Bleary-eyed and barely recovered from post-Glastonbury flu, I find myself in the departures room at Gatwick South Terminal at half five on a Thursday morning. In a bout of spontaneity a month earlier, I had booked flights to visit an old university friend in Berlin; not even bothering to consider the implications of needing to be at the airport a good four hours before I usually wake up. Like a member of the living dead, I shuffle off in search of caffeine before making my way to the departure gate, boarding my third flight in as many weeks.
A short ninety minute flight later, and I'm in Germany's capital city, still sleep deprived and now attempting to navigate a foreign metro across to Wedding in the city's North-West where my friend Emily resides. Having won my battle with the train and successfully found Emily's flat, I'm feeling ready for a beer. I look at my watch realise it's still not even 11am. Luckily, I don't have to wait long before I can get cracking on finding the (quite considerable) list of bars that I have compiled and intend to visit over the weekend. Or so I think. Emily has a polish class all afternoon, and so after a short U-bahn ride into Mitte, the city's most central district, I find myself alone once again in Berlin's bustling hub.
Biding my time until when I consider to be a socially acceptable hour to begin drinking, I hop on a train down to Ostbahnhof and stroll down the East side Gallery - a 1.3km long section of the Berlin Wall next to the river Spree. Tourists are posing for selfies and striking poses left, right and centre, but I'm content just to move among them and soak up the atmosphere of a city steeped in culture and history. I cross the river into Kreuzberg - the city's edgiest and, in my opinion, coolest district. My aim at this point was simple; Eat grubby street food and have a beer.
Luckily, White Trash - a fast food restaurant just off the river front - is well equipped to handle both of these requirements. A mis-match of endearing grungy, almost punk-like decor and reasonably priced grub (I pay €7.50 for a two course lunch - salad/soup and a burger - plus a small Hefeweizen) makes me feel very much at home. The restaurant is open until the early hours of the morning serving drinks and hosting live music events, and even has a tattoo studio inside (more on that later...)
Having whetted my appetite at lunch, I am firmly now in beer-mode, and head off in search of Hopfenreich - my number one destination for the trip. I am devastated, therefore, to arrive on the corner of Sieauer Straße only to discover that it doesn't open until 4pm, leaving me with a frustrating hour and a half to wait. Undeterred, I keep walking until I reach Markthalle Neun, the home of Heidenpeters brewery. I'm soon cursing my luck again, however, as I enter to discover no obvious signs of life at the brewery's tap. "Do these people not understand the joys of daytime drinking?" I think to myself as I exit and make tracks for Bierkombinat Kreuzberg, another nearby pub that has been recommended to me. Yet again, my search is in vain, as the sign on the door informs me they won't be opening until 6pm. By this point in proceedings, I am gagging for a beer and highly frustrated. I resolve to pop into a local Späti (cornershops famous for selling cheap beer for consumption in the street) and pick up a bland Pilsner to swig on in a nearby park whilst I count down the hours until 4pm.
Returning to Hopfenreich, my anger at the seemingly late opening times of Berlin's pubs instantly dissipates. A proper monster of a pub, Hopfenreich, like many of the new wave of craft beer bars in Berlin, opened around two years ago and now boasts twenty two different taps as well as a great number of bottles. I launch straight in with a 0.3l of Heidenpeter's Mosaic Pale ale, an easy drinking 5.1% pale that is easily the best thing I've tasted so far - although the competition isn't exactly fierce at this point. The friendly Danish barkeep makes for great company as I perch at the bar, and we're soon chatting away about Berliner Weisses, Double IPAs and everything in-between. His girlfriend recommends I head back down to Heidenpeters and informs me that it is 'Street Food Thursday' in Markthalle Neun. I don't need much convincing, and make plans to meet Emily there for some dinner and to check out Heidenpeters tap-room.
