So you crown your first ever Spontaneity Champion, 28-year-old Jamie Bezencenet; the next question surely, is what is the first mission going to be and where? Well to ease Jamie in gently we decided to put the decision into your hands. We gave you the choice of sending him on a city break to Barcelona, Amsterdam or Berlin. We then gave Jamie a few hours’ notice to jump on a plane and head to the city that received the most number of votes. Like Doctor Who, we don’t expect our Spontaneity Champion to travel alone on his global quest, so Jamie decided to take along girlfriend Pru for the first adventure.
And where did Jamie end up? Well that’s his story so he needs to tell it! So without further ado, meet our new Spontaneity Champion and find out how his first trip panned out.
It’s -14°C! I’d be lying if I said that the thought of Barcelona didn’t at least flash through my mind as we made our way into Berlin at midnight. Grey smoke billowing from industrial chimneys; graffiti; concrete…..not exactly the most heartening welcoming, and yet something felt strangely familiar that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The Hotel Adina, near Hackescher Markt, was our base for the weekend and provided the necessary central location, comfy bed and huge buffet breakfast that are pivotal in non-stop city breaks.
First up…. a bit of sightseeing and schnitzel!
The Jewish Museum was our first stop on Saturday morning. Two thousand years of German-Jewish history are on display and it’s well worth a look. Particularly powerful is the 24m high Holocaust Tower, an unheated concrete silo, representing the helplessness and persecution of the Jews during the war. Next up was a short walk to lunch at Borchard, on Französische Straße, that we had been told by many to visit. En route we passed Checkpoint Charlie, the historic crossing point from East to West Berlin, and where Allied and Soviet tanks famously faced-off during the crisis of 1961. Apparently a favourite of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, Borchardt mixes traditional German and French cuisines. Pru braved the choice of Wiener Schnitzel and Lukewarm Potatoes. Personally, I’m not sure the phrase ‘lukewarm’ should ever be used in a gastronomic context. The highlight of the meal for me was not even my delicious steak, but Pru’s face when the waiter, completely deadpan, asked, “and madam, how big a Weiner would you like?” Priceless.
On Cora-Berliner-Straße, you’ll find 2,711 concrete plinths of different heights. Finished in 2004, the Holocaust Memorial is a powerful and sobering reminder of the horrors inflicted on the Jews during the war. Right next to it is the Brandenburg Gate, perhaps the most famous symbol of the tumultuous history of Berlin. Napoleon nicked the famous statue from the top of it when he defeated the Prussians, for it to be returned only ten years later when the Prussians made their comeback. During the Cold War it marked the line between East and West Germany, and was the site of Reagan’s historic speech, addressed to Gorbachev, in which he demanded: “Tear down this wall”. Sixty percent of the city was levelled during The Second World War and even the Brandenburg Gate itself didn’t escape unharmed, with restoration finishing only ten years ago.
The ‘Tele-asparagus’ was our next stop. This is what the locals call Fernsehturm. A 368m TV Tower, so-called because it looks like, yeah you guessed it. Lots of people had recommended heading to the cocktail bar at the top for twilight, and they were right. Two mojitos in and Pru said she felt like the room was spinning. I didn’t tell her that in fact the whole bar was spinning. Once every 30 minutes.
…one night in Berlin
After a brief detour back to the hotel to drop off excess cameras and baggage it was time to see for ourselves what the legendary Berlin nightlife had to offer. A couple of friends happened to be in town and insisted we meet at Das Klo on Leibnizstasse. The name of the bar translates as ‘The Toilet’ and is without a doubt one of the strangest bars I’ve ever visited. Somewhere between an Indiana Jones set and an S&M dungeon. Trust and touch nothing. The toilet seat on the front door squirts you as you walk in. The tables give you the occasional electric shock, and every once in a while huge brown papier mache rocks are lowered from the ceiling to the crash of thunder and lightning. At least I hope they were rocks. After finishing the last of my beers from the urine specimen bottle they were served in we decided to move on.
We considered going to Berhain, the most famous club in Berlin, but we’d heard rumours of no bright colours, no shirts, no shoes and no belts. I’m still not convinced I understand what that means. So you’re saying if I turn up in a black t-shirt with my trousers round my ankles I should be alright? Either way, we decided it was too cold to risk it. We headed to another place that a local had recommended, with the typically understated and German name of ‘Asphalt’ (Mohrenstraße 30). The club was great fun and played upbeat, feel-good house. However it was also full of German men in roll neck jumpers that, to me, looked like a load of badly packed sausages bobbing up and down on the dance floor.
It was 3am and by this time we’d gathered quite a group of people together so we decided to move en masse to a new club. Watergate would be our next stop. This was more like it. This place couldn’t be more hipster if it was rocking a lumberjack beard and wearing skinny jeans. Overlooking the river Spree and the beautiful Oberbaum Bridge, this felt much more like Berlin. Euphoric melodies were swapped for the repetition of minimal techno, and everyone had their serious faces on. The sun was rising by the time we left – whenever that was – but the club was still rammed. Berlin really knows how to party!
…. the morning after the night before
No time to nurse a hangover on a 48-hour whirlwind trip. The freezing air soon cleared our heads, and we headed east to the best preserved part of the Berlin Wall. Next stop was Berlin Zoo. Unfortunately a lot of the animals were not on show, being safe inside during the winter months, but the monkeys and gorillas provided easily enough entertainment.
…. homeward bound
By the time we boarded our plane on Sunday evening we were shattered but happy. Berlin had offered the perfect mix of culture, food & drink, and nightlife. We hardly scratched the surface of what was on offer but we’d had a great time and were definitely left wanting more……..Wait a second! SHOREDITCH (check out my video below)! That’s why I felt like I’d been here before! Berlin is like Shoreditch-on-Ice!