If there is one city that can claim to have been at the centre of the 20th century it is Berlin. It was at the centre of two wars that engulfed the world. It then became the epicentre of the cold war. When the walls came crashing down on communism, socialism and Guardian readers, establishing capitalism as the one true path to liberation, it happened in Berlin. The world watched a city and a nation reunite. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy became the unofficial anthem of freedom as Leonard Bernstein proudly conducted his concert for a free Berlin on Christmas Day in 1989.
The city has become the symbol of a new Germany. Money has been lavished. This always glorious city has been rebuilt. Many of the great architects of our time have left their imprimatur on Berlin; van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Foster, Gehry, Rogers, Pei. The new Berlin is multicultural, young, fun, with dramatic architecture and cool bars, hotels and music venues.
Any visitor to this city spends their days wandering through the places where history happened. The nights are spent exploring cool bars. I was in town for a meeting, staying at the Ritz Carlton. Potsdam Plaza is smack bang in the middle of things and the hotel’s location is perfect. The hotel is more about old school luxury than hipster chic. It’s the kind of place where a middle aged banker might bring his mistress; nice, traditional but with a few louche touches to make her believe it’s special. She might even be persuaded to overlook the fact that the whole stay is paid for by his hotel loyalty points.
I was hanging out with a guru of the media world, a man of big mind and a large appetite for life. The rest of our crew consisted of old friends; a smattering of Brits, Europeans and Californians. Looking for a drink one evening around 6pm we were met by the unexpected spectacle of a London Beefeater in full ceremonial regalia and staff, marching through the hotel, accompanied by a bag piper. He walked up to a large velvet curtain at the end of the lobby and pulled them open with a ceremonial flourish. Behind the curtain was a very British looking bar, replete with leather armchairs and a long counter with shiny brass rails. Our man walked up to the bar – and had a drink!
This strange ritual takes place every night, a strange Germanic invention bordering on the lunatic. The “Beefeater” is a splendid English bloke with a full white beard and of fine bearing. He serves as the doorman of the hotel the rest of the day.
The Curtain Club is a great bar. Arnd Heißen the Austrian bartender is a wizard. A molecular mixologist, he has created a wall full of bitters, infusions and syrups. These he mixes into the most inventive cocktails. His party trick is to pull out a small chest full of bottles of perfume. One is then invited to pick a favourite. Arnd then creates a drink in keeping with the character of the perfume. It’s a neat party trick. It sure beats drinking perfume – someone must inform Kitty Dukakis (and if you are too young to remember her and her husband Michael, you are too young to be drinking cocktails).
The Curtain Club is well worth a visit – and Arnd is a fascinating guy. Berlin has many cool places to go drinking. Imbibe.com has a good selection as does the inestimable Simon Difford’s Difford’s Guide. Check them out before your next visit to this fine city. Oh, and don’t mention the war.