I had trouble pulling issues of public policy, sustainability/environment and food culture per city to make each post long enough, so please see the Germany section for those paragraphs! That will be published on Sunday 12/18 as I continue to collect pictures of sustainability efforts in practice, and information about different programs in the various cities I have visited. Here you will find an overview of my time in Berlin, speckled with some food-culture related items.
For all Berlin pictures, please visit my album on google photos, or friend me on Facebook!
I was in Berlin for 12 days, so I’m going to highlight the best pics I took, the most interesting things I did, and the food experiences I enjoyed the most… Feel free to skim but let me know if you read it all 🙂
I checked into Circus Hostel in Mitte around 10:30pm. After dropping my bag, I went across the street for a slice of pizza and a beer. Prices seemed shockingly low after a week in Copenhagen, haha. After dinner, I went to a bar next door that was either part of a cinema or just called “Kino”, they were showing weird clips on the wall and there was stadium bench seating in the back. I got a beer and went to sit on a couch against the wall behind this Asian guy who was wiping sweat off his brow with a handkerchief and stress-fully toiling over his laptop. I couldn’t help but spy. He kept going to Ebay, looking through very random items that he appeared to be selling, going back to his email account, and sweating like a prostitute in church. I can’t remember all the items I witnessed come up on his screen, but none seemed related to each other and were just simple household items and small electronics. This occupied my time for about 30 minutes. Then I went back and called it a night.
Before I went in search of a currency exchange that would take Armenian Dram, I stopped for a coffee and croissant at The Barn. They roast their own beans and had very interesting flavors on display around the store. Like any good coffee shop, the room was filled with an intoxicating scent, and to show how serious they were about their craft, there were signs around asking patrons not to ruin their coffee with sugar or milk before tasting it, as they are proud of their house-roasted, fair-trade beans. Luckily I’d ordered a latte so I didn’t need to add more milk, but I didn’t sully my beverage by adding sugar.
After that, I walked 1.5 miles to the currency exchange at Alexander Platz, where I was told they could not take Dram and would not exchange any coins, either. They directed me to Frederichstrasse, where I was also told they could not take Dram, but did exchange all of my Danish Kroner. Well, I guess I’ll plan on selling back my Dram to Rachel over New Year’s Eve.
After this, I walked down Frederichstrasse, which is lined with stores and cafes, and hopped into L’Occitane to stock up on soap, lotion and facial moisturizer since I won’t be flying again until December 29th. Then I got lost for a bit in the “gourmet” floor of the Department Store Quartier 206, which is like a Dean and Deluca on steroids; a giant floor of cheese counters, charcuteries, chocolatiers, bakeries, wine booths, champagne counters, a whole other room for produce, dairy and meat. I love Europe. I walked back to the hostel and showered, feeling refreshed and pampered by my day’s purchases. A German friend I made in Copenhagen had sent me a list of recommendations for places to eat and activities to plan. I decided to try one of his suggestions for dinner since it was close, and I was then amazed by my experience at Katz Orange.
A love affair with my meal at Katz Orange:
An establishment that prioritizes locally sourced everything, but fills in the gaps with imported wines and other necessities. I started with a Franz 75 cocktail (AKA “French 75”, for us Yankees; made with German gin, lemon juice and champagne. “The lavender on the glass is for smelling before you taste”, explains the bartender. The salad of red and chiogga beets served with frisee, dried apples, and a nut crumble was a nice beginning to the meal. I ordered the slow roasted pork and the lightly sautéed red chard, a la carte. The pork was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. I dabbled a quaint amount of aujus and yogurt sauce onto my plate to sweep my fork through before stabbing bite sized pieces of the succulent meat. The red chard was hard to stop eating, as I am a dietitian and I love my leafy greens. The bartender suggested a glass of Merlot (Abril 2012 Reserve) from Baden to accompany my meal; having never experienced a German Merlot, I gratefully accepted and enjoyed his recommendation. It was a luscious, full bodied Merlot that was a little fruit forward compared to my favorites but balanced by a soft acidity that perfectly adjusted the tanginess of the yogurt sauce. I finished the chard, but took half the meat in a box to go and gave it to a homeless person.
