I’ve always loved English pubs, but just how awful they are becoming wasn’t completely clear to me until I relocated a couple of years ago to Berlin. While too many pubs these days are soulless, generic commercial enterprises, staffed by people who clearly don’t give a damn, Berlin bars are often wonderfully idiosyncratic, and operated and patronised by people who clearly love them.
In my neighbourhood I’ve discovered, to select just a few, a bar run by a Frank Zappa lookalike who brews his own beer, a surreal dive run by an Albanian refugee who has Gypsy musicians playing on the street outside, a bar where patrons sit outside in an ex-Soviet Army jeep, and the world’s campest gay bar, whose walls and ceiling are lined with pink fur.
Some of the more traditional ‘Kneipen’ (corner pubs) close as early as 9pm – just when the more bohemian places are opening. Some stay open 24 hours; others, just until the last customer leaves. And why not? We’re all over 18, aren’t we?
Meanwhile, back in England, I’ve been in pubs where at the stroke of 11, staff start mopping the floor around my feet with vile-smelling disinfectant. I’ve been in pubs where miserable staff start cheering when the boss decides to close at 10.15 because they’re ‘not busy enough’.