Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I've Moved

If you happened to be wondering where I am, I'm over here.

Monday, December 12, 2005

News: Bundesliga and more on the World Cup


Bad news for Hertha fans...another defeat, and those slim dreams of the Bundesliga title (or even Champions League qualification) seem to be fading for another year. They lost 2-1 against Hamburg, in a game that was basically over by the eighth minute when the Hamburgers were already two goals to the good, and Hertha's chances of a come back were not helped by Marcelinho's red card in the 55th minute.

Hertha are now a whopping sixteen points behind Bayern, who head the table, and ten behind Werder Bremen in third - the place they would need to achieve if they want to have a crack at qualifying for the UEFA Champion's League. Hamburg's win keeps them second, four points behind Bayern, and still in the hunt for the championship.

There is a Bundesliga round-up on Deutsche Welle, and the Bundesliga results and table are here: Kicker.

World Cup...

Meanwhile, I've been getting more excited about the draw for the World Cup here in Germany, even though the games that will take place in Berlin are a little disappointing. If either England or Germany come second in their group whilst the other comes first then the second round will see the two meet, in what for the English at least is an iconic fixture.

(From talking to some German football fans the equivilant would be a game against the Dutch).

I never really felt that strongly about the English team when I was in England...of course I wanted them to do well but I was never really disappointed when they didn't (as opposed to my club team...), but since living over here I've actually come to feel more supportive...and would really enjoy watching England versus Germany in Berlin. So here's hoping either Poland or Sweden can spring a surprise and win their group, otherwise we'll have to wait for the final for the England-Germany match-up, and the likelihood of that happening is slim to say the least.

Friday, December 09, 2005

News: The World Cup Draw in Leipzig

The draw for the 2006 World Cup in Germany has just been made, and now not only do we know who is playing who and where, we can also begin to start making predictions based on likely results rather than just player's hairstyles or which team has Ronaldinho. Also, more importantly, we know who is going to be playing here in Berlin...which is very exciting indeed.

The draw took place in Leipzig, which is also one of the twelve cities in Germany that will be hosting matches. The other eleven are: Berlin, Hamburg, Hanover, Cologne, Gelsenkirchen, Dortmund, Frankfurt, Kaiserslautern, Stuttgart, Munich, and Nuremberg.

The Groups...

Group A: (1) Germany, (2) Costa Rica, (3) Poland, (4) Ecuador
Group B: (1) England, (2) Paraguay, (3) Trinidad & Tobago, (4) Sweden
Group C: (1) Argentina, (2) Ivory Coast, (3) Serbia and Montenegro, (4) Netherlands
Group D: (1) Mexico, (2) Iran, (3) Angola, (4) Portugal
Group E: (1) Italy, (2) Ghana, (3) USA, (4) Czech Republic
Group F: (1) Brazil, (2) Croatia, (3) Australia, (4) Japan
Group G: (1) France, (2) Switzerland, (3) South Korea,(4) Togo
Group H: (1) Spain, (2) Ukraine, (3) Tunisia, (4) Saudi Arabia

The Games in Berlin...

The Olympiastadion in Berlin has been completely renovated for the 2006 World Cup, and will host the Final on the 9th July, as well as one of the four Quarter Finals (30th June). The games we know for sure, are in the Group stage, and so we will be welcoming the following teams and their fans to the Hauptstadt:

13th June: (Group F) Brazil versus Croatia
15th June: (Group B) Paraguay versus Sweden
20th June: (Group A) Ecuador versus Germany
23rd June: (Group H) Ukraine versus Tunisia

The Berlin Review's First Predictions...

This will probably change the closer we get to the World Cup, and the squads are announced and we get the chance to see some of the nations in action, but here is what I think is going to happen based on a highly scientific prediction method involving dice, and rolling again when I don't like the result it throws up.

Of course, slight national bias might skew the results somewhat...and probably explains why, after completing the process, my tips for the World Cup Semi-Finals are Germany against Czech Republic, and England against Brazil. So we'd be on for an England - Germany final in Berlin, 40 years after the historic Wembley final...well, I can dream...

