beer

Goldstar

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My beer of choice throughout our trip to Israel was the delicious Goldstar. Owned by the Israeli brewery Tempo (who also produce a very refreshing, extremely effervescent bottled water), Goldstar is described as a “dark lager beer”, although it was more akin to a pale lager.

Extremely pleasant on draft, as well as in bottles, this beer is ubiquitous in Israel. Fortuitously the am:pm convenience store beneath our hotel sold three large bottles for 25 NIS (roughly around £4.25). We also tasted Goldstar Unfiltered on a number of occasions, which was darker and slightly less sparkling, and equally delicious. One beer I shall be looking out for in specialist shops here in the UK!

Naked, Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed

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Festivals are hard work. This is as true for the hardened regular attendee as it is for the archetypal Glasto Girl (patterned wellies, straw hat and/or flowery headband, running about braying “Oh my God, I am sooooo WAYYYYSTED!” whilst watching Ellie Goulding and taking selfies). This year was my first Glastonbury, but I’ve done the majority of the big ones (Leeds, Download, T in the Park, Radio 1’s Big Weekend) at least once, a number of smaller events (Fynefest, Evolution, Bingley Music Live) as well as one of the increasingly popular large European ones (Sziget). The period after it all ends is almost always the same in my experience – a feeling of extreme tiredness and general melancholy washes over you – but it’s usually been almost completely worth it.

I’ve always assumed it a particularly misanthropic sort of person who doesn’t enjoy standing outdoors for long periods in preposterously inconsistent weather, drinking overexpensive cider and swaying nonchalantly to bands they may or may not know, retiring to an uncomfortable and often rambunctious campsite, and then repeating the experience multiple times over several days. At this precise moment, almost one week after Glastonbury, and two days after The Libertines at BST Hyde Park, my shoulders are clenched and stiff, my calves are throbbing and still have a bald patch from the near-continuous wearing of wellies in the mud, and my left buttock is an interesting shade of yellow, purple and red from slipping in the mud after Bryan Ferry and falling arse-first onto my camera (which then shattered). I’ve a general sense of fatigue and I keep having to violently clear my throat to loosen some of the 100 Marlboro Lights’ worth of phlegm I accumulated over the past ten days. Of course, I would do it all over again in an instant.

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My first festival was something of an eye-opener for me, both to festivals and the states of extreme inebriation I would come to enjoy finding myself in over the next ten years. I’d had no real inkling to go to one before a friend asked me if I fancied going to Leeds (then branded the rather irritating “Carling Weekend: Leeds”), but the chance to see Green Day (at the time, my favourite band) swayed me. Thus at the end of August 2004, two weeks before I was scheduled to leave home for university, off we went. Upon arrival mid-morning I felt disgustingly hungover, having gone on a works night out the previous evening without packing anything beforehand; by the afternoon I had perked up, these being the days when it took more than a night of heavy drinking and little sleep to fell me for any real length of time. My recollection, such as it is, of Thursday afternoon until the following Monday morning is a heady blur of dancing, watching bands, wandering around the campsite talking to strangers in fancy dress, heavy drinking and smoking, and seemingly avoiding anything resembling food or nutrition.

This first orgiastic experience of festival life was concluded late on Sunday night by myself and a number of other gents of similar disposition and inebriation deciding it would be highly amusing to have a mud wrestling match, wearing nothing but our shoes and socks, in front of a small cheering crowd. From photographs I saw some time later online, the “small crowd” was probably in the region of a thousand people. Finding this amusing, it apparently became a pattern I repeated at other festivals as soon as I was drunk enough for it to seem like a really good idea. A notable example was at Sziget five years later. One night around 4am, after having slept for around an hour, I got talking to some Irish lads whilst wandering blearily to the toilet who suggested it would be a great laugh to strip off and dance on the tables at one of the nearby bars (bars are open around the clock at Sziget). And so we did, and got drenched in beer thrown by amused partygoers, and were led back to our tents by angry security guards, still laughing, forced to cover our modesty with our hands.

