British Victory Parade 1945: Desert Rats! May Your Glory Ever Shine!

Berlin Experiences - Berlin Victory Parade 1945 - Desert Rats

The thump of the 3rd Royal Horse Artillery’s 25-pounder-guns at 10 am on Saturday, July 21st 1945 was intended to represent the last time that British artillery would be fired on the streets of Berlin - and the start of the British Victory Parade.

The procession would take place along the very same street where Adolf Hitler’s troops had held their own victory parade almost five years earlier, on July 27th 1940, following the defeat of Poland and surrender of France.

[caption id="attachment_6579" align="alignright" width="300"]Berlin Experiences - British Victory Parade - Artillery Salute 3rd Royal Horse Artillery salute[/caption]

Now, as the leaders of the Big Three (Truman, Stalin & Churchill) gathered in nearby Potsdam to attend the final Allied conference of the Second World War, some 10,000 men along with tanks, armoured cars, searchlight batteries and artillery formations would march along Berlin's monumental Charlottenburger Chaussee - reviewed by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Ministers Anthony Eden and Clement Attlee, along with Field-Marshals Montgomery, Wilson, Alexander and Allan-Brooke.

The street had been one of Berlin's finest, a tree-lined boulevard running through the city's central park towards the Brandenburg Gate. Now many of the trees were suspiciously absent and the street was strewn with rubble, following years of Allied aerial bombardment and the final Soviet ground assault on the city throughout April and May 1945.

Oliver Lindsay in his book 'Once a Grenadier' described the central Tiergarten at this time as "… reduced by urgency for firewood to a desert of tree stumps”. Recalling a city where: “many of the statues were scarred by shell fire and headless. The River Spree was choked to death and decay, an open sewer with stagnant and scum-bound waters. Three in every four houses were smashed or gutted. In the British Zone, fewer than ten percent of buildings were undamaged.”

Although the fighting in Europe had by this time officially come to an end, Imperial Japan still remained undefeated in the East. The 'War in the Pacific' would rage for another two months as British and American forces and their Allies sought to extinguish the Rising Sun.

On the same day as the British Parade, US President Harry Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed to drop the newly developed atomic bomb on Imperial Japan if they failed to surrender. They chose not to inform Soviet leader Joseph Stalin of their decision during the on-going Potsdam Conference.

Later as the tension of the Cold War increased, Charlottenburg Chaussee would be renamed Straße des 17. Juni in 1953 by the West Berlin authorities to commemorate the People's Uprising in East Germany on June 17th 1953, when the Red Army and GDR Volkspolizei shot protesting workers.


When Did The 'War In Europe' End?

[caption id="attachment_6567" align="alignright" width="300"]Berlin Experiences - British Victory Parade - German Surrender 1945 Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel signing the German surrender in Karlshorst - May 8th 1945[/caption]

The 'War in Europe' (or the Great Patriotic War as it was known by the Soviets) formally ended at 00:17 am on May 9th 1945 in Berlin, when Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, on behalf of the Supreme High Command of the Red Army, and Air Chief Marshal Tedder, Deputy Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, accepted the surrender of all German forces from Chief of the General Staff Wilhelm Keitel in Karlshort, Berlin.

This wasn’t the first or only time that the German military had surrendered in the hope of bringing the war to an end.

Although the 'German Instrument of Surrender' was signed on May 9th in Karlshorst, it was backdated to 11:01 pm on May 8th due to a previous surrender signed on May 7th in the red brick schoolhouse of the Collège Moderne et Technique de Reims in France - headquarters of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).

Allied journalists were restricted from reporting this event by a 36-hour embargo as following objections from the Soviets it was subsequently deemed the official surrender of Nazi Germany should take place in the German capital.

  • Previously, on April 29th 1945, German Army Group C Commander in Chief, Heinrich Von Vietinghoff had surrendered to British Field-Marshall Harold Alexander at Caserta, Italy. This was not accepted by the German High Command as their final or absolute surrender. Neither did the Allies see it that way either. It only brought to an end the campaign in Italy.
  • On May 2nd 1945, General Helmuth Weidling, commander of the Berlin Defence Area, surrendered his force of 45,000 soldiers to Soviet General Vasily Chuikov after the Russians had finally taken control of the Reichstag building. This served only as the capitulation of German forces in Berlin.
  • On May 4th, Admiral Hans Georg. Von Friedeburg tried to surrender the whole of the German forces to Field-Marshal Bernard Montgomery at Luneburg Heath. Whilst the British accepted the surrender of the forces in north-western Europe, those facing the Western allies, Montgomery stated that he could not and would not accept the surrender on behalf of the Russians. The Germans would have to negotiate that directly with the Red Army.
  • Finally, on May 7th the German High Command (led by Colonel-General Alfred Jodl and Admiral Von Friedeburg) tried once more to surrender their entire forces, this time to the Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower in Reims, France. Whilst Eisenhower accepted the surrender of their western forces, Marshall Zhukov refused to accept this as the German surrender to the Russians as no officer of sufficient rank and authorised by Joseph Stalin was present at the signing of the surrender (Russian General Ivan Susloparov who was present, obviously didn’t count). Only Zhukov was so authorised to accept the unconditional surrender of all German forces, hence the final meeting in Berlin on May 8th when German General Keitel surrendered (effective from May 9th) to Zhukov in Berlin.

British Forces Enter Berlin

It took from the German surrender on May 9th 1945 until July 4th for British troops to actually enter Berlin. And only then because the Soviet finally allowed them into the city to take up the occupation of their part of the city. The division of the Berlin having by this time already been formally agreed upon, in its final form (including the French occupation), at the Yalta conference attended by Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill in February 1945.

Intent on bringing about a swift end to hostilities in Europe, the Big Three at Yalta had agreed Allied forces would drive hard and fast to the heart of the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler’s seat of power, Berlin: they would then divide both that capital city and the rest of the country. At the time of the agreement, the British and American armies were closer to Berlin than their Russian counterparts. As far as British Field-Marshal Montgomery was concerned, it was a foregone conclusion that he would lead the first of the Allied troops into the Nazi capital.

