A stalwart of our Berlin programs, we felt there was no one better than Heribert von Reiche, to share insights into his native city. 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Berlin is one of the most thriving and exciting cities in Europe, an international gathering place for people looking for a creative and cosmopolitan hub.
Heribert is a native Berliner whose family history can be traced as far back as the founding of the city. An expert in urban history, for more than twenty years he has been guiding interested crowds through the German capital and the surrounding Mark Brandenburg. He studied sociology, history, and cultural anthropology at the Freie Universität Berlin. His professional experience is varied and far-ranging, including working as a freelance trainer for communication and intercultural education since 1982, and guiding tours since 1986. In the West Berlin borough of Wannsee he runs with his wife two cafés and a gourmet delicatessen, and he is well-versed in fine cuisine. With an anecdote for just about every historical detail, Heribert is the consummate companion for any and all learning adventures in this city.
Context Travel: What is your favorite walk to lead for Context and why?
Heribert von Reiche: “Divided City, Berlin in the Cold War” is my favorite walk right now, as it does not start off with the two images that all tourists come to Berlin with, i.e. “Hitler” and “The Wall,” right away. The Cold War was a time of big competition between two world systems, and the buildings in the former Stalinallee in East-Berlin and Hansaviertel in West-Berlin still stand as the symbols for the values of those systems – the values of new human beings in the world of capitalism vs. socialism. On both sides, famous architects designed landmarks of housing and urban planning. And were accompanied by supporters and protesters in the streets. The two-fold Berlin is reflected in these showcases of propaganda. In addition, the topic relates like no other to my personal lifespan and experiences in Berlin and also to the lifetime of most clients. It also often brings up interesting questions such as “Where do you want to live today? Which of the two is the more fashionable housing/living area today?”
CT: If there’s one book travelers should read before visiting Berlin, what would it be and why?
HvR: There are two books I’d recommend. One is a so-called “children’s book”, yet I see no age limit to really enjoy it. It’s Erich Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives. It’s available in English and there are also two movie versions. You get really into Berlin of the 1920s, through the eyes of a teenager. The other one is very new and especially interesting for clients from the US, Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts. It speaks about the early years of the Nazi regime from the perspective of the family of the US-Ambassador to Germany. There’s also a wonderful movie on Berlin – 1, 2, 3 by Billy Wilder, with exceptional images of Berlin. They drive through the Brandenburg Gate only days before Aug. 17, 1961 and Cold War Berlin). The movies shows us how you can sell the achievements of capitalism (in this case Coca Cola) behind the Iron Curtain.
CT: In your opinion as a native Berliner, what’s the most common misconception travelers have when visiting your city?
HvR: The size and the layout of Berlin. Visitors to Berlin never expect Berlin to be so large, with a diameter of more than 35 miles. European cities grew, and grow, vertical, American cities grow horizontal (except New York and San Francisco). Berlin is different, with one old (preferably medieval) center and annual growth rings, like a tree. Berlin was put together artificially, by a political decision, very late in history (1920) and still has the image of a quilt. Therefore until this day, the identification of the real Berliner goes first with the local housing area (Kiez), and then we are all Berliners.
CT: If you could chose only one monument/museum/neighborhood to lead walks in, what would it be and why?
CT: I know you are quite the foodie with your own restaurant in Wannsee. If you could recommend one food specialty to try while visiting Berlin what would it be and where should people do to try it?
HvR: Curry Wurst! For less adventurous travelers I would suggest trying it in the Tucher restaurant near the Brandenburg Gate – they serve a fancy tourist version of curry wurst. For the most adventurous at the “Konopke” curry wurst booth, right underneath the Eberswalder Strasse subway-station in Prenzlauer Berg.