(A more realistic tip, based on what I think will happen in the groups and what that means for the knock-out stages, has the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Brazil and Argentina in the semi-finals...)

More information on the World Cup can of course be found on the official FIFA website.

Quirky: Berlin Transport Translated...

This was posted on Metroblogs Berlin. It is the Berlin S- and U-Bahn map translated in English. Todays shopping trip involved a ride on the U2 from Pink-Luxembourg-Square to Alexander Square where I changed onto the U8 down to Crapbussing Gate. The translation of 'Wedding' into 'Hochzeit' made me smile.

It reminds me of the time when I first arrived in Berlin and was looking for the address of the Volkshochschule in Kreuzberg. Using Google's wonderful 'translate this page' function I found that I needed to go to 'Water gate route 4' in 'Cross Mountain', have a look.

The translated transport map can be found here, and Fontblog has links to the map, as well as the Munich transport map in English and the London underground map in German, here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Review: Irish Pubs in Berlin

A week of Champion's League football and a big game for my team on Saturday morning was the inspiration for this post, a look at that necessary-evil for footie fans in Berlin, the Irish pub...

To the self-respecting expat or tourist, darkening the door of an Irish pub in Berlin is the drinkers equivalent of eating at McDonalds. But despite that they serve a dual-purpose (to this writer at least) that can't be ignored...live football, and, to a lesser extent, roast dinners. Virtually all can deal with the first without too much fuss, using a Sky connection registered at an address back across the channel. I have only found one that does a good job of the second (but I would love to hear if there are other places as well). Oh, and of course, then there's the pints of Guinness...

The bad points about Irish pubs apply to pretty much all of them, namely that the beer is over-priced - especially the local brews. I don't really mind paying close to four euros for a pint of Guinness, if that's what is needed, but only a few cents cheaper for a Schultheiss? Give me a break. Also, the expat atmosphere can sometimes, and only sometimes, remind you of why you left in the first place...especially when a stag party drops by for a full-day session.

(And whilst we're on the topic, can anyone understand why a group of mates, to celebrate their pals impending descent into married life, come all the way to Germany only to sit for ten hours in an Irish pub? That makes no sense at all, unless of course there's a game on...)

Although there are any number of Irish pubs in Berlin, I'm going to deal with the big three - although I will say that there is a tiny one on Husemannstrasse in Prenzlauer Berg that is run by a German and has no Sky TV, but serves a great pint and is cosy too.

The Best: The Old Emerald Isle
(Erkelenzdamm 49, Berlin-Kreuzberg - U8 and U1 Kotbusser Tor - Website)

The Old Emerald Isle is down in Kreuzberg, and is easily the best Irish pub in Berlin. No, scratch that, it is one of the best pubs in Berlin full stop, although if you don't like Premier League football then it might be best avoided at the weekends from September to May. Like all Irish pubs it is pricey, but the difference here is that the quality of what you receive makes you feel it was completely worth it. Good choice of beers, excellent food (including the aforementioned Sunday Roast = choice of meat, spuds, veggies, yorkshire pudding, gravy) and plenty of televisions so even if you arrive late for kick-off you can find a good spot to see at least one screen. Also, the guests seem mixed so the atmosphere is less testosterone fuelled, and the staff are super friendly. It also looks like a pub should, without being too naff. I like this place.

Central: The Oscar Wilde
(Friedrichstrasse 112a, Berlin-Mitte - U6 Oranienburger Tor - Website)

The advantage of the Oscar Wilde, especially for visitors that are staying in Mitte, is its location on Friedrichstrasse. There is also not much to complain about on the drinks front (except those prices again), although the food is not worth it at all. The football is shown on a huge screen in the back bar, which means non-footy lovers can enjoy their pint in peace. Having said that, I am only ever there for the football, and herein lies the problem...it is always super busy, and unlike the Emerald Isle, attracts the stag parties. The back room is also super smokey. And even if you get there in time, if it is a popular game, someone will sit in front of you. In the end though it is a good enough default option, and the Oscar Wilde also has Live Music on weekends and a Quiz on Monday nights.

