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The International Writers Magazine: Berlin

Berlin, The Old And The New
• Norman Wolfer
The Berlin of 2014 is a mixture of the unchanged and the ever-changing.  We were visiting and evaluating today’s Berlin against the backdrop of our four year life there in the early 1970’s.


There are many facets that make up a city.  One has to be willing to experience all kinds of things to find out what really makes any city tick.  One of those facets is getting out among the people.  On this most recent visit to Berlin, we decided to stay for over two months; mostly for personal reasons, but also for pleasure.  Since we were spending a longer time, and since we wanted to compare the heartbeat of Berlin with our early 1970’s life when we lived in this metropolitan hive of activity, we decided it made little sense to rent a car for the full time. 


We purchased a monthly public transit ticket for the BVG (Berliner Verkehrs Gesellschaft) for about $100 each, which was the price for what they call an A-B ticket.  That is a far cry from the $1,300 we normally have to pay for a car, just for a month.  The A-B ticket covers most of Berlin.  If you have need of going into the outlying C zone, you can either spend another approximate $30 that gives access to all the zones, or you can purchase a supplemental ticket for approximately $2.00 to reach your C zone destination and $2.00 to purchase another for the return trip.

One of the nice things about public transportation is, we walked a lot.  We were able to purchase our monthly tickets at a newspaper stand.  (For more information regarding tickets and connections call 030 19434 9)

Among the first things we noticed, in our public transportation experience, was the overwhelming number of foreigners we encountered.  There were people from all countries, from Africa to Saudi Arabia, from England to the Middle East, including the Czech Republic, Rumania, Russia, and more.  In fact, I believe Germans only made up about half of the passengers on the buses, city trains, and subways.  Of course there are many reasons for that.  For one, most Germans travel by car so they naturally don’t show up in those public transportation observations. 

The second thing we noticed was the increase in obesity, not just since we lived here, but even since our last visit, two years ago.  It is perhaps no wonder with so many fast food restaurants (including McDonalds, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and others).  The use of sugar additives and Monosodium Glutamate has increased in most all of the processed and prepared foods, including foods where one would not expect to find them, like lunch meats, salami, etc.  There were numerous pizza and/or Italian Restaurants, Greek Restaurants, Döner (Middle Eastern) Restaurants, and Chinese/Asian Restaurants galore.  It is apparent foreigners are not hindered in their entrepreneurial spirit in Germany. 

We were fortunate enough to find a couple restaurants that served international cuisine, which included some standard German delights.  I am not, however, talking about the fancy, expensive restaurants that attract visitors from around the world.  In fact, these restaurants are tried and true bastions of success. 

One is Restaurant International, located at 94 Quarz Weg, in Templehof, Berlin (Tel. 030 742 4027).  It is actually a Croatian restaurant, owned and run by Ivan and Jozo Pavic, that serves a broad selection of international cuisine.  We have been going there for years and the owner recognizes us, even after a two year hiatus.  He even remembers my favorite dish, which in this restaurant is Eisbein (boiled, salted, pork hock with sauerkraut and potatoes). 


Tell him Norman, who loves Eisbein, sent you.  The other restaurant is Zum Adlermühle, which is located at 320 Mariendorfer Damm, also in Tempelhof.  It is a family run business that has been around since 1909.  They, too, have an excellent international menu, which includes fresh trout taken live out of a glass tank upon receiving an order for trout.  Their menu is somewhat more extensive, but the quality of the two restaurants is very comparable and the prices, while not exactly cheap, are affordable.

The public transportation, in Berlin, is truly a wonder.  We have found it relatively simple to go anywhere in and around Berlin without too much difficulty or spending too much time.  Most buses, subways, and City Trains, leave each station every ten minutes.   Nights and weekends (not to mention holidays) the schedule changes to every 20 minutes.  We find we seldom have to wait more than 5 minutes at any stop.

Dampfer Fahrt

The City of Berlin and the surrounding Brandenburg area has much to offer visitors and residents, alike.  The fact that Berlin has a lot of waterways is given testimony to by the fact it has more bridges than Venice.  One can take advantage of that fact by taking a Dampfer Fahrt (boat tour) from one to five hours through or around the city.  There are museums, galore, and spots that memorialize the wall that surrounded Berlin for several decades. 

There are Castles, Fortresses, historical event sites, and ancient churches, all of which can be toured most any time.  There are large, impressive castles, small and ornate castles, and almost non-descript castles constructed purely for the purpose of providing a very comfortable place to hold up while hunting.  Some are old, dating back to the mid-fourteen hundreds, and some as new as 150 years.

