Saturday NoonSong

Saturday NoonSong

Berlin loves Saturday lunchtime – there’s a sense that the weekend starts here. It wasn’t so long ago that the German school week didn’t finish until Saturday lunchtime and the shops closed for the weekend soon after midday. Some traditions haven’t changed though, and many Berliners still head for their local market to do the weekend shopping, then find a good café for lunch. They might even call into the church on the market square for musical and spiritual refreshment.

Karl-August-Platz Market in Charlottenburg with Trinitatis Church

A notable example is the Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz (Church on Hohenzollern Square) where a choral concert and church service called ‘NoonSong’ takes place every Saturday at noon. ‘NoonSong’ is a play on the name of the Anglican service of Evensong, and its aim is to offer peaceful respite from busy city life.

NoonSong Brochure

Outside the church is a hive of activity around the stalls of the local street market but inside you can escape into ‘thirty minutes of heaven’ provided by the beautiful a cappella singing from centuries of sacred music by the professional vocal ensemble ‘sirventes berlin’. There are organ voluntaries as well and the congregation joins in with the two hymns. Every seat was taken when I went there recently, so it’s worth arriving early.

Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz

The stark 1930s Brick Expressionist church building contributes to the rarefied atmosphere and on a sunny day, the light streams in through the high, stained glass windows turning the whole experience into something quite ethereal.

After feeding the soul at NoonSong, it was time for Saturday lunch and there is no shortage of restaurants and cafés near Hohenzollernplatz. I can highly recommend Tian Fu on Uhlandstrasse, only a two-minute walk from the church and Hohenzollernplatz Underground Station. This very well-reviewed restaurant serves spicy Sichuan-style food and is a favourite with the Berlin Chinese community.

On my last visit, we started with Tian Fu’s excellent Dim Sum, then chose various dishes of lamb, duck and calamari which were all delicious. Despite being very busy, the service was efficient and friendly. I loved the décor too – a Chinese twist to Berlin urban retro charm. A great place to start our multi-cultural Berlin weekend. 

Bauhaus 100

Bauhaus 100

The famous Bauhaus art school opened in Weimar in 1919 and during its short lifespan it moved to Dessau and then to Berlin. The demands of the Bauhaus founders to reform art as well as the living environment and their concept of a collaboration between all fields of art and crafts has extended far beyond the historical existence of the Bauhaus from 1919 until 1933.

Bauhaus founders

The architecture, art and design created by the Bauhaus movement has had a lasting effect on architecture and living space around the world and to mark its centenary in 2019 there are events and exhibitions taking place all over Germany. Last weekend I took in three very different Bauhaus experiences in Berlin and revisited the pressing questions posed one hundred years ago by members of the Bauhaus School which remain so relevant today: How do we want to live? What do we want our homes to look like? White flat-roofed buildings and steel furniture still represent the epitome of everything we associate with the term ‘Bauhaus’, but it was so much more than modernist architecture and minimal design, it was also a school for ideas and a field for experiments. A few months ago, I was given the commission of translating the text of a stunning coffee-table book entitled “Bauhaus – Eine fotografische Weltreise” by Jean Molitor and Kaija Voss (Bauhaus – A photographic journey around the world) into English.

It was fascinating work; not only did I learn a great deal about the history of the Bauhaus, but I also enjoyed studying the wealth of remarkable photographs of Bauhaus buildings all over the world, in places as far-flung as Afghanistan, India, Africa and Cuba as well as in Europe and America. Berlin photographer Jean Molitor’s photographic journey is currently the subject of a temporary exhibition at the Willy Brandy Haus in Stresemannstrasse – an especially suitable building because of its Bauhaus-style design.

Willy-Brandt-Haus
“Europe is the answer”

There are over one hundred large-format photographs on display arranged in themes including housing, municipal buildings, industrial architecture, cinemas, church buildings, educational establishments and luxury villas. You can also read essential information about Bauhaus history and design and watch video material of Jean Molitor’s travels. Some of his adventures proved to be quite dangerous; he even was arrested in Morocco and had his camera confiscated in Russia. There are so many fascinating and unique examples of Bauhaus architecture and it was difficult to decide on which ones to include in this blog. If you want to see more and can’t get to the exhibition (it only runs until 14th March) there are images online or you could buy the book mentioned above.

