A Perfect Day with… Jim

Jim_Alex

(above: Berlin Alexanderplatz)

Jim Hadfield is one of the Managing Partners of the Circus and can often be found leading curious history buffs around the city… here he presents his perfect day exploring the sights of old East Berlin…

UP IN TIME FOR BREAKFAST…

With the focus of my perfect day being to explore the east of the city, it seems right that we should start there for breakfast, at the Cafe Zur Rose on the opposite side of the street from the Circus Hostel. I have chosen it because any perfect day needs to start with a cooked, English breakfast, and Zur Rose give you three fried eggs on their version… yes, you read it right, THREE fried eggs.

GOOD MORNING BERLIN…

The first stop on our tour of sights relating to the former East Germany is the Stasi Headquarters in Lichtenberg. The Stasi was the secret police of the German Democratic Republic, and their HQ has been preserved and turned into an exhibition which leads you through the offices of the boss, Erich Mielke, as well as the technology the Stasi used to spy on their own people. It is estimated that 100,000 East Germans worked for the Stasi in one capacity or another – which when you think the numbers for the Gestapo across all of Nazi Germany was 7,000 gives you a sense of the scale and ruthlessness of the surveillance  and control operations undertaken by the East German state.

A SPOT OF LUNCH…

We head back on the U5 to Alexanderplatz for lunch, a square named for a Russian Tsar, centre of 1920s nightlife, and remodelled in the 1960s as a “new socialist city centre” by the head honchos of the GDR and their urban planners. The main department store was (and still is) here: in the GDR it was called the Zentral and was designed to rival those in the West. Hmmm. Now it is called Kaufhof and has been extensively renovated since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which makes it like any other department store, except for the tiny sausage stall on the side of the buildings called “Wurst aus Pommern.” You can get a smashing bockwurst here complete with bread roll for €2. But please, only with mustard… “mit Senf bitte!”

THROUGH THE AFTERNOON…

From Alexanderplatz the Tram M6 will take us to a dark, hidden corner of the GDR story which was the Stasi Prison in Hohenschönhausen. It began life as a Soviet prison camp before being taken over by the GDR regime, and many a prisoner – political or otherwise – suffered physical abuse which would develop over time to sophisticated psychological interrogation methods. To get inside you will need to take a tour, but there is one in English daily at 2.30pm. After the prison you could head back into down to the “DDR Museum” to get a sense of everyday life in East Germany, from cars to clothes to a recreation of an apartment from the era. There are also documentary films to watch, and you can replay the match from 1974 when the East beat the West 1-0 in the only time the two Germanys met on a football pitch.

Jim_TV Tower

(above: the dining room of the television tower)

SOMETHING FOR DINNER…

The Television Tower that overshadows the Alexanderplatz stands at a majestic 365m and was built in the 1960s at a point when relations between East and West were at their lowest ebb. It was intended to be an assertion of communist dynamism and modernity. It is a shame that they need engineers from the world’s greatest country (Sweden) to build it. It gives a good view over Berlin and there is a restaurant at the top that revolves twice an hour. The food is alright and the prices are surprisingly reasonable, but the view is spectacular.

THE NIGHT IS YOUNG…

Within walking distance is my favourite pub called Aufsturz, located on the Oranienburger Straße and home to over 100 beers from all around the world. Each beer has its very own glass, and they come in the weirdest shapes and forms. Aufsturz is a play on words: “sturz” meaning to fall, and “auf” meaning up… so, to fall up rather than down (drunk) I guess… They regularly have live music and having tried all 100 plus beers on offer I can safely say that my favourite is the Radeberger, from a small town just outside Dresden… in the former East Germany.

The Perfect Day series is a collection of suggestions of things to see and do in the city that have been chosen by, and are very personal to, different members of the Circus team. You can see more Perfect Days on the blog here.