Still quite full from dinner, I skipped breakfast but still had a coffee from the lobby of the hostel as I joined a group headed out for a tour of a forced labor camp in the Schöneweide neighborhood. Barrack 13 is the only one of 13 barracks open for viewing to the public (though some others are being used for other purposes… read on).
The first shocking thing I noticed, and what the tour guide was quick to point out, was that this camp was in the middle of a neighborhood, much like Wrigley Field is plopped in the middle of a neighborhood in Chicago. Except here, instead of well-nourished and overpaid baseball players entertaining masses across the street, they had starving and underpaid (or not paid at all) prisoners of war suffering at the ignorance of many and malice of the government. Thirteen bunkers take up a large chunk of land, and the balconies of the surrounding apartment buildings would have provided direct observation of the atrocities occurring across the street. At this camp there had been 2,000 prisoners, many Italian (who were treated more kindly than soviets, Jews, and concentration camp detainees). It is said that there were as many as 3,000 of these camps throughout Berlin. We entered one of the bunkers, whose concrete walls contained no insulation, and the temperature dropped about 10F upon stepping inside. Amazingly, this camp survived bombing after bombing in WWII. Each room was set up with quotes from labor camp captives, with the prisoner’s home country inscribed on the walls of each room. The most haunting quote that got me was when one woman, concerned about starting her menstrual cycle and how to keep clean, was told not to worry about it because they would be so malnourished their menstrual cycles would stop coming anyway. I read a story about a couple, the woman a Polish camp internee working the farmland and the man a German farm worker, who were shamed with a public head shaving after which they had to carry signs reading “I am a Polish pig”. The faces of the people, not the couple, but the people performing the shaming, are disgusting. How can anyone take pleasure in treating people that way?! The couple was separated and sent to prison. The woman was hanged in prison and the man was beaten and starved so badly that he died shortly after being release… One positive that came out of this particular camp was that Francois Cavanna would survive and move to France, where he started the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. He spent his life searching for the Polish woman he fell in love with at that camp. My heart experienced so many emotions during that short tour.
Currently, one of the bunkers is open for tours by the public set up as a museum. Seven of them are being preserved. The other five are being used for happier things, since they remained relatively unscathed and in working condition after the war. These include: a chiropractor’s office / spa, a kindergarten, a bowling alley, and a small BMW dealership.
By the time we returned from the tour, I was ready to eat again. The tour guide suggested a few local places, and my hostel friends and I headed to Sauerkraut, a German restaurant (if you couldn’t tell by the name). I enjoyed my fist Schnitzel of pork, served with blueberry jam and a cold potato salad. My friends had a sausage plate and a dumpling dish served over sweet pea puree.
We decided to all head out to the Craft brewery tour that evening, so we met in the lobby after spending a few hours in our respective rooms doing whatever. The tour started at a brew house owned by two American guys before stopping by the Circus Hostel, which brews a delicious and yeasty pilsner in the basement. We ended someplace where they gave us a taste of both a light and a dark beer, then a shot of their beer schnapps. Not ready for the night to end, a group of us headed to the place around the corner where the tour told us that the Hefeweisen had an after taste of bananas… None of us ended up agreeing with this.
Again not hungry in the morning, I grabbed a coffee and took the tram to Frederichstrasse to catch the Potsdam walking tour but it didn’t pick up, so I went on the day-long Berlin walking tour. Our handsome Australian tour guide, Theo, was definitely a good fit for our group, as none of us were ready to part with him after 6 hours! He met us at the Synagogue, one of few that was not destroyed during the war. From there we hit all the typical tourist spots. Checkpoint Charlie, the Topography of Terror and the bit of the wall that’s left standing there, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Memorial to Victims of Tyranny, and so on until we ended at the Brandenberg Gate.
As well as the historical sites, Theo also brought us to his favorite lessor known spots, like this alley where a man used to work and offer employment to Jewish men to keep them out of the Nazi’s sight for as long as possible (the alley is now covered with graffiti, some classy some not), and the little courtyard where Clarchen’s Ballhaus now resides (a restaurant which turns into a popular place for dancing at night). After giving our regards to Theo, I joined a couple lovely Brits to attend the Christmas market close to Humboldt University. We shopped and sipped gluhwine until our appetites encouraged us to enter one of the many food tents and settle in for an evening of wine and fondu.
