This week I made my first trip to Berlin. I’ve spent a lot of time in Germany but my work usually takes me to Munich or Frankfurt or Dusseldorf, where the big companies are.
In recent years, Berlin has been building a reputation as the Silicon Valley of Germany. It’s where the trendy start ups are, especially in what used to the Russian held part of Berlin, so when I was asked to run a workshop on a hot technology topic, I decided to hold it in Berlin.
We were working out of a huge converted nineteenth century bakery that looked more like a hipster loft space than a conventional office: surrealist murals, mismatched chairs that look like they were picked up at a thrift shop, high ceilings, tall windows, walls that you can write on and techie toys old and new.
I stayed at a hotel around the corner that looked as if it was straight from the 1920s, until you spotted the usb charge points in the walls and the plumbing.
I got the impression of a big city where people take their time. Most bakeries seemed not to open until 09.00 (as opposed to 06.00 in Switzerland). People were friendly. Places serving good food of every type were abundant. It was a place I’d be happy to spend more time in.
I’d pulled in people from across Europe for the workshop and I wanted to take them somewhere special. Our local team recommended having dinner on the roof of the Reichtag (the German parliament) so we decided to give it a try.
We had to send the names of and date birth of the guests a couple of days in advance and we had to show our passports to get in, but even so, I was amazed that our multinational group was given such access.
The photograph below shows the imposing nineteenth century Neo-Renaissance building with Norman Foster’s rather strange glass dome squatting on top of it. The brightly lit portacabin-like structure at the bottom of the picture is where everyone is channeled through security. It has all the charm of the inside of a washing machine but the people where nice to us.
To get to the restaurant, we took a the lift to the roof, where it’s possible to walk on spiral pathways inside Foster’s glass dome. The pathways offered great views but I was completely distracted by the garish mirrored pillar in the centre (see the picture below). It felt like I’d wandered into an over-the-top casino rather than a seat of government. Perhaps it’s just me, but the pillar reminded me of an over-grown version of Dr. Who’s Tardis. I wonder if Foster was a fan in his youth?
The view across Berlin from the roof is spectacular, especially at night. The view from the restaurant is the same as shown in the picture below.
So now I’ve had dinner in the Reichstag. Yet what I think I will remember most was the informal dinner the team preparing the workshop had the night before. Five of us wandered in from the cold and the rain to the already full Herr Rossi’s Italian restaurant and asked if they could feed us. The place is small, the tables are close together, the atmosphere was intimate. I loved it but couldn’t see where they were going to put us. They squeezed us in to an alcove at the back with a sofa, a couple of armchairs and a coffee table. A couple was already eating there but they welcomed us, told us they lived upstairs and promised us that we’d found some of the best food in Berlin. They were right.
It seemed to me that the open friendliness, flexibility and passion for good food was more emblematic of Berlin than the Reichstag itself.