design Museum. The collection was started in 1970 by the ‘Werkbundarchiv’, (the archives of the German association of craftsmen) and has grown into a significant exhibition of objects that have documented German daily life since the late-19th century.

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The first exhibit (pictured above) is a ‘Historicist Bench’ which was part of the luxurious interior of the villa of a director of the Borsig factory. Unique hand-crafted pieces had reached a high quality towards the end of the 19th century and reflected the new economic power of the industrial elite. Although the crafts industry drew on stylistic elements of earlier eras, it began increasingly to put cheaper merchandise of poorer quality on the market.

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Early 20th century ‘kitsch’

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Affordable, mass-produced glassware

There are scores of display cases  packed with items that have historic or design significance; many of them now horrendously kitsch. After all, the word was invented in Germany in the 1920s to describe a low-brow style of mass-produced design using popular or cultural icons. A great feature of this museum is the clear and concise way that the information boards (in English as well as German) explain each period of modern design, covering the development of functional utensils, brand names, souvenirs and technical products to the evaluation and choice of products in our own era.

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Designer TV – with explanation

Of course, the exhibits are specifically from German everyday life, but visitors with no background knowledge of German brands can still have a great time and appreciate how household goods have adapted and changed with the times. There is something for everyone in this place – including the first fitted kitchen, the ‘Frankurter Küche’ (1926), a display case full of household items produced during the Third Reich and one with more recent ‘green’ products. You can definitely find ‘your thing’.

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A place for everything in the fitted kitchen

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Spot the Hitler cushion…

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Ecological lifestyle

The museum is located on the top floor of an old tenement building off Oranienstrasse in the heart of Kreuzberg. With its gritty buzz, this neighbourhood is the perfect location for an exhibition of such unpretentious, utilitarian ‘stuff’. It is open from Thursdays to Mondays (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays), from 12 noon until 7pm and entrance costs 6 Euros. Follow this link for a full explanation of the museum’s contents and its aims.