The story of Jewish Berlin will be forever tragically linked to the Holocaust. Nothing can change this statement, but today’s Berliners are still making efforts to ensure that the fate of their persecuted predecessors will never be forgotten. Recently, I discovered another neighbourhood initiative to keep alive the memory of their Jewish community in Berlin before the war: Café Haberland above the U-Bahn Station Bayerischer Platz in the borough of Schöneberg.
Café Haberland above the U-Bahn station
This café-museum opened in 2014 and is named after father and son, Salomon and Georg Haberland, founders of the local district called ‘Das Bayerische Viertel’ (The Bavarian Quarter), where many of the streets are named after towns in Bayern (Bavaria). A central point for Jewish intellectual life in pre-Nazi Berlin, it is also referred to as ‘Jewish Switzerland’ because of the many influential Jews who came to live there, including Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin.
Einstein at home in Berlin
The well-known Berlin coffee-house chain ‘Café Einstein’ now runs the gastronomic side of Café Haberland and local volunteers man the museum side of things. I enjoyed a good breakfast there, then read through some of the documentation about the history of the Bayerisches Viertel and what happened to its Jewish inhabitants during the Nazi period. I watched film material and listened to interviews at the video and audio stations. The literature and reports are available in English as well as German and make an emotional impact with their very personal stories. The stated aim of the exhibition, to build a bridge between the past and the present, succeeds perfectly.
Volunteers with the Mayor of Schöneberg
Inside the café-museum
You can also get a feel for the neighbourhood by looking around the wall displays in the entrance hall of the Bayerischer Platz U-Bahn station. They feature large photographs and information boards tracing the origins of the Bayerisches Viertel and give brief details of some of the illustrious Germans who lived there. Carl Zuckmayer, author of ‘Der Hauptmann von Köpenick’ is pictured below.
Pictures at the underground exhibition
Outside the station, the main square of Bayerischer Platz was originally landscaped in 1908, comprising a green area, benches, a fountain and promenades. It soon became the central meeting place for the area, surrounded by prestigious shops, cafés, medical practices and banks. It is still a pleasant open space, reflecting the calm atmosphere of this residential district where the buildings are set back from the street with pretty gardens and wide pavements.
Bayersicher Platz – then and now
Having remained a village since the 13th century, Schöneberg boomed at the end of the 19th century when Berlin’s population exploded and villagers sold off their agricultural land to developers. The most prominent developer was Georg Haberland, son of textile manufacturer Salomon Haberland. The Bayerisches Viertel, which he built between 1900 and 1914, was an area of quiet residential streets, lined with grand buildings containing large apartments decorated with stucco work and marble. One is called Haberlandstraße, where Albert Einstein lived at number 5 from 1917 until 1932. The Nazis, who hated wealthy Jews like Haberland, changed the street’s name in 1938, although it was eventually restored in 1996.
Information board outside the site of Einstein’s home
Before the war, Schöneberg attracted the wealthy middle and upper classes, such as lawyers, doctors, businessmen and intellectuals, many of them Jewish. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, there were over 16,000 Jews in the Bayerisches Viertel. The Nazis soon began their persecution of the Jews and their rights were cruelly eroded. At the end of February 1943, the roundups, arrests and deportations started and by June that year, the whole borough of Schöneberg was declared “free of Jews’. In the allied bombing that followed, 75% of the buildings in the Bayerisches Viertel were destroyed.
Haberland Strasse in 1925
The ‘Orte des Erinnerns’ (Places of Remembrance), a memorial concept in the Bayersiches Viertel, makes a powerful statement. It’s a network of eighty signs hanging from street lamps inscribed with the laws introduced by the Nazis to discriminate against the Jewish population; some strategically located to link them to present-day reality. For example, a sign in front of a playground states, “Aryan and non-Aryan children are forbidden to play together”. The eighty scattered signs are gathered together on three large billboards at Rathaus Schöneberg Town Hall, Bayerischer Platz and in front of the Münchener Straβe Gymnasium (Grammar School). Each billboard shows pre- and post-war maps of the area, one from1933 and the other from 1993. For an English translation of the signs follow this link. They defy belief. The sign below, depicting a loaf of bread on one side, states that “Jews are only allowed to buy food between 4pm and 5pm”.