[caption id="attachment_6584" align="alignright" width="300"]Berlin Experiences - British Victory Parade - Yalta Conference Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin - Yalta Conference 1945[/caption]

Stalin, however, had other ideas, despite assuring the other leaders that he was in no hurry to reach Berlin for his own gain. The Soviet leader had discovered that the Germans possessed what he did not. He already knew that the Americans had successfully developed and tested their hydrogen bomb. Stalin believed that the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin held enough enriched uranium and scientific know-how for the Russian programme to catch up to the Americans in a much shorter timescale. Whilst the Soviets trailed far behind in their atomic programme, German scientific efforts were much further advanced.

Subsequently, the Soviet leader set two of his best military leaders up against each other in a race to reach and take Berlin, and the atomic prize, before the Western Allies could. As a result Marshals Zhukov and Konev threw whatever troops and munitions they could muster at the defending Germans in order to win that race.

[caption id="attachment_6591" align="alignleft" width="300"]Berlin Experiences - British Victory Parade - Luneberg Heath Monty at Luneberg Heath, 1945[/caption] In the meantime, ignorant of the new Russian intentions, Eisenhower decided that Berlin was no longer an important Western Allied objective. He instead believed that there was a greater threat from German forces heading south to Bavaria to organise their last stand. To prevent that, he ordered Montgomery who led the 21st Army Group in the North to cut off the German army, trapping them in or around Denmark and preventing them from moving south. At the same time, US General George Patton was to head south to Austria, thereby preventing the build-up of Axis troops in the region.

Eisenhower also rightly believed that the Battle for Berlin would be a blood-bath. He had no desire to sacrifice American lives on the purely symbolic objective of seizing the German capital. After all, he knew that Berlin would be well within the Russian sector once the war ended and saw little point in advancing, then withdrawing US troops out of Berlin a few months later.

Montgomery was incensed, but outranked, and had to settle for mopping up the north, where he would accept the formal surrender of German forces in north-western Europe - at Luneburg Heath on May 4th.


Monty And Winnie At War

For two famous men at least, the British Victory Parade in Berlin on July 21st 1945, must have been a bitter-sweet moment.

On May 10th 1940, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain. At 5 am that same day, the Nazi war machine embarked on the invasion of Western Europe - occupying Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and forcing the capitulation of France in 46 days.

[caption id="attachment_6569" align="alignright" width="235"]Berlin Experiences - British Victory Parade - Monty Bernhardt 'Monty' Montgomery[/caption]

Facing Hitler’s formidable army at that time was Major-General (later Field Marshal) Bernard Montgomery, the leader of the 3rd Division of the British army.

Also present amongst the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, 1/5th Queens Royal Regiment and the 5th Royal Tank Regiment.

By June 4th 1940, both Churchill, Montgomery and the remains of the BEF had suffered the indignation of being forced out of mainland Europe, to lick their wounds back on English soil. Neither man took the set-back lightly, with Winston Churchill embarking immediately on planning for the defence of Britain. Churchill was to remain British Prime Minister throughout the war,  succeeded on July 26th 1945 by Clement Attlee. Montgomery would lead the offensive against the Third Reich in the Middle East and North Africa.

[caption id="attachment_6570" align="alignleft" width="300"]Berlin Experiences - British Victory Parade - France 1940 The Situation in France - June 4th 1940[/caption]

As part of the Eight Army, 'Monty' - as he became affectionately known - took over leadership of the 7th Armoured Division, (later to become known as the Desert Rats). Together they marched and fought their way through North Africa, Sicily, Italy and following the D-Day invasion, through North-Western Europe. The ground lost to the Germans in 1940 was slowly being liberated until on May 4th, he took the surrender of German forces in the West, the first Allied commander to do so, followed by the US commander Eisenhower on 7th and Marshal Zhukov on 9th May 1945.

The British Victory Parade on 21st July 1945 was also a special time for Major-General Lewis Lyne. Although his time in action didn’t start until 1942 in the deserts of Africa under Montgomery, he fought through Italy (where he was wounded), Normandy and Northwest Europe. He finally led the 7th Armoured Division into Berlin before becoming the very first British Military-Governor (Commandant) of Berlin.


The Long Road To Berlin

[caption id="attachment_6573" align="alignright" width="300"]Berlin Experiences - British Victory Parade - Desert Rats In Egypt Desert Rats (7th Armoured) in Egypt[/caption]

Some regiments fought from the start through to the end of World War Two and were thus rightfully represented at the British Victory Parade. The main contingent was always, or had at some point, been part of the 7th Armoured Division.

