* Blätterwald – literally: “Leafy Woods” or “Page Woods”; synonym for newspapers, press.

On November 30th 1907 Berlin’s newspaper, the “Berliner Börsen-Zeitung”, bemoaned the seemingly unstoppable demise of the city’s once favourite tipple, the Berliner Weißbier. Up to the arrival of Bavarian-type beers, this slightly sour, top-fermented brew used to be the local beverage of choice.

Guests enjoying their Berliner Weiße in traditional glasses at a doomed Weißbierkneipe in Charlottenstraße (the Kneipe was about to be demolished along with the house), 1903. (Image via Tagesspiegel).

Traditionally served in extra-large but flat glasses, whose handling required use of both hands, this sort of beer was offered in most Berlin bars – or Kneipen – which were licenced to sell no stronger alcoholic beverages like Schnaps (Weißbier is a comparably harmless drink as it contains around 2.8 % alcohol). You mostly found them on the edge of Berlin or even outside the city limits – places like Choriner Straße in Mitte-Prenzlauer Berg (now central Berlin, then outside the city walls) or Lindenstraße in Mitte-Kreuzberg.

The advent of low-fermentation beers from Bavaria – beers which unlike the Berliner Weiße could be stored for a longer time (hence the name “lager” from German lagern) and contained bottom-fermenting yeast – eventually pushed out the top-fermenting sort which used to be brewed in higher temperatures. But not before Napoleon and his troops – a crew whose palates were used to some of the most refined flavours – had a chance to appreciate its taste, calling the drink the “Champagne of the North”. Around 1800 Berlin had around 700 Kneipen serving “the Spree bubbly”.

Today less than ten breweries produce Berliner Weiße and in a city whose veins seem to be pumping beer at any given time of day of night, it has become fiercely difficult to buy the brew. Which is a pity, as loss of a local speciality always is, so let me raise my extra-large and flat glass to the return of Champagne of the North! Prost!

Franz Skarbina “Garden of Berlin’s Weißbier Brewery Gabriel & Jäger” around 1878. The brewery was located in Choriner Straße 85 in the north of the city.

“Berlin mountains! Who’d rightly believe in such a thing? But there they are, and that is what they’re called, even if the next generation will notice them through no more than a slight elevation or a more hollow line of the street, like at the Pfefferberg in Schönhauser Allee.”

Julius Rodenberg’s “Bilder aus dem berliner leben”, 1883
Senefelder Platz (Schönhauser Allee left and Weissenburger Str (today’s Kollwitzstraße, right) captured in 1907 by Max Missmann.
(Image in public domain)
Section of the 1882 map of Berlin between Schönhauser Tor today’s Kollwitzplatz (formerly Wörther Platz) – the old Pfefferberg Brewery approximately in the middle of the image.

Did you know that by 1937 each day almost 90 flights started and landed at the old Flughafen Tempelhof?

By which time the main drawbacks of living in the direct proximity of the airport were noise, pollution and an occasional crash. In short, what we would recognise as adverse circumstances almost a century later today.

However, in the early years of the airport’s operation (just as a reminder, it opened on October 8, 1923) people of Neukölln living near the take-off runway had to deal with a much more unappetizing side-effect of early passenger aviation: nausea.

Not their own, though. Passengers taking those early flights often did so for the first time ever. Being locked up in a loud, trembling machine which then went up in the air only to face occasional turbulences made some of these poor souls quite sick. Enter sick bags. Which until 1949, when inventor Gilmore Schjeldahl created a vomit bag lined with plastic, were either regular paper bags and bags made of waxed paper. And these had to be disposed of fast before the matter inside them penetrated the container. Or before the smell got too oppressive.

That is why the sick bags used by passengers flying to or from Tempelhof Airport to relieve their tormented stomachs were then duly gotten rid of by throwing them out of the (then still opening) aeroplane windows… Also, being able to open the window most certainly helped some of the window-seat passengers circumnavigate the need for a sick bag…

After numerous complaints from curious Neuköllners whose balconies and fresh washing got soiled as a result, the airport authorities introduced a new regulation: the sick bags were to be collected by a member of the crew and stored on board until they could be disposed of elsewhere. Which probably meant, be dumped somewhere over a forest.  Full of unsuspecting hikers and mushroom-gatherers.

The destroyed and never rebuilt Waisenbrücke (however, we are keeping our fingers crossed for Berlin’s Stadtmuseum initiative to have the bridge reconstructed again) (image via @StadtmuseumBLN from the collection of Landesarchiv Berlin)

Berlin is like a bridge without guard rails. You are allowed to fall down, unlike in the rest of Germany.

From the 2019 survey “DNA der Hauptstadt” (DNA of The Capital City) carried out of Berlin’s Senate