Saturday, December 25, 2010

Berliner Raucher Kneipe

The kneipe is a special place in Berlin where you can find a few locals crammed together in corners watching sports on the telly and drinking cheap beer in small glasses.  The wiki translation of 'kneipe' is 'pub,' but this isn't exactly accurate.  To me, a pub is a place where large groups of English or Irish people gather together and drink ales and stouts from LARGE mugs and watch sports on the telly.

Most of the Berliner Kneipe are raucher, or smoking pubs.  Most European pubs have followed the popular trend of banning smoking; England, Ireland and Germany all share the same laws concerning smoking in bars. To whit:  it is not allowed.  In Berlin, however, people just plain don't give a fuck.  They smoke in bars anyway.  Technically, this is illegal, but if a kneipe owner scrawls the word 'raucher' in crayon on a bar napkin and duct tapes it to the door of his establishment, alles in ordnung.

"So, db, why in the hell do you go to the raucher kneipe if you don't like smoke, you California beeotch?"

Glad you asked.  Two words:  CHEAP BEER.  Sure, the beer is crappy, mostly warm off-brands that nobody has ever heard of outside of Berlin.  But I'll be god damned if I'll ever be caught DEAD in the typical over-lit, over-priced, bistro-slash-faggy-slash-dancy cafe-slash-bar-slash-fuckers-I-don't-like-SLASH-em-ALL!!!

Ahem, excuse me.  I prefer dark corners and dark people.  I don't mean the local African watering holes per se, but those would be welcome as well.  I mean, normal people who have no problem with the dual stigmas of being butt suckers and alcoholics.  The lungs and the livers are shot, but these people are REAL.

FALLING DOWN is my local raucher kneipe.  It is practically right across the street from me, which makes it an easy stagger home.  I suppose the name of the place, in the immortal words of Bukowski, 'sort of fondled my scrotum.'  It's not normal to have an English name on a German bar.  And this bar is all German, mostly Prenzlauer Bergers of the old sort: unemployed, hard drinking, DDR-raised people who like cigarettes and beer more than life itself.  The bar is owned by a man of Mediterranean origin.  His name is 'Shefki,' which he told me means 'happy man' in Arabic.  It's true:  the man is happy.  Even when his bar is dead empty, he just smiles and asks me 'where are the people do you suppose?'  Then he rips open a bag of chips and brings the darts out for a game or two.

He opened the pub on Christmas Day "for the lonely people who don't have Christmas today."  I thanked him profusely by eating his chips, drinking his beer and throwing his darts.  I had to ask him about the decision to name the bar 'Falling Down.'  Was it about the gambling machines tucked in the corner?  Does 'Falling Down' mean the falling of coins?  Or is it about the more unfortunate patrons who can't handle the new uber-Captialist economy and the heavy amount of alcohol one must consume to deal with the aforementioned regime change?

To which Shefki replied:  "I think it is the last place people go in the neighborhood.  After they have gone to all the other kneipe in the neighborhood, they come here last and fall down."

Don't be scared.  Please visit Falling Down on Paul-Robeson-str. today.  Sure, your lungs may fall out of your ass from the smoke, but Shefki is a happy man who plays a mean game of darts and peddles a cheap bottle of beer.  Tell him the big American sent you.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Not Ready For Prime Time

The beauty of a blog is that nobody edits the damn thing but my damn self.  Whatever sticks in my craw—be it donut, schnitzel or sauer krauts—gets processed through my donut-and-beer-addled brain and onto my blog so that all 12 of you can enjoy it.

Enter:  editor.  Recently an editor of an expat website solicited me (for free) to write a story about getting around in Berlin.  She said she had read my blog and thought I could contribute a few words (for free) to her expat website, because after all, being an expat in Berlin, we are all whores of the most humanitarian kind:  the kind who work for free.

Below is the rejected article.  “Why was it rejected, db?” you ask?  I don’t know, you tell me.  In the commissioned (for free) piece, I took out all the usual F bombs, donut references and deutschbag rants which would normally appear in any Dunkin’ Berliner blog post.  I put in some actual info that can be of actual use.  The next time I get contacted by a publication to write for free, I’m going to INSIST that they read my ENTIRE blog, not just the Cliff Notes, and cite at least 3 references to donuts, deutschbags and defecation.  Read the fucking ingredients, editors.  It’s JFKFC for The Masses, containing 25% comedic rant, 25% parody/satire, 50% bullshit, 0% faggy poetry.

