Ich gehe nach Berlin

Drinking to the fall of the wall, 20 years on.

I'll be drinking to the fall of the wall, 20 years on.

November 9th marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I will be going.  I will be drinking to it and to my own Cold War childhood.  The fall of the Berlin wall had profound meaning to me as a uber-politicized teen who raged through the Reagan years, plagued by nightmares of nuclear winters.

I’m learning German from mp3s– something my teen self would have marveled at; I didn’t even have a computer.  My many visits to Germany have been complex emotionally– as if I’ve arrived there suddenly and not by choice. Like a misguided time traveler, I seem to end up there a lot.  My Grandmother could speak German, but I never asked her why (family stories of a mysterious German man are unconfirmed).  My uncle, a war veteran, only shared with me once his horrific story of survival at sea during WWII.  He could speak German, too, and do a hilarious imitation of Hitler which employed the use of a black comb for a mustache.  I asked him to do that a lot, but I never asked him why he knew German.

The Turkish grocer on the corner near me speaks to me in German and I have to remind him, “Ich spreche kein Deutsch.”  Then he laughs and confesses he misses speaking it. I miss it too, in that lost-time-traveler way, language as a past once removed.  All the people in my family who once spoke German are now dead and I never practiced with them.

I’m trying out key phrases: Ich nehme ein shwartz bier.  Ich mochte ein rauchbeir, bitte. Haben sie ein Berliner Weisse? Have I got it right? Not sure.

Ron, of Shut up about Barclay Perkins, has written fascinatingly about the place on his blog.  He’s given me many tips and I look forward to plotting with his pub guide. I hear the beer isn’t that great, real Berliner Weiss being a thing of the past.  But if anyone’s been and has any suggestions I’m all ears!

10 Responses

  1. The last time we went to Berlin was before we were very interested in beer. It was all about the history for us back then.

    Knut might have some tips, though.

    • Thanks! It’s too bad (for me) that the book he recommends isn’t in English, it looks really good. Maybe I can find some similar guide in my mother tongue.

  2. I remember drinking Villacher Bier in Villach on a scout trip to Austria and telling my friends how to order in German: “Ein bier, zwei bieren, drei bieren,” and so on. The locals were laughing at us. Then we bent down to pat a passing dog and someone said, “Ah! Englisch!”

    Mad dogs and Englishmen…

    • Hi RedNev– I love that kindness to animals marked you as English! Haha.

      I am trying to learn enough German to embarrass myself properly and so as not to appear the completely ugly American. We’ll see how it goes!

  3. Actually Purlygrrrl, it’s the trying that counts, so you should be all right.

  4. A brewery in Placentia, California, The Bruery, brews a traditional Berliner Weisse. I have not tried it but it have read that it’s quite good. Apparently the owner of The Bruery re-created the style in homage to his German grandparents. Here is what the website says:

    Hottenroth Berliner Weisse
    Brewed in memory of my Grandparents (Fred and Sarah Hottenroth), this tart German-style Berliner Weisse is as authentic as it gets. We used lactobacillus and a hint of brettanomyces to sour this very unusual, low gravity wheat beer. To cut the tartness for those with sweeter tastes, raspberry or woodruff syrup is a traditional way to sweeten the beer. Almost an extinct style, we hope to help revive the Berliner Weisse in memory of two great people.

    • Hi Nat– it’s interesting that certain beers that are almost extinct in their country of origin are now being brewed in the US by brewers interested in history. Maybe some day i will get to try it.

  5. I wish I had a mini Berlin Wall surrounding me wherever I went. It would have to have barbed wire at the top too because who wants squirrels urinating down their briny cover walls?

  6. Purlygrrrl,

    Very interesting post. I am married to a wonderful man from Berlin who speaks English almost as poorly as I speak German. I must admit that I have never been to Germany as yet but we will go there as soon as possible. He is still a citizen. We teach each other our languages and this helps but I began learning with cd systems ten years before I met him; also my family came from Germany too, around 1919. Within 2 weeks of our introduction I could understand him completely and this was certainly not due to an overabundance of intelligence on my part. If you practice a lot and really try you will learn it and they may laugh at you sometimes but it is with good humor. You can do it!

    • Thank you for the encouragement. I am warmed by your story.

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