The tap room, as it turns out, is less a room and more a small corner of Markthalle Neun, which is heaving with foodies when we arrive. Heidenpeters have just three beers on tap, one of which is the Mosaic Pale I had at Hopfenreich, but their Holledauer Weizen IPA is a superb German twist on a classic West-Coast IPA. We guzzle down a couple of them at an impressive rate, before wandering around the hall in search of more unhealthy-looking street food. In the end we plump for a scintillatingly good Paneer tikka masala wrap, stuffed full of salad and creamy sauce, a steal at just €6. Stuffed to the brim and exhausted from my early start, we watch the football in a rooftop bar (bizarrely located above a carpark) before heading back to bed.
The following morning we take a leisurely stroll around the city, taking in the Humboldt University (where Emily studies), Alexanderplatz, The Brandenberg gate and The Reichstag. The more touristy areas in the middle of the city centre don't charm me in quite the same way as Kreuzberg did the day before, but it at least gives me a sense of having taken in some of Berlin's major sites and not just the insides of its bars. Emily, in typical Emily fashion, has left a project deadline until the last minute, and has to rush off to the library after lunch. I take the opportunity to hop on the S-Bahn over to Friedrichshain in the East of the city, and walk up to Bierlieb, a small bottle shop and tap room on Petersburger Straße. I arrive shortly after opening and make small talk with the manager/bartender, before ordering a Berliner Weisse by BRLO Brwhouse and sitting outside in the sunshine. The beer is delicately tart, with a lingering sweetness, and I ask the manager where the brewery is based. "Right here in Berlin," she tells me, "just underneath U Gleisdreieck station." I stare at her blankly, and she quickly realises I'm not familiar with the city, and then kindly proceeds to write me a list of the bars and breweries I ought to visit in the city, organised by neighbourhood. I thank her profusely, staying on for another half - this time of Berliner Berg Lager - before jumping on a tram up into Prenzlauerberg in search of some of the bars she recommends.
My first port of call in Prenzlauerberg is Monterey Bar, located on Danziger Straße, just a few minutes walk from Prenzlauer Allee S-Bahn station. The bar specialises in whiskey and craft beer, with over 150 bottles and ten taps, and opens at 5pm each day. On offer on the day of my visit is a mixture of British and German beers, including offerings from Oakham, Buxton, Wild Beer Co and Berliner Berg. Resisting the (quite considerable) urge to pay €12 for a bottle of Westvleteren 12, I opt for a Kernel Scans IPA, my first British beer of the trip, and get chatting to a couple of Scandinavians at the bar. We swap stories, with me amusing them with my description of fat bearded old men at CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival, and them making me extremely jealous with tales of their antics at Copenhagen Beer Celebration.
Before long, it is time for me to head off and reconvene with Emily for dinner. I suggest Salt n' Bone, a restaurant I'd been recommended prior to my visit, fully in the knowledge that the beer selection there had been confirmed to me by the manager of Bierlieb as being excellent. Luckily, Emily agrees and so I make the short walk to Shliemannstraße to meet her. I almost jump for joy on arriving and seeing the names of Buxton and Omnipollo plastered across the beer board outside. The restaurant had clearly recently had a tap takeover, with at least four of the beers on tap belonging to the Derbyshire-based brewery. I order a Coral Seas, a seaweed Gose collaboration with To Øl and scour the food menu, eventually plumping for a stunning veggie bean burger with aubergine and fries covered in chipotle nacho cheese sauce. Gorged, we head back to Emily's flat before heading out for the evening.
Our evening begins in BadFish bar, a New York style bar close to Schönhauser Allee, back in Prenzlauerberg. According to Emily, it is 'Canada Day', and some of her Canadian friends want to celebrate and promise us free shots if we wear red or white. Sure enough, as we enter, me clad in a maroon flannel shirt, shots are handed to us. What they neglect to tell me, however, was that they are shots of Jameson's Whiskey. Reeling and feeling like I might be seeing my veggie burger again sooner than anticipated, I order a a Schoppe Brau Flower Power IPA, which turns out to be a mildly disappointing if inoffensive Pale ale. The group soon decide its time for beer pong, and before I know it I'm half-cut and having a whirl of a time, despite it only being midnight. "We'll probably go to the techno club about two-ish and stay out till seven or eight," Emily tells me, much to my horror and mild disbelief. I decide to take it easy for a while, and pick up a Club Matte, a caffeinated drink, for the tube over to Kreuzberg. Having heard many a story about the strictness of Berlin's doorstaff, I'm pleasantly surprised to be allowed into the club without a hitch, although slightly affronted by the extortionate €10 entry fee. In the end we only manage to make it until 5am, before throwing in the towel and heading home as the sun rises across the Berlin skyline.
