Berlin is different. Elsewhere in Germany, the nightlife is what you might expect for the serious burghers of a work-minded country: Cafes close at 1 a.m., or earlier. But Berlin still has the feeling of the world capital it once was.
After the division of Germany left Berlin isolated 110 miles inside communist lines, the West German government determined to make life as joyful and appealing as possible. It subsidized culture, turning this city into a center for artists, writers, musicians, theater people and intellectuals. Young people came for the music scene and to avoid the draft. And the city did away with closing hours.
Berlin had traditionally had a glorious life in the pubs and cafes Berliners call "kneipen." Those traditions go back to the 19th century, when cafes were central to intellectual life and were gathering places for literati and political thinkers.
The famous Romanische Cafe, which was behind the Remembrance Church, was filled in the '20s and '30s with painters, writers, theater people, film actors, journalists and bohemians. But the cafe life died with the Nazi takeover, only to be revitalized in the western half of the city after the war. Artists and intellectuals, drawn by the city's excitement, began filling the kneipen again, each pub gathering in its special clientele.
Today there are said to be more than 4,000 kneipen in Berlin: hangouts for intellectuals, artists, media people, students, the "alternative" scene, the '60s radicals (called APOs, the German initials for extra-parliamentary organization). One element of the cafe set is called the "chiceria"; it embraces a certain group of actors, academics, architects, young doctors -- the would-be trendsetters, who are even memorialized by a song, "Chic, chic, chiceria!"
Some of the best cafes in the city are in the tourist center, but just off the Kurfu rstendamm and other main avenues on streets where visitors often don't go. Some open in the morning or afternoon; others are deserted till after 10 at night. A few promise nouvelle cuisine or at least hearty food; others serve only drinks and snacks.
Uwe Tietz, an Alternative (anti-nuclear) member of the city parliament who is as much a Berlin booster as any chamber of commerce, says that the best way to see the real Berlin is to do a "sauser" (pronounced zow-za), which means "zoom." (That's bar-hopping to Americans.)
My "sauser" starts with a place that is lively even at lunch. The Paris Bar, one of the first kneipen, has been an artists' hangout since it was founded by a French soldier in 1952. Film critic Christa Maerker remembers, "They had a 'steak minute.' I'm certain it was horsemeat, but you ate it." For years, it has been the "in place" for people from the worlds of theater, film and media. Now it's run by two Austrians, Michael Wo rtler and Reinhold Nohae.
The walls are covered with avant-garde prints, and there are roses on the tables. Some people sitting on the red-leather chairs are dressed casually, while others look elegant.
It is cosmopolitan, international. A rack of newspapers includes the International Herald-Tribune, Le Monde and a collection of German papers.
Christa waves to Regina Ziegler, whom she describes as German's foremost female film producer, and the woman, dressed in a purple hat and veil, comes over to plant a kiss. At another table is a writer for the newsmagazine, Der Spiegel. Andy Warhol is a customer, as is Spanish director Carlos Saura. Fassbinder came here, too.
During the film festival, the place is jammed. At the time of a big art show a few years ago, it was the meeting place of the international art mafiosi -- Castelli, Sonnabend, Mary Boone. "They behaved like bohemians," laughed one who was there.
The Paris Bar has two clienteles. At lunch there are businessmen, lawyers, architects, professors and people from the art school across the way. At night there are artists and people who want to be seen. Seven French cooks prepare the repasts. One can order onion soup or boudin and wine for $2.40 or pay 10 times that for something complex. (One can eat well for $15, thanks to the strength of the dollar.) The restaurant is open from noon to 1 a.m., closed Sunday. It is at Kantstrasse 152; phone 313-8052.
The Bistroquet is "the hippest place in town," says Joe Trinkner, a German television correspondent. "It's been that way for years. The guy with the moustache is the minister for cultural affairs. Journalists come here, good actors -- and people who want to be seen."
In summer the prime place to be is at tables spread outside along the wall of windows. I stop there to share a wine with the spokesman for the Berlin Social Democrats. Others sit at the wood bar or at wood tables topped with white candles. A man at the bar is reading Le Monde. Sunday at 4 p.m. television personalities and producers gather on the back platform.
Joe says this is the haunt of the "upper chiceria." A Palestinian cameraman comes over and we get into a conversation about the difference between the Berlin and Munich chiceria. Munich is the center of the movie industry and roosting place for the fashion and jet sets. "It is different in Berlin," he insists: People here are more serious.
