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.

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.

Berlin Experiences - Beyond Two Beers - Berliner Kindl

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 Ratebeer.com, 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.

- 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.

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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 www.berlin.de/mauer www.chronik-der-mauer.de www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de www.mauermuseum.de www.berlin-mauer.de  

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: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/memorial-to-the-socialists-zentralfriedhof-friedrichsfelde "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.

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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!

Website: www.museumsportal-berlin.de/de/museen/alte-nationalgalerie

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Berlin Museums - Stasimuseum Berlin
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Stasimuseum

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.

Website: www.stasimuseum.de

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Berlin Museums - Hamburger Bahnhof
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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.

Website: www.museumsportal-berlin.de/de/museen/hamburger-bahnhof-museum-fur-gegenwart-berlin

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Berlin Museums - Deutsches Historisches Museum
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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).

Website: www.dhm.de

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Berlin Museums - Jewish Museum
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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. 

Website: www.jmberlin.de

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Berlin Museums - Topography of Terror
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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

Website: www.topographie.de/en

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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.

Website: www.ghwk.de

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DDR Museum Kitchen
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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

Website: www.ddr-museum.de

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Berlin Museums - Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
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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.

Website: www.mauermuseum.de

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Nefertiti in the Neues Museum
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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.

Website: www.museumsportal-berlin.de/de/museen/neues-museum

The Essential Guide To Private Tours In Berlin

Berlin Experiences - Private Guided Tour of Berlin with Matt (BBC team)

***DISCLAIMER*** For the record, I should state that I have worked as a guide offering private tours in Berlin for more than a decade. In the process, I've met thousands of wonderful people and worked alongside the best tour guides in the city. I'd like to say I've accumulated enough experience to have some useful insight into the subject. It is my intention to remain helpfully impartial in my observations and recommendations. If you want to hear about how to get the best experience out of a guided tour of Berlin, then read on. - Matt ***DISCLAIMER OVER***
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Tour groups are a fundamental part of the scenery in Berlin.

Wandering the city's historic central district of Mitte, it is hard not to notice the numerous large groups of tourists being spirited through the streets by various colourful characters.

Look closer and you may see smaller, more intimate groups, engaged in lively discussion.

Tourism is booming in Berlin, with the city registering more than 30 million overnight stays in 2016, making it the third most popular destination in Europe - behind only London and Paris.

As famed for its hedonism as for its weighty history, it is easy to see why the German capital draws the crowds.

Once the nerve-centre of Hitler's Third Reich and later the frontline of the ideological battle that raged during the Cold War between East and West, Berlin stands as THE city of the 20th century.

Following its re-unification in 1990, it has become emblematic of the new, re-energised, Modern Germany - dynamic, introspective & pulsing with change.

Berlin's preeminent ambassadors are the hundreds of professional tour guides who work throughout the year to introduce visitors to the major and minor milestones marking the city’s existence - the things that remain hidden in plain sight and the places off-the-beaten-track.

Taking a guided tour of Berlin is rightly considered a must when visiting the city.

In the right company, you will find yourself experiencing things that will define your visit entirely - and leave you heading home with souvenirs, both material and intellectual, worth treasuring forever.

 

Why Tour with a Guide?

A Private Guide in Berlin at work
Scratch the surface in Berlin and you'll find that what is immediately visible to all is just the start of the adventure.

If you're looking to dig deeper, see more and learn more, enlisting the services of a professional guide will go a long way towards satisfying your curiosity. And just perhaps, help you scratch that itch you never knew you had.

Whether your interest is in an introductory sightseeing tour, a more in-depth exploration of a particular chapter in the city's rich history, or diving into Berlin’s cultural offerings - a professional guide will have the experience, knowledge, and contacts to make things happen that would otherwise be impossible.

Travelling somewhere new is one of the most inspiring and thrilling things you can do, but as any seasoned traveller will tell you, a first time visit to a city inherently comes with its own time-wasting frustrations and annoyances.

What is the easiest way to get around? How does the public transportation work? Am I safe to walk about at night? Are there any local customs that I should be aware of? If I have a niche interest in something particular, how do I tap into it? And most importantly, how can I make the best use of my time?

A guide will be able to help with all of these questions. But above and beyond providing necessary assistance, a truly professional tour guide will make your experience memorable, for all the right reasons.