Not Worth the Trek: Irish Pub in the Europa Center
(Tauentzienstr 10, Berlin-Charlottenburg - S-Bahn Zoologischer Garten - Website

Of course, 'not worth the trek' depends on where you were trekking from, but I would say even if it's from the A&O at Zoo Station you're better off heading somewhere else. This place, in the Europa Center (which should tell you something) reminds me of all those Irish pubs in cities all over the world. Soulless, huge, and expensive. I read somewhere that there is a factory just outside Dublin that makes all the 'authentic' Irish decorative features for places like these, and it wouldn't surprise me if these guys were customers. It might have the longest bar in Berlin, Germany or Europe, it doesn't say. Apparently you're supposed to guess. Good points...erm...lot's of place to find a seat...erm...live music...erm...a very long bar? I was only in there twice in my life. I can't even remember why. Don't bother.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What's On: Christmas Markets in Berlin

Yay! The Christmas Markets in Berlin are arguably the best thing about winter in the grey capital - there's not much better than a bratwurst and a glühwein and the sound of Christmas polka. OK, you can scrap the Christmas polka.

My favourites are the Nostalgia Market by the Opernpalais on Unter den Linden (NOT the big brash one with the fairground rides next to the Palast der Republik, the one next door). This looks like a Christmas market should, and is in a beautiful setting to boot. Only problem is the crafts and other stuff for sale is expensive, but just stick to the glühwein and enjoy the atmosphere.

Another extremely well done Christmas market is the one on Gendarmenmarkt. This is probably the best, again in a beautiful setting, but it loses points for charging entry. OK, it's only €1, but still... If you decide to part with your hard-earned euros then there is a live stage with various acts (last year I saw some nice music and a weird witchy fire-juggling act), some great food stalls, and a brilliant indoor section for finding last minutes gifts for your mum. The euros probably pay for web hosting as this one has a website.

Finally, the small Scandinavian-themed market in the Kulturbrauerei is worth a mention (I always thought it was Swedish, but I saw a load of Finnish flags on Sunday). It is tiny, but has the usual eating and drinking options, is not too busy, and, what makes it stand out from the crowd, it has a sauna. No ice skating rink this year, which is a shame, but seeing as they have nearly finished the car park, they've put one of those up on Bebelplatz.

Worst Christmas Market: Alex - sandwiched between the tramlines and a building site...why bother?

If you are interested, here's a list of Christmas Markets in Berlin

Guide: Berlin - Prenzlauer Berg

Prenzlauer Berg, north of Mitte, was one of the Berlin districts that was in the Soviet sector following the Second World War, and therefore was part of East Berlin in the DDR. Traditionally a working class neighbourhood, it has been heavily gentrified, especially in the west of the district, over the last decade. Popular with students, and young parents, its attractions lie in it's cafe and street culture rather than any 'sights' as such.

On Kastanienallee, strip of cafes, expensive second hand stores and killer trams, are the best Naan pizzas in Berlin at the W Imbiss - maybe they are the only Naan pizzas in Berlin but they are great, cooked in a tandoori oven with great veggie toppings and optional tandoori fish. In the summer it gets insanely busy, but if you don't mind the wait it is completely worth it. Actually, I'm not sure if the W Imbiss is actually in Mitte, in which case I'm going to add the Zionskirchplatz to the list of favourite spots (just around the corner). Not only is this a great, quiet spot, with a number of cosy cafes, but the Zionskirche (unfortunately the link is only in German) is interesting in its own right. During the DDR times it housed a printing press where dissidents produced various critical pamphlets, and now, alongside regular church services, it is also the location of a number of cultural events, as well as the Bio-markt every Thursday.