But at the Bistroquet, they are also serious about food and drink. Above the bar, a golden cupid hangs from the ceiling and a sign lists French wines. The menu lists Alsatian dishes such as mussels or lamb at $5 to $8.
At Uhlandstrasse 49, the corner of Pariser Strasse, the Bistroquet opens for lunch. Telephone 882-1808.
Florian is marked by the popular minimalist, new-wave puritanism that demands a spartan decor with straight lines, bright lights and no texture. It is a reaction to the last fad, the turn-of-the-century style with heavy, carved wood tables and rich materials. Christa explains, "We all whitewashed our apartments."
The front room has a wood bar topped by a silver expresso machine and the lighted sign, "Florian," the name of a 16th-century Franconian knight who fought against the exploitation of peasants by the rich. In the back, dark wood walls surround the small, white tables. In one corner is a gold ceramic stove. The tape deck plays Keith Jared.
Florian attracts many of the people who go to the Paris Bar. Christa waves to Ulrike Ottinger, a blond woman in a long leather coat, whose "Ticket of No Return" was shown in the New York surrealistic film festival. Theater and film people celebrate here after shooting stops or a play ends its run. We have to leave by 10:30, because the Renaissance Theater has reserved the whole restaurant to celebrate the last performance of Brecht's "Arturo Ui."
At Grolmanstrasse 52, just north of Savignyplatz, Florian is open from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m., with food served till 1; telephone 313-9184. The cuisine is German: roast ham and dumplings, boar, oxtail, rabbit. I had a delicious veal with kidneys, field salad (a green I've never seen elsewhere), then a Calvados apple with cinnamon cream.
The Ax Bax (pronounced "Ach Bach"), a Greek restaurant also favored by the chiceria, takes contempt for style to extremes. It exudes the feeling of a roadhouse. Aquamarine walls are topped with odd-patterned wallpaper, and the most prominent "art" is the portrait of a moose sewn into a campy wall-rug. Bare light bulbs painted silver are screwed into outlets. Even tackier is the mirror with a burning heart pierced by an arrow that symbolizes "ax bax," a Greek cry of sorrow.
"A studied effort to be without style or decoration," says journalist/sociologist Eike Gebhardt, who comes here regularly. "It's reverse snobbism."
Standees crowd the counter under globe lights. This is a popular pick-up place. A woman in a crew cut is talking to a man in a leather jacket.
Eike points out Rosa von Praunheim, a leading filmmaker of the grotesque. Others are actors, writers and artists.
The back counter features such dishes as moussaka and salads. A meal costs $3.
But don't arrive before 10:30 p.m. And never on Saturday; it's closed then. The cafe is at Leibnitzstrasse 34, but there's no name sign under the red wood canopy, just an advertisement for Konig Pilsner beer. Open 7:30 p.m. to 3 a.m., telephone 313-8594.
Galerie Natubs is where the veterans of the late 1960s, which were as tumultuous in Germany as in America, come for nostalgia. It is a square, dark-brown room with unpainted round, rough wood tables, hanging velvet lamps and a crazy red, yellow and black giant butterfly by French sculptor Niki de St. Phalle stuck on the ceiling. A huge brown plaster finger suspended over the bar points characteristically to the left.
On the walls are boxes of odd figures by the same sculptor, an anti-war sign and a poster of Berlin painter Natasha Ungeheuer. Magazines sit in a rack above the door. The dimness is broken by red and yellow spotlights. The bar is crowded with people in their thirties and forties.
"The man who started it was a student who was interested in art and knew a lot of painters and sculptors," explains Marianne Wagner, an habitue'. "People met after demonstrations here. There was a big table twice the size of the one that remains, so everyone could sit there."
The real show starts late. "A certain chiceria comes here after midnight," says Marianne. "Now it's starting. That is Wilhelm Dieter Siebert, composer of the opera 'The Sinking of the Titanic,' which was shown in Los Angeles in 1982." This is a popular place for musicians from the Philharmonic.
Peter Reinecke, director of the State Institute for Musicology, insists we try Natubs' specialties: boulette, a cold hamburger laced with lots of bread crumbs, and bread and schmaltz (chicken fat). The latter was a ritual in the late '60s and early '70s, because it was cheap and proletarian, but I don't recommend it.
Natubs, open daily from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., is a block south of Olivaerplatz at Bregenzer Strasse 2, the corner of Dusseldorferstrasse, phone 883-6713.
And it is the last stop of this "sauser."