 

Professional Guide vs Amateur Guide

Professional Guide vs Amateur Guide - Knowing The Difference - Berlin Experiences

Every country and city you visit will have its own spectrum of tour guide quality.

Knowing that there is a difference between the seasonal amateur workers, at best running a theatrical showpiece from a pre-established script, and those who find that guiding is part of their intellectual calling, is the first step in navigating your way to the best use of your time and money.

As with most cities, Berlin has a rich community of excellent professional guides, all with life experience in various different fields of interest - accomplished scholars, journalists, historians, political and social scientists, archaeologists, researchers and photographers.

The Berlin gamut ranges from erudite students eager to put their education to good use, all the way to enormously impressive streetside scholars, experts in their fields, offering their time and company - all to your advantage.

There is an old educational maxim that says that you don’t really understand something until you can teach it to someone else.

Expert guides are expert teachers.

This comes with experience and often years of dedication to the art.

With guiding at its highest form, you can expect intellectual stimulation from gifted educators who practice their profession with passion and pride.

A great guide is an invaluable asset. Welcoming you to the city, peeling back the layers, saving you time, and generally empowering you with a wealth of suggestions so that you can go on to enjoy your remaining independent time to the fullest.

A great guide is also someone who, by virtue of being a dedicated professional, will have committed time that you may not have, to doing research, collecting materials, and generally gaining access to all sorts of exciting things within the spectrum of their focus.

A great guide will also be able to change direction halfway through on the fly, seamlessly adjust schedules and reservations (within the limits of reality), and above all else, be captivating.

Change your mind about lunch? No problem, let’s go somewhere else.

Did another topic suddenly catch your attention? Fantastic, let’s change direction and dig in.

Feeling grumpy from the flight? Here’s a slightly inappropriate joke at exactly the right moment.

If it is the job of an amateur to drag you through the tourist traps, it is the job of the consumate professional to lead you far beyond them.

First showing you the highlights in the context of the whole, and then opening up secret doors in the backdrop of the stage - to show you another side of things entirely.

 

Private Tour vs Public Tour

Private Tour vs Public Tour - Which Is Best Suited For You - Berlin Experiences
Obviously, there is a time and a place for everything, but it’s important to keep your expectations on par with your means and choices.

A great public tour can be a terrific experience for those whose budget doesn’t permit hiring a private guide.

Bear in mind however, that even at its best, a public group is necessarily a compromise.

With a public tour, the guide is at the mercy of the group as a whole, and will be playing to an averaged assessment of what the group’s interests are within the framework of their topic for the day.

Sometimes this is fantastic, sometimes it shows its limitations.

A public tour (whether a paid tour or one of the 'free tours' we can discuss later) can often appear as a well-oiled stage show, the kind where the performer sometimes mingles with the crowd, sometimes appears in the balcony to surprise the audience.

A professional private guide is a different kind of animal - combining the professionalism and one-on-one attention of a skilled concierge with the ability to remain well-versed on all sorts of local political and cultural issues, while seamlessly blending history with present-day relevance.

With a great private guide, it’s entirely your day, your show, and the guide will be working hard exclusively for you to make sure you personallly get the most out of the experience.

You will also have the luxury of direct access to his or her expertise without the distraction of other strangers. This means that your experience is infinitely more flexible, and that you are almost guaranteed to end up getting more not just out of the tour itself, but also from the remainder of your entire trip.

Obviously, a private tour comes at a very different price point than the average public tour does.

However, if you factor in the time you save, the fact that you will be spared exposure to that somehow inevitable person who feels compelled to blurt out a million annoying comments on every public tour, and the access to special places and information that might end up being otherwise invisible, a private tour starts to look more attractive by the second.

 

Types of Tours

Although when approaching the subject of guided tours in Berlin, it is reasonable to expect that your starting point may be a general overview tour of the city (often called a Berlin Highlights tour). However, depending on the guide you approach to work with, and your level of interest, it is worth considering what in particular you are interested in exploring, what themes, chapters in German history, areas of the city etc...

Most guides will offer tours based on themes, with the general register consisting of a Third Reich tour – a Cold War tour – a Jewish Heritage tour – perhaps also tours focusing on more modern elements such as the city's Graffiti and Street Art scene.