After walking around the Bayerisches Viertel, you might want to return to Café Haberland for a restorative cup of tea or coffee. Finding and reading the signs is a sobering experience. In warmer weather you can sit outside on the balcony and once a month there are ‘Jazz on the Roof’ evenings. It’s a great meeting place with an eclectic modern feel combined with echoes of a past era. Follow this link to the Café’s website to find full details of opening times and events.
Breakfast at Café Haberland
It’s been a long hot summer in Berlin and cafés with shaded terraces and gardens are in high demand. A great location for fine al fresco food and drink is the Königliche Gartenakademie (Royal Garden Academy) in Dahlem, just a five-minute walk from the Berlin Botanischer Garten. The café there is a unique place where you can either sit outside on the lawn in the shade of a giant 100-year old Weymouth Pine or retreat into the light, bright greenhouses surrounded by stunning greenery and flowers.
Lunch on the lawn
As its name suggests, the Gartenakademie is a school for horticulture and the present building dates back to 1903. It was originally founded in Potsdam in 1823 by Peter Joseph Lenné, Germany’s most influential 19th Century landscape gardener, who established English landscape garden design in Germany. Since 2008 the Gartenakademie and its grounds have been run as a successful business by Gabriella Pape, a horticulturalist, garden designer, journalist and author of several gardening books, who trained at Kew Gardens.
Aerial view of the Gartenakademie
Gabriella Pape in the garden centre
The Academy itself offers a wide range of lectures, courses and workshops for keen amateurs, as well as professional gardeners from all over the world. The surrounding grounds feature show flower-beds and borders and two gardens – the Bee Garden and the Japanese Garden. The large herbaceous border is my particular favourite and reflects the English gardening tradition of the Berlin Gartenakademie.
There is an extensive plant sales area, both outside and in historic greenhouses, and customers can also buy garden furniture, accessories and books or avail themselves of the garden design service. The whole site is beautifully maintained and wonderfully colourful in summer. You can simply wander through the grounds and the greenhouses and enjoy the experience of being in a rarefied gardening world. Everything is beautifully kept and aesthetically pleasing. As a Londoner, it reminds me of a blend between Petersham Nurseries in Richmond and the Chelsea Physic Garden.
Among the roses
Plants under cover
For Berliners and other visitors who are not intent on buying plants or bulbs to stock their garden, the main attraction of the Gartenakademie is its wonderful café culture. There are tables and chairs dotted around on the lawns and inside the greenhouses, and the whole ambience has an artlessly Impressionist feel to it.
Light, bright interiors
Coffee and cakes
Bon viveurs head to the Gartenakademie for their delicious breakfasts, light lunches and home-made cakes. Apart from good coffee and teas, there are locally-produced beers and lemonade and fine wines. I recently visited the Gartenakademie for Sunday Brunch (advisable to book ahead) which is a set price of 22 euros. The buffet spread was as colourful as a summer flower garden, with plenty of seasonal dishes and the house cocktail, Gambrinus Spritz, slipped down a treat.
For further information, including an interesting video presentation by Gabriella Pape herself, follow this link to the Gartenakademie website. The opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday (closed on Mondays) from 10am until 6.30pm and Sundays from 10am until 4pm. From October to March the Gartenakademie closes at 5.30pm on weekdays. The nearest underground station is Dahlem-Dorf.
The long, grand boulevard of the Kurfürstendamm, referred to by Berliners as the Ku’damm, dates back to 1542 and takes its name from the Kurfürsten (Prince Electors) of Brandenburg when it was a bridle-path to their Grunewald hunting lodge. Since the days of the Kaiser this avenue has been lined with shops, hotels, theatres, restaurants and street cafés. Tall, black wrought-iron street lamps bow elegantly above bold pavement display cases introduced by the Nazis and the buildings are set well back from the road to allow plenty of room for promenading. The street corners have quaint kiosks and the old-style ‘Litfaβsäule’, columns plastered with advertisements of all the current shows and concerts. In summer the four rows of magnificent plane trees hide the parked traffic in the central reservation and in winter their branches sparkle with white lights.
