if i had to pick one thing, only one, that represents berlin for me, it would have to be clärchens ballhaus. it's the east and the west, the old-fashioned and the hip, the old and the young, the past and the present. it's very berlin.
clärchen's is not just a ballroom, as the name would suggest, it's also a restaurant with a garden up front. in summer, you'll sit in between the flower beds for a pizza al fresco and a glass of wine, or a boulette (typical berlin meatballs) with potato salad and a beer, if you prefer. you can come for lunch, but my favourite is the evening, when dusk is settling late and slowly the lights come on, you hear the chatter of the diners and the footsteps of the waiters on the gravel paths.
when i came to take pictures, i asked one of the waiters for their opening times. he just looked at me as if i was out of my mind: "why, we don't have any. we open around 10 in the morning and then...". it's open end, you see. you wouldn't think this kind of thing could happen to you in germany, land of the over-organised, but the times they are a'changing... great!
inside, the old ballroom comes to life in the evenings. the gentlemen staffing the ticket box (entry is something like 2 or 3 euro), the cloakroom and the doors inside must be in their late seventies and are suitably grumpy, but easily pleased when you buy your ticket and hand over your coats. this being former east berlin, the crowd is amazingly mixed. come early (say around 9pm), and there'll be plenty of couples in their fifties, ballroom dancing to old-fashioned eurovision-song-contest-style music. the later the night, from eleven/midnight onwards, the higher the proportion of young and hip media people and artists, dancing along freestyle - i've never seen anything like it.
saturdays, there's live music, quite often with a swing band. you can also take dancing lessons in clärchen's amazing, morbidly chic spiegelsaal (mirror hall) upstairs. wednesdays, it's swing for beginners with lotta. the spiegelsaal is also hired out for weddings, parties or photoshoots. sundays, they often hold concerts (check out their website for dates and contact).
clärchen's located in the middle of berlin's gallery scene in mitte and not far from shopping hot-spots hackescher markt and alte schönhauser straße, so you could easily come for lunch or dinner after some inspiring gallery visit or rest your feet after a shopping spree. i love clärchen's, and chances are you will too.