  • The 3rd Royal Horse Artillery was, at the start of the war, stationed in Egypt. It remained in North Africa as part of the 7th Armoured Division and was later involved in the invasions of Italy (at Salerno) and Normandy and the subsequent push through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and finally into Germany. It was they who played a significant part in the British Victory Parade in Berlin on July 21st 1945.
  • The 5th Royal Horse Artillery had a similar route to the 3rd other than it started its war as part of the BEF and was evacuated out of Dunkirk to defend the UK before heading out to North Africa in 1941.
  • The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards were part of the 3rd Division under Montgomery in the BEF in May 1940. They fought a rear-guard action as an infantry unit, delaying the might of the German army as it advanced through Belgium and France. After evacuating to England, they formed part of the defence force aiming to protect the country should an invasion take place and later retrained as an armoured unit. They took part in the invasion of Normandy and fought their way through Northern Europe as part of 30 Corp. During Operation Market Garden, it was they who were the first to cross the bridge at Nijmegen, near Arnhem. They were also involved in the Battle of the Bulge and were invited by Montgomery to take part in the Victory Parade as representatives of the Guards Armoured Division, having first entered the city on July 4th.
  • The 1/5th Queens Royal Regiment also played a part in the Battle of France before being evacuated through Dunkirk. Following two years providing coastal defence of the Wash and Kent areas they moved to North Africa and joined the 7th Armoured Division. It remained with the Division, fighting through Italy, Normandy and Northern Europe and was one of the first units to enter the German city of Hamburg on May 3rd 1945.
  • The 2nd Devonshire Regiment, began its war in Malta, remaining there throughout the siege of Malta, finally leaving in 1943 to take part in the invasions of Sicily and Normandy and then as part of the 7th Armoured Division, fighting through the islands of the Netherlands, taking part in the ground support for Operation Market Garden around Arnhem and finally into Germany. [caption id="attachment_6589" align="alignright" width="300"]Berlin Experiences - British Victory Parade - 3rd Royal Tank Regiment 3rd Royal Tank Regiment On An Autobahn, Lubeck 1945[/caption]
  • The 3rd Royal Tank Regiment took part in the defence of Calais during the Battle of France in May/June 1940. Against overwhelming odds, it was virtually wiped out. The regiment was rebuilt in the UK and went to North Africa in 1940 before moving in 1941 to Greece where it was decimated once again. A further spell in North Africa was followed in 1943 with a spell in the UK, refitting and retraining before joining allied forces in Normandy. They had a tough time in and around Caen and during its mad dash through France and Belgium, it finally helped liberate the port of Antwerp on September 4th 1944. After a spell in the Ardennes supporting the Battle of the Bulge, the regiment headed to Flensburg on the German/Danish border where their war ended.
  • The 11th Hussars began their operations in 1939 in North Africa as part of what was to become 7th Armoured Division. It wasn't until Italy declared war on Britain that their war began in earnest and they remained, fighting in North Africa until they were shipped back to Glasgow in January 1944. They had just 6 months to prepare themselves for the invasion of Normandy and after their arrival on D+6, they fought their way through France, Belgium and into The Netherlands as part of Operation Market Garden. The 8th Hussars played a similar part throughout the war. [caption id="attachment_6587" align="alignright" width="198"]Berlin Experiences - British Victory Parade - Victoria Cross Recipient Second Lieutenant Richard Annand of the 2nd Durham Light Infantry[/caption]
  • The 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry was part of the BEF during the Battle of France in May 1940 taking part in the counter-attack at Arras, where German General Erwin Rommel was almost killed. Following their evacuation from Dunkirk, they moved into North Africa to join the 7th Armoured Division where they once again took on the might of Rommel and his Afrika Corp. They then took part in the invasion of Sicily before landing on Gold Beach on D-Day and making their way through Northern Europe. The first Victoria Cross to be awarded in World War Two was won by Second Lieutenant Richard Annand of the 2nd Durham Light Infantry on May 15/16th 1940. He was wounded whilst attacking an enemy position alone, out of ammunition, inflicting over 20 German casualties using just hand grenades and then resuming command of his platoon to carry on the fight. He then repeated these same actions once more that day before accepting an order to fall-back but then returning for his wounded batman, pushing him back to safety in a wheelbarrow before collapsing himself.

The 6th and 8th Battalions Durham Light Infantry had a similar battle history to the 9th but were not in attendance for the Victory Parade.

After the war, Field-Marshall Montgomery wrote of the Durham Light Infantry:

"Of all the infantry regiments in the British Army, the DLI was one most closely associated with myself during the war. The DLI Brigade [151st Brigade] fought under my command from Alamein to Germany ...It is a magnificent regiment. Steady as a rock in battle and absolutely reliable on all occasions. The fighting men of Durham are splendid soldiers; they excel in the hard-fought battle and they always stick it out to the end; they have gained their objectives and held their positions even when all their officers have been killed and conditions were almost unendurable."

Also in attendance were the 4th and 621st Field Squadrons and 143rd Field Park Troop (all of the Royal Engineers), a composite battalion from First Canadian Army (the largest unit being the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s) pipes and drums) and the Royal Air Force and the R.A.F. Regiment.

[caption id="attachment_6576" align="alignright" width="300"]Berlin Experiences - British Victory Parade - 5th Royal Tank Regiment 5th Royal Tank Regiment in Africa[/caption]

Notably absent was the 5th Royal Tank Regiment - a unit that had fought throughout the war in the various theatres and served under the 7th Armoured Brigade but wasn't invited to take part in the British Victory Parade. They were one of the most combat experienced units of the whole of the British Army during World War Two. They were part of the BEF that fought and lost the Battle of France, they played a pivotal role in the North Africa campaign, fought throughout Italy and Northern Europe after landing in Normandy, ending their war just outside Hamburg. Their exclusion from the celebrations may have had more to do with their reputation for failing to conform fully to the King's Regulation that governed army discipline. They were known amongst other names as the "Filthy Fifth," due to their often rag-tag appearance.

Not the Only Celebration

The British Victory Parade on July 21st 1945 would be the biggest and most significant of its kind but was not the first time in 1945 that the British had organised a parade in the German capital.

  • On July 2nd, the first British troops entered the city and took up residence in the barracks at Spandau.
  • On July 4th, in the Spandau district of Berlin, the British celebrated officially taking over their zone of the city. According to a young officer in the 11th Hussars, Richard Brett-Smith, it was a “tired and dusty” affair, more like “a sober liberation than a triumphant entry into a conquered city”
  • On July 6th, the Union Jack flag was raised at the side of the Franco-Prussian War Memorial on the Grosser Stern in the centre of the Tiergarten.
  • On July 12th, Field-Marshall Montgomery led a ceremony investing Soviet Marshal Zhukov with the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) And Marshal Rokossovsky with the Knights Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB).
  • On July 13th the 7th Armoured Division plus the Grenadier Guards marched past the four Allied commanders of Berlin: Major-General Lyne (GB), Colonel-General Gorbatov (USSR), Major-General Floyd Parks (US) and General de Beauchesne (France).
  • On 15th July, Winston Churchill was greeted by a guard of honour when he arrived at Gatow airport in Berlin for the Potsdam Conference.

The After Parade Party

[caption id="attachment_6586" align="alignright" width="300"]Berlin Experiences - British Victory Parade - Cabaret Kudamm Kabarett der Komiker on Kurfürstendamm[/caption]

By 11.15 am the parade had finished and Churchill left to officially open the armed services “Winston Club” - formerly the Kabarett der Komiker - on the Kurfürstendamm at its junction with Lehniner Platz. Here he addressed the 7th Armoured Division and, in particular, the 11th Hussars:

"Now I have only a word more to say about the Desert Rats, They were the first to begin. The 11th Hussars were in action in the desert in 1940 and ever since you have kept marching steadily forward on the long road to victory. Through so many countries and changing scenes, you have fought your way. It is not without emotion that I can express to you what I feel about the Desert Rats.

Dear Desert Rats! May your glory ever shine! May your laurels never fade! May the memory of this glorious pilgrimage of war which you have made from Alamein, via the Baltic to Berlin never die!

