Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A Book to Read in Berlin

Posted By Daisy
I DID a strange thing last month. I headed off for a long weekend in Berlin with my friends – and didn’t pre-pitch a travel feature to my editor. I decided to relax and enjoy the city for what it was, without having to research the place to death, or take constant pictures on my phone and search for quirky little bits of colour.

Over the past seven years, I have learned a few tricks about being discreet while writing about a holiday with other people. I tap notes into my phone during the snooze-on-your-bed time before dinner. I take quick pictures of shop names or menus or interesting details on my phone before anyone has even realised.

Completely different to how I pictured it, Berlin is a laid back, hippy dippy, flower strewn, cobbled streets-mixed-with-Reichstag-type-buildings, friendlier-than-London, beautiful city that I would re-visit in a heartbeat.

Although it's seven times the size of Paris, it feels walkable and accessible and incredibly friendly. The U Bahn and S Bahn are simple to use and the cost of living is low.

We stayed in two Air BNB rental apartments on Kastanienallee, complete with coloured Ikea kitchens and low hanging ceiling lamps.

Kastanienallee: A gorgeous street right beside the U Bahn 'Eberswalder Strasse' stop, complete with gorgeous cafés with vintage chairs and good looking Germans in brogues and Wayfarers.

On the first evening, we drank wine and ate olives, bread sticks and chocolate. We listened to music and chatted late into the night. When we got up each morning, we pottered about drinking copious cups of tea and talked and laughed some more at the kitchen table.

We meandered down Kastanienalle, sitting on wooden benches eating falafels from a Lebanese restaurant.

After lunch, we stopped for small glasses of coffee and fed the tame birds that landed on our table with stray crumbs of carrot cake.
We window shopped in antique stores and gift shops and a cool Scandinavian shop and tried on cool German leather boots in Luca E Anna.

We paused at the hundreds of grey blocks at the Holocaust memorial, and visited the museum underneath. We read stories of Jewish families in the Room of Families and sat in the dark in the huge Room of Names, watching names of murdered or missing Jews from all over Europe flash up on the cinema screen. It would take almost seven years to watch all the names.
We wandered past the museum quarter and through Potsdamer Platz, and past the Brandenburg Gate, and monuments to masculinity on Museum Island where people sat by the river on deckchairs on the late afternoon sun.

We listened to an American Indian playing the pan pipes beside the Reichstag building.

Then we jumped on a U Bahn back to Kastanienallee for pizza and beers, and lolled about in the apartment until 1a.m. whereby someone shouted ‘Let’s get going’ and off we went for some DJ techno worshipping at the Watergate. In the smoking area, a young man in a sailor suit approached L, and said in a German accent - 'I have a huge cock ring, would you like to see it?'

To which she replied 'Ah stop, you look like a lovely young fellow, what would your mother say if she heard you talking like that?'

Nothing, it seems, fazes women in their thirties.

The next night, we ventured to Berghain. Located out of town in an abandoned power factory, Berghain has been described as the coolest club in the world. There’s an iPhone app for how to get into Berghain, and even a ‘How to ….for Dummies’ book. Famous bouncer, Sven Marquardt, guards the door at weekends, warning punters that there are no photos allowed inside. Inside, by all accounts, there are mattress upon which strangers pee on you, Dark Rooms for dark deeds, and a Great Room which lets in the early morning sun as the shutters open and close to the beat of the music, revealing a thousand pale clubbers faces every second thump.

Some of the girls had tried and failed to get in before, and they warned us of the rules:

·         No talking or giggling in the queue

·         Speak German

·         Wear black

Looking cool and Germanic with her black leather jacket and blonde hair, M arrived first at the door. When the bouncers asked her ‘Ein?, she unsmilingly said ‘Jaaaah’ in a German accent, and was promptly ushered inside. Where she told us the women security staff searched her underwear before leaving her to wander upstairs past topless men with hormone implants, the infamous Dark Rooms and scary death metal music.

The bouncer took one look at the rest of us (shushing each other and giggling) and said nicely ‘You will not be getting in tonight.’ Dreams shattered, I asked him ‘Could we just get a selfie with Sven?’ Registering a brief surprise on his face, he rallied fast, replying calmly ‘There will be no selfie tonight.’

With 5 out of 6 refused entry, M reluctantly left the building and we went to Golden Gate club (under some railway arches) until 6 a.m. Two of the girls stayed there until 2p.m. that afternoon.
On Sunday, we browsed the Mauerpark flea market (old black and white photos of children with photoshopped satanic eyes) saw lots of white-faced people with dark glasses and hangovers lolling about on the grubby-looking grassy knolls, and walked for five minutes to see a Berlin Wall memorial site outlined by beveled iron rods stuck in the ground, and information boards and photographs.

On the way to the airport to return to London, the tough-yet-good-looking bald German taxi driver laughed gently and talked about his childhood in East Germany forty years ago while pointing out cool nightclubs on the outskirts of town. He told me he goes to India regularly to smoke hash and chill out. At the airport, he apologised profusely when the taxi fare was a few Euro over-quote, and found my terminal for me without even being asked.

Best. Weekend. Ever.
Elevator Pitch: 21 people live in a small town in Ireland. All affected in some way by the recession, they tell their stories in 21 chapters. There's the single mother stuck in a ghost estate, whose father comes to mow the greens around the estate, the builder who fled the country and his mortified father who can't look anyone in the eye anymore, the owner of a child-minding business, and the young man emigrating to Australia.
Why has no-one written this book before now? Clever and brilliant, the novel, that had hitherto been rejected 47 times, won the Guardian First Book Award 2013, and was longlisted for the Man Booker prize last year.
Author, Donal Ryan, is a civil servant who, encouraged by his wife, wrote it in his spare time after work.
My mum has been waxing lyrical about it ever since I gave it to her, saying she can't stop thinking of the stories and that it's a book she will definitely read again.
(photo credits: Popeye from; Mauerpark flea market from


  1. Wow, what an amazing weekend you had!! Sounds like loads of fun with a sprinkling of culture, just the recipe for a good time. Why haven't I heard of this book? Will add it to my tbr pile : )

  2. Thanks Amanda! Berlin is amazing- I was actually looking for writing courses for this summer there- but no such luck- and The Spinning Heart is brilliant- and sad.x