Thursday, 21 April 2011
German History with Cake on the Side
One of the things I love about Berlin is the little pockets of history that you can discover all over the city. The fact that you can cycle to them without battling aggressive drivers just makes it all the better. So the other day, as it was beautifully sunny, we decided to hop on our bikes and head up to Pankow. I had read in Slow Travel Berlin that a number of the dignitaries of the ruling party of the former East Germany had lived on one street in the suburb at Berlin's northern edge. Being suckers for old DDR stuff we headed up the, thankfully gentle, hill of Schönhauser Allee to check it out.
A mere twenty minutes or so later we found ourselves at the entrance to the Majakowskiring; literally a small ring road full of grand villas. Most of these rather imposing houses were built in the 1920s but there are also a number of impressive modernist buildings that appear to be home to a variety of businesses.
We cycled around the ring a couple of times taking pictures of some of the more interesting buildings as well as the villas with historical significance. I was somewhat surprised that most of those houses had plaques on stating who had lived there and when; generally Germany does a pretty good job of trying to erase the DDR from memory. Although I wasn't shocked to see that Erich Honecker's former residence wasn't trumpeting the fact it had been home to the long-term Head of State - especially as it now seemed to be some sort of children's activity centre. I guess all of those human rights abuses don't make for a lot of fun...
As if cycling around a leafy, rather lovely, street on a gorgeous day wasn't pleasant enough, imagine my joy as I realised that one of these grand villas was the Majakowski Gasthaus: a cafe and restaurant with a pretty plant and tree-filled garden. As if by some extremely fortuitous stroke of luck we realised it was 4pm and therefore kaffee und kuchen time. Hurrah! We locked up the bikes, found a quiet shady spot, and ordered ourselves some refreshments faster than you can say "so much for a healthy afternoon bike-ride". My heart sank just a little bit when our waitress told us there was only chocolate cake available as, although chocolate is never wrong, I feared that this meant that there was one rather sad lonely cake hanging around waiting to be eaten before any fresh goods would be ordered. I also decided to opt for a coffee fearing that the tea on offer might be somewhat mediocre.
Well I needn't have worried. I admit, when our cake arrived I was a bit disappointed to note it was of the loaf variety with no filling or topping. The sprinkling of icing sugar on top wasn't fooling anyone, I thought. But how wrong I was. This was no last-cake-in-the-vitrine situation: this cake was still warm straight from the oven and was moist and chocolatey without being sickly. The coffee that accompanied it was, as is usual in Germany, strong and tasty. Yet again I was reminded that Germans really do get some things right. It doesn't seem to matter where you go and how out-of-the-way it might seem, there are always the necessities of life available to you: whether that's a cafe serving good cake; a restaurant that will serve you a meal whatever time of day it is; or even a toilet that's open to the public. I really do love that practicality.
I mean really, how can I not love a place where you set out for a bike ride to look at some old communist stuff and end up eating delicious chocolate cake? Next time someone asks me why I spend so much time in Berlin I guess I could do worse than tell them about my trip to Pankow. It pretty much sums it all up. History + cycling + cake = happy me.