Sunday, 16 March 2014

Springtime in Berlin



I returned late on Friday night from a most enjoyable six day visit to Berlin. It was my first time in the German capital and I was really impressed with what I found. I was accompanied by my son Matthew, and as this was his first visit to somewhere in Germany apart from Bavaria, I think he was more than a little confused by what he found as well.

Whilst Matthew was primarily there for the beer, I was more interested in the culture and history of a city that has witnessed so many momentous and often tragic events over the years. I will be writing about our experiences in greater depth, later on, but for now I just want to say Berlin is a city that everyone should visit.  For over 40 years, it was a city divided into two, by a crazy ideological, and physical, wall right down the middle, and even now,  nearly a quarter of a century after re-unification it still feels like a city of two halves. With its troubled 20th Century past well and truly behind it, Berlin is a city which is busily reinventing itself, and today it is a bustling and vibrant place which is proving increasingly popular with tourists.

Beer-wise, with Berlin’s surviving breweries now all merged into one large group (BKS), brewing a variety of mainly Pilsner style beers under the names of their former owners, the city on the surface might appear to have little to offer the drinker in search of variety. However, following re-unification and the restoration of Berlin as Germany’s capital, the city has seen a huge influx of people from other parts of the country; each bringing with them a preference for the beers of their former home states. This means that beers from Bavaria are quite common, as are brews from other nearer states, such as Saxony and Thuringia. In addition, Berlin now boasts nearly 20 brew-pubs, and whilst some of these brew a bog-standard range of Pilsner, Scharzbier and Weissbier, there are several pillars of excellence.
 
Of perhaps greater importance than the beer itself, are the places in which it is served and drunk, and Berlin certainly has some superb pubs and bars where beer is enjoyed in a pleasant and convivial atmosphere. We found some great places to both drink and eat in, and we were aided in this by a guidebook called “Around Berlin in 80 Beers”. Researched and written by Peter Sutcliffe who in his time has studied and worked in Germany, and who now has a second home in Berlin, this excellent book is produced by Cogan & Mater Ltd, a small independent publisher based in Cambridge. The company have also published similar themed guides to Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels and London, so it will not surprise readers to learn that the knowledgeable and highly experienced beer writer Tim Webb, and equally experienced beer tour organiser, Chris Pollard (aka. Podge), are the guiding hands behind this outfit.

During our six days in the city, we visited nearly a quarter of the 80 outlets listed in the guide, and all were good. Amongst them was a sprinkling of brew pubs, cafĂ©-style bars, basic boozers and unspoilt corner locals; in short something to please all tastes and preferences. Hopefully this short synopsis has whetted your appetites for more, and to this end I will be describing some of these places, along with the beers they served, in greater detail over the next week or so. 

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