It is a march unsurpassed through all the story of war so as my reading of history leads to believe. May the fathers long tell the children about this tale. May you all feel that in following your great ancestors you have accomplished something which has done good to the whole world; which has raised the honour of your country and which every man has the right to feel proud of".

- To learn more about the British Victory Parade and Berlin's Third Reich period - consider joining one of our Berlin Highlights, Third Reich and Cold War private walking tours. - Bibliography Antill, P., Battle for Berlin: April-May 1945, Delaforce, P. Montys Northern Legions: 50th Northumbrian and 15th Scottish Divisions at War 1939–1945 (London: Sutton Publishing, 2004) Forty, George, Desert Rats at War (Bristol: Air Sea Media Services, 2014) Gilbert, Martin (ed.), Churchill - The Power of Words: His Remarkable Life Recounted Through His Writings and Speeches (London: Bantam Press, 2012) Lindsay, Oliver, Once a Grenadier (London: Leo Cooper, 1996) Osborne, Keith, Berlin or Bust (Chester: Keith Osborne, 2000) Red Kalinka, Rogers, Duncan and Williams, Sarah (eds.), On the Bloody Road to Berlin (Birmingham: Helion and Company Ltd, 2005) Strawson, John, The Battle for Berlin (London: BT Batsford Ltd, 1974) Urban, Mark, The Tank War (London: Abacus, 2013) VE Day and the Argylls,

Beyond Two Beers: Berliner vs Kindl & Sampling The Craft Beer Scene

Berlin Experiences - Beyond Two Beers - Neukolln Brewery

May 1945. Berlin was a city of ghosts and ruins. Allied bombing had laid waste to vast swathes of the city centre, decimating the German capital’s infrastructure. Industry was crippled. Large-scale brewing operations had been torn apart by the high explosives that rained from the skies.

In the years that immediately followed World War Two, though, two breweries would rise from the rubble and become powerhouses in the period when Berlin was divided: Berliner Pilsner and Berliner Kindl.

They would come to define two divergent Cold War cultures in East and West.

Berlin Experiences - Beyond Two Beers - Berliner Kindl

Berliner Kindl would become the poster child of the Wirtschaftwunder, a microcosmic example of West Germany’s economic recovery. The name was all over West Berlin – the shop front window for Western values behind the Iron Curtain – as Marshall Plan money poured into the city.

The war and its immediate aftermath had been nothing short of disastrous for Kindl. Their brewing facilities in Potsdam and Weissensee became part of the GDR. The company, based in what was now West Berlin, lost two of its three main manufacturing facilities. The third, in Rixdorf (now Neukölln), badly damaged by bombing, had its functional remains stripped down and taken by the Soviets as part of reparation agreements. The 1950s, however, would see an upswing in Kindl’s fortunes. They purchased the Schöneberger Schlossbrauerei in 1954. Then, in 1955, they borrowed big from German banks and, crucially, received American reconstruction aid. The mammoth Oetker Group also acquired a majority share in the company. By 1972, the company’s 100 year anniversary, Kindl was back to brewing one million hectolitres of beer per annum – a record they previously set in the pre-war years.

Similarly, on the other side of the Wall and on the other end of the ideological spectrum, Berliner Pilsner would come to be a symbol of the GDR. What had started in 1902 as a small Hausbrauerei with an adjoining beer garden was nationalised in 1969 and incorporated into the Ost-Berliner Getränkekombinates. Berliner Pilsner was now brewed by the state, and with the socialist machine behind it, it became the leading beer brand in East Berlin. Beer brewed by the workers’ state for the workers. It was even exported to the UK and US, capitalist strongholds of the Cold War, helping to bring in western currency to buoy the East German economy.

Even after reunification, when Berliner Pilsner was divested and again run independently, it managed to retain its market share and its popularity. So much so that it was able to resist the fate of many former state-owned companies in the GDR, which were bought up and stripped down by Western corporations. Factories would be closed, employees put out of work, and orders would be filled from more technologically advanced factories in the West. The Berliner brand was strong enough, though, to survive and thrive.

After the ‘Fall of the Berlin Wall’

Berliner Kindl became even more of a juggernaut post-German reunification - reintegrating the Potsdam and Weissensee breweries into their operations and increasing their brewing capacity threefold. Then, in the new millennium, they consolidated their brewing operations at a now modernised and expanded plant in Weissensee, closing the Potsdam and Neukölln breweries.

More recently, Berliner Kindl and Berliner Pilsner (along with another staple Berlin beer: Schultheiß) were merged into the Berliner-Kindl-Schultheiß-Brauerei by Kindl’s parent company: the Radeberger Gruppe – the largest brewery group in Germany, and a division of Oetker.

The two brands, under the same umbrella, continue to try and define the city’s image. Berliner Kindl is an official city sponsor, while Berliner Pilsner’s advertising campaigns – Berlin, du bist so wunderbar! – show dishevelled and attractive youngsters in sunglasses languishing on the banks of the river Spree in abandoned areas that look impossibly sanitary.

If you go to a bar, a club, or a festival in the city, chances are you’ll be drinking one of the two beers. They’re on billboards and their adverts play before Youtube videos. Berliner Kindl and Berliner Pilsner are, quite simply, everywhere.

Berlin Experiences - Beyond Two Beers - Brewery Barrels

The Taste Test

So what of the beers themselves, then? Does the quality stand up to the percentage of the market share they control?

On, online repository of beer nerdage, Kindl and Berliner Pilsner are generally maligned. Both rate one star out of five, suggesting that both beers are bad. This is unfair. They are perfectly palatable but unremarkable. They also taste quite similar, which is not unusual with regard to German beers.

Beer is sacred here. When Germans first started to be mentioned in the written histories of the Romans, it was remarked that they drank impressive quantities of Barley liquor. What was essentially rudimentary beer. During the 1848/1849 revolutions, where German nationalists were attempting to create a national culture to bind all Germans together, beer was trumpeted as a longstanding German tradition. A quintessential facet of the German national character.