It does exactly what it says on the tin.  Word.
Getting Around in Berlin
 By Craig Robinson
You’ve just moved to Berlin. Nothing is happening where you have just moved.  You need to cross town to get to The Cool Kiez (neighborhood).  Do not panic:  this is normal.  Go to the BVG website and plug in your destination.  Don’t worry if you don’t know the address.  BVG is your Personal Hey Zeus! in the Land of Pagan Hedonism known as Berlin.  You can type in a station stop, an address or even the name of a landmark—Beevee got yer back.  In nanoseconds you will have your course in front of you and you can Kiez hop all night long.

Sometimes it even works out just the way you saw it on the interwebs.  But this is Berlin, the city that never sleeps, never stops reconstructing itself, and never, EVER tells you when your ordinarily-ueber-efficient transportation experience will suddenly come off the rails like that proverbial crazy train:  constant station reconstruction, detours, random service interruptions and poorly-marked station signs are your new friends.  Learn them.  Know them.  Love them.  In the two years I’ve lived in Berlin, I have never used the same route in my neighborhood for more than a few weeks.

It’s a wonder that anyone can get to work.  But since Berlin is probably the unemployment Capital of Europe, who needs to?  Most Berliners only use public transport to get to parties.  That’s why it is open all night long.  They’ve even got a monthly ticket called ‘Wide Awake in Berlin” for those who only use public transport from 10am until 3am.  You even get a discount.  I am not making this up.

Things you will NOT see much of on Berlin’s public transport:

1)      Suits
2)      Cops
3)      Sobriety

Things you will see in ABUNDANCE on Berlin’s public transport:

1)      Punk rockers
2)      Drunks
3)      Students with beer and wine bottles
4)      Touts, beggars and buskers
5)      Tourists just trying to have fun

In my first week in Berlin I must have been lost at least a dozen times in the maze of U-bahn, S-bahn, M trams and M buses.  I finally got the urge to accost a couple of beer-swilling Berliner youth at a Friedrichshain tram stop:  “Hey, guys, I was wondering about the rules for alcohol on public transport—I mean, this is Europe, everyone walks down the street swinging a bottle (Praise Zeus), but is it legal to drink on the tram in Berlin?”

Drinking Jugend #1:  “Technically it is illegal to drink on the trams in Berlin.  But nobody will stop you if you do.”

Drinking Jugend #2:  “NO!!! He is WRONG!!!  If you are in Berlin, you MUST DRINK ON THE TRAM!!!”

Perhaps the locals know something I do not.  I cannot count the times I have been lost on public transport in Berlin.  I still get lost regularly, usually when I hastily jump onto a train whose number I didn’t see as it pulled in (they’ll have 5 or 6 trains in a row going to OPPOSITE parts of the city).  Eventually I just started carrying a bottle of beer with me at all times and BAM! the magic connections began:  the brain train’s synapses fired, failed to fire, stuttered and started, lurched and finally took me away.  Not really.  Some of this is satire.  It HAS TO BE.  This is Berlin.


BVG website:


Buy your tickets from U-bahn or S-bahn station machines or certain news agents and validate the ticket with the punch-stamp machines located almost everywhere but where you will actually be able to see them.

Plain-clothes ticket inspectors (who really wanted to be STASI or KGB agents under communism but couldn’t quite cut the mustard) will occasionally and suddenly flash a ridiculous Cracker Jack box toy badge I.D. at you and ask for your ticket.  At this point it is a good idea to have a valid ticket.  Or a Mohawk.


Day ticket (Berlin A/B central zones):  6.10 EUR
Single ride (up to 2 hours in one slightly-weaving direction):  2.10 EUR
Short trip ticket (up to 3 U-bahn or S-bahn stations or 5 bus/tram stops):  1.30 EUR
Fine if you get caught with none of the above:  40 EUR

Major train service interruptions due to reconstruction (subject to change upon a BVG whim):

-         U2 line from Senefelderplatz to Pankow:  indefinite.  Hell, they’ve been working on that thing since the very DAY I moved to Prenzlauer Berg Over a year ago.  It’s a conspiracy.  Use the ersatzverkehr (replacement bus service) instead.

-         Ostbahnhof S-Bahn station:  constant construction that makes you walk down many, MANY muddy, fenced in construction tunnels like a rat in a labyrinth.