‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ is one of the best traditions in the German-speaking world. To translate it just as ‘coffee and cake’ is about as accurate as describing English ‘afternoon tea’ as a hot drink with a sandwich. Both ceremonies are social rituals. Starting at about 4pm, they involve taking a break from the day and relaxing with friends or colleagues, either at home or in the kind of café where time is not of the essence. Viennese-style coffee houses encapsulate this atmosphere. With their high ceilings and chandeliers, polished wooden tables, newspapers on wooden holders and waiting staff dressed in traditional black and white, they ooze slow living and fin de siècle charm. Ironically, Trotsky is said to have planned the Russian revolution from the Café Central in Vienna, a favourite haunt of bourgeois intellectuals. There’s a Café Central in Innsbruck too, where I captured the Kaffee und Kuchen scene last Sunday afternoon.
Traditional Coffee House scene
So what about Berlin? Probably the least bourgeois of German cities, the German capital is best known for its trendy coffee bars with edgy barristas and shabby-chic cafes with organic teas. But there are plenty of places where it is still possible to indulge in Kaffee und Kuchen in its purest form. Café Einstein Stammhaus in Kurfürstenstrasse is Berlin’s closest offering to a Viennese coffee house. Housed in a beautiful late 19th Century villa, it’s a great place to go for Kaffee und Kuchen. And with its Austrian links, the Apfelstrudel and Sachertorte are top choices for cake lovers.
Inside Café Einstein Stammhaus
It has an interesting history too. In the 1920s, the building was owned by Jewish private banker Georg Blumenfeld and later used as a secret gambling club for the high society of the Weimar Republic. When the National Socialists came to power in 1933, they closed the club. Blumenfeld and his wife were disowned and finally driven to committing suicide. The Nazis took over the villa and Goebbels supposedly gifted it to his secret mistress, Henny Porten, a famous actress at the time. After Henny moved out, it became an illegal SS officers’ casino. The villa miraculously survived the wartime bombing and opened as the original Café Einstein in 1978, at exactly one hundred years old. It proved a great hit with the West Berlin literati and since then has spawned many other Einstein cafes all over Berlin. The only other Café Einstein with that stylish, historic feel perfect for a Kaffee und Kuchen experience is on Unter den Linden.
The grand villa building in Kurfürstenstrasse
But the most genuinely historic of all cafés in Berlin is Konditorei Buchwald, a traditional cake shop just by the Moabiter Brücke over the River Spree. The café interior is like a large living room, not as grand as a Viennese coffee house, but there is the same feeling of being in a time-warp. No typing on laptops, mobile phone tunes or background music to disturb the social intercourse here. In summer, the tables set outside in the garden have an equally peaceful setting, with only birdsong to compete with conversation.
Inside Konditorei Buchwald
Gustav Buchwald originally founded the cake company in 1852 in Cottbus, his son moved the business to Berlin at the turn of the century, and it has been run by members of the same family for five generations. The full story is fascinating, and German speakers can follow this link to a Tagesspiegel article which gives all the details. The most recent owner is Andrea Tönges who took over in May 2015. Her grandmother was in charge from 1935 and her mother from 1963. Both Andrea and her mother are ‘Konditormeister’ (master confectioners) and Andrea’s son has chosen the same career path.
Three generations of confectioners – with their famous Baumkuchen
Baumkuchen to take home
Buchwald’s speciality is the ‘Baumkuchen’ which translates literally as ‘tree cake’. The recipe is a secret, but certainly features plenty of sugar, spice and marzipan. The cake mixture is rolled onto a sort of spit (now metal, but originally made of wood) that slowly turns over an open flame, creating fine layers upon layers which look the growth rings of a tree – hence the name. The cake is then sealed with a glaze or covered in chocolate. The result is so delicious that in 1883 the Buchwald bakery received a warrant of appointment to make Baumkuchen for the royal household. And even now, the Schloss Bellevue, once home to Frederick the Great’s youngest brother, Prince Ferdinand of Prussia, and now the official residence of the German president, is just a walk away in the north end of the Tiergarten.
Queuing outside Buchwald’s
As you enter the shop, the display counter is crammed with cakes (Kuchen) and gateaux (Torten), including several varieties of Baumkuchen. All around the walls and windows, shelves are piled high with more Baumkuchen, beautifully wrapped in all shapes and sizes, which you can buy to take home. When I was last there, a group of tourists came in just to buy the cake as souvenirs and to take photographs. But they missed out on the unique Kaffee und Kuchen ritual: first, the all-important selection of a slice of cake, then the settling into an hour or so of ‘Kaffeeklatsch’ – chatting over coffee.