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And yet – no regrets. It’s not real life. Festivals are another world, gated mini-cities living off music, excitement, alcohol, anticipation and the knowledge that it’s all only temporary. Glastonbury, with its enormous and impenetrable perimeter fence, is West Berlin – beer, drugs, counterculture, a vague sense of being separate from the world outwith the barrier. Leeds Festival has a constant atmosphere of something, somewhere about to kick off, with packs of teenagers roaming the hills looking for something to amuse/antagonise them in between the bands. The campsite at Leeds used to be something akin to a warzone come the early hours of Monday morning, with hundreds of bleary-eyed refugees trudging through the withered remains of tents and mountains of rubbish, fires burning all around, the odd explosion as gas canisters discarded on the fires finally blow. T in the Park is pretty much just Lord of the Flies with very drunk, generally very young “non-educated delinquents”. Sziget, in Budapest, Hungary, is held in the middle of the Danube river on Óbuda Island (“sziget” being the Hungarian word for “island”) and the sense of isolation from reality is palpable. Accessible from the rest of the city by only one bridge, Sziget becomes a surreal township all of its own during the week in August it takes place, drawing a multinational crowd and a roster of acts from around the globe as well as myriad other smaller events and enclosures, including a circus. As the crowds depart on the final day, they’re met by swarms of local vagrants who slowly draw in and try to scavenge the festival remnants for anything of worth.

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There are, of course, obvious downsides to festivals. The weather can often make or break the experience. Download 2012 gave me a small taste of what people who live through hurricanes must feel like. The rain was utterly unrelenting and absolutely soaking, from the moment we arrived on Wednesday afternoon onward. We thought it would be a good idea to buy a gazebo, to have a communal area slightly shielded from the rain. The force of the accompanying wind was so fierce that it ripped the metal poles clean in half. We bought another slightly more expensive gazebo – it literally took off and landed some distance away from us. Everything was wet – every item of clothing I had on, everything in my tent, everything I had brought with me that was supposedly meant to be dry in my tent. The rain even soaked through the waterproof trousers and jacket I bought at the festival. As I am not a huge fan of metal music (I’d gone along to Download, as with the previous year, because the majority of my friends were going) the situation was hardly ideal. 2011 was intermittently sunny and rainy, and there were enough bands playing that I liked to keep me interested. In 2012 there was not. I like to consider myself as someone who just puts up and gets on with things in times of slight adversity. In particular I feel I’m someone who’s fairly resistent to bad weather – currently living in Scotland and having grown up in Northern Ireland and the North East of England, rain has pretty much always just been a fact of life – but the last straw came on Sunday morning when, having decided to go for a prison shower, I dried myself, got dressed in fresh dry clothes, walked outside and was immediately as soaked through as I had been twenty minutes earlier in my sodden clothes.

I bailed on the rest of the festival, ditched my tent, airbed, sleeping bag and anything else I could afford to leave behind rather than ram into a sopping wet bag, and went to stay with a friend in nearby Leicester for the evening. T in the Park 2005 was the exact opposite of the Download 2012 situation; I loved almost every band playing on the main stages, and the weather was actually really good. It was so unexpectedly good in fact that the low-factor sunscreen we’d brought with us was no match for the sun’s searing heat, and my friend ended up with liquid-filled blisters across her forehead requiring special lotion applied to them designed to treat third-degree burns.

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The most obvious downside to a festival is the people who attend it. If it’s not the aforementioned horsey southern girl who thinks she’s Kate Moss at Glastonbury, it’s the pilled-up chav in “hilarious” fancy dress who keeps knocking into you whilst dancing around, arms flailing wildly. In psychological terms, it’s fairly obvious that if you enclose thousands of drunk people in an unrealistic, seemingly consequence-free environment, some of them are going to go mental. In my younger days it was all I wanted to attend festivals for, truth be told – random acts of insanity, heavy drinking, nice weather and dancing to bands I like. I seem to have mellowed (comparatively) in my old age, however. At Glastonbury, I kept my clothes on, I didn’t drink much at all on the final day, and actually came home with alcohol rather than blitzing it all over the five days. I was at The Libertines reunion gig in Hyde Park over the weekend just gone, and from the moment we arrived mid-afternoon, I could sense it was going to be a Leeds/Reading/T in the Park-type crowd as opposed to a Glastonbury-type one. The Pogues had to stop their set to allow an unconscious reveller to be pulled from the crowd and given medical help; The Libertines halted the gig in the middle of their second song so that people could be dragged from the crush at the very front of the crowd. They seemed to have deliberately slowed the tempo of their set from then on, but the show was halted a second and a third time as people climbed the delay towers either side of the stage and were implored to climb back down. Great gig however.

