A reflective personal visit through the city’s brewing past and present
Part 1 - Tuesday 7th October 2014
The catalyst for this tour to Berlin was a visit by the Brewery History Society which enabled a group of very erudite participants to visit former brewing properties that would normally be out of bounds.
I was up for that, yet there was an added, more personal reason. Since 1970 I had frequently visited West and East Berlin and have drank quite a lot of beer on both sides of the infamous wall.
Being inquisitive I wanted to find out more about the breweries that produced those beers. However, back then it was not my priority, so got relegated down the “to be done” list until it fell off the bottom.
I continued going to the eastern part of the city after the wall came down and revisited former haunts yet always wanted to expand the picture with more information. I wish I had done it in the first place!
So, this morning I met the others of our group in the yard of the former Brauerei Bötzow in the Prenzlauer Berg district (photograph: above left and right).
This was being redeveloped as a restaurant, retail complex and supposedly, a brew pub.
Sadly the latter has not yet appeared. If it ever opens, it might have been able to replicate the beers of the old brewery, although I doubt it.
Brauerei Bötzow opened in 1885 and expanded over many years. It was damaged in 1945 during the battle for Berlin. Its equipment was in poor shape and production ceased in 1949 as a result of the consolidation of breweries in East Berlin by the new DDR communist state.
With a security officer we were permitted to go to the cellars which are massive (photograph above left). Five years earlier they had been used for raves. Well, an absorbing visit, but no luck re-kindling drinking memories as it had closed in the year I was born!
Just around the corner there was another classic structure, in the form of the former Brauerei Königstadt (photograph: above right and left). It has been redeveloped with many small businesses having homes in the old brewery buildings. We went to the cellars here as well. They were being used as a super-secure car park with a number of top of the range and classic cars under wraps. This brewery opened in 1850 and finished brewing as far back as 1921. Great visit, but again they never produced any beer that I could ever have sipped!
Our final visit that day to defunct breweries was to the Weißbierbrauerei Willner in Pankow (photograph: right). This was established in 1882 and as can be seen from the name, it was a Weissbier (wheat beer) brewery and that’s the way it stayed until closure.
It was nationalised in 1948 and from 1959 was grouped with Schultheiß (Schönhausen Allee), just down the road, as its Willner department. It remained under Schultheiß control when the VEB-Berlin was formed in 1969. It joined the VEB under its own name in 1990.
A VEB was a nationalised company, supposedly owned by the people, by in reality by the state. A VEB-Kombinat was a number of companies grouped together, as in VEB-Brauerien Berlin. The brewery closed in 1990, months after reunification. It seemed it was only kept open previously because it produced Weissbier. It was an anachronism inasmuch that it had hardly changed since the day it opened. I certainly drank this beer in bottles, as I visited pubs that were within 500 metres of the brewery specifically to drink Weissbier.
All that day we had stayed in the former communist controlled eastern part of the city. When visiting in the past I sought out bottled Berliner Weisse, especially in the neighbourhood bars. It was a rare and endangered style both sides of the Wall. Berliner Weissbier is a regional style that is sour and nearly always flavoured with real herb essences by customers to take the sharpness away.
There is was a lot of equipment still inside the building with the exception of the copper and mash tun, which had been sold for scrap. Please note the old grist mill (photo: right). The structure is semi-derelict with some rotting floorboards and ceiling joists.
I found it rather bizarre looking at the long defunct malting area (which is most of the building) knowing that I had drank the results of its production. We were escorted around by historian Dr Martin Albrecht.
Our final visit of the day was to the very much alive Brauhaus Mitte (photo: left) at Alexanderplatz, the central point of East Berlin in the DDR years. It was once Leopold’s Brauhaus when opened in 1992. That changed to Brauhaus Mitte about ten years later and after that it was bought by Lemke who have two other brew pubs in the city. We were guided around the 200 hl plant by brewer Holger Lampe, followed by an enjoyable meal. By 2017 it had been renamed again, to Lemke am Alex, an indicative example of the ever-changing Berlin beer scene.
See Part Two for the following day’s exploits uncovering Berlin’s beer and brewing culture.
Part 1 of 4