Selecting a slice of cake
To be sure of a table at Café Einstein or Konditorei Buchwald, especially on a Sunday afternoon, you need to make a reservation. All the details are on their website links below. You can find other café suggestions in a previous Café Society blog, ‘The Great Berlin Cake Off’ (October 2014).
Potsdam is the capital and crown jewel of the Federal State of Brandenburg. Renowned for its exquisite baroque architecture, beautiful Prussian royal palaces and gardens, in 1990 it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage City status. Wartime destruction and the lack of funds during the bleak GDR years left terrible scars on the city centre, but since reunification it has undergone a massive programme of reconstruction and now positively gleams in its new grandeur and glory.Only a 22-minute train journey from Berlin main railway station, Potsdam is not only a great lure for visitors, but has become one of the most sought-after residential addresses in Germany.
Panoramic view of Potsdam in 1871
In January, Potsdam gained yet another fabulous attraction – the Museum Barberini, a museum inside a palace. The ‘Palais Barberini’ was originally built by the Prussian King, Frederick the Great in 1771/1772 next to the Stadtschloss (Potsdam City Palace) and modelled on the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. Destroyed in a bombing raid in 1945, it has now been reconstructed as a museum by the Hasso Plattner Foundation. At the official opening, its creator, media magnate Hasso Plattner, a co-founder of the multinational software company SAP, described the Museum Barberini as his gift to the city and “one of the most important things” he had done in his life. Plattner is a member of ‘The Giving Pledge’, a group of billionaire philanthropists who promise to give half their wealth to charity during their lifetime or in a will.
Queues of visitors outside the Museum Barberini
Plattner’s assets are estimated at $9.8 billion and his substantial private art collection will form the core of exhibitions. The museum’s first exhibition, for example, showcases Edvard Munch’s ‘Girls on the Bridge’ which Plattner is said to have bought at Sotheby’s last November for $54.5 million.
‘The Girls on the Bridge’
His social circle is sufficiently elevated that both Angela Merkel and Bill Gates attended the museum opening. Frau Merkel reportedly declared the museum to be “breathtaking”. Plattner has now been made an honorary citizen of Potsdam, a title he shares with Berlin luminaries such as landscape gardener Peter Joseph Lenné, naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and President Paul von Hindenburg.
Hasso Plattner with Angela Merkel
The opening of the Museum Barberini marks the end of years of strife. There were disputes over everything – from what Plattner was allowed to exhibit to where the museum should be built, and the project nearly foundered on several occasions. But Potsdam’s Barberini has finally been reincarnated on its original site and completes the historic rebuilding of the fabulous Alter Markt square, which also includes the Parliament building for the State of Brandenburg. The cost of reconstructing the historic façade of the Palais Barberini and creating its modern, airy interior is estimated to have been more than €60 million. For further details, follow this link to a recent article in The Economist.
The reconstructed Alter Markt Square
(photo by Konstantindegeer, March 2016)
I paid my first visit to the Museum Barberini a couple of weeks ago and adored it. The beautiful exterior architecture speaks for itself and the three state-of-the-art exhibition floors are light and crisp, with 7-metre high ceilings and fabulous views from large windows. In the summer the building’s regal position on the waterfront of the River Havel will undoubtedly be a great attraction in itself.
The debut exhibitions at the Barberini Museum are ‘Modern Art Classics: Liebermann, Munch, Nolde, Kandinsky’, and ‘Impressionism: The Art of Landscape’, featuring works by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro and Caillebotte, among others. Both of them are perfectly curated and carefully themed. Most of the works are labelled ‘private collection’, although there are some on loan from major art galleries around the world. It is not clear how many of the paintings actually belong to Plattner himself.
‘Liebermann versus Nolde’
Impressionist seascape and snowscape
Apart from the two major exhibitions, other attractions include a display of Rodin sculptures loaned by the Musée Rodin in Paris and on the top floor the museum features an auditorium with a ‘smart wall’ where visitors can forensically examine most of the collection’s paintings, which have been reproduced in high resolution images. Just as interesting are the contents of the gallery next to auditorium, telling the fascinating history of the Potsdam Barberini Palace. After its illustrious beginnings under Frederick the Great, by the time of its destruction in 1945, it was being used as a youth hostel, public library and registry office.
