Whether is was the wienerschnitzel & spaetzel, or a passion for philosophy, my son’s studies begged him to Berlin where he spent a semester of his sophomore year.
In March I braved the perpetually sub-freezing spring climate to visit him, and to experience the BEST of the WURST, and other things iconically “Berlin”.
I tried to focus on the modern eccentricities and dynamism the city had to offer, rather than pay mind to the ghosts of the past.
It helps to adopt a sense of humor and laugh at the satirical visions before me, such as the artsy lifestyle in Berlin, that often presents itself like a “Sproket” episode (Mike Myer’s SNL skit about an uber German TV show). Sometimes I felt like I was in a real-life episode of “Berlindia”, my fictional take on the “Portlandia” series.
The Kreuzberg district in Berlin, where we spent most of our time, had some of the most outstanding international cuisines Keith and I have tried so far in our travels- a testament to Berlin’s growing cosmopolitanism. The Korean food was exceptional at “Kimchee Princess”. We had sushi served by an incredibly grouchy but authentic sushi chef at “Hakata” (the temptation to call him the sushi Nazi is difficult to resist, but alas).
But perhaps the most intriguing and salient feature of Berlin’s cuisine is its deep Turkish influence. As the largest minority group in the city, Turkish people have a culinary stronghold in the city. The most spectacular result of this: doner kebabs. Doner is to Berlin as pizza is to New York, with hundreds of shops and stands proliferating on the landscape. A street-food spin on traditional Turkish cuisine that was adapted to fit German sensibilities, doner is shaved meat from a spit with fresh vegetables and sauces nestled in the most heavenly and crispy of German-style flatbreads. And what better to pair a doner with than a delectable (and remarkably cheap) German beer? Despite all the hype, the superiority of German beer is no exaggeration. With half liter bottles of the finest beer imaginable going for as little as 75 cents, it simply can’t be beat.
And of course the traditional German fare: while exactly what you would predict it to look and taste like, the German food was delicious and comforting in the ruthless cold of the Berlin’s last hold on winter. I’ll have recipes for some of our favorite menu items to follow.
Let’s start with the apartment we rented from “Sasha”, whose style can be described as swashbuckling Johnny Depp meets Indiana Jones. His girlfriend was a very young and beautiful African via Amsterdam princess.
We rented their loft in the Kreuzberg district, comparable to the East Village of NY in the early 80’s, revered for it’s seedy, funky yet charming artist community and nightlife.
The loft was all that; what it lacked in cushy amenities it made up for with unfinished charm. Memories of icy winters past compounded my senses; the loft’s windows overlooked hibernating trees that hovered over a winter–blue hued courtyard, where bicycles covered in the day’s snow were strewn on the ground. Creaky old wood plank floors, steam hissing from a radiator, the cold porcelain tile bathroom, the comfort of a bulky wool sweater…
Sasha’s self-described profession was a producer of art shows, pop up restaurants and concert promoter. He and his princess surely kept this loft as their home and shacked up with friends in exchange for the good rental money from Airbnb patrons such as my husband and myself.
Our last night in Berlin, the key rattled the front door, and in walked Sasha and his girlfriend, arms full of brown paper packages overflowing with food and liquor. Our look of surprise was equal to theirs…they were planning a party in their loft that night, and I quickly learned that I made a mistake with our checkout date, we were supposed to have been gone.
Sasha didn’t think it was a problem, and kindly invited us to spend the extra night and stay for the party.
We had an early flight the next day, so I didn’t feel comfortable with the partying option, plus I felt pretty stupid that I could have made an error with the reservation.
While I frantically called Amex for a hotel, Sasha and his girlfriend started the phone chain that relocated their party and guests. They were so kind to alter their plans, one of the many gestures this couple made to accommodate us.
Our last night in Kreuzberg was intermittently interrupted by the downstairs buzzer & gargled voices shouting through the intercom: “hey, I’m here for the party”…
I wish we had the party in the apartment, I could have been, for one night at least, a part of Kreuzberg , not just a tourist!
RECIPES TO FOLLOW THIS WEEK
PLACES TO EAT & THINGS TO DO: Keith and I don’t patronize the fancy places. We are always searching for the local casual favorites with fair pricing
All in the Kreuzberg District:
Kimchee Princess: a fun, lively bustling place. Community tables, inexpensive, crazy delicious!
Angry Chicken: a take-out fast-food place by Kimchee Princess. The ramen soup was so comforting, the Korean fried chicken perfect.
Hakata Sushi:A tiny place with an angry sushi chef. There are signs on his wall that he will refuse service to guests with perfume or children, and he means it. Keith said his sushi rice (which Keith is very particular about) was just like he had in Japan. He loved it and wanted to eat at Hakata several times during our stay.
Oranienstrasse 200, Berlin
Glo in the dark golf: Brave the walk through a dark, drug-dealer riddled city park, and enter into a defunct train station building. Open the door to a psychedelic glo in the dark putt-playhouse. Reservations are necessary. It’s wacky stuff.
Max & Moritz: Run by a funny big German guy , great sense of humor, this is the German restaurant you’ve imagined. Great schnitzel, wurst, dumplings…Keith had excellent sauerbraten. Cheap beer, as all places have in Berlin. Reservations necessary.
Eckbert Zwo: A charming restaurant that graciously seated us very late, we were grateful. The food is amazing delicious German fare. We loved it. Starkly decorated with a minimal look. Great beer, food, lovely service.
Santa Maria Mexican Diner: After a long time travelling, sometimes you just want food from home. Santa Maria was filled with American students and Kreuzberg locals. It was so nice to sit next to native English speaking smart kids, plus it was Taco Tuesday…1 Euro tacos and I guess the drinks were a bargain too, because I don’t remember anything else, except that I really really enjoyed the guacamole and margaritas.
John Muir: Another American expat hangout. Fun time…but be careful of the hamburger and fry stand that is housed in a former bathroom under the train station across the street. You might regret it the next day.