Berlin. What can I say. If you have been, all I have to say is Berlin and you know what I mean. If you haven’t been…why not?? The city is one of my favourites so far (do I say that about everywhere I visit?). Its character, its history, its street art! And its independent eateries make it a foodie’s heaven.
I am so incredibly lucky to have made best friends with a Berliner in London. Sadly she and her boyfriend moved back to Berlin last year, however, silver linings and all, it meant we had not only two people who know Berlin inside out as personal tour guides, but two people who grew up in east Berlin during the strange age of the GDR.
Day one in Berlin was all I hoped it would be. Sunny, hot, waking up to the most delicious home-made spread of cheeses, freshly baked bread from their local bakery, cold meats and spreads from Christin and Sebastian. I am now the world’s biggest fan of Liverwurst – a German equivalent of Pate.
After stuffing myself ready for the day ahead, I was so excited to hear we were going to hire bikes as our mode of transport for our entirety in Berlin. Growing up where I did in New Zealand, we were very much in the ‘wopps’ (hills) and half our roads didn’t even have markings! Public buses didn’t venture as far as our home, so, safe to say, I did not grow up riding around the dodgy roads. But! By the time we got to Berlin, I was well versed in the art of navigating London’s death-streets to and from work – I have been converted and obsess with the freedom of getting around on two wheels ever since.
I tell you, tourist days on bikes means you really cover some ground! Led by our fantastic tour guides, we saw the Märchenbrunnen (Fairy Tale Fountain), the stunning Rotes Rathaus (town hall in east Berlin), Museum Island and the Pariser Platz with the famous Brandenburg Gate.
Did I mention just how hot it was? It was hot. So after all that riding, in true German/Kiwi style, we stopped for a nice cold, alcoholic (of course) beverage. Mine and my boyfriend’s mentality when travelling anywhere is “when in Rome…” We like to indulge in traditional food and drinks. So, when Christin mentioned a Berliner Weisse – a wheat-based beer traditionally brewed and drunk in Berlin – I was all for it!
According to www.homebrewtalk.com, “…to counteract the sourness, it is often served “mit Schuss”, meaning with a shot of flavoured syrup added by the bartender or drinker, that changes the flavour and colour of the beer.” I personally just liked the look of the green one, so picked that! This was apparently the flavour of Woodruff syrup, or “Waldmeistersirup”, which gives the beer a herbal, sweetness. Christin was apprehensive whether I would like it or not. It was different, but ice-cold, it was delicious!
Day 2 and I was desperate to check out some of the cafes in Berlin. And what better way than to have Christin take me to her local coffee shop! Buscaglione is simple, football-crazy cafe that Christin visits on a regular basis. Seriously. While it has minimalistic décor, the only décor there is is football focussed.
Welcomed warmly through the door by a Brazilian ball of energy (Christin got kisses!), you instantly feel like you belong there. Where the coffee was lacking in strength, it made up in love. Apparently the owner made them “fancy especially for us.”
Sometimes I find it really refreshing to find a place that isn’t focussed on the aesthetics of its interior, how many customers it can fit through the door, or having supplier sponsorship everywhere to offset costs! It was nice just to sit and relax somewhere where I wasn’t bombarded with “noise.”
After topping up on more Berlin history (I was in heaven! Definitely a closet history buff) we just had to visit Checkpoint Charlie – where east meets west. Visiting the museum there, we got the most enlightening understanding of the Berlin wall, east and west Germany, why it all happened and just what it meant for the citizens of the city. It was all very overwhelming. Coming from NZ, I was embarrassed to have very little knowledge of the whole scenario, but was captivated by the events that unfolded – especially the innovative ways people managed to escape!
Of course, all that reading had us working up a hunger! If you visit Checkpoint Charlie then want a fresh, delicious lunch nearby, then I highly recommend Westberlin, Coffeebar and Mediashop. What a trendy place! I thought the décor was just so cool. Clean, ‘fresh’, simple. And, the place was huge! The theme meant the place was scattered with lot’s of alternative magazines and books and all I could see was two colours – white and orange. Very ‘indie’.
Then there was the food! I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to find a cafe stocked with fresh sandwiches, salads and just wholesome food – rather than the unremarkable selection of pastries and cakes so common in London. I chose a chicken and brie salad on dense, brown bread accompanied by a pickled potato (sounds odd, tastes fantastic) salad and a proper iced coffee.
This was the kind of cafe food I’d experience back home. Was it a coincidence that one of the staff member’s had a strong Kiwi accent and was talking about Rugby? We. Are. Everywhere.
As night hit, Christin and Sebastian took us to one of their hangouts down on a canal. This is where all the ‘cool kids’ seemed to be. I spent the night drinking Club Mate – an iced tea which, initially, is not alcoholic. I can hear my folks now, “Kelly! That’s not like you!” Well hang on a minute Mum. The tradition is to take a few gulps of the iced tea, pass it back to the bartender, who then fills that space with a shot of vodka. That’s more like it!
It was then off to find a decent feed before bed – we were on the hunt for burgers. And boy did we hit the jackpot. Riding up to Schiller Burger was like finding heaven’s illuminated doors – if heaven’s doors smelt of frying onions and juicy meat patties (I wouldn’t be surprised!).
It was almost the same concept as Five Guys – pick your basic burger, your fillings and any sides. Sounds simple but when the meat is quality, it’s cooked to perfection and the sauces go hand in hand with the fillings, you truly have something holy on your plate. There are many places in London that claim to be offer the ‘best gourmet burgers’ around, but if only they went back to focussing on the quality of the basics, they might just have something to sing about.
Final day and unfortunately the heaven’s open up. Does that stop us riding around all over town on our bikes? No way! I have the “famous” The Barn to visit. Now, this cafe has a heck of a reputation. Best coffee in Berlin? Quite possibly. It was just delicious. Smooth, strong, with my favourite after tones of chocolate and caramel. The milk steamed to perfection!
However, it scores very low on my ‘atmosphere’ scale. Yes it is chic, trendy and heavily coffee focussed. They obviously want us to know they are experts in coffee. But in a way, it’s almost pompous and intimidating. I did not feel welcome whatsoever – so badly so that we sat outside. In blatant stickers at the entrance screams “no dogs, no smoking, no toilet, no prams.” And while I agree with, maybe, one of those, no prams? Seriously. I get it, but it couldn’t seem more ‘stuck up’ if it tried. To really hammer home the point, they installed a barricade so that prams could not even try make it through the door. I was tempted to accept the challenge, find a pram with a screaming baby and get it through the door – playing the naive tourist all the while.
So (rant over), definitely visit this place. The coffee really is extraordinary. They are truly experts in their craft. However, I would order takeaway.
While I believe this could be the longest post I have ever written, there is one last place I need to mention. Those who have visited Berlin might have an inkling….Curry 36. This is a small yet world famous currywurst shop, offering, well, a currywursts.
I personally don’t get what the big deal is about currywursts. Sausages with curry powder and ketchup right? Still, you can’t go to Berlin and not have one! So we got one of the best, accompanied with sauerkraut (my favourite!) and chowed down in the rain. And while I don’t believe in all the hype behind curry flavoured sausages, this did have to be one of the tastiest I’ve had.
I could go on and on about beautiful Berlin. The breathtaking street graffiti, the bizarre and unimaginable history, the architecture differences between east and west. The city just has so much going on. If I had more time (and money) I would have loved to have experienced many more eateries. Rather than being full of chain establishments, the city seems to promote independent, small businesses – which I am a huge supporter of. But hopefully some of the places I have mentioned will at least give you somewhere to start!