German Nationalism & the Purity Decree

The Reinheitsgebot (Bavarian Beer Purity Decree), signed in 1516, sanctioned that beer could only be made using water, hops and malt. The decree was elevated to mythical status by the German nationalists – interpreted as a law whose sole purpose was to protect the tradition and integrity of the national drink. Despite compelling evidence that the law was originally created to better manage agricultural produce (with crops like wheat and rye being more useful for making bread) and that it was later widely instituted across much of German Europe to combat the famine conditions caused by the 30 years war, most people today still interpret the Reinheitsgebot in the same way the 19th century nationalists did.

The Purity Decree has been the guiding principle of German brewing for generations and remains a powerful influence. In the 1990s, for example, after reunification, a ten-year court battle was waged across Germany – the ‘Brandenburg Beer War’ – over a dark beer brewed in the former GDR that contained sugar, something forbidden by the Reinheitsgebot.

Yes, the Purity Decree ensures that the quality of beer in Germany, in general, is high, but it also shackles creativity. Experimentation is only allowed within certain parameters. The weight of tradition means that German beer lacks in diversity.

And therein lies the problem with Berliner Kindl and Berliner Pilsner: homogeneity.

Berlin Experiences - Beyond Two Beers - Brewery Equipment

The Berlin Craft Beer Revolution

Berlin has long been a city of contrasts: of east and west; of stoicism and hedonism; simultaneously the epicentre of the administration and experimentation. No amount of cash splurged on advertising that celebrates how edgy and alt Berlin they are can disguise the fact that Berliner Kindl and Berliner Pilsner are not really Berlin anymore. They’re boring, they’re corporate and their ubiquity over such a long period of time led the Berlin beer scene into stagnation.

They are to Berlin what Budweiser, Coors and Miller are to brewing in the United States. In the US, independent brewers reacted against the drudgery of Bud Lite to create the most diverse and vibrant craft beer scene in the world (taking a decent chunk of the market share with them in the process). The same is happening in Berlin.

The past five years or so have seen the craft beer scene in the German capital explode. The market is ripe for it. Berlin has a young and trendy population, and craft beer is in vogue worldwide. There are a lot of expats here – especially from the US – who are thirsty for the exciting tastes of home, and younger Germans are hankering for something different. What’s more, because independent brewers do not have to compete with the big brewers here as much, there is more opportunity to offer an alternative product.

Where once the Pilsner ruled, the IPA and Pale Ale are now kings.

Berlin Experiences - Beyond Two Beers - Brauhaus Lemke

Sampling The New Scene

Perhaps the most telling sign of this shift was the arrival of Stone Brewing in Berlin, in March 2016. The American craft beer giant chose Berlin as its centre of production and distribution for the whole of Europe. They poured millions of euros into refitting an old gasworks, situated at the city’s south pole in Mariendorf, to create what is probably the most visually striking bar/brewery in the city. You can bet that they aren’t bowing to the restrictions of the Reinheitsgebot either. Their Tangerine Express IPA is made using fresh mandarin and pineapple puree. As the name and the ingredients would suggest the flavour is rich with tropical citrus notes. As is usually the case with Stone beers it’s very much hop forward, so has a bitter edge, and it’s strong at 6.7% ABV – much stronger than most regular German brews.

Much further to the north of the city and much more indicative of the small-scale, low-fi Berlin vibe is Vagabund Brauerei. The place is tiny, but their following is large. So small is their space that they can only brew around 300 litres per batch – hence the bags of malt and empty kegs stacked up in the taproom. Also run by Americans (three of them – Tom, Dave and Matt – usually present on site and always up for a beer-related chat), the menu tends to be Pale Ale focused, but there’s always a Haus Helles on tap and there’s often a bit of Belgian influence there too. Their American Pale Ale is always on the menu. Using mainly cascade hops it’s strong in citrus flavour, plenty aromatic on the nose and has a crisp bitter finish.

Some of the brews above might be considered by some Germans as too aggressive. Enter Brauhaus Lemke, a Berlin craft beer stalwart, open since 1999, who brew several non-German beer styles that are accessible to the German palate. Their 030 Pale Ale (named after Berlin’s dialling code) is vibrant, zesty and super light, with a less pronounced bitterness than a lot of American style Pale Ales. Their IPA, too, is excellent and was created initially as a beer to take abroad to competitions (it won a gold medal at the New York International Beer Competition). It’s got a rich malty base and is dry-hopped with a blend of Amarillo, Simcoe and Cascade hops that give the beer subtle tropical notes, particularly of passion fruit.

To suggest that the independent brewing landscape in Berlin is utterly dominated by IPAs and Pale Ales, however, would be a disservice to the diversity of the scene. Safe Germanic beers are being experimented with (Berliner Berg’s Helles is a great example), and styles that had long fallen out of fashion are being lovingly rehabilitated.

The Berliner Weisse is a prime example. Similar to Belgium’s lambic beers, this light wheat beer is naturally fermented. Along with yeast fermentation, Lactobacillus bacteria convert fermentable sugars into lactic acid, giving the beer an intense sour flavour. Berliner Weisse, when done right, is light, tart and citrusy – more akin to a dry cider or sparkling white wine in flavour. In the early 20th century there would have been hundreds of breweries making it. After German reunification, there were only a handful. Berliner Kindl and their bastardised version of the Weisse (pre-mixed with either raspberry or woodruff syrup, more soda-pop than beer) was pretty much the only one widely available.

Now, thanks to independent craft brewers, the Berliner Weisse is back and better than ever. Both Brauhaus Lemke and the Meierei’s Weisses are excellent nods to the original. Brlo’s take on the Weisse is more modern and is served with one of a range of homemade syrups – such as blood orange. In a recent collaboration with Polish brewery Browar Stu Mostów, they also brewed up a strawberry Berliner Weisse.

Berlin Experiences - Beyond Two Beers - Craft Beer Scene

Beers Change, Change With The Beers

Now, this kind of thing wouldn’t fly in most of Germany. A recent survey showed that 85% of German consumers still believe the Reinheitsgebot should continue to be upheld. Ask any German, though, and they’ll tell you that Berlin orbits on a different course from the rest of the country. If any city was going to break the brewing mould in Germany it was going to be the black sheep capital. The spirit of non-conformity and experimentation is strong here.

Why not come and see for yourself. It’s only going to get more interesting from here on out.