Housing in Vienna
Notre Dame Cathedral
Bukavu, Congo

My next Bauhaus destination was the Bröhan Museum in Charlottenburg where I joined a guided tour through their current exhibition entitled “From Arts and Crafts to the Bauhaus”. The Bröhan has assembled a wonderful collection of 300 items of furniture, graphic design, metal art and ceramics from over 50 years of design history.

The exhibition clearly demonstrates the pre-history of the Bauhaus and contextualises it within the Europe-wide emergence of Modernism. It shows how the English Arts and Crafts movement, the Glasgow School, Vienna Jugendstil, the Deutscher Werkbund and the Dutch group De Stijl led to the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau. These photographs give a taste of the interesting exhibits, on display until 5th May. Entry to the Bröhan is 8 euros, but free on every first Wednesday of the month.

Inlaid Jugendstil cabinet
Living with Bauhaus design

Of course, the home of the Bauhaus in Berlin is the Bauhaus Archiv by the Landwehr Canal near the Tiergarten. This iconic building, originally designed by Walter Gropius in 1964, is currently closed for renovation and extension. However, in the meantime you can visit the temporary Bauhaus Archiv on Knesebeckstrasse which features a model of the new building.

Plans for the new Bauhaus Archiv in Berlin

The temporary exhibition also includes an interesting tour through the history of the Bauhaus with photographs of its main players and the roles they played during its existence.

Student leaving the Berlin Bauhaus building in 1933, when it was closed by the Nazis

There is a shop selling a variety of Bauhaus design objects and I can recommend the Manufactum store next door, with its excellent bistro-style café for breakfast or lunch. For further information on Bauhaus centenary, just visit www.bauhaus100.com

Bauhaus souvenirs on sale

Variety Show Time

Variety Show Time

Everyone wants to capture the spirit of ‘Cabaret’ in Berlin. The so-called ‘Roaring Twenties’ only lasted for a few short years in the German capital, but their legacy lives on almost a century later. Clubbers flock to Berlin to seek out exhilaration and frenzy at some of the most edgy venues in Europe and there are plenty of lively late-night bars dotted around the city centre, although not as louche and raw as in the aftermath of the First World War.

Since reunification in 1990, there has been an upsurge in the number of revue and variety shows in Berlin, a form of entertainment that first blossomed towards the end of the 19th Century and which reached heady heights in the 1920s and early 1930s. Many of these shows have broad international appeal and don’t require any knowledge of German. The Wintergarten Varieté Theater on Potsdamer Strasse mixes acrobats, magicians, comedy, live music and dance and the result is a high-energy cocktail of top variety entertainment. There is also definitely more than a whiff of the glitz and glamour of the past.

The current Wintergarten extravaganza is called “Staunen” (“Amazement”) and it is a truly awesome show. We went along last Saturday night and loved it. From the moment we entered the theatre, we let the vaudeville atmosphere take over and suspended disbelief. Greeted in the foyer by a colourful drag artist, we were invited to have our photograph taken, then shown to our seat at one of the scores of tables that fill the plush red velvet and dark wood auditorium.

In the tradition of variety theatre, you can eat and drink while you watch the show and there was a bell on the table to summon waiting staff before and during the performance. Some people had ordered a package which included dinner before the show and were already in party mood. When the house lights faded, a glittering canopy of stars appeared above us and a live band struck up. The compère appeared from the side of the stage wearing top hat and tails, recalling Joel Gray’s iconic role in ‘Cabaret’. He was accompanied by a modern-day Marlene Dietrich and together they guided us through proceedings with consummate ease and great songs which slid seamlessly from German, to French and to English.

The individual variety acts included superlative acrobats, equilibrists, a strong man, a tightrope cyclist, an incredible duo of magicians and the usual clowns. There were literally breath-taking moments and the intimate nature of the theatre had everyone sitting on the edge their seats, enthralled. The glamour of the show was even echoed in the cloakroom facilities which were as incredible as the stage-sets.

The Wintergarten is a theatre with long tradition. Framed photographs of artists who have appeared there over the years are on every wall and down the sides of aisles are display cases with costumes and props.