As most professional guides also have academic backgrounds in certain fields, you can find that their specialties extend to the type of tours they offer in the city – such as Modern Architecture tours and, if their background is in the culinary arts – Gourmet Food Tours are become a more frequent sight.

Beyond the city limits, it is possible to escape Berlin for day visits to nearby Potsdam, where the former summer residences of the Prussian kings and German emperors are, to Leipzig or Dresden, or perhaps to the concentration camp memorials at Sachsenhausen and Ravensbruck.

Taking a private tour of Sachsenhausen or private tour of Potsdam, can be a great way to spend your time once having already acquainted yourself with Berlin's main attractions. Combining all three of these options together (Berlin Highlights/Potsdam/Sachsenhausen)  makes for an ideal three-day itinerary.

 

Prices

There are few times in life when quality does not come at a price.

What is exceptional about tour guiding is that it is an industry where your experience is defined by just one person – your guide.

Although with any restaurant you visit will likely have a chain of workers, all functioning buy glucophage 850 mg together to make the whole (from the waiter who takes your order, to the chef who cooks your food, the kitchen helper who prepares the basic ingredients, and the bartender who serves your drinks), with a tour you are at the mercy of only one person.

It is worth remembering that the cost of what you are purchasing is relevant to the experience you have with this person, rather than a product (such as a television or piece of furniture) that you buy.

With that, different guides may offer different prices based on their personal availability and professional quality.

Any per hourly rate you receive from any guide will generally be a good indication of how serious the guide or agency is and a reflection of how in demand they are.

At the prospect of sounding redundant, it is likely that if a guide you approach offers you a certain price that may seem high, it is likely that it is because they are worth it. It is the job of the amateur guide, who is not in demand due to their reputation and experience, to try to lowball the market.

However, it is reasonable to expect that prices vary based on the time of the year, you can expect to pay more in the summer season when guides are in demand, and don’t be surprised to receive a discount rate in the winter season when the number of tourists in town is lower.

When working directly with a private guide in Berlin you will often encounter the 'sliding scale payment system' – this means that you get to decide on the day what you would like to pay, based on a pre-defined suggested scale, and according to how much you value the experience.

This is also a way of trying to make private tours more accessible to a wider range of budgets.

Within reason, you can expect to pay between 40€ and 150€ per hour for a private guide in Berlin - depending on a number of factors:

  • Who the guide is
  • The time of year (whether on-season or off-season)
  • How in-demand the guide is
  • Whether you have any special requests for the tour (perhaps visiting something that is off-the-beaten track, and requires extra planning
  • Whether the tour requires transportation (this is not included in the above price)
  • How large your group is

Remember, the old saying: the poor man pays twice.

What may seem like a saving on price could actually be a sacrifice you are making on quality.

 

Free Tours

A staple of any frugal backpacker travelling Europe - free guided walking tours arrived on the scene in the early 2000s.
Talking about tours in Berlin without mentioning the ‘free tour concept’ would be missing out on a very important aspect of the tour guiding landscape.

As a way of making cities like Berlin accessible to foreign visitors and accommodating to the budgets of visitors - these tours have done wonders at increasing interest in the practice of taking walking tours.

There are some big names in the Free Tour business (like Sandeman’s New Europe) that you will find in most European cities, and smaller companies run by locals who have found the business model works for the kinds of clients they want to draw in and the turnover of guides.

One of the drawbacks of these tours is that, with cities like Berlin, there are many young people eager to find their place in the world and a way to support their time abroad - free tour guiding can be the equivalent of what picking grapes in the south of France once was - temporary and for short monetary gain.

That means that companies will sometimes rely on issuing scripts to their guides - which, while guaranteeing some semblance of consistency in their tours, also means that the experience can come off as being wholly constructed. And unlike with a professional private guide, who can easily detour into other realms, these tours may feel restricted to the well beaten path.

The good news is that there are a wealth of fantastic guides out there who have found their place with these companies - some are even in it for the long run. So, you can hit a winner sometimes.

The most important thing to remember about these tours is that despite the advertising hook - there is a catch. Although the tours may very well be free for guests to join, they are also free for the guides who run them.