If you're interested in sampling Berlin's Craft Beer-scape - check out our 3 hour private guided Craft Beer tour. - Editor’s Picks Featured Breweries:
  • Stone Brewing: Im Marienpark 23, 12107 Berlin | Ubhf Alt-Mariendorf (U6)
  • Vagabund: Antwerpener Str. 3, 13353 Berlin | Ubhf Seestraße (U6)
  • Brauhaus Lemke: Dircksenstraße 143, 10178 Berlin | Sbhf Hackescher Markt (S3, S5, S7, S75, S9)
  • Berliner Berg: Kopfstraße 59, 12053 Berlin | Ubhf Leinestraße (U8)
  • The Meierei: Im Neuen Garten 10, 14469 Potsdam | Sbhf Potsdam Hauptbahnhof (S1, S7)
  • BRLO: Schöneberger Str. 16, 10963 Berlin | Ubhf Gleisdreieck (U1, U2)
Other Breweries to visit:
  • Eschenbräu: Triftstraße 67, 13353 Berlin | Ubhf Wedding (U6)
  • Hops and Barley: Wühlischstraße 22/23, 10245 Berlin | Ubhf Frankfurter Tor (U5), Warschauer Straße (U1)
  • Heidenpeters: Eisenbahnstraße 42-43, 10997 Berlin | Ubhf Görlitzer Bahnhof (U1)
  • Two Fellas: 30 Mühlenstraße, 13187 Berlin | Ubhf Pankow (U2)
Craft Beer Bars:
  • Hopfenreich: Sorauer Str. 31, 10997 Berlin | Ubhf Görlitzer Bahnhof (U1)
  • Lager Lager: Pflügerstraße 68, 12047 Berlin | Ubhf Schönleinstraße (U8)
  • The Muted Horn: Flughafenstraße 49, 12053 Berlin | Ubhf Boddinstraße (U8)
Craft Beer Shops:

Eight Strangest Berlin Wall Escapes

Berlin Experiences - Eight Strangest Berlin Wall Escapes - Bulldozer

As of Monday the 5th of February 2018, the Berlin Wall will have been down for longer than it stood: 28 years, 3 months, and 28 days.

Erected on the 13th of August 1961, The Wall divided Berlin for 28 years during the Cold War and claimed the lives of, as official records currently state, 140 people, until its fall on the 9th November 1989. What started as a ramshackle border fence, comprising mostly of barbed wire and concrete posts, would be continually expanded into a 157-kilometre long fortress consisting of two walls with an armoured ‘no-man’s-land’ running in between – nicknamed, with characteristic German candour, the ‘Death Strip’. Unlike the no-mans land of the First World War, the control zone of the Berlin Wall was entirely in the territory of one power - East Germany - a country determined to stop the flow of citizens escaping West across its borders - using lethal force if necessary.

Those East Germans who attempted to cross The Wall were risking their lives to do so. And as the fortifications became higher and broader, so did the methods of escape employed to best the barrier become more daring and creative. Here are eight of the strangest ways in which people managed to escape across the Berlin Wall.

A Walk on the Wild Side Date: 16th August 1965 Location: Checkpoint Charlie

Unusual in terms of its simplicity and split-second daring. A 20-year-old East German man, unnamed in the STASI file pertaining to the incident, was walking on the Friedrichstrasse as a US coach pulled up to return to West Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie. When the vehicle drew to a halt to enter the checkpoint, the man realised that the bus was obstructing the view of the Grepos (Border Police) on duty. Moving in close as the coach began to move on, the man used it as a shield, walking through one of the most heavily guarded border crossing points in the whole of the city entirely unnoticed. Witnesses from the scene were unable to confirm if he was whistling a whimsical tune as he went.

Honourable Discharge Date: 7th December 1962 Location: a border lake (exact location unknown)

Major Bruno Krajewsky was a member of the SED and a senior officer in the border police. As ‘Sub-Departmental Leader for the Investigation of Special Occurrences’, he was considered ultra-loyal. It was his job to probe for weaknesses in the Berlin Wall and eliminate them. His record was whiter than white. It thus came as quite the shock to the East German regime when Bruno used his intimate knowledge of the border to bust through it. In the dead of a foggy December night Bruno, his wife, their three children, and other family members gathered on the eastern shore of one of the border lakes. Climbing into a boat together, Major Krajewsky rowed his family quietly over the lake, before presenting himself to flabbergasted West Berlin police, who had believed it impossible to get past the numerous East German patrol boats. Not for a pro like Bruno.

Old Dogs, New Tricks - The Senior Citizen’s Tunnel Date: 5th May 1962 Location: Glienicke/Frohnau

Statistically, it was overwhelmingly the case that those who escaped across the Berlin Wall were young, male, and working in some sort of manual trade. Overwhelmingly the case, but not always, as a group of spunky East Germans of a superior vintage would prove in the summer of 1962. For over two weeks, the 12 senior citizens spent their days underground, digging a 32-metre long tunnel from Alt Glienicke in East Germany into the West Berlin locality of Frohnau – the entrance of which was hidden beneath a chicken coop. For an escape tunnel, it was unusually high, at 1.75 metres. The seniors had spent extra, painstaking hours making the tunnel tall enough so that they could walk through as opposed to crawling. As one of them explained: “We wanted to walk to freedom with our wives, comfortably and unbowed.”

Bulletproof Bulldozer Date: 11th September 1966 Location: Staaken

In the eyes of the East German border police, forks and hoes were tools unsuited to the job of keeping the Death Strip free of weeds and unwanted flora. They used some more serious hardware: bulldozers weighing 12 tons with bulletproof steel plating covering both the cabins and the fuel injection pumps. It would come back to bite them. Two married couples would commandeer one such bulldozer and, along with a three-year-old child, use it to flatten several border fences. Grepos are reported to have fired over 60 shots at the marauding machinery to no avail before it crashed into a tree in the outskirts of West Berlin’s Spandau district. The escapees emerged dazed but triumphant, two of the adults sporting wounds where bullets had grazed them.