The Brits and I met downstairs at 9am and took the train to the Berlin Zoo. We walked in circles for a little while, always mystified at how we ended up back at the aquarium. I was satisfied after visiting the big cats (some of them not actually so big, like the ocelot and the fishing cat), but I followed along to see the monkeys and the giraffes. Little did we know we missed the porcupines! After about 4 hours in the cold of the zoo, it was time for lunch. While we were having a coffee trying to find the restaurant, I looked out the window and saw the porcupines! They were very large, and were currently being fed by one of the zookeepers. He had a bucket of lettuce and carrots and the porcupine charged at him and started nudging the bucket as soon as he stepped in. Turns out feeding time is also a distraction while their habitats are cleaned.
Theo had recommended checking out the 25 Hours Hotel for their 10th floor offerings of a restaurant and a cocktail bar. At Neni, I ordered an Asian fried chicken salad, which was delicious but served with entirely way too much soy sauce (there was a pool left in the bottom of the bowl). After a quick lunch we joined the bunches of tourists across the hall at the Monkey Bar for a cocktail. I definitely recommend this place, especially if you can make it for an evening when it’s warm out. The patio holds amazing views and the drinks are fantastic! Ready for some Christmas cheer, we ventured out into the dark after sunset and visited the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and it’s adjacent market. We stopped for Feuerzangenbowle (a traditional Christmastime drink in which a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and drips into gluhwine), which was quite a show!
Back at the hostel I showered and Skyped with my family before treating myself to another delicious dinner. This time at Lokal, another restaurant where local is literally the name of the game. The atmosphere couldn’t be more different that Katz Orange, where the bar and pillars in the dining room create a hushed, quiet scene under subtle and dim lights. At Lokal, the bar was metal, the space was open, the windows were large, and everyone was laughing heartily. I took my place on a stool at the bar and was quickly given a water (for FREE!?) and a menu. The Thanksgiving Turkey entrée served with pumpkin stuffing, beets, and kale something or other caught my eye immediately, so I ordered a glass of champagne (or the German version of) for while I waited. As I pulled out my Kindle, the bar tender hurried back to inform me that the hungry Germans had already cleaned the bird! Perhaps I would enjoy the Deer Schnitzel instead, served sweet pea puree, roasted parsnips, broccoli and house-dried cranberries? Well, sure, twist my arm. This huge portion came out, and I had told myself I would treat myself to dessert this evening, but that wasn’t going to happen. After finishing half the schnitzel and all my veggies, I was done. But I stayed for another glass of wine (a red blend from Germany that I very much enjoyed but that’s all I can tell you), my book (Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim), and occasional polite conversation with the bartender or the people around me.
After packing up, I headed to the Sunflower hostel in Frederichshain for my next week in Berlin. Because I couldn’t check in til 4pm, I dropped my bag and spent the day walking around the East Side Gallery and the Turkish Market. I stopped for a salmon crepe at the market and wished I had a kitchen to cook in so I could buy more produce, meat and dairy, but alas… I wandered up the main street of Frederichshain to Humana, a store very much like Goodwill but humongous and overwhelming. I stayed in there til I warmed up then left and went back to the hostel.
After unpacking and cleaning up, I read for a while then headed out to find dinner around 10pm. I settled on Pho, because it sounded good. As a soup lover, it was good. Many flavors of lemongrass and ginger coming through. As a Pho lover, it didn’t seem authentic. But it did the job. I killed more time at a bar nearby while waiting for Watergate to open because I figured I should check out the nightclub scene. Got into Watergate at about 1am and hung out with a girl I met in line. Decided the night was over at around 4am when the smoke started to make my eyes dry out and the same beat just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.
Decided to try the Crossfit gym across the street for their 11am workout. After trying to negotiate a “5 classes for $50” deal, I decided I couldn’t hack 5 classes for $100 and would have to my exercise elsewhere for the week. I ran into my roommates at the hostel and went to lunch with them. Pizza, good but nothing special. While hanging out at the hostel, I figured out where we could go for a nice dinner: Speisehaus. The four of us went there around 7pm and were seated quickly. I was congratulated on my restaurant picking abilities and soaked up the compliments with a smile. Two of us, including me, went with the Kassler “pork chop”. It was more like a Christmas ham served with a potato, sauerkraut and a salad. Again: huge portions, but it was delicious so I wasn’t complaining. Another got pork schnitