The 2016 Berlin Film Festival (‘Berlinale’) opens this week and the capital will be full of film tourists. Last March I posted a blog ‘Berlinale City Break’ explaining how to get last-minute tickets and suggesting a few cool places to eat. For this year, why not escape the crowds and find somewhere more gemütlich rather than schicki-micki. Here are two great little pub restaurants, each with names ending in the word ‘Klause’, meaning a small backroom and implying warmth, cosiness and traditional German food.
One of my favourite pre-loved and rediscovered haunts is the Schillerklause, a snug little place hidden away behind the Schillertheater, only a few strides from Ernst-Reuter-Platz and certainly walkable from Zoo station. The iconic Schillertheater, once the West Berlin home of classic drama, is currently being used by the Staatsoper while the State Opera House on Unter den Linden undergoes years of elaborate refurbishment. So, for the time being, the Schillerklause is perfect for either before or after an opera – or just anytime you want to come in from the cold. It’s open every day from 4pm until late.
The Schillertheater in winter
We walked into the Schillerklause one evening last week out of the wind and snow into a comforting red glow and were lucky to get a table. The dark wood furniture picks up the dim lighting, and nostalgic posters and photos fight for wall space. Beer is on tap of course and the food is a choice of soup or a selection of dishes from the extensive buffet – all at amazingly reasonable prices.
Just part of the buffet selection
There has been a restaurant in this building since 1951. It was originally owned by the wife of the Technical Director of the Schillertheater and attracted many of the well-known German actors who trod the boards there. These days you are more likely to encounter opera singers. In any event, the atmosphere will be warm, friendly and welcoming.
Famous German actors cover the walls of the Schillerklause
Another perfect place for a pint and some German comfort food is the Stadtklause on Bernburgerstraße, just behind Potsdamer Platz, the glitzy centre of the Berlinale. This historic Kneipe is included in the Kreuzberg section of Café Society in Berlin Unwrapped and described as ‘a unique pre-war Berlin experience’. From the outside the building looks unprepossessing as most of it had to be rebuilt after the war, but once through the door you are in a time-warp. Narrow rustic tables and wooden benches fill the three small rooms and there is an open fire in winter.
High wooden benches and original pipework in the Stadtklause
The menu of traditional fare is a far-cry from the fancy fusion restaurants, celebrity chefs and international chains which are so on-trend. At the Stadtklause you choose between authentic German dishes, usually based around pork, goose, peas, beans, cabbage and potatoes. Bread is baked in the oven on the premises. Everything is cooked with heart, served with humour and is both delicious and inexpensive.
Before the war, this area was teeming with activity. Around the corner from the Stadtklause was the Anhalter Bahnhof, one of Berlin’s busiest railway terminuses. Now, all that remains of this grand old station is a lonely façade and the streets around it, caught between Potsdamer Platz and Checkpoint Charlie are pretty soulless. But the tradition of a good, warming lunch continues. At midday workers spill out of their offices to queue for the dish of the day at the Stadtklause kitchen hatch and cheerily wish each other ‘Mahlzeit’ – a greeting exchanged between colleagues to signal it’s time for a meal break. On Wednesdays the meal is always a typical ‘Alt Berliner’ speciality. The pub then closes after lunch, reopens at 4pm and keeps going until midnight, seven days a week. Space is limited and it’s worth making a reservation.
Lunch served from the hatch
Old photographs and faded mirrors on the walls of the Stadklause help conjure up the past and the vaulted cellars hold a further historic treat. Here you will find a permanent exhibition on the architectural history not only of the Anhalter Bahnhof, but also the first Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall, built in 1888 on the site of a roller-skating rink and located at Bernburger Straße 22-23.
The first Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall
I am only sorry that I discovered the Stadtklause too late to enjoy the spontaneous performances given by Bruno S., an actor and street musician who starred in Werner Herzog’s extraordinary 1974 film, ‘The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser’. Follow this link to read a fascinating article on the story of Bruno S. published in the New York Times in 2008 – ‘From Berlin’s Hole of Forgottenness, a Spell of Songs’.