It's safe to say the following morning is a complete write off. After much groaning and a healthy dose of self-pity, I eventually haul myself from my slumber sometime around two and try to kid myself that I'm being touristy by heading to the Jewish Museum and Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstraße. By six or so in the evening, however, I'm ready to drink again, and head off in search of BRLO Brwhouse. Sure enough, right under U Gleisdreieck station I find a set of shipping containers and a small seating area not dissimilar to the Beavertown taproom in Tottenham Hale. The sun is shining and I feel rather pleased with myself as I sip on a German IPA and lose myself listening to the excellent music wafting from a nearby set of speakers. I start to get peckish, and decide to take a risk on the dubious sounding 'mixed pickles' being offered by the food stall, and instantly regret it as I am handed what are effectively cold vegetables in brine. I leave them untouched.
Frustrated with myself, I jump back on the train, grabbing some pizza on the way, before arriving at Kaschk, a very trendy craft beer and coffee shop, in time for a quick half before the Germany game begins. There is a distinct Brewdog vibe to this hipster hangout located right outside Rose-Luxemburg-Platz U-Bahn station, and this is reflected in the price, with most of the beers costing the wrong side of €4 for a 0.3l glass. Still, with twelve beers on tap and in a central location, it's probably worth a visit if you're serious about beer or coffee. I finish up my beer and head to Prater Garten, Berlin's oldest beer garden, to meet some old work friends and watch the Germany match. We drink far too much pilsner and I end up back in Monterey bar until almost 2am. Whoops.
Sunday begins much in the same way as Saturday, with a hefty hangover and a long lie in. We meet some of Emily's friends for a brunch that ends up being more of a late lunch, before taking a lazy stroll through the markets in Mauerpark, next to the Max-Schmeling Arena. Each Sunday, a mobile sound system is set up and locals and tourists come together for what is commonly referred to as 'Bearpit Karaoke.' We watch with mild amusement for a little while, swigging on more pilsner to keep the hangovers at bay. I decide to take Emily to White Trash for dinner, partly just because I want an excuse to go back to Kreuzberg before I leave. We order a huge plate of nachos and beer battered onion rings, washed down with a glass of König Ludwig Hell. Before we can leave White Trash, however, there's something I have to tick off my bucket-list. We head inside the restaurant to the tattoo parlour and I immortalise the Beeson on Beer brand with a permanent souvenir of my trip to Berlin. Mum & Dad, if you're reading this; I'm so sorry...
We round off the weekend with a quick visit to Vagabund Brauerei, a microbrewery near to Emily's flat. The pub has a welcoming and old fashioned decor, with four of their beers on tap, as well as a reasonably large bottle selection. Another nice touch is allowing customers to bring in food from local restaurants and take-aways, compensating for the lack of kitchen on site. The American Pale Ale and Double IPA are both superb and the perfect way to cap off a fantastic weekend, and it is with great regret that I leave Emily's flat at half four the following morning to return back to the UK.
It speaks volumes about the sheer quality and quantity of craft beer bars that have sprung up in Berlin in recent years that even in a weekend totally dominated by the pursuit of good beer, I was unable to get even close to visiting all of the bars I had been recommended by friends, fellow bloggers and locals during my stay. The city has a incredible array of pubs, restaurants, street food vendors and clubs, and the atmosphere is nearly always lively, friendly and welcoming. To put it simply, I cannot wait to be back.