Admittedly, if you’re the kind of person for whom a hot shower and a daily change of clothes are a must, you might not get on as well as I do at a festival. If I’m not covered in mud from diving in it, I’ve got neon face paints on. If I’ve got a t-shirt on at all, it’s probably been on at least one day already that festival. Normal rules of cleansing are generally discarded at these events, unless you’re camping in the VIP areas available (but really, what’s the point?). I did shower at Download, just because they were there and easily accessible from my campsite, but they were showers of the kind usually seen in war films and American History X, i.e. communal. Luckily I have no shame whatsoever (as you may have gathered from this post) and so this posed no problem whatosever to me, however I’ve been told that some people take issue with such a scenario.

Finally – toilets. Whether they be long drop, compost, portaloo or otherwise, it’s pretty much guaranteed that toilets at festivals are going to be pretty unpleasant. If it’s not because of the smell, it’s because of the the fact that the people using them before you always seem to have been feral creatures whose experiences with sanitation of any kind have been minimal. The long drops in particular are especially unpleasant, the odour of bodily waste only masked by the unbearable chemical smell of whatever it is they add to it to make the toilets seem marginally more sanitary. The only exception to this rule that I’ve experienced so far has been at Sziget, where due to the heat at the height of the Hungarian summer, the plentiful and already relatively clean portaloos are cleaned and emptied every few hours. This was very much appreciated the year I attended the festival, as I’d eaten something that disagreed with me from a street vendor in Budapest city centre immediately before going out to the island, resulting in my first few days there being a grimly regular pattern of beer, cigarette, toilet, repeat.

I ‘m tired, I’m tanned, my wallet and left buttock have taken a bruising, my stomach and liver hate me, and my lungs are seemingly trying to cough themselves out of my body. If I were offered a free ticket to an upcoming festival however, I’d take it without so much as a second thought. There may come a time when I feel too old for it all, when the thought of standing outdoors getting burned, barely eating, smearing luminous face paints across my face, dancing until the small hours and then passing out on hard ground in questionable weather for five nights sounds like a bad idea. I hope that day never comes.

 

Photos

Top: The author, drunkenly wrestling naked in his misspent youth, Leeds Festival 2005.

Second: Some metal band or other.

Third: My view from one of Glastonbury’s compost toilets, 2014.

Fourth: Unrelentingly bad weather. Download 2012.

Bottom: The Libertines, from afar. BST Hyde Park, 2014.

Burgermeister, Berlin

Alongside travel, food is one of life’s most wonderful pleasures in my opinion. One of the things I enjoy the most when travelling is the opportunity to try new foods, or variations of foods I already know and love. For example, I’m spending a week in Israel this coming September, and ever since I booked my flights I’ve been driving myself wild thinking about all the amazing food I’ll be able to savour.

Similarly, at the end of last year, after having arranged our four days in Berlin, we immediately set about trying to locate places to eat that we’d both overlooked on previous visits. One of the first that came to my partner’s attention thanks to TripAdvisor was Burgermeister. At the moment in the UK there’s an ongoing trend for “trendy” and “gourmet” burgers, which although delicious can often be financially ruinous and served by irritating staff who seem to believe they’re New York hipsters. Thankfully, Burgermeister’s utterly delectable burgers are both unpretentious and relatively cheap.