Further up Kastanienallee, into Prenzlauerberg proper is the Prater (again, only German), one of my favourite beergardens in Berlin (as well as being the oldest), and also the location for a restaurant, venue for performances, and the home of the Bastard club. Under the railway arches at Eberswalder Strasse is another legendary culinary landmark, the Konopkes Imbiss, that has been selling sausages since 1930, as well as the funkiest news-stand in the city - selling copies of the Guardian, the IHT and other German and international press to a jazzy beat. Another of my favourite hangout spots is just north of here on Pappelallee - the Klub der Republik - a fantastic retro-styled bar with cheap drinks, seventies d-d-r-decor, and an extra 50c on each drink for the DJ (this is a good thing BTW;-). Very popular, it fills up especially fast on Fridays and Saturdays.

If you head back down Schönhauser Allee towards Mitte from this intersection, you will come to the Kulturbrauerei. The former Schultheiss Brewery has been converted into an arts and entertainment centre, with bars, clubs, a cinema, and a cool pool hall. The courtyard on summer evenings serves as a beergarden, and in the winter is the location for a small, Scandinavian themed Christmas Market.

The area around Kollwitzplatz, named for the artist Käthe Kollwitz, are numerous cafes and bars. Most of them are a little too 'trendy' for my tastes, but the Cafe November on Husemannstrasse gets a mention simply for having a great Sunday buffet. Kollwitzplatz itself hosts one of the best Bio markets for organic produce every Saturday, although often super crowded and quite expensive. A better deal price-wise in the neighbourhood comes on books; the Saint George's English bookshop just down the road has some great deals to keep you in reading material.

What else do I like about Prenzlauerberg? I like the flea market at Mauer Park, formally a stretch of the Berlin Wall with the death-zone separating East and West, now turned into a public space alongside the stadium and the Max Schmeling Halle. The park itself is a bit grotty, although the Falkplatz at the northern end (by the arena) is one of the best spots in Prenzlauer Berg for a summer barbecue. Then there is the Pfefferberg over on Schönhauser Allee, another converted factory, that houses all kinds of events - and, further east where the district is less gentrified - there is the Planetarium on Prenzlauer Allee, where you can see stars in the city.

Some people dismiss Prenzlauer Berg as being too 'yuppified', but it was the first neighbourhood I fell in love with when I came to Berlin - it was like nothing I'd seen in England, and it gave me that first intoxicating taste of that 'anything goes' attitude when I found myself in Bastard at four in the morning with a load of new friends. Of course, I would have probably had the same experience (and maybe even 'more so') in Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain...but first impressions are often the deepest, and I have loved this part of town ever since.

Here's where Prenzlauer Berg is on the map: Via Michelin

You can also find some other peopls's tips for Prenzlauer Berg on Wikitravel

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Review: Berlin Books - Russian Disco

The next installment of the Berlin Books is the highly entertaining 'Russian Disco' by Wladimir Kaminer - "Tales of Everyday Lunacy on the streets of Berlin"...

Russian Disco: Wladimir Kaminer

Russian Disco is a disjointed book. Fifty short tales of life in Berlin from Russian author, sometimes the stories over-lap, they don't seem to be in any kind of order, and sometimes you are just not sure what on earth Kaminer is going on about...

But that was probably the intention. After all, Russian Disco documents Kaminer's life in Berlin following emigration in 1990, in that period between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the final collapse of the DDR. He moved into a flat vacated by an East German who had just upped and left. He spent time in a foreigner reception centre in Marzahn. He was an extra in a war movie, he meets more crazy people than you can imagine, and he tells all their (and his) stories with humour and a sense of chaos that suits the turbulant time about which he is writing.

Along the way Kaminer and friends began the now legendary Russendisko nights, an event that is also covered by the book, as well as beginning his media career that has led to this, and other bestselling books as well as newspaper columns including a regular spot in Zitty magazine. This journey, with diversions along the way including re-selling Aldi goods outside Lichtenberg Station and other money-making schemes, musings on Russian phone-sex and German citizenship, to sardonic observations about the Russian community in the city.