Rodins in the Lelbach Gallerty
English speakers are well catered for in the Barberini Museum. All the information, including the large panels and the useful descriptions of individual works, is given in both English and German. Headphones are available at €2 or the Barberini App can be downloaded free. The Museum is open from Wednesday to Monday from 11am to 7pm, as well as on the first Tuesday of each month until 9pm. Admission is €14. Forthcoming exhibitions include ‘From Hopper to Rothko: America’s road to Modern Art’ (3 June until 3 October) and ‘Behind the Mask: Artists in the GDR’ (28 October until 11 February 2018). I would recommend booking online in advance as this museum is proving hugely popular. The excellent café on the ground floor is doing a roaring trade too.
Mid-February is a great time to visit Berlin, with the Berlinale film festival plus a carnival to beat the winter blues. And it’s all wrapped up a week before the Oscars in Hollywood and the carnival celebrations in the rest of Germany. Just like Berlin to be ahead of the game. Now in its 67th year, the Berlinale is as popular as ever. It’s a true peoples’ event, with a reputation for political integrity and cutting through red carpet hype. Tickets are reasonably easy to come by; quite a number are available online three days before the event and there are four ticket outlets in the city centre, with plenty on sale over the ten days of the festival. For a round-up of this year’s films and winners go to the Berlinale website
One of the best things about the Berlinale is the final Sunday, known as ‘Publikumstag’ (audience’s day). The prize-winners have been announced and the stars have gone home, but many of the films are shown again and tickets only cost eight euros. The venues are still packed full and the applause at the end of each showing is just as enthusiastic. This is genuine appreciation of the art of film-making in a city that has always loved the cinema.
This year the Berlinale Publikumstag coincided with the annual Berlin Karneval procession along the Kurfürstendamm. The carnival season in Germany, also known as the ‘Fünfte Jahreszeit’ (Fifth Season) begins each year on 11 November at 11:11 a.m. when the planning starts, and finishes on Ash Wednesday of the following year. The main festivities take place on or around the Monday before Ash Wednesday – ‘Rosenmontag’, but carnival week itself officially starts on ‘Weiberfastnacht’ (Women’s Carnival) ,the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. Follow this link for more German carnival detail.
Berlin is not traditionally a carnival city – the main ones are in Roman Catholic parts of Germany and the most famous parade of all takes place in Köln (Cologne). But Berlin loves a party and has plenty of local carnival guilds who want to join in. The Berlin procession this year took place on the Sunday before carnival week starts in the rest of the country. After the terrorist attack at the Christmas Market on 19th December, there was some debate about whether the procession would still go ahead. But it got the green light – amid strengthened security precautions and with the proviso that there should be five hundred metres of silence when it passed Breidscheidplatz, where the atrocity took place.
Over 200,000 people turned out to watch the carnival procession, many of them in fancy dress themselves. The colourful floats and bands set off at precisely eleven minutes past eleven from Olivaerplatz with 2,000 revellers making their merry way along the Ku’damm towards Wittenbergplatz, showering 30 tons of sweets into the crowd, who shouted back carnival greetings such as ‘Hai Jo’(Berliners) and ‘Alaaf’ (Rhinelanders). There are many local traditions associated with carnival, but all over Germany the participants are known as ‘Narren’ (fools) and often behave accordingly. It’s a time to let your hair down before the seriousness of Lent and poke fun at the establishment.
Later in the day, I managed to catch two films on ‘Publikumstag’. The first was ‘A Prominent Patient’ (original title: Masaryk), described in one review as a ‘stately, handsomely-mounted biopic of Czech wartime statesman Jan Masaryk’. Set in 1938/39, it focuses on the political intrigue leading up to the Second World War and tells the story of the son of Czechoslovakia’s first president, a diplomat who loved jazz and cocaine. It was a perfect film to see in Berlin. Interestingly, the sub-titles (where needed) were only in English. Most foreign films in the Berlinale are subtitled in both English and German.
The second film was ‘Helle Nächte’ (Bright Nights). A mourning father (played by Georg Friedrich from Austria won the Silver Bear award for best actor) tries to rekindle his relationship with his 14-year old son after years of absence and lack of communication. He takes him on a car trip across northern Norway during the summer solstice, hoping it is not too late. Much remained unsaid in this film, but it rang true. It also had the definite plus of being shown in the huge Friedrichstadtpalast, a theatre normally used for glitzy variety shows and where the air conditioning mist floats out of the top of the seats.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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