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Feature Article: A brilliant Berlin culinary odyssey

Brilliant Berlin beer.

Things have been a bit quiet on Scrumptious Scran of late, for which I must apologise. Don’t worry; I haven’t suddenly lost my enthusiasm for food and drink – quite the reverse. It’s just that recently I have had to prioritise starting a new job and celebrating my other half’s 40th birthday, over writing culinary copy. Fortunately though, part of JML’s birthday celebrations involved a trip to Berlin. This has provided an opportunity to compose the first Scrumptious Scran Odyssey article, giving an insight into some of our favourite dining and quaffing experiences in this wonderful city.

Not having visited Berlin before I must admit that we weren’t entirely certain what to expect, in culinary terms. Like any large city, Berlin has a diverse range of restaurant cultures – with Italian appearing to be a particular favourite – but for this visit I was keen to hone in on food that was typical of Berlin or Germany.

Our base was central Berlin’s “Mitte” district, a stone’s throw away from the former Checkpoint Charlie, one of few official crossing points between the former communist East and capitalist West sectors of the city. Our hotel – Gat Point Charlie – was great and very boutique-esque, even though the surrounding area was slightly underwhelming; it’s Berlin’s commercial and government hub being mostly populated by modern multi-stories. However, wander a little and it is possible to find a Germanic culinary gem, such as Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt – a cavernous eatery that serves traditional Bavarian fare and excellent beer. Be warned, however, so popular is this place that at peak times it is neigh on impossible to secure a dining table, meaning that we had to be content with sitting outside (it being a balmy October evening) whilst consuming a couple of glasses of “hell”.

And I should also point out that when strolling round Berlin’s Mitte district, anyone with a sweet tooth should be sure to call into Fassbender & Rausch – reportedly the world’s largest chocolaterie. Not only does its three floors offer 200 varieties of chocolate, it also features a chocolate volcano and a architecturally accurate model of the Bundestag – made from chocolate.


Cracking currywurst.

Checking out Berlin’s “Museum Island” and surrounding environs provided an opportunity to sample two things I love: sausages and micro-brewed beer. The former came courtesy of Oranium, located in the “Scheunenviertel” or “barn quarter”; an old neighbourhood that found itself on the eastern side of the infamous wall – here’s a hint, if you see a tram you are in former East Berlin… Having perused the menu, I just had to try the Würstchen Trilogie – Berliner Currywurst, Thüringer Rostbratwurst and Nürnberger sausages skewered with leek, onions, and capsicum, served with yellow and red curry dip. Each variety of porky morsel was delicious, even if some flavours were slightly unexpected. I’d heard that Berliners are mad for currywurst – a curry-infused banger. Maybe I was expecting a casein-coated balti, but the spice mix was more akin in its flavour to the sort of curry sauce served by Chinese takeaways – flavoursome yet unusual. For tip-top beer we ventured just south of Alexanderplatz to Brauhaus Georgbraeu. Located in the shadow of the city’s imposing Television Tower, not only are their superb pilsners brewed on the pub’s premises – try the dark lager with its great malty flavour – but these can be enjoyed on a terrace overlooking the River Spree.

Kreuzberg Kaffee und Kuchen.

A definite “must visit” for any food enthusiast is the conjoined neighbourhood of Kreuzberg-Freidrichschain, to the south-east of Berlin’s centre. Kreuzberg is bohemian and, thanks to the fact that WWII air-raids left it relatively unscathed, lined with handsome late 19th and early 20th century buildings. East of its neighbour, Freidrichschain has more DDR/modernist architectural lilt. But whilst different in appearance what they have in common is a great range of bars, cafes and restaurants. Both areas really lend themselves to wandering and stopping off at wherever looks appealing, whether this be for “kaffee und kuchen”, falafel, or a hearty German dish.

 Two places we visited were of particular note. Kuchen Keiser is a pretty café-bar perched on a corner of a tree-lined square. It’s a great place for watching the world go by whilst nursing a glass of cold lager. The food is also highly regarded – with Sunday lunch being a particular favourite amongst locals. I will definitely dine there on my next visit to Berlin, but on this occasion it was just the fine beer that we sampled, as we had already booked a table at the Kreuzberg institution that is Max und Moritz.

Hearty Berliner Küche.

Named after the Wilhelm Busch cartoon characters, stepping into Max and Mortiz is like time travelling back to 1920s Berlin. A stunning bar, adorned in Art Nouveau cobalt blue tiles, greets you upon entry. This then gives way to a vast, labyrinthine dining area furnished with tables and chairs that would not look out of place in Cabaret. The vermillion walls, period electroliers, and wrought-iron fittings complete the Isherwood-esque ambience. The restaurant specialises in “Berliner Küche” – literally “Berlin Kitchen”; a hearty, rustic cuisine, with a German base but influenced by the cooking traditions of those who immigrated to the city from Central and Eastern Europe. Both JML’s and my dishes certainly were hearty. I chose Berliner Eisbein; an enormous salted and pickled pork knuckle accompanied by pickled cabbage, boiled potatoes, a split-pea purée and mustard. The meat was incredibly tender with a great salty/sour flavour, and was really complemented by the uncomplicated, yet delicious, accompaniments. JML’s Bollenfleisch – a traditional lamb stew – was equally satisfying, with flavoursome meat and vegetables bathed in a rich stout and herb sauce.

Russian dumplings.

Berlin isn’t ALL about food and drink of course. It’s a city that just oozes history and still resonates the time it was split in two during the Cold War. Two museums in particular recount how this period impacted the lives of Berliners – the hands-on DDR museum, which charts what life was like for those on the eastern side of the Berlin wall, and the Berlin Wall Memorial, which recounts the history and impact of this divisive structure itself. It was after visiting the latter that we strayed upon a Café Gorki Park – a smashing wee Russian-themed eatery. Located in Scheunenviertel, given that during the cold-war period this district was very much in the Soviet-controlled sector of Berlin, it’s perhaps unsurprising to find a restaurant that gives a culinary nod to Berlin’s recent history. Whilst JML’s choice of “the Russian Burger” might not be construed as being typically Soviet, it was none-the-less very good. My choice of warkeniki was much more Russian in keeping, consisting of handmade dumplings variously stuffed with potato, spinach, Brysna cheese, and minced beef, all accompanied by a tomato salsa and sour cream. Imagine a sort of delicious East European dim sum.

We certainly had a great time in Berlin. As I hope this odyssey indicates, it’s an engaging, intriguing city with some super bars, cafés and restaurants. During a short visit it’s possible to see many of the city’s main attractions, but you will still leave lots to explore. Undoubtedly then, we shall return. There is so much more left to see, eat and drink.

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  • Reply
    Chris Berry
    March 28, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Thanks Nina. Really like the look of the walking food tours of Berlin. Will definitely go on one the next time I am in Berlin, which I hope will be quite soon.

  • Reply
    Nina
    March 28, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Very nice article. And I myself juuust love Kuchen Kaiser 🙂 Glad you are enjoying our Berlin food!

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