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Based on a quick browse of their website (http://www.burger-meister.de/), we knew we had to put Burgermeister as a priority on our list of things to do during the trip. As we were ravenous upon arrival in Germany it was the very first place we went, en route to our hotel. After landing at Schönefeld and taking the AirportExpress train to Ostbahnhof, we doubled back on ourselves to Warschauer Straße, changing to the U-Bahn to travel one stop across the Oberbaumbrücke. Located under the elevated tracks of U-Bahn line U1, just across the road from the steps up to Schlesisches Tor station, Burgermeister serves amazing food.

Burgermeister’s burgers are without a doubt one of the most delicious things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Additionally, the menu isn’t too big or too fancy, and the overall quality of the food is absolutely excellent. From the seven meat (and one veggie tofu) options available, I decided upon the Meisterburger – fried onions, mustard, bacon and barbecue sauce atop a plump, meaty burger, all sandwiched between two toasted halves of sesame-seeded burger bun. To accompany this flavourful feast of flesh and sauce, I ordered a side of perfectly cooked pommes (fries) and a bottle of Rothaus Tannenzäpfle beer. Juicy, saucy, meaty burger, crunchy bacon and onions… the Meisterburger had it all. I dipped my fries in creamy mayonnaise, and washed it all down with delicious pilsner.

It was almost a shame that it all filled me up just right (and I have a depraved appetite) and thus I had no room for another burger – the Hausmeista (mushrooms, cheese, bacon) sounded amazing. If I were going for the full blow-out, I would have gone for the Meister Aller Klassen – two burgers, double cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce and jalapenos. We considered returning for another go at a later point in the holiday, but with only three full days at our disposal and kebabs, currywurst and other exclusively Berliner treats ahead, we decided that our first mouth-watering visit would be the only one for that trip. Next time…

From a cost point of view, this place has it just right. For two Meisterburgers, two portions of fries and two bottles of Rothaus, I paid around €10. As with the majority of takeaway food available in the city, you can eat something that’s delicious, filling and authentically Berlin without spending a horrendous amount of much-needed Euros.

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Burgermeister has been going since 2006, and in the years since its inception has expanded slightly to include a covered standing bar area (see top photo) as well as the original picnic tables outside (which is still how it appears on Google Street View, from 2008). These true masters of burgers (a clever play on words; in a traditional sense, Bürgermeister means “master of the citizens” in German). Admittedly, it is rather small, can be cramped, and during busy periods it can be difficult to get anywhere to perch within, or anywhere to sit on the few picnic tables outside. HOWEVER, any and all minor tribulations are forgotten once you’ve placed your order and are sipping an ice-cold Rothaus within smelling distance of the food. The food, the food…

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Burgermeister, Oberbaumstraße, Kreuzberg. Closest station is Schlesisches Tor, or Warschauer Straße if you fancy a walk across the beautiful Oberbaumbrücke.

Bremen (3)

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Our second, and regrettably final day in Bremen began with breakfast at a small cafe around the corner from our hotel opposite some stalls selling strawberries and asparagus. My hungry eyes skimming the menu, I ordered two large breakfasts and two apfelschorle, with hunger and thirst simultaneously battling each other for supremacy in my stomach. Our almost overbearingly friendly waitress quickly returned with two large plates of delectable-looking things typical of a Continental breakfast and a basket of dark rye bread, along with two pints of fizzy apple juice. Comprising local ham, some prosciutto, sliced chicken, a small wedge of Camembert, a tiny scoop of creamed goat’s cheese, two thin slices of some harder cheeses, a huge slice of watermelon, garnished with a radish and some sliced cherry tomatoes, it was all absolutely delicious. Delicious, and yet due to my hunger being the overriding factor when trying to find somewhere to eat, devastatingly expensive. I had failed to notice that the waitress had dreadlocks and a prominent lip piercing; the clientele were either reading iPads or Kindles; and the suffix bio- (organic) was in front of nearly every (admittedly mouthwatering) morsel on the menu. The cafe was now so obviously some kind of a quasi-trendy/student hybrid eaterie. The two apfelschorle (apple juice spritzers), whilst more than effective in quenching my thirst, were around €3.80 each. The total bill of two large breakfasts and two apple juices with sparkling water in them came to a gasp-inducing €28.