The companies expect the guides to contribute towards advertising costs and general running costs and put a per person price on a tour (so for each person attending the guide is expected to pay a ‘kickback’ to the company for the pleasure of having those clients on a tour).

Some of these companies use free tours simply as promotion for their other tours - keeping things short and trying to upsell other paid tours - perhaps a longer version of the tour you have just done, with more sights and more information on Cold War history or Jewish Heritage.

However, because of the demand that the guide pay a ‘kickback’ to the company - you may well find that when the tour is over, there is the expectation that you will contribute, in the form of a friendly tip.

No doubt, when all is said and done, you will want to give the guide something.

Although there is a lot to be said for agreeing a set price beforehand and leaving the money aspect off the table - when both parties know where they stand from the beginning, there is much more room for the more important things.

No upselling and no desperate begging for tips.

 

Gratuities

As much as cultures around the world vary, it is rare to find someone who does not feel touched by a thank you that adds a little freedom to their life, and certainly a monetary token has far more power than mere words. So help us, we are human, and cash is king.

Bear in mind that tourism, as part of the service industry, has a long and rich tradition of people who provide outstanding, top class performance making careers out of gratuities, and your money is a vote for the kind of world you wish to live in.

Some companies will provide a specific tipping suggestion when booking a guide (often 10-15% of the price of the tour), when booking directly with a guide you can consider this to be at your discretion. Although it is always a nice gesture when stopping for lunch to pick up the tab when inviting the guide to join you.

When hiring transportation for your tour, it is customary to tip the driver (a suggested 5% of the full price), whether they are driving a bus or a smaller private vehicle.

This is again a notable difference between an amateur and a professional: the amateur will never let you forget about gratuities; a professional will always make you feel at home with the choice ultimately in your hands.

 

Private Tour Guides in Berlin

When I founded Berlin Experiences it was with one thing in mind: to be able to connect people looking for private tours in Berlin with the best guides in the business. I've personally led thousands of tours in and around the city and know what it is like to see people leave Berlin with more than they expected - and the value a fantastic guide can bring to any excursion.

There is no shortage of outstanding guides in Berlin who have managed to carve a niche for themselves (Jeremy Minsberg, for instance - Jessica Cartwright- Heidi Leyton - Nick Jackson - Lee Evans - and the wonderful Caroline Marburger and Arja Jacob- just to name a few) but many more who are finding their feet in the industry.

Giving those guides the chance to put their talents to good use is one of the things I find most rewarding.

To the average visitor, the difference between a great guide and an exceptional guide can be hard to notice. What is impressive to someone who has just arrived in a city could be commonplace to anyone who has been there for a matter of days.

It is easy to judge a guide by what they put in their tours – but to professionally judge that guide it is important to also know what they have left out.

This is not something that the ordinary visitor can usually detect - and a good reason why I would suggest doing your research before you book any guide or tour.

Not all countries or cities insist that their guides are legally certified, it’s often helpful to look out for those who at least belong to an official tour guides association. Unlike countries like Poland and Spain, there is no official license required for guides in Germany, suprising considering the weight of the country's history. You will, however, often find that guides in German cities, such as Berlin, are part of a local tour guides association (Verein). This means they will be part of a community of guides who share information about their city, or country, amongst themselves on a regular basis, and be more aware of the minute details that first-time visitors will easily miss.

The Bündnis Berliner Stadtführer association, of which I am proud to say I am a member, provides a list of peer-reviewed guides in Berlin, alongwith the tours they offer and the different languages they guide in.

 

Public Tour Companies in Berlin

Brewer’s Berlin Tours

Founded by a former British naval intelligence officer, Terry Brewer, this company has been offering tours of the city since the 1990s and is famous for providing the longest single day history tour in Berlin (at a minimum of six hours).

Original Berlin Walks

The original Berlin public tour company, praised by American author Rick Steves as one of the best in the city. Setting a professional standard for English language public tours in Berlin that is hard to beat.

Insider tours

In-depth sightseeing tours of Berlin's major landmarks with commentary from some of the most articulate academic guides in the city. Their Berlin Today tour, looking at the developments in the city post-reunification is a particularly unique experience.

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Thanks for reading this far! I hope at least some of this was useful to those of you looking to hire a guide, whether in Berlin or anywhere else in the world.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to get in touch.

-Matt