Behind Bars: Charles Bar, Wittenberg

7 questions for Martin Kramer

Wittenberg in known as Luthestadt – the city of Luther. Located in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, it was here where the seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation literally nailed his famous 95 theses onto the door of the Schlosskirche. The city – current population 46,000 – is much less known as a place for decent drinking. However, another Martin is hard at work changing that. Martin Kramer is the owner and chef of the “Charles Bar“ – and he’s already won the German cocktail mastership two times in a row.

1. Martin, please describe the Charles Bar in three words.
Special! Jazzy! Fancy! It’s special, because we have taken the risk of opening a bar to celebrate cocktail culture in a structurally weak region of Saxony-Anhalt. However, this area deserves good drinks, too. It’s jazzy, because we love music. The name of the bar is inspired by Ray Charles – we do not put on hip hop, but almost exclusively jazz. And it’s fancy, because we have our own style of presenting our drinks: we try to give each cocktail a theme and reflect this in its look, flavour and of course taste.

2. Your bar is located in a small town and, as you’ve mentioned, in a structurally weak region. How do you operate such a bar here compared to let’s say in a big and wealthier city?
It’s very different. First and foremost, we have way fewer guests. As a result, you need a badass calculation for everything: buying, sales, staff deployment. You have to re-consider any kind of investment over and over again. Another big topic is style. For example, an old-fashioned bar in a small town like Wittenberg would probably not last long because you’d limit your clientele significantly that way. Obviously, our attempt is to attract a wide range of guests. The daily work in the bar is not that different, actually. We do close earlier, though.

3. Speaking of which, what’s your favourite nightcap?
At the end of the day, I like a fresh draft beer. The festive, humorous conversation with my colleagues will give me the final blow 🙂

4. From your perspective: What makes a good bar a good bar? When do you feel at home? 

Of course there are many different ideas and concepts for bars. For me, it is especially important all the factors are well-balanced: service, hospitality, clothing, food and drink, decor. Add a particular style and there’s a good bar. To me, it is less important how creative the drink range is or if outstanding spirits are available on the backboard. A guest should feel comfortable, in different ways. Fortunately, bars are very diverse. They offer guests a wide range of surprises, ambiences or sociability. Personally, I’m pretty frugal. In principle, I just need a place at the bar and a good drink. However, I like clean working, a well-stocked back buffet and bright service.

5. You won the German Cockail Championship twice in a row as well as several other competitions. We’re curious: How to win a cocktail contest?
You do need a good, fancy drink. A bad recipe cannot outweigh the best performance. However, you also need luck. Without it, you just don’t win. So, there is always an X-factor and I try to compensate that by preparing myself as good as possible. If you go into a competition as a cool dog, then this casualness will catch up with you. You have to focus on your job on stage, go through all eventualities in advance and be mentally prepared. Essentially, a contest does not differ so much from your daily work, except that it’s a knowledgeable jury you’re serving, not your guests.

6. Which drink made with Thomas Henry do you currently recommend at Charles Bar?
Summer’s coming, so you should definitely try our Pimm’s Cup. We have changed the recipe a little to give the drink a new direction. In addition to the typical ingredients – Pimm’s, cucumber, lemon, orange and Thomas Henry Ginger Ale – we use homemade elderflower cordial, pear liqueur and Äppelwoi (German cider). This drink is broader in taste and has this certain extra kick.

7. What are you currently working on, any changes on the horizon for the Charles Bar?
At the moment, I try to free up some time. I’m going to become a father and I want to face this task with the same ambition as my bar. In addition to the almost daily work on new drinks and the soon to be redesigned drinks menu, our tastings now are incredibly popular – so it is important to find new topics and to implement them accordingly.

Thanks and all the best, Martin.

Charles Bar
Markt 7
06886 Lutherstadt Wittenberg