Bremen had been more than reasonable in terms of cost until that point, and this was a slightly irritating surprise. So, we paid and quickly agreed never to speak of that particular breakfast ever again. We sauntered through the nearby streets until we came to the main road, walked along past a block of 60’s-era looking buildings comprised in the main of Turkish buffet places, convenience shops and tacky-looking nightclubs, arriving not long after that at the Hauptbahnhof. A large, cavernous and beautiful old building (see top of page), Bremem central station lies next to a large square filled with bus and tram stops. Navigating our way through the throng of trams, pedestrian crossings and buses, we found a bar with some outside seating and sat and had a coffee near some old men who were drinking beer and discussing something in an animated manner whilst their dogs licked each other’s faces beneath their table.

This was a holiday with no set agenda and no real objectives; we were content just to wander and see whatever we could of the city whilst alternating between beer and coffee in whichever haunts we could find. In an aim to make sure we saw some of the more historic and particularly scenic aspects of the city however, whilst ensconced at that particular cafe we used some of our roaming data to see where we could head to afterward rather than just walking listlessly around the centre for the rest of the day. This led us on another wander through the city to the Schnoor, which is one of the oldest parts of Bremen and one that has retained a medieval character. Reminiscent of The Shambles in York, England in both appearance and age, the Schnoor is a street composed of tiny terraced houses on a small cobbled street, much of them now used as restaurants and souvenir shops. After reaching the end of the street and passing through a small, dimly-lit passage, we arrived back onto a regular-sized street near the river, and to our surprise we found ourselves standing outside Bremen’s open-all-year Christmas shop. One does have to wonder how these shops make a profit for most of the year – although we went inside the shop out of curiosity, as will many tourists and other gawpers no doubt, standing next to a fake snow-covered Christmas tree with flashing lights whilst outside the June sun blazed away made the 25th December feel the furthest away it possibly could be.

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After that slightly surreal experience we decided that it was that time of the afternoon, and proceeded to walk towards the river until we were on the Schlachte embankment. It was a warm day, and the beer gardens and terraces of the cafes and restaurants lining the street were starting to get busy. Finding ourselves a table next to the river, I ordered two Haake Becks and settled down to relax. Haake Beck is a type of the well-known Beck’s beer brewed just across the river from us, and is a variant intended specifically for the Bremen region. It was a lovely pale lager, and twice as enjoyable when drank out of a cold glass in those particular surroundings.

Two steins each and we were starting to get hungry again. It was approaching 5pm – happy hour at the Schuttinger brewery we’d visited on our first evening in Bremen. We traversed the subterranean passage from the Schlachte up to the Böttcherstraße, regained our table from the previous night, and as I was feeling particularly peckish by now I insisted we have Currywurst along with our two 0,4l of dunkel. Although a drinkable enough beer with the environment to match, two large glasses of Schuttinger felt sufficient for that evening, and we decided to head back to the Schlachte and the riverside beer garden we had been to earlier in the afternoon (which I now noticed was called Feldmann’s Bierhaus). The sun’s reflection softly moved further down the river as the night wore on and the light faded, and all the terraces and restaurants lining the embankment became steadily abuzz with people enjoying the weather after work. The smell of sizzling bratwurst from the beer garden’s barbecue was wafting through the air, the beer was as cold and refreshing as earlier in the day, and the noise of coal barges slowly moving along the Weser was almost the only other sound. It was a lovely evening, and made me wish that the two days in Bremen we’d resigned ourselves to could have been longer.

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We decided that our final drink of the evening and the holiday should be back at the Spitzen Gebel, as we’d enjoyed it so much the previous evening. A bonus was that as a smoking pub it  thus had the added pleasure of letting us enjoy a cigarette and a beer at the same time indoors until an unknown future date. Thus our two days in Bremen wound down with a small beer and a cigarette, finished off with another tiny glass of sluk ut de lamp. I was sad to be leaving; although a relatively small city, I felt that a third day would have allowed us to see more of the east of the centre; I knew there was an area called the Viertel that I’d wanted to visit, reputedly another lively area of the city filled with bars and trinket shops.

