There has never been a shortage of bars in Berlin. Here are two with serious historic pedigree in Prenzlauer Berg, only a couple of tram stops from Alexanderplatz. Try them both on the same evening for the consummate ‘Berlin Feeling’, and combine tradition and nostalgia with shabby-chic edginess. Berlin nurtures the fabric and feel of its past. Quaint old pubs are cherished and quirky cafés and bars proliferate behind the façades of old buildings. But these places are rarely obvious – you have to know where to find them. That’s part of their charm.
Berlin Bars with history – Metzer Eck and Le Croco Bleu
Best to eat first, so start with an authentic old tavern, the Metzer Eck, a corner pub in Prenzlauer Berg which has been in the same family since 1913. In this cosy little place the beer is on tap, there are half a dozen choices of reasonable wine and the Berlin home cooking is as good and as cheap as anywhere in the city. Perfect Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes) come served with Boulette (a Berlin-style hamburger), Kasseler (smoked pork) or Schnitzel (pork in breadcrumbs). Currywurst (sausage with curry sauce) with Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) is another must. The menu probably hasn’t changed much in a hundred years.
Photo of the Metzer Eck from 1913
Prenzlauer Berg used to be called ‘Windmühlenberg’ (Windmill Hill) and with its breweries, beer gardens and vineyards it was popular with Berliners for summer outings. In the late 19th Century the land was built on using reparation money from the Franco-Prussian war and many of the streets are named after French towns. The neighbourhood became densely populated and Clara Vahlenstein opened ‘Vahlensteins Destille’at 33, Metzer Strasse on August 1st 1913 with money she had won in the lottery. By the time Clara died in 1951, the name had changed to ‘Metzer Eck’ (Metzer Corner) and her daughter Charlotte was in charge. In 1967 granddaughter Bärbl took over, then great-grandson Horst, who sadly died at an early age in 2007. His widow Sylvia still runs the family business.
Old photos and documents adorn the walls of the pub, as well as posters of actors and celebrities and an original letter from Heinrich Zille, the artist famous for his drawings and paintings of working-class Berliners. The furniture and fittings are original ‘Alt-Berlin’ and include the large ‘Kachelofen’ (white-tiled stove), the wooden tables and bar area and the antique fruit machine by the door. Candlelight adds to the charm and at Advent the Metzer Eck feels especially welcoming. Once the heavy felt curtain is closed around the door, the ‘Gemütlichkeit’ (cosiness) is complete.
Inside the Metzer Eck at Advent
Once you can bear to leave the Metzer Eck, it’s only a ten minute walk to Le Croco Bleu. Turn left along Metzer Strasse and then right into Prenzlauer Allee, where the friendly beam of the Fernsehturm (TV tower) will accompany you every step of the way. Look out for some large old brewery buildings set back from the street on the right and walk in through the main gate.
The Bötzow brewery – now and in 1885 when it first opened
As you cross the courtyard, the doorman/security guard will magically appear, check you are a decent type and then give directions to the Le Croco Bleu. This is a bar experience of a more sophisticated kind, steeped in Berlin history, but with unique, on trend flair. Housed in the old machine rooms of the brewery, its name derives from the story of a pair of crocodiles from the Berlin Zoo who were allegedly given temporary accommodation in a basement pool in the brewery at the end of the war.
A crocodile guards the entrance…
Le Croco Bleu is the brainchild of Gregor Scholl, formerly head bartender at the Paris Bar and owner of the Rum Trader, both legendary establishments in Charlottenburg and listed in Berlin Unwrapped. His latest venture is cleverly built around original machinery and piping and features a beautiful tiled floor, high chairs upholstered in turquoise leather and glass tables. The lighting is dim and blue and the total effect exudes an atmosphere of chilled calm.
The alchemist’s cubicle
Everyone must be seated, allowing the bartenders to give unhurried time to their guests. The drinks menu is impressive and unusual. Le Crocobleu boasts a large collection of rare gins and exotic cocktails are concocted in a magical cubbyhole bar then beautifully presented at the table. Prices start at around 10 euros.
‘Acu Acu’ served with roasted almonds
By 2020 the Bötzow brewery site will be ‘a lively centre for cultural and leisure facilities, shops, offices and lofts’ under the name ‘Bötzow Berlin’. Designer is British architect David Chipperfield; to look at his plans, follow this link. At the moment there’s just a gallery, ‘La Soupe Populaire’ restaurant and the wonderful Le Crocobleu. Go now while it remains quirky.