Despite the fact that sometimes the pieces seem too short (2/3 pages) and as a reader you actually want more, Russian Disco is a good, if quick, read. Kaminer is both smart and funny, and the translator has done a great job putting it into English.

Entertainingly chaotic.

Russian Disco is available, and there are a couple of other reviews, on Amazon, or if you are in Berlin, head to one of the English Bookshops in the city.

News: Germany, the World Cup and other Football

Jürgen Klinsmann, the German national team trainer, thinks that the hosts for next years world cup will need a lot of luck to win. This is true, despite the home advantage.

Interestingly though, if you removed Brazil from the equation (and they seem to be everybody's favourites) there is not much to choose between the top nations. Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, England, Spain and even Germany are all capable, with a nice draw and a following wind, of making it to the final. After all, a German team that Franz Beckenbauer claimed was "so bad, if you put all of them in a bag and hit it with a stick, whoever you hit would deserve it" managed it in 2002 in Japan and Korea. And once there, against the mighty Brazil, it was a mistake from the previously unbeatable Oliver Kahn that broke the deadlock.

Once in the final of course, it is down to one game. And in one game anything can happen. Look at Greece in the European Championships two years ago, or Liverpool and Porto in the last two Champion's Leagues. Beyond the group stages, in the realms of knock-out football, anything can happen. That's what makes it so exciting, and why, with master magician Guus Hiddink in charge, even the Aussie's can dream.

The draw for the World Cup is on Friday: FIFA.

Bundesliga News: Bayern draw against Stuttgart, with Deisler getting himself sent off for kicking an opponent. It allowed Hamburg (who won 3-1 in a bad-tempered game against Köln) to close the gap at the top to four points. Our Berlin's Hertha won as well...they stay fifth, in the European places, but there is a bit of daylight between them and Dortmund and Moenchengladbach who both lost.

Results and Table: Kicker

Monday, December 05, 2005

What's On: Reading - Mondays at Babylon

According to Zitty, this is being presented by the Ex Berliner...in any case, it is part of a monthly 'Mondays at Babylon' which as a series of readings in English at the Babylon-Mitte cinema on Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse.

The next edition is next Monday, the 12th December, and it features writer Susie Orbach (Fat is a Feminist Issue) and German photographer Melanie Manchot. Orbach will be reading, Manchot presenting her photographs, and the theme is that of the portrayal of women in the media and advertising.

It kicks off at 7.30pm.

The Kino Babylon Berlin-Mitte can be found at Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse 30 (U2 Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz): Berliner Stadtplan.

Guide: Berlin - Mitte

(Photo: The TV Tower)

I started writing about 'Berlin Places' for anyone that stumbled across this blog looking for info on Berlin, and have decided to write some general posts about the Berlin districts to highlight my favourite spots in the city. Starting in the middle, here's Mitte...

I always think of Mitte as having three distinct areas, all very different, highlighting the variety that can be found in the city in general. On the Mitte side of the Brandenburg Gate is the historic centre, around Unter den Linden, with it's grand buildings designed to fit with the city's status of a capital city. North, towards Prenzlauer Berg is the Scheunenviertel, the former Jewish neighbourhood, whilst to the east of Unter den Linden is Alexanderplatz, the concrete centre of East Berlin, capital of the DDR.


Unter den Linden; This is the Berlin of tourist guides, and there are some fascinating little spots on and around this grand boulevard. The Brandenburg Gate and the newly developed Pariser Platz sit at one end, the Berliner Dom and the Museumsinsel sit at the other. In between there is the Bebelplatz, otherwise known as the 'book-burning square' - there is a wonderful memorial to the event laid into the cobble stones, and underground square of empty book shelves, which thankfully seems to have been undisturbed by the building of a new car park around it.

There are some great buildings around here as well, if you are into that sort of thing, such as the Opera and the Humboldt University, as well as the twin cathedrals on Gendarmenmarkt and the fantastically overblown Russian Embassy - some say the 'real' seat of power in the DDR.