Its history goes back to 1887, when a variety theatre was opened in a conservatory (in German: Wintergarten) at the Hotel Central in Friedrichstraße. On one evening in 1895, rather than acrobats and exotic dancers on stage, the theatre hosted a world première: the Skladanowsky brothers presented the sensational new art of cinematography and showed the first-ever commercial screening of a film. In the 1920s the Wintergarten was synonymous with the Roaring Twenties, presenting a series of stunning revue and variety shows.

During the Second World War, it was severely damaged and in 1944 the theatre had to close. But the name and spirit of the Wintergarten lived on, and in 1992 a new Wintergarten theatre opened in Potsdamer Straße on a site that had previously been home to the ‘Club Quartier Latin’, a venue associated with Berlin punk band concerts in the 1970s and 80s. The Wintergarten website has all the details of its forthcoming programme, which include vaudeville dinners and burlesque shows. ‘Staunen’ runs until 24th February.

Café Hopping

Café Hopping

Meeting up with friends and hanging out in a genial café is what Berlin is all about. Here are four suggestions for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and supper – all of them unique in their own way. Using the swift service of the Berlin S-Bahn, I covered all four places in one day; it was the perfect antidote for a rainy winter Monday.

Aerial View of S-Bahn

First stop was breakfast at Die Stulle, a well-established café just off Savigny Platz in Charlottenburg. Its name is the Berlin word for a simple sandwich and this place has a natural, friendly ambience, with eclectic wooden furniture and sofas. The brunch menu is inventive and includes lots of healthy options. Most dishes are served with eggs – cooked to perfection any way you choose. I opted for an omelette with pumpkin and tried hard to resist the amazing selection of breads. The coffee was spot on and the waitress couldn’t have been more helpful. Be sure to make a booking if you go for breakfast or lunch at the weekend.

Die Stulle

From Die Stulle, I whizzed off to Mitte by S-Bahn from Savigny Platz to Hackescher Markt. It’s about a ten-minute walk to Joachimstrasse, where the impeccably minimalist Chipperfield Kantine is hidden from the street in the courtyard of the Berlin office building of famous British architect, David Chipperfield. This canteen – a complete misnomer since the food is anything but institutional – provides a small daily menu with three interesting main dishes. You can’t book in advance so it’s best to arrive quite early as Chipperfield employees and other local office workers love this place. It’s a real insider tip. No alcohol served here, but the atmosphere was buzzing.

Chipperfield Kantine

After for a spot of shopping at the Kaufhof department store on nearby Alexanderplatz, I took the S-Bahn back to Charlottenburg. The next assignment was for coffee and cake at Frau Behrens Torten on Adenauerplatz – a far cry from my ultra-modern lunch venue. This café is strictly for traditionalists, complete with chandeliers, marble tables, velvet-covered chairs and nostalgic pictures. The pianist at the grand piano was playing a selection of music from the 1920s and 1930s and with candles lit on all the tables, we were transported back in time.

Frau Behrens Torten

My final appointment was at Seaside on beautiful Gendarmenmarkt, just off Unter den Linden in the heart of Berlin. The nearest S-Bahn station is Friedrichstraβe. This fashionable restaurant, with its maritime design and dark blue walls can rightly claim to have “Nordic charm and Californian cool”, despite being so far from the coast. For a lover of fish and seafood, it was a great end to a gourmet day. Guests can select their own fresh fish from the counter and decide how they would like it served or choose from the à la carte menu. There are interesting side dishes and sauces, and the chips and desserts are irresistible. If you are also tempted by the extensive wine list, an evening at the Seaside becomes a genuinely exclusive experience.

The Seaside
Berlin Zoo

Berlin Zoo

Berlin Zoo is the oldest zoo in Germany, with a unique history. It is also the most species-rich in the world and the most-visited zoo in Europe. The 86-acre site next to the Tiergarten park has an abundance of trees and greenery; the animal houses are architectural gems and the enclosures are generous and well-kept.  Famous inmates like Knut, the polar bear and Bao Bao the giant panda have contributed to the zoo’s international profile. In the 1980s, my children loved going to the Berlin Zoo and even had the opportunity to meet two baby tigers.