We walked back through the dormant city centre, across the Marktplatz and the Wallanlagen park next to the river to our Ibis hotel and began to prepare ourselves for the flight home the following morning. Along the way some post-lager hunger returned, and so we made a stop at McDonald’s and sampled the pork and barbecue-flavoured delights of the McRib! Although I used to abhor the though of going to McDonald’s abroad, feeling that it was not in the spirit of being a “proper traveller” and that it was imperative to avoid anything that’s vaguely familiar or available in the UK, in recent years it’s occurred to me that I’m not betraying my own tenuous code if I try menu items that you can’t get in Britain

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This was also my thinking when, after a 7am tram ride back through town and the inner suburbs to the airport, for the sake of convenience, closeness and curiosity we decided to go to the McDonald’s opposite our Ryanair terminal for breakfast. No McDonald’s menu item will ever surpass the Double Sausage and Egg McMuffin in my eyes, but a Chicken, Bacon and Egg McMuffin (accompanied by a large apfelschorle) from the McDonalds Bremen Flughafen was a perfectly good way to end my two days in beautiful Bremen, Germany.

Bremen (2)

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These past couple of years, whenever I’ve had the urge to go away for a couple of days with my partner and we’ve not had anywhere specific in mind, we’ve searched for cheap flights using Skyscanner. It’s a really useful travel website and app that has taken us to Gdańsk, Brussels, Marbella and now Bremen using low-cost airlines. Thanks to having worked away from home for a couple of years on what was essentially an all-expenses paid sinecure, I’ve acquired a decent chunk of Accor hotel points that I’ve put to lively use on these trips, keeping our accommodation costs down.

I love Germany, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Bremen; of course much of northern Germany is beautiful and rich with history, but all we really knew of the city before we left Scotland was that the airport is very handy, being just outside the centre, and that the city is home to Beck’s Brewery. I also knew that I would be completely exhausted, having been at a two-day beer festival in Scotland immediately before flying out. However, our main aim was just to relax, wander, and sample as much local colour (and beer) as we could in two short days, so this didn’t present a problem to us.

Arriving at the small, rather spartan Ryanair terminal at Bremen airport, the first thing I did was ask the border guard in my politest German if he could stamp my passport (see top of page. Success!). Second, we tried to locate a cafe of some sort; not only are all of the cheapest Ryanair flights we’ve taken from Edinburgh seem to be very early morning ones, I’d been up since 3am by this point of our trip and had nursed a raging hangover throughout the previous day. Keen for some proper European-style coffee, we found a relatively nondescript but nonetheless pleasant place attached to the main terminal, and we enjoyed a large coffee with cream whilst a resident of the nearby pond sauntered past.

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By this point it was just before lunch and too early to check in to our Ibis yet, so we took the tram from the haltestelle across from the terminal (€2.50 a single ticket) into the city centre. Alighting at the Domsheide stop opposite the cathedral with its huge towers shooting into the heavens, we walked across the square, through the market with stalls selling spargel (asparagus) and other fresh produce, as well as the ubiquitous German sausage and pork vans.

The city centre really is striking. Bremen (along with nearby Bremerhaven on the coast) forms its own city state in Germany’s current federated system, but was historically a member of the Hanseatic League. Consequently much of the architecture around the city is Brick Gothic, which can also be seen in former Hansa cities like Lübeck and across the north of Germany, Poland and the Netherlands. Wandering around, we came across a very pretty little street that looked very much in this style, called Böttcherstraße, but although seemingly very old was actually only built in the 1920s.

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After we’d had a wander around these nice bits of the old city centre it was time for luncheon, or more specifically, an authentic German döner kebap! I found an imbiss place that sold a variety of Turkish and Balkan delights and ordered two mixed kebabs with garlic sauce and salad. For people who’ve never had a kebab in Germany before, it may seem strange that I got so excited over something most commonly eaten in the UK when absolutely hammered after a night out – but those who have will know exactly why. The style of döner kebap ubiquitous across Germany was invented by a Turkish migrant worker to West Berlin in 1971, and in 2014 it’s the number one seller in the German fast food market, surpassing even McDonalds.

