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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Off of Eberswalder Street behind a sliding piece of plywood may possibly be the coolest bar in existence. The smoky, gritty and concrete-floored Dr. Pong is a hidden jewel in East Berlin’s bar scene.

I was brought to Dr. Pong over the summer when I was studying photojournalism abroad. I had my doubts. From the outside, the bar looked sketchy at best. The windows were cloudy and opaque, a faded “Dr. Pong” upon them.

The bar, located at 21 Eberswalder St., Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, was small, and most of the open space was occupied by a worn pingpong table. A €5 deposit got you a rented paddle.

After the first round of beers, I sat down in the barebones bar and observed the table tennis game in front of me.

A game of table tennis at Dr. Pong starts out with all players at the table. Once the ball is served, everyone walks in a circle around the table hitting the ball. If you miss you’re out and have to wait for the next game. The remaining two players then play a heated game of pingpong. A loud banging of a paddle handle on the table signals a new game.

I attempted to play a few rounds, but my pingpong skills were not up to par.

Oliver Miller, 39, founded Dr. Pong in 2002. Miller is originally from San Francisco, but relocated to Berlin when he had the idea for the bar, which stemmed from his master’s thesis developed at Princeton University’s architecture school.

“I developed the conceptualization, programming and design for a recreation center,” Miller said. “The title of that project was ‘Recreating Recreation.’ In it I sought to both contrast and hybridize free time activities, such as sport and partying, and to handle the conventions and dangers of recreational drug consumption in a similar manner as with the generation of endorphins through physical exertion.”

The crowd in the bar was quite the melting pot. Local Berliners mingled with tourists from across the globe. I was able to meet American, German, Canadian and French pingpong enthusiasts.

An eclectic mix of music, including thumping German techno and classic American hip hop, was played by the in-house DJ throughout the night, and around 2:30 a.m. people were just drunk enough to dance a little or at least sing along to the tunes.

Dr. Pong was minimalist in everything but its liquor selection. Did I mention that the legal drinking age for hard liquor in Germany is 18? Dr. Pong had the staples you can expect like vodka, rum and tequila along with a nice selection of German beers. It also offered booze on the more exotic side like absinth and spicy shots.

As I enjoyed the grungy ambiance, a tangy screwdriver was held in each hand. I ended up dropping €20 on vodka mixed drinks by the end of the night.

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