Einsteigen, Bitte Date: 5th December 1961 Location: Albrechtshof border station

27-year-old Harry Dieterling was an engine driver who was determined to put his life on a different track, by smashing a scheduled passenger train through barriers at the Albrechtshof border station into the West Berlin district of Spandau. Throughout the latter portion of 1961, he had been recruiting people to ride what he called ‘the last train to freedom’. In total there were 32 people on board – 7 of whom were members of Dieterling’s family – pressed to the floor of the carriage as it careened toward the Berlin Wall. When the train finally screeched to a halt, no one was injured and most inside were jubilant. Most, but not all. The train’s conductor and seven other passengers had known nothing of Dieterling’s plans and immediately returned to the East on foot.

The Trojan Cow Date: betrayed 7th July 1969 Location: West Berlin transit motorway

Both brilliant and hairbrained in equal parts - proving classic plans have no sell-by-dates, Western escape helpers got their hands on a life-size model of a bull with a hollowed out belly. Driving it in the back of a van up and down the transit motorway between West Germany and West Berlin, escape helpers would pick up East Germans who had paid handsomely (5000 Deutsch Marks upfront, another 5000 Deutsch Marks later if the escape was successful) and conceal them inside the cow. They would then drive through border crossing points into either West Berlin or West Germany, depending on their direction of travel, telling border guards they were simply transporting a display item when the vehicle was searched. The ruse fooled border guards twice and was only discovered when the plot was betrayed.

High Stakes, High Wire Date: January 1963 Location: unspecified

Horst Klein was a trapeze artist who had been blackballed by the East German authorities for his ‘anti-communist’ ideas and was thus banned from performing in the GDR. Rather than settling into prescribed employment, Horst packed his bags and said goodbye to the socialist circus, using his unique expertise to best the border with flair. Scaling an electricity pole, Klein climbed hand-over-hand along a high tensile cable that spanned the Berlin Wall. When he became fatigued he hoisted himself atop the wire and continued by edging his body along the top of it. He was so tired when he reached the safety of West Berlin that he fell from the cable breaking both of his arms. 10 points for execution, 0 points for the landing.

Berlin Experiences - Eight Strangest Berlin Wall Escapes - Airforce Ministry

Who Dares Wins - From The Former Nazi Airforce Ministry Date: 28th July 1965 Location: Niederkirchnerstraße, Mitte

To take on the Berlin Wall at the absolute heart of East Germany’s power structure took next level bravery. Enter Heinz Holzapfel, an engineer and economist, who had been called to the GDR’s House of Ministries (where East German premier Willi Stoph had offices) for a meeting. Disillusioned with socialism, Holzapfel bought along his wife and young son and holed his family up in a toilet cubicle, hanging an ‘out of order’ sign on the door. Late in the evening the Holzapfels emerged and made for the roof. Heinz hurled a hammer, painted with phosphorus and attached to a length of thin rope, across the Wall, which ran parallel to the southern edge of the building. Escape helpers in the west attached metal cable to the hammer and then the Holzapfels pulled it back up onto the roof. Using a homemade harness made of a bicycle wheel axle, Heinz first sent his son and then his wife gliding over the border via zip line, following after them himself. In a stunning turn of events, East German border guards had witnessed the entire escape but presumed the STASI was smuggling agents into the west and didn’t open fire. When you devise an escape that daring, you deserve a healthy slice of luck.


If you are interested in seeing the remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall in the city or want a better understanding of the impact the Cold War had on Berlin. We offer private guided tours of Berlin, on subjects such as the Cold War period, the Third Reich, Jewish Heritage and also tours to nearby Sachsenhausen and the palaces and gardens of Potsdam.

For more information on our Cold War tours, click HERE.

Further Links  

Zentralfriedhof Freidrichsfelde

Zentralfriedhof Freidrichsfelde Berlin Experiences founder, Matt, recently started contributing to the Atlas Obscura - here's an interesting look at Berlin's Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde, also known as the Memorial to the Socialists: "Established in 1881, the Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde was Berlin’s first non-denominational municipal graveyard - a pauper’s cemetery that would later become the final resting place for many of Germany’s prominent Socialists, Communists and anti-Fascist fighters."

Top Ten Must-See Berlin Museums

Berlin Museums - Caspar David Friedrich

Berlin has museum culture at its heart. Radiating from an entire island in the centre of the city - complete with an ensemble of museums - chronicling six thousand years of human history.

A vital constituent in the European narrative, it is not hard to argue the case that Berlin in its entirety is in-fact one huge open-air museum. Its streets serving as corridors leading to the monuments and building of its permanent collection - the story continuing behind the many doors waiting to be opened.

With more than 170 fascinating museums, covering everything from classical antiquities to the history of hemp, the choice in Berlin is overwhelming.

To help out we've highlighted ten Berlin museums that remain a must see for anyone visiting the city.


Alte Nationalgalerie

The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) is just one of five state museums huddled on Berlin's UNESCO world heritage listed Museum Island. It was founded in 1861, after banker Johann Heinrich Wagener donated over two hundred artworks. Now spread over three floors, the museum boasts one of the largest collections of 19th century European art in Germany to survive the Nazi regime - including works from German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (see image above). It also houses Romantic and Modernist works, as well as being the first museum in the world to purchase Impressionist art - keep a lookout for the odd Monet and Manet painting, and works by Max Liebermann, a pioneer of German impressionism.

Don't miss: Johann Gottfried Schadow’s “Princesses Luis and Freiderike” on the first floor and Louis Sussmann-Hellborn’s 1878 “Sleeping Beauty”- the intricate detail in the leaves and flowers will give you goosebumps!



Berlin Museums - Stasimuseum Berlin


The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 set the tone for the formation of the Stasi museum. Born from anti-Stalinist civil rights activism in 1990, the Stasimuseum is located in House 1, previously the main building in the administrative headquarters of the East German Ministry of State Security, more commonly known as the Stasi. The Stasi museum documents, researches and preserves all things in relation to former German Democratic Republic (East Germany), acting as a memorial for the injustices of the GDR regime. It highlights the repression of Germany’s own people and the effect it had on the population. As fascinating as it is disturbing, the lessons offered here still hold true to the title of the museum's first incarnation in 1990, a title borrowed from Spanish painter Francisco Goya: "the sleep of reason" - as Goya observed, "brings forth monsters".

Don’t miss: The preserved office of Erich Mielke, who was once the Minister of State Security (head of the Stasi) and arguably the most powerful man in East Germany.