Schloss Charlotteberg
Schloss Charlottenberg viewed from the Promanade Garden
behind the Castle

One of our favorite castles, located in an area of Berlin, known as Charlottenberg, is the Schloss Charlottenberg, built in 1695 to 1713 by Queen Sophie Charlotte as a summer residence.  It is located at Spandauer Damm 10-22, 14059 Berlin.  It is huge and sits on many acres of highly cultivated, park-like property. It literally takes hours to tour the castle and the grounds. 

Another castle of note, although much smaller, is Schloss Pfauen Insel (Peacock Island Castle), built 1794-1797. 

It was built as a restful place for Friedrich Wilhelm the Second to spend his nights with his lover Wilhelmine Encke, who was banned upon his death.  While very small and only accessible by ferry or boat (pictured here exterior and interior), it is a wonder of paintings, tapestry, and inlay flooring that boast great skill and craftsmanship.  Appropriately named “Peacock Island,” the island is well populated by Peacocks and you can see them close up as well as hear their piercing cry from all over the island. 


The castle is located at Pfaueninsel, Nikolskoer Weg, 14109 Berlin.

We had some business to attend to in Königswusterhausen, which is located in the southwestern part of Berlin.  It is in the former German Democratic Republic.  While there, we visited the local open-air market and walked to the local Castle “Schloss Königswusterhausen,” located at Schlossplatz 1, 15711 Koenigswusterhausen, which was built in 1688, or at least given as a present to Friedrich Wilhelm the 1st in 1688.  It is one of the examples of a castle built primarily for hunting.  It shows the opulence and attention to comfort the kings afforded themselves.

One truly grand Castle is Schloss Sanssouci, built as a quiet refuge by a Prusian King from 1745 to 1747 and located in a suburb of Berlin called Potsdam.  It is also the site of a grand University of Potsdam, which has blossomed since the eradication of the wall  that separated Berlin from East Germany and lies in the shadows of Schloss Sanssouci.


One of the most famous churches in Berlin is the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche (memorial church), built from 1891-1895, and located in the center of Berlin in a retail district known as Breitscheid Platz.  It is a remnant of a very large, ornate, church that was almost totally destroyed during the bombing of Berlin in 1943. 
Kaiser Kirche

The remaining tower has been preserved and fortified as a memorial (thus the name) to the war and a monument to peace.  A new and very modern church has been built next to the old church along with a matching bell tower.  There are, however, a myriad of small Dorf Kirchen (Village Churches) that one would think just historical and ornamental until one reviews the monthly activity schedule.  They seem to be very active, offering children’s activities and adult gatherings, along with the typical church services.

One of those things that has not changed, in the makeup of Berlin, is the number of bakeries, meat markets, small appliance stores, boutiques, cool hotels and travel agencies.  It is not unusual to smell the almost irresistible aroma of fresh baked bread and pastries while walking down almost any street in any small or large community.  A Fleischer (butcher) is inevitably not too far away and usually also offers prepared foods to their clientele for prices that make it difficult to make for less, yourself.  

Bread German

Most of the time, one has to eat such fare on foot at very small tables, but occasionally there are tables and chairs on the sidewalks under a canopy.  More sidewalk cafes are found in the rapidly expanding advent of Gelaterias  (Italian Ice Cream Parlors) with flavors and combinations that are out of this world.

One of the things that has and is changing is the presence of department stores.  The ones we used to shop at, in the seventies and as late as two years ago, are disappearing at an alarming rate.  They are being replaced by larger boutiques and discount stores.  The financially discreet are turning to stores like the 1 Euro Stores, which are the equivalent to the Dollar Tree stores in the states.  The big difference is, one Euro is the equivalent to $1.35 (at the time of this writing).  That makes everything a little more expensive, even in the discount stores.  Otherwise, the inventories are not a lot different.  Another new and apparently thriving discount clothing store is Primark, which is located at Walther-Schreiber-Platz 1 12161 Berlin, Schöneberg Germany. There is only one of these stores, in Berlin, and it is very crowded.  Prices are great, but pay attention to the quality.

The more we explore Berlin, the more we find things have not changed a whole lot and the more we find things are in a constant state of flux.  The experiences Berlin offers makes it more than worthy of any tourist or expat’s time and attention.  Whether viewed by public transportation, or by car, Berlin is a treasure trove of experiences, tastes, history, and entertainment.

© Norman Wolfer November 2014
normre49 at

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