Cutting through Unter den Linden is Friedrichstrasse, which since the fall of the wall has become the site of various new, chic boutiques and shopping arcades. Down on the border with Kreuzberg, where the wall used to be is the Checkpoint Charlie museum, a really interesting place (although I have been far too many times with various visitors), and a fine range of "authentic" Communist apparel being hawked outside.

North of Unter den Linden, between Hackescher Markt and Friedrichstrasse is the Scheuenviertel, the former Jewish district. The Hackesche Höfe, a collection of courtyards right on Hackescher Markt includes a cinema, a cabaret, bookshops, a pool hall and the Ampelmännchen shop, where you can get everything they can think of with the little green and red crossing guys on them. On Oranienburger Strasse there is the Neue Synagogue, which includes an exhibition on its history, and that of Jewish life in Berlin.

Along Auguststrasse and Linienstrasse a gallery quarter has grown up over the last 15 years - it is great just to walk around and see what exhibitions they have on at any given time. Probably my favourite is the C/O Berlin, on Linienstrasse, which often has some stunning photography exhibitions from international artists. Back on Oranienburger Strasse, the Kunsthaus Tacheles is a work of art in itself, as well as being home to a cinema and art exhibitions of vaying quality (I wrote about Tacheles before, and there is a link at the bottom of this post).

Around Alexanderplatz there is of course the TV Tower, for your views over towards Poland (on a clear day), as well as the World Clock, some abstract fountains, and in general the wonderful sense of having arrived in another city despite only walking a short hop along Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse from Unter den Linden. My favourite building on Alex is the 'House of the Teachers', an otherwise boring sixties block that has a great socialist-era mural about a third of the way up. Just north of Alex is the Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse, which houses the avant-garde Volksbühne theatre, the art house cinema Kino Babylon, and the former headquarters of the Communist Party, which now houses offices of 'Die Linke.PDS' (the German Left Party).

Behind the big housing block on Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse (by the Institute Cervantes) you can also find one of my favourite memorials in Berlin, on the site of the Old Synagogue. It features a huddle of women, whose husbands had been sent to the Concentration Camps, whilst across the small patch of grass since another figure in an armchair, symbolising the German people watching on as crimes were committed around them. Powerful stuff.


Some cool hang out spots in Mitte include:

The Jazz clubs. There are two good ones, the b-flat on Rosenthaler Strasse, and the Schlott on Chauseestrasse. The second is especially good on Monday's when it is the open jam night. Admission is free, and they manage to attract a very high standard of musicians to come and take part.

Attached to the Volksbühne on Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse is the Rote Salon, an (unsurprisingly) red affair, with some great events including salsa and latin nights, as well as periodic visits from the kings of Berlin Britpop, the Karrera Klub. Around the corner on Torstrasse is Kaffee Burger, a great late night drinking den with an eclectic programme that includes the legendary Russendisko.

On Oranienburger Strasse, in amongst the tourist-trap restaurants are a couple of cool place; the Cafe Zapata in Tacheles, which often has live gigs, as well as the Aufsturz, a cafe with beers from around the world with a club in the basement that has free gigs most weeks of young, up and coming Berlin bands.


Favourite Restaurant: The traditional and cosy Sophie'nEck on Sophienstrasse, close to Oranienburger Strasse

Favourite Kebab: The Imbiss International on Rosenthaler Platz. Good cheap pizzas too.

Other Berlin Review posts on Mitte:
Guide to: Große Hamburger Strasse
Guide to: Kunsthaus Tacheles

Friday, December 02, 2005

Berlin Review-ed: Friday 2nd December

So another week goes by, and the webstats tell me that least a few of you stumble upon this blog on any given day, so here's the Friday roundup for those who drop in over the weekend...

(UPDATE: I changed a load of titles and the links don't work. Maybe I will get a hang of this blogging malarkey one day...)

On Monday there was a report from the Berlin Review's trip to Meissen, as well as more comment on the World Cup ticket farce.

