"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Did I mention it was cold? Did I say how cold it was?

Well, as we headed out for Day Two of the trip, the sky was black with snow and the whole city was covered with a dense gloom. Fitting really that we chose this morning to head off to find out more of the city’s recent history, beginning at Check Point Charlie ( and yes, you will now be singing THAT song all day, sorry)

It is strange to think that, as we walked up Friederichstrasse we were in an area that, less than twenty years ago, was No Man’s land and on a strip known by people on both sides of The Wall as The Murder Strip. Little remains of it now save for a recreation of the checkpoint and a small display of photographs charting the building of the wall and it’s final dismantlement some twenty seven years later. However it remains a moving testament to both the stupidity of those in charge and the courage of those underneath who finally decided they had enough and did something about it.

To take the chill off our bones, we dipped into a café for some more hot chocolate laden down with whipped cream which was just as well because the skies had now begin to shed their load and the snow was falling at an increasingly heavy rate.

With thoughts of anymore walking pushed rapidly to the back of our mind we decided to make use of Berlin’s excellent U Bahn subway system and head over to Wittenberg Platz the location of it’s major department store, KDW.

Second only to Harrod’s in terms of square footage, KDW is a local institution and houses all the usual departments selling most of the usual brands. That, however was not why we were here. We came because it also houses the finest food hall I have encountered in any of my travels. This too is a local institution and, on weekends, it is almost impossible to get into the place it becomes so rammed. On a Friday lunchtime it was busy enough but we had enough room to gaze in awe at the stands serving everything from fabulous fresh fish along side the widest selection of smoked fish I can recall. Fresh meats sat next to Game which sat along side a counter for sausages and ham the size of a tennis court. In the midst of all of this are the gourmet stalls which allow you the chance to try much of what is on offer.

So we did. In fact it gave us the chance to try our first example of what is now the stuff of legend to Berliners, The Currywurst. Created some thirty years ago, it is now the fast food of choice for those on the go. Imbis Stands ( fast food stalls ) pop up all over the city offering this dish to an egalitarian crowd who stand at open tables munching these down with bottles of local beer. The Currywurst is wrong, oh so wrong in so many ways. Basically, a sausage smothered in ketchup and sprinkled in curry powder. Quite rightly it is exhibit A when people offer up the opinion that Germans should not be allowed in the kitchen. But, damn me if you don’t start developing a taste for the things and even start looking forward to the next one once you have finished the last. The example at KDW is a good one and comes with either hard bread or a huge mound of sauerkraut which was excellent. With a good tall beer, it was a perfect way to take our minds off our sodden state.

The wurst thing got kinda good to us by this time so we headed to another of the gourmet stalls and sat down to another couple of local specialities. For HP, a Bullette which as the name suggests is a large round meatball which has few redeeming qualities. If they had dropped these on London rather than sending over V2’s we would all be called Schmidt by now. Me, I surrendered after one bite.

Much better, so much better were two more wurst. A leber (liver) wurst and a Blutwurst ( a boudin like blood sausage ) Again served with sauerkraut, this time run through with fatty bacon, it stood up well to the dark black beer they served with it.

By this time we were fortified enough to brave the outside again and after a short visit to the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtnis Kirche, a church all but destroyed by Brtish bombing which has been left as a memorial to the dead, we headed over by U Bahn to Alexander Platz.

With the cold chill blowing snow across its vast expanse, it is easy to imagine oneself on the set of a Cold War movie. Towering over it is the Fernsehturm, a huge communications tower built as a snub to the West by the East German government. It is certainly imposing and remains the largest structure in Western Europe. There is a side story though as the tower, when hit by sunlight at a certain time of day, casts a shadow of a cross over East Berlin which must have been a pisser for the secular officals of the communist times. The West Berliners called it “ The Pope’s Revenge”

Our plan was to stroll around here and then to through the uber trendy Hackerscher Market before heading back but, by this time the snow was getting even heavier and we just gave up, leapt in a cab and headed back to the hotel for a kip.

So a bit of a false start for the first morning, but we did manage to see Checkpoint Charlie and we did have our first Currywurst. Both testaments of man’s potential for cruelty to their fellow man.
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