Born in what was then the communist capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, Nickolai's family fled from behind the Iron Curtain and made for sunny California, where he spent the bulk of his young life. He still remembers though, his first visit to Berlin at the tender age of twelve, when the Wall left an indelible impression on him.
Are there any parts of this city which remind you of your childhood in Bulgaria, aesthetically or in terms of atmosphere Nickolai?
In the States I used to live in New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Santa Cruz. I am such an odd mixture of West meets East and NATO meets the Warsaw Pact that my move to Berlin 10 years ago made the perfect sense and no, I never get to feel any kind of nostalgia towards my old countries; if I miss the USA I just go to Potsdamer Platz with its glitz and glamour and if I miss my childhood in communist Bulgaria then I can just go to the remote East Berlin districts of Lichtenberg and Marzahn with their depressing tenement high rises and I´ll feel right at home. Of course, one has to add that, contrary to stereotypes, not everything in the east block used to be grey, there were pockets full of colour and one such example would be the overpowering and exhilarating Karl Marx Allee, formerly known as Stalin Allee and often times dubbed Stalin´s gift to the people of the DDR. A stroll along Karl Marx Allee happens to be one of my favourite walks in the city. The feeling is very special and it also never fails to surprise the western tourists.
|apartment block on Karl Marx Allee|
You are an avid traveller, most recently visiting Ethiopia. Did you bring anything in particular back with you? I hear Langano on Kohlfurterstrasse is quite a good restaurant. Would you recommend it after having tasted authentic Ethiopian food?
Indeed, my number one hobby is travelling and for me the best education any human being can possibly receive is to visit foreign countries. I loved Ethiopia and what I brought back is what Ethiopia is most famous for: coffee. Thanks to a growing Italian expat community, Berlin´s coffee scene is improving but it is still not yet to the level of the country which started the entire culture of coffee drinking: Ethiopia. So Ethiopian coffee was the souvenir of choice from that country. Langano is a very good restaurant indeed but I also really like Bejte Ethiopia on Zietenstrasse 8 in Schöneberg, very close to Nollendorf Platz.
On that note, can you recommend any Bulgarian restaurants in Berlin? (I suppose I am hungry as I ask these questions!)
Berlin´s ethnic restaurant scene is fabulous and that also goes for the Bulgarian restaurants in Berlin, they are very authentic. My favourite is a place called Pri Maria, located on Gärtnerstrasse 12, right on Boxhagener Platz in the super trendy district of Friedrichshain and the reason why I enjoy it so much is because the owner, Maria, has managed to put her own twist to the otherwise, meat heavy Bulgarian cuisine, by turning her kitchen into a very vegetarian friendly kitchen and thus creating a very interesting spin to Balkan food in general. And it goes without saying, not all of the dishes on offer in this restaurant are vegetarian, there is something for everyone.
With your travels often bringing you far beyond Europe, I am interested in your opinion on Berlin's plan for its Ethnological Museum collection, due to be moved from Dahlem, on the outskirts of the city, to Schlossplatz, the reconstructed city palace.
Ha ha ha. If anyone wants to see traditional Bavarian clothing, lederhosen and dindlr, one does not need to travel all the way to an ethnological museum located all the way in Dahlem; one can just visit Alexanderplatz´s Hofbräuhaus and look at what the waiters are wearing. Of course, joke aside, museums such as the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and Haus der Kulturen der Welt (the house of the cultures of the world), go way beyond traditional German clothing, they are intended to show the citizens of Berlin what the world looks like outside their borders and introduce foreign cultures to the people of this city, so moving such places to central locations is a positive thing indeed. Now what my opinion is on the entire Schlossplatz project, well, you´ll have to just join my Famous Walk Tour where I have a thing or two to say regarding this controversial topic.
|Berlin city palace, prior to WWII|
As with many of our guides, you have a background in theatre. Do you feel as if you assume a role when guiding? If you could have a Berlin street-stage name, what would it be?
A background in theatre really helps with tour guiding since tour guiding does require a level of performance and in my case the city of Berlin is my stage. If I have to take on a tour guiding stage name it would have to be ridiculously German sounding and it would have to be associated with Berlin´s 1920´s decadent cabaret scene, such as Fritz Grünbaum or Peter Hammerschlag (actual cabaret performers that really existed). And on this note if non German speaking tourists are interested in seeing German theater then I would have to recommend the Volksbühne on Rosa Luxamburg Platz which is an experimental theater where one does not need to follow a text in order to understand the production.
Thanks for all the tips Nickolai, and see you on the streets, Hammerschlag!