Tuesday brought a look at Große Hamburger Straße in Mitte, news of a new film club at the British Council, as well as Gunther's thoughts on the CIA flights issue, which if nothing else provoked a response.

Books about Berlin provided the inspiration on Wednesday, with a review of Stasiland, as well as news of a football art exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau.

Thursday's posts concerned themselves with the Kunsthaus Tacheles and the news of the opening gala for the World Cup.

Friday brought us the Berlin Review guide to Hostels in Berlin, as well as a look at Berlin's English language paper the Ex Berliner.

As Saturdays and Sundays are for doing fun stuff, and this is a Monday to Friday blogging operation, we'll see you after the weekend. Have a good one.

News: Ex Berliner December Edition

The Ex Berliner, Berlin's 'English language paper', has just released its December edition and I wanted to post it up here not so much as a recommendation, but rather as a question to any Berlin readers about what they think of the magazine.

In the name of research for this blog I parted with my €2, but normally I don't bother, despite the fact I would welcome, and think there is a market for, a quality English-language publication in the city.

My problem with the Ex Berliner has always been that it is too thin, in that, basically, that there is not enough to read. There are some good writers in there (Robin Alexander on politics for example), but I can read what I am usually interested in over a cup of coffee in about half an hour. Not really worth the cash.

The listings, especially the English-language cinema and other events are pretty good, but with copies of Tip and Zitty lying around in most cafes it would be the most linguistically challenged that would have to rely on the Ex Berliner to know what's on. What is good are some of the reviews and the 'head's up' for some things that might have passed the radar.

Anyway, this month there are the usually politics, football, gay Berlin and reviews/listings, alongside an interview with German photographer Melanie Manchiot (interesting), Bio food in Berlin (less so), and a thought-provoking article on the use of women in advertising. Actually not that bad. I still wish there was more to read though, and wouldn't mind paying a euro more for something more substantial. I would be interested in what others think...

The Ex Berliner website is here, and, which is nice, the women in advertising article is online.

Guide: Hostels in Berlin

As part of our slowly increasing guide to the city, I decided today to focus on those bastions of smelly socks and snorers, the Berlin hostels. I would love to write about the city's five star hotels, but unless they're going to invite me I'll have to stick to what I know.

For what it's worth, here are my favourite hostels in Berlin - great for cheap sleeps if you are coming to visit us here, or for locals somewhere to stick your buddys when they come to stay...

The Circus Hostels
(Weinbergsweg 1a - U8 Rosenthaler Platz, and also at Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse 39-41 - U2 Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz)

The Circus Hostels, both in the north of Mitte close to the border with Prenzlauer Berg are pretty well known in the European backpacking scene for being of a super high standard, clean, and with immensely knowledgeable staff. The newer version at Weinbergsweg is a bit more lively, with a street cafe and a bar in the basement. Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse is quieter, more cosy, with a small kitchen and an intimate atmosphere.

Oh, and a good tip for visiting parents: The Circus Weinbergsweg has attic apartments with kitchens and en suite bathrooms that would please the most picky of elder relatives.

The Circus Website

The Heart of Gold Hostel
(Johannisstrasse 11 - S-Bahn Oranienburger Strasse, close to Friedrichstrasse also)

The Heart of Gold is named after a space ship in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and runs on the reassuring motto of 'Don't Panic'. It looks like no other hostel I have even seen, with a futuristic reception and bar area with a pool table and occasional live music in the evenings. Like at the Circus the rooms are spacious for backpackers dorms - unlike most hostels in Europe, the Berlin ones seem a bit more concerned with their guests comfort as opposed to cramming as many bunk beds into a room as possible.

Oh, and they also have private rooms for those that have grown out of sleeping with strangers - or perhaps need more privacy to do just that.