Pavement display cases
After the Prussians defeated the French in 1871, Bismarck wanted the Ku’damm to become Berlin’s version of the Champs-Élysées in Paris. It was widened to about 53 metres and construction started on some of the city’s most prestigious addresses. These buildings had ornate façades with columns, gables, towers, huge bay windows and grand entrances with equally impressive interiors. Over half these magnificent structures were destroyed during the bombing in the Second World War, but many have been lavishly restored.
Commerzbank at 59, Ku’damm
A good way to admire the Ku’damm architecture is to take a ride on the top deck of one of the buses that run up and down the boulevard. Haus Cumberland at 193-194, Ku’damm is among the finest buildings along the route. This listed building was originally constructed in 1911-12 and named after Ernst August of Hanover, Third Duke of Cumberland, who was stripped of his English title when he sided with the Germans in the First World War. Haus Cumberland has a colourful history. It covers 10,000 square metres and was conceived as a ‘Boarding Palast’ or apartment hotel, with three elaborate courtyards forming the heart of the complex. Unfortunately, the owner was declared bankrupt before the final opening. After this venture failed, the building was briefly used by the Imperial Arms and Ammunition Procurement Office and then converted into a grand hotel.
The original ‘Boarding Palace’ in 1912
One of the courtyards and the reading and writing room
In the years that followed the First World War, Haus Cumberland contained the main post office building and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, as well as theatres and cinemas. In the Nazi era it housed government finance offices that played a part in the expropriation and plundering of Jewish property. From 1966 to 2003, the Berlin Regional Tax Office was the new landlord and from 2003 it stood empty, apart from the shops on the ground floor, and the interior was sometimes rented out as a backdrop for Hollywood films.
Haus Cumberland in 1968
After new plans for a luxury hotel failed, the property was sold to a business consortium in 2010.The building was meticulously renovated for heritage status and the Ku’damm façade was returned to its original state. There are now 185 apartments at the rear of the complex and a number of shops at the front.
New apartments and courtyards
Behind the grand entrance to Haus Cumberland is the much-vaunted café-restaurant ‘Grosz’, named after Berlin artist George Grosz (1893-1959), best known for his socially critical paintings from the 1920s, who lived in nearby Savigny Platz during the Golden Twenties.
Entrance to ‘Grosz’
Berlin street scene by Georg Grosz
‘Grosz’ opened its doors to the public in 2012 – a century after Haus Cumberland was originally completed. At the time, the Berlin press proclaimed it as a great example of how the Ku’damm and West Berlin are on the road to being cool and hip again, although the truth of this statement is debatable. But ‘Grosz’ is definitely worth a visit, both for its atmosphere and for its food and drink. Run by the owner of ‘Borchardt’, the famous celebrity dining establishment in Berlin-Mitte, ‘Grosz’ exudes the same sophistication. The interior décor looks genuinely historic and expensive and the waiting staff are crisply-dressed in white and black.
As ‘Grosz’ is a coffee house, bar and restaurant all in one location, you don’t have to order food with your drink. But if you are calling in for coffee it’s hard to resist the display of exquisite cakes by the entrance. Beyond it is a bar area serving fine cocktails which opens into the actual restaurant rooms with the highest ceilings imaginable, ornate pillars and walls covered with antique mirrors and paintings.
Sweet treats ……
….. and the bar
The ambience of ‘Grosz’ is best described as a mixture between a Vienna café of the Art Nouveau era and a French Brasserie. I went there for dinner soon after it opened and had a memorable meal. The menu focuses around classics like oysters served on a silver pedestal, various steak cuts and seasonal dishes with a French twist. At lunchtime there is always a plat du jour. Five years ago, the food and the service were both excellent, but the place was rather empty and I felt that things had yet to get into their stride. Recently, I have returned to ‘Grosz’ both for an evening drink and for a Berlin-style Sunday breakfast. It seems to have a more laid-back feel to it now, without losing its elegance and wow factor and almost succeeds in capturing the elusive Berlin feeling of bygone days.
A ‘Grosz’ breakfast
A cool dog at the next table
‘Grosz’ is only a few bus stops from Zoo Station or a 20-minute can stroll up the Ku’damm. All the location details and menus can be found on the Grosz website at http://grosz-berlin.de/?lang=en For an interesting read about the Ku’damm’s history and buildings, I can highly recommend ‘A Walk Along The Ku’damm: Playground and Battlefield of Weimar Berlin’ by Brendan Nash.