Berlin Museums - Hamburger Bahnhof
Hamburger Bahnhof

The contemporary art exhibited in the Hamburger Bahnhof museum documents art movements starting from the 1960s, using prominent figures work, such as Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys, as examples. Part of the National Gallery, mediums range from drawing and painting to photomedia, often exploring technology’s effect on the nature of art. The exhibitions are regularly changed and curated to different themes. Formerly, the last stop on the Berlin-Hamburg Railway line (and a museum of transport and technology) the original use of the building is still evident in the architecture. Offering some interesting gallery spaces, due to their large size and high ceilings, the artworks are often spread out on a large scale allowing the observers to fully immerse themselves in the viewing experience.

Don't miss: The special exhibitions (updated regularly) and the Joseph Beuys collection.



Berlin Museums - Deutsches Historisches Museum

Deutsches Historisches Museum

The Deutsches Historisches Museum takes you back in time to offer a thought-provoking insight into not only the German story but the country's shared history with the rest of Europe. It portrays a variety of perspectives exposing visitors to the grand narratives that have competed to seize control of Germany's past, present and future . This is most evident in the permanent exhibition, recounting 1500+ years from Germany’s past and covering a range of topics such as the history of language, political ideologies, World War I and the Nazi Regime. The Museum also has a library, picture archive and online object database; whether you are looking for something in particular or just want to sit back and read a book in silence.

Don't miss: The warrior sculptures in the courtyard, the temporary exhibitions and the distinct spiral staircase at the rear of the building which can be seen through glass from the outside (designed by I.M Pei).



Berlin Museums - Jewish Museum

Jewish Museum

When visiting Berlin, it’s hard to ignore Germany’s role in Jewish history, and conversely, the Jewish role in German history. The sleek silver building by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind that houses part of the Jewish museum, identifiable by its unusual deconstructivist-style, stands out when compared to the older baroque style building it is connected to. The zigzagged roundabout shape of the Libeskind building (from an aerial perspective) is said to symbolize the strained story of that German-Jewish history. Pairing it with the older baroque style building constrasts the fractured sense of Jewish history, the rupture of the Holocaust (represented by the Libeskind building) with the civil base of the original building. But the design of the museum is not the only reason it attracts approximately 2,000 visitors per day. Prepared at a level that will entice both those versed in Jewish history and those curious for the first time, the permanent exhibition explores not only the Holocaust but also the German-Jewish relationship from the Middle Ages to the present. The museum is particularly engaging in its use of the case studies of significant individuals, photographic evidence and interactive stations.

Don’t miss: The Holocaust Tower and the Garden of Exile. 



Berlin Museums - Topography of Terror

Topography of Terror

From the early 1930s to 1945 this site was the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS, key instruments of repression in the Nazi regime. The museum that now occupies this plot of land is divided into three permanent exhibitions, the ‘Gestapo, SS and Reich Main Security Office’, ‘Berlin 1933-1945. Between propaganda and terror’ and ‘The historical site “Topography of Terror”. These permenant exhibitions are proof complete of a nation embracing its history, preferring to honestly confront the history of the terror institutions in Nazi German rather than shy away from an uncomfortable subject. Organised in chronologically order, from the beginnings of the Nazi security services to the trials and confrontations in German society (or sometimes lack of) that took place after WW2, mentally prepare yourself to spend a few hours here reading through the dark and disturbing aspects of the Nazi regime.

Dont miss: The remaining parts of the Berlin Wall stood alongside the exhibit




Haus der Wannsee Konferenz

Who would have thought such a beautiful building could play such a dark role in history. The Haus der Wannsee Konferenz museum is pivotal in portraying the events that led up to the Holocaust, acting as a memorial for the Nazi persecution of European Jewry. In 1942, senior government officials and SS leaders were invited to discuss the problem of the ‘Jewish question’, pledging their cooperation in the planned deportation and murder of millions of Jews. Despite the manor being quite small, the permanent exhibition is packed full of information that chronologically documents the events that led to the Holocaust. Pairing a visit here with a visit to a concentration camp such as Sachsenhausen, north of Berlin, is highly recommended.

Don't miss: The room where the meeting occurred, photographs of the people involved and the minutes.



DDR Museum Kitchen

DDR Museum

The DDR museum differs to other Berlin museums as it allows you to fully immerse yourself in life during the Cold War, looking past common banalities and employing all of your senses with a hands on approach (the slogan of the museum is literally “History to touch”). Highlights include an authentic kitchen in a GDR home typical for the period, a room that emulates the secret police interrogation process and a virtual tour of the area in a Trabi (a type of car made from 1957-1990 by an East German company). Other key information points include facts about the Stasi and the Wall.

Don't miss: the East German kitchen and living room, 1:1 scale, open for exploration



Berlin Museums - Haus am Checkpoint Charlie

Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (now known as the Mauer Museum)

Checkpoint Charlie was an official crossing point between West and East Berlin during the Cold War and the site, from 1962, of one of Berlin's most famous museums. Interestingly, the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie was formed right after the Wall went up in a two-room apartment, as a exhibition aimed at drawing attention to human rights and the oppressive actions of the East German state. Now it has expanded in size and documents many of the successful techniques used to escape from East Berlin. Attempts to cross the Wall could actually be viewed from the apartment - through a small window in the northern side of the building. Checkpoint Charlie was a flashpoint for conflict between the East and West and the site of numerous Cold War protests. In October 1961, the United States and the Soviet forces engaged in a stand off, their tanks staring each other down for 16 hours, only metres from where the museum now stands.

Don't miss: The Charta 77 typewriter, the death mask of Andrei Sacharov and Mahatma Ghandi’s diary and sandals.



Nefertiti in the Neues Museum

Neues Museum

After having been badly damaged during World War II and laying idle for many years, initiative was taken in the 1980s to transform this damaged shell of a building into the interesting modern museum that it is today - replicating much of the original interior. Its Neoclassical architecture is fitting for its location on Museum Island. Historic not only in the collection stored here but also in the construction of the building - the use of iron in the museum’s construction was one of the first prime examples of the positive impact of industrialization in the 1800s - a steam engine was even used. Inside the Neues Museum, you will find an Egyptian Museum, a Papyrus collection, the museum of Pre- and Early history and Classical Antiquities.

Don't miss: The iconic bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti.