We leave Bayreuth and head up the autobahn to Berlin, going faster than ever before on this trip but still being overtaken by cars going twice as fast. We arrive late afternoon at the Berlin Schlosshotel im Grunewald, an area of leafy streets with big houses, woodland and small lakes on the western outskirts of the city.
The hotel, which was once styled by Karl Lagerfeld, is stunning. It’s the ideal spot for pets in the city as the hotel has fabulous gardens and the shaded woods of the Grunewald are just a few minutes’ walk away. Our room is super-chic and Rufus and Heidi have been given a red blanket to sleep on and silver food bowls, and their own food menu.
After being shown around, we whisk the dogs off to the edge of the woods for a quick walk before heading for the city centre to do a little sightseeing around the Brandenburg Gate and Alexanderplatz, where the former East Berlin Fernsehturm (TV tower), a peculiar ball on a spike that is also the tallest structure in Germany at 368m.
We wander around the Alexanderplatz area looking for somewhere to eat and are just about to enter somewhere that does traditional German food when the owner of the open-air Indian restaurant next to it, Krishna, charms us into going there instead, promising us the best food in Berlin. We are not disappointed – it’s one of the best Indian meals we’ve had – and the dogs are kept happy with a bowl of water provided by the staff and a bit of naan bread.
Next morning we make plans to visit the Jewish Museum, Checkpoint Charlie and some of the parts of the Berlin Wall that remain standing, only to discover that one of the car’s front tyres has a puncture. We are relieved that the tyre went down while the car was parked overnight, and not on the autobahn the previous day.
We call on our European breakdown cover, and while we wait for someone to come and change the wheel we take the Rufus and Heidi on a longer circular tour of the woods, seeing lots of other dogs and their owners out for a Sunday walk. It seems that Germans around here like big dogs – all of those we see on our walk are much bigger than Rufus and Heidi, and many are huge!
Two children passing with their parents and their two massive dogs point and giggle when they see tiny Heidi. Heidi is so plucky and friendly that she races up to all the big dogs, who seem to like her.
We come to edge of the Grunewaldsee, a beautiful lake in the forest, and Rufus goes off for another swim. Heidi is not so keen. Both dogs seem to be revelling in the cooler air of Berlin after the heat of Italy. We head back to the hotel and the breakdown service arrives – it turns out that there is a screw in the tyre that caused the puncture.
The car is fitted with the temporary space-saver wheel and tyre, which will allow us to drive around as long as we don’t go too fast, until we can get the proper tyre replaced the next day. We are just about to set off into the city centre again in the afternoon when Rory checks the other tyres and finds
a screw sticking out of the other front tyre!
We decide to abandon the car until the next day and get a taxi to the Jewish Museum. On the way our dog-friendly German driver advises us that when we ring up for our next taxi we should make clear that we have two dogs. “There are many Turkish taxi drivers in Berlin,” he says. “And, you know, being with dogs is just not part of their culture, so they won’t allow dogs in their taxis.”
We take it in turns to visit the Jewish Museum as only guide dogs and other health assistance dogs are allowed inside. Luckily there is a diner right next door where each of us can wait while the other is in the museum. Unluckily, we think, given our chat with the taxi driver, it is Yezda’s Diner, run by Turks. But the owner says we are welcome to bring in our dogs and Denise settles at a table inside and has a nice falafel salad while Rory goes off for an hour.
Then Denise goes to the museum and Rory has the most delicious kebab ever for just €3, a bottle of Turkish beer, Efes, and a chat with one of the Turkish men working in the diner, speaking to each other in very rough German plus gestures while Heidi and Rufus relax under the table. He says he misses his beautiful home city of Izmir but that it is now cheaper for him to live in Berlin than to live there.
The museum itself is a sobering experience, with the amazing architecture by Daniel Libeskind helping to get across some understanding of the Jewish experience in Germany, particularly the horrific events of the Nazi era. We really only have time to see the museum’s basement level, and plan to return to see the exhibition on the other two floors telling the story of Jews in Germany throughout the ages.
Our next stop is an early dinner with some friends – two who now have homes in Berlin, and two who just happen to be visiting at the same time as us. On the S-Bahn on the way to our dinner venue, Clärchens Ballhaus, a woman on the train asks us if Heidi is “eine kleine Norfolk Terrier”. She then realises we are English, switches to our language and we chat as we approach our stop: it turns out that she has a Norfolk Terrier too, Ivy, and gives us her name (Ingeborg Reh) and phone number in case we have time to meet her the next day for a doggy playdate.
At Clärchens Ballhaus we have some very good traditional German food including “Königsberger Klopse” meatballs and Käsespätzle” (pasta) served with cheese, crispy roasted onions and apple compote. Rory’s friend Mark has brought along his four-year-old daughter, who gets along famously with Heidi, leading her around the table. We then all go over the road for a takeaway ice-cream before saying our farewells.
The next morning we have to concentrate on getting the car back on the road with two new tyres. We leave it at the ATU garage (which seems to be Germany’s equivalent of Kwik-Fit or Halfords) and while it is being repaired take another long walk in the Grunewald, this time all the way around the Grunewaldsee, where Rufus goes for another swim and Heidi goes for a paddle, before having a huge Wiener Schnitzel with a very tasty potato salad at Reinhard’s Landhaus, near the woodland.
Because of the car problems we haven’t seen a much of Berlin as we’d hoped, so we decide to extend our stay at the Schlosshotel to a third night. It means a very long drive back to to make our Eurotunnel crossing back to the UK – we’d originally planned a stop in between, perhaps in Amsterdam – but we find we’re enjoying Berlin too much to leave it just yet.
We pick up the car and head back into Mitte, where our friend and part-time Berlin resident Leslie guides us around the Wall memorial area at Bernauerstrasse. We have a coffee at Nola’s am Weinberg, a Swiss restaurant in a pretty local park, where Heidi stops for a drink at the “Hunde Bar”, before saying goodbye and returning to the Schlosshotel. After feeding and walking Rufus and Heidi, we have a late dinner in the hotel’s restaurant – it’s actually closed by the time we get there, but the staff say they can still re-open the kitchen and do dinner for us.
It’s the final night of our trip, and it’s wonderful to spend it as the only customers in the hotel’s grand and stylish dining room, where the food is excellent: spinach risotto for Denise and golden trout with beetroot risotto for Rory. Then it’s another restful night before the final leg of our journey home…