Saturday was bitterly cold in Berlin, but with bright sunshine. For lunch, we headed off to the beautiful Bergmannkiez. In this gentrified neighbourhood of multi-cultural Kreuzberg there are endless colourful restaurants, cafés and small shops to dive into – not to mention the Marheineke Martkhalle indoor market, a paradise for foodies. Today, our main destination was Umami, one of the best-rated Asian-style restaurants in the capital. The first Umami opened in Knaackstrasse, Prenzlauer Berg in 2014 and was so successful that another one established itself two years later, at 97 Bergmannstrasse, alongside the legendary Knofi with its Mediterranean epicurean delights.
In Japanese, the word ‘umami’ roughly means ‘delicious’, and refers to the fifth taste after sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It’s a moreish, savoury flavour only recently identified by western scientists, but which has been recognised in the Orient since ancient times. Umami in Kreuzberg certainly fulfilled the promise of its name. And with its mellow vibe and exciting menu of Indochinese cooking, it is incredibly popular.
We came in from the cold to a warm, dimly-lit haven. The lanterns, the wooden tables and benches, the pictures of 1950s Indochina and the haunting Asian music transported us back in time. And as advertised on its website, we discovered that Umami really does serve food that an Asian ‘Mami’ would cook. We ordered a selection of dishes from the inspired menu of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes. ‘Angry Calamari’, ‘Tongkin’s Roastduck’, ‘BanhBhao Burger’ and ‘Shaolin Bowl’ all looked and tasted amazing. And the drinks we chose met with universal approval. Next time we’ll leave room for one of the tempting starters or desserts.
The service was fast and friendly and the bill was very reasonable; about 12 euros a head for a main course. Families can even order a six-course banquet for just 23 euros. Behind the main restaurant area, there is a cosy screened-off room with floor seating. Even the pretty loos echoed the Asian theme, adorned with lanterns, bamboo mirrors and Ming-style pots.
After lunch, we headed across the road for some retail therapy to Toko Satu, selling Asian silks, ornaments and gifts. In warmer weather, the Bergmannkiez is the perfect neighbourhood for ‘flanieren’ – the German word (taken from French) for strolling along and savouring the scene.
A walk around Chamissoplatz is an absolute must. The stucco facades, cobblestone streets and courtyards of the imperial apartment buildings are stunning.
But by late afternoon, the temperature had dropped to zero in the shade and we couldn’t resist a coffee stop at the original Barcomi’s, followed by a wander through the indoor market stalls of the Marheineke Markthalle. Since I was last there, a first floor has been added especially for Vegans. Kreuzberg is always at the front of the queue when it comes to inclusiveness.
Russian Berlin – Berlin’s relationship with Russia is unique. There are now an estimated 300,000 Russians living in the German capital, many of them Russian-Germans who arrived after the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union. One hundred years ago, in the wake of the Russian Revolution, thousands of Russian emigrés fled to the German capital. Many of them made their home in the borough of Charlottenburg, which soon earned the nickname ‘Charlottengrad’. At the Russian supermarket, next to Charlottenburg station, you can still buy Russian dumplings, wine, vodka and the classic Alyonka chocolate. The shop assistants all wear the same red t-shirt emblazoned proudly with the word ‘Russia’, in blue and white Cyrillic letters.
There is also a score of good Russian restaurants in Russian Berlin. Top of the list is ‘Pasternak’ in Prenzlauer Berg, which occupies a large and picturesque corner site opposite ‘Dicker Hermann’ (‘Fat Hermann’), Berlin’s oldest water tower. I love the feel of this restaurant, especially in the evening. The dark wood bar and furniture, parquet-flooring, old posters, crystal chandeliers and piano combine to create an intimate and authentic atmosphere.
Pasternak after dark
The building was lovingly restored by its owner, a Russian-Jewish immigrant in the 1990s and just around the corner in Rykestrasse is the largest synagogue in Germany, originally built in 1903-1904.