 Cuddly baby tigers

The Antelope House

The Berlin Zoologischer Garten, to give it its full name, owes its existence to King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia who was a passionate animal-lover. Together with his first wife, Louise, he established an impressive menagerie on the romantic Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island) on the Havel river and opened it to the public. After he died in 1840, his son, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, was happy to gift this private zoo to the people of Berlin and in 1844, after three years of construction, the Berlin Zoo opened on its current site. Two great Berliners, the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and landscape gardener Peter Joseph Lenné were key players in the realisation of this project.

Zoo entrance in 1960

In 1869, Dr Heinrich Bodinus, director of the Cologne Zoological Garden, took on the management of the Berlin Zoo and until his death in 1884, he added many more species and built new exotic animal houses. Ludwig Heck, also from the Cologne Zoo, took over from 1881 when he was only 28 years old and was Director of the Berlin Zoo until 1931. These were golden years which saw the construction of the beautiful Elephant Gate entrance on Budapester Strasse and many more animal houses, including the stunning aquarium in 1913. In 1932 Heck passed the baton to his son, Dr Lutz Heck, and the zoo park was modernised again, with outdoor enclosures using natural stone. However, Heck Junior was a Nazi sympathiser who used forced labour as workers.

A memorial bust to Dr Lutz Heck and explanation of his political leanings

The fabulous Aquarium

By 1939, the Berlin Zoo boasted over 4,000 animals, belonging to 1,400 species. Only 91 animals survived the war, including the popular hippo, Knautschke, the elephant bull Siam and the chimpanzee, Suse. The bombing in 1943 and 1944 more or less destroyed the entire zoo and there are many apocryphal stories about what happened to the thousands of animals during the bombing. Elephants and Tigers were said be roaming the streets, with snakes and crocodiles hiding in dark corners. In fact, most of the animals died, but it is true that some of their meat was used to feed the starving Berliners. If you follow this link, you can read more about the zoo’s wartime story.

Elephant gate after bombing 

Elephant Gate today

As the first female zoo director in Germany, Dr Katharina Heinroth took on the task of the rebuilding the destroyed zoo from the rubble and was able to build something better out of its tragedy. There was much reconstruction, but innovation was also born out of devastation. The zoo that emerged from the chaos was more progressive and mirrored the real habitats of the animals.

Water enclosure

Zebra park

Berlin Zoo’s full name is the Berlin Zoologischer Garten – the same as the station opposite its ‘Lion’ entrance gates (Löwentor). During the city’s division from 1949 until 1989, the Zoo was stranded in West Berlin and its eponymous station served as the main transportation hub of West Berlin. At this point several U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines of city public transport intersected. The station also served as a starting point of long distance trains, and the city’s biggest bus terminal is still there. Its pop-culture prominence started in the 1970s when the area around the station became a sordid gathering place for teenage drug addicts and prostitutes.  These days it is well-known for its Currywurst stand.

Curry 36 at Bahnhof Zoo

In 1955, the GDR opened its ‘own zoo’, the ‘Tierpark’ (Animal Park), in Friedrichsfelde, East Berlin, which at 400 acres is the largest landscaped zoo in Europe. This means that since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is a choice of two excellent zoos in the German capital. But there is something extra special about the Zoologischer Garten in the city centre.  My recent visit was in glorious autumn weather. The zoo park couldn’t have looked better. There were no pacing animals in small spaces and Giant Pandas, Jiao Qing and Meng Meng looked very content exploring the undergrowth. The environment is as natural as possible with plenty of vegetation, rock, stone and water in evidence. We mainly stayed outside in the sunshine and a favourite enclosure was an aviary for sea birds where visitors can sit in a typical North German beach chair by the lapping water. The café facilities were excellent too, although they were not being tested to full capacity early on a Sunday morning.

Panda at play

Sitting at the seaside

‘Forest Hut’ café

Berlin Zoo’s website has all the details of opening times, ticket prices. feeding times and special events. There are opportunities to see into the zoo from outside as well. The path from Zoo Station into the Tiergarten runs alongside the camel and bison enclosure and the Bikini Berlin shopping centre has a terrace with great views of the monkey enclosures. To get a panoramic view of the whole site, take the lift to the Monkey Bar on the tenth floor of the Bikini Berlin Hotel or book a penthouse room in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel with its ‘Zoofenster’ (zoo window) tower.

Elephants and Zoofenster tower