After demolishing the delicious flaky meat covered in crunchy salad, creamy knoblauch sauce encased in a crispy toasted bread roll, we decided to have a casual saunter to our Ibis hotel, to see if I could get us in early even though it was before check-in time. Luckily I wangled it and we had a bit of an afternoon sleep. I usually avoid naps when I’m travelling as I feel it wastes precious time abroad that could be spent enjoying wherever we are, but having been awake so early that morning and me still feeling the after-effects of innumerable pints of ale the previous weekend, we decided to have a couple of hours’ slumber before we headed back out around 5pm. We’d heard about a bar that I felt we should take a look at, seeing as I was trying to keep the purse strings relatively tight.

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The Schüttinger Braueri proclaims that it’s Bremen’s first craft brewery; most importantly for our purposes, Happy Hour is every day between 5pm and 8pm, which means a fairly large glass of their own beer (dunkel or helles) for €2, or €1 for a smaller glass. The helles was pleasant enough, but fairly bland; the dunkel was sweeter and hoppier. For €2 a go though, we weren’t complaining.

After having enjoyed around six beers each over the three Happy Hours, we decamped to a bar across the road called the Spitzen Gebel. Originally dating from 1400, we’d heard of this place before arriving due to it being a listed building, being infamously small, but mainly due to it being the only vendor of a very strong, peppery schnapps called sluk ut de lamp, poured from a bottle fashioned to look like an old-fashioned gas lamp. A curious mix of tastes, rather like Chartreuse and absinthe combined, it’s nevertheless interestingly pleasant and we had two tiny glasses of it across the next couple of hours along with more beers, this time the local Beck’s variant, Haake Becks pilsner.

The Spitzen Gebel is definitely recommended for those who enjoy old-fashioned drinking like us; it was small, smoky (the smoking ban in Bremen state only applying to bars that serve food) and welcoming. The barmaid gave me a leaflet explaining the history of the sluk ut de lamp, and assisted me in getting some more Marlboro from the cigarette machine by giving it a well-placed punch when it refused to work for me.

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By this time it was around 11pm and the town was almost dead; we found another bar, Cotton’s Pub, and had a couple more rounds of beer and cigarettes before heading back to the hotel around 1am. All in all, a lovely first evening in Bremen.

Berlin

Fernsehturm and Alexanderplatz station

I didn’t really know how to begin this blog, as I’m pretty new to blogging (writing, not reading) and moreover I’m still deciding what it is I want to say with it. So, to accompany a rather rambling start, I’ve put up a picture I took on my last visit to what is, without any shadow of a doubt, my favourite place that I’ve visited thus far.

Overflowing with all the epithets one ascribes a city such as this despite none of them being truly descriptive enough, Berlin is, put simply, wonderful. I’ve made four visits in the past ten years, three of them in recent rapid succession, and if all the usual irksome entanglements of life such as work and rent and bills were not preventative factors, I’d most probably fly there today.

Each of my four visits has been an almost entirely different experience; the first, an end of school A-level German trip (myself, three classmates and our teacher, the whole class); the second a brief two-night stopover eight years later at the beginning of a three-week InterRail jaunt; the third a group holiday with friends the following summer; and most recently, on which I took the picture at the start of this entry, a long weekend at the beginning of this year with my partner, as a joint birthday celebration. My age, the company, the budget and the itinerary may have differed on each visit, but Berlin has always been the same; exciting, enthralling and edifying.

There are some places you go and almost immediately there’s a connection or a spark, a feeling that this is somewhere you definitely want to be, somewhere that you should be, almost as if you can’t believe it’s taken you this long to get around to being there. On each occasion, Berlin has always given me that spine tingle from the moment I’ve stepped off the plane.

It’s not difficult to ascertain what does it for me. It’s most likely the fact that I love the history, architecture, taking the U-Bahn to different parts of town, having beer and cigarettes together, döner kebabs, David Bowie and Iggy Pop, kaffee und kuchen, the German language, Jägermeister, currywurst, Christiane F and Lola rennt. For me, Berlin has it all. I can’t wait for my next visit.

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