I revisited Pasternak for dinner on a Sunday with friends, a couple of weeks ago. Our waitress was Latvian – full of good humour and helpful suggestions. We started off with mixed platters of Russian hors d’oeuvre. They were a sight to behold and everything tasted as good as it looked, especially washed down with the glass of vodka.
We chose red wine from Georgia – one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world – to accompany the main course and each of us selected something different from the wide choice of Russian and Jewish specialities. They were all delicious.
Finally, we couldn’t resist finishing off the evening with a portion of blinis served with hot cherries and a serving of Russian ice cream. This was probably a bridge too far, but the retro extravagance of the desserts proved irresistible. Having paid the very reasonable bill, we walked outside into the rain and were further tempted by the bright lights of ‘Bar Gagarin’ on the other side of Rykestrasse. This is most definitely a cosy little corner of Russian Berlin.
Bar Gargarin at night
Another very popular Russian haunt in Russian Berlin is the Tadschikische Teestube, this time almost next to the historic Neue Synagoge at 27, Oranienburgerstrasse in Mitte, an area which has attracted many Russian-Jewish immigrants. The whole place was a gift to the GDR from the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan who brought the interior and the design to the Leipzig Trade Fair in the 1970s. In 1976, the Teestube opened on Unter den Linden as a permanent tea parlour and restaurant, complete with carved wooden columns, carpets and hassocks with low tables and kitchenware imported from Tajikistan. It was moved to its current location five years ago.
There are over 20 varieties of tea to savour at the Tadschikische Teestube and for a special occasion you can book a Samovar ceremony. The restaurant menu is suitably Russian too and apart from the magical interior, there is a beautiful courtyard outside. If you understand German, Monday evenings are reserved for the telling of Russian fairy-tales.
But Berliners have not always welcomed the Russians. When the Soviets marched into the city in April 1945, their invasion was characterised by the most terrible bloodshed, rape and pillage. On 20th April 1945, Hitler’s 56th birthday, Soviet artillery began shelling Berlin and did not stop until the city surrendered. According to one source, “the weight of ordnance delivered by Soviet artillery during the battle was greater than the total tonnage dropped by Western Allied bombers”. When the Soviets raised the Red Flag from the top of the Reichstag on 2nd May to signal their victory, Berlin was at its lowest ebb in history.
Iconic painting of the Red Flag
Things didn’t improve much during the years of the city’s division when the Soviets took over the eastern sector of Berlin after the war. During the workers’ demonstrations in East Berlin on 17th June1953, Soviet tanks and soldiers were brought in to quell the uprising, and hundreds of East Berlin citizens were killed. The Soviet Union was always proclaimed as the ‘great friend’ of the GDR Government, but many of its citizens would beg to differ.
Russian tanks in East Berlin, 1953
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Soviet military left East Berlin and the American, British and French military left West Berlin. But the Russians have left behind so many more tangible memories than the Western Allies. They lost over 30,000 soldiers in the Battle for Berlin and the huge Soviet War Memorials in Treptower Park and on 17. Juni Strasse, near the Brandenburg Gate, bear witness to the massive price that Russia had to pay. For a detailed account of German-Russian relations, the Deutsch-Russisches Museum in Berlin-Karlshorst is well-worth a visit. It is only a pity that they no longer have the large-scale model of the Battle for Berlin which used to fill a whole room in the 1980s. It was apparently taken back to Moscow after reunification.
Celebrations in Treptower Park, 2015
You can actually get a feel for Moscow in the centre of Berlin. Just take a walk along Karl-Marx-Allee from Alexanderplatz to Frankfurter Tor and marvel at the chunky Moscow-style apartment blocks erected in the 1950s, when this boulevard was named ‘Stalinallee’. On the right-hand side you will pass Café Moskau, a striking 1960s-era building, originally built as an ‘international restaurant’ and conference rooms. Now it is the upmarket ‘Avenue’ night club and an event venue. Further along Karl-Marx-Allee, just before Franfurter Tor, is the aptly-named ‘Kosmos’, also now a large event venue and once the largest cinema in the GDR.
The Russians have certainly left their mark on Russian Berlin and continue to shape its culture. It is worth remembering that Angela Merkel speaks excellent Russian, which she learnt as her first language during her GDR education and that Vladimir Putin spent five years living in Dresden, East Germany, when he worked for the KGB.