Heart of Gold Website

The Helter Skelter Hostel
(Kalkscheunenstrasse 4-5 - S-Bahn Oranienburger Strasse or U6 Oranienburger Tor)

Around the corner from the Heart of Gold is the Helter Skelter, located in the Kalkscheune, a popular venue for gigs and club nights. This can mean the courtyard gets a little noisy, but if you are more of an old-school backpacker then this is the place for you. Indeed, the motto of the Helter Skelter is 'Back to the Roots' and prides itself on being a 'real hostel'...there might be no bar but there are cheap beers from the fridge, a kitchen to cook dinner and a pool table to challenge strangers to a game.

Although the two hostel above have more style, as well as more facilities, in a sense, the Helter Skelter has more soul.

Helter Skelter Website

The Generator
(Storkower Strasse 160 - S-Bahn Landsberger Allee)

If you ever wanted to stay in a genuine DDR Plattenbau you can fulfil your ostalgic desires at the Generator. It is a bit further out of town that then others, but it's close to transport, and perhaps because of it's location and it's size (huge by the way) it has an impressive array of facilities. There's a bar, a place to get dinner, lounges, an internet room, washing facilities as well as the chance to buy tickets for events and a free walking tour that leaves from the reception.

Word of warning: you have to be OK with neon blue lights. Apparently that's the Generator 'thing'. A bit too impersonal for my tastes but the bar can get lively as long as the hostel is not full of school classes (which is unfortunately quiet frequent). It's size makes it a good fall-back solution.

Generator Website

Other Hostels we like...

I've been around quite a few hostels in Berlin, and there are plenty of good ones out there...for some reason the standard in the city seems a lot higher than in other European cities. Some other fine places that I have seen include the Odyssee, within spitting distance of the Karl Marx Allee in hip Friedrichshain. It is attached to a bar that it fast becoming known as a great venue to catch local live bands.

The EastSeven is in Prenzlauer Berg is new, small, and has a great intimate atmosphere that the bigger hostels will never be able to achieve. Although I have never been there, I have also heard good things about the small Lette'm Sleep, also in Prenzlauer Berg.

You can also get an overview of independent hostels in Berlin and Germany on the website of the German Backpacker Network, or hostels in Europe in general at GOMIO.COM.

(Note: I will probably add more reviews to this page as time goes by. At the moment I decided not to write about the bad hostels in Berlin, and there are a few...but that might change on a day when I am not in such a good mood ;-)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

News: Plans for the World Cup Gala in Berlin

So if I am not busy on June 7th next year, and I can get a ticket, maybe the place to be will be the Olympiastadion in order to witness the Opening Gala of the World Cup.

Hmmm, or maybe not. The vast majority of these opening ceremonies, be they for World Cups or the Olympics tend to be mind-numbingly boring, over-long, and more often than not, completely inpenetrable when it comes to understanding what the choreographers or whoever it is that puts these things together are actually trying to say.

The first paragraph of the Deutsche Welle article seems to hint that the organisers for next year may have learned from the mistakes of the past...

"...the organizers, aware of the schmaltzy affairs put on to mark the openings of such events as the Olympics and the Superbowl, want the World Cup event to be a classy affair."

What they are promising so far are a French avant-garde choreographer, Brian Eno composing the anthem, Peter Gabriel as musical director, 132 of the worlds most famous footballers including Diego Maradona, and that the whole thing for the budget price of €25 million so its bound to be spectacular...oh, and famous soccerball fans the Black Eyed Peas will be hip hoppingly entertaining the crowd (so, Man Utd fans, there will be at least one Fergie at the party).

But despite the organisers protestations, it sounds a bit like, well, more of the same. Expect unity of nations-themed dance routines, some bizarre performances of people in different coloured outfits making pretty patterns that are supposed to symbolise something but no-one actually understands, and hopefully a wardrobe malfunction or two. Plus a fireworks display. They always have a huge fireworks display, don't they? Still, it's a bit of history, and how often will I be in a city that's hosting a World Cup Gala, eh?


"Tickets for the event will not come cheap with prices ranging from 100 to 750 euros."

Ah. Well. Maybe I'll just watch the thing on the telly instead.

(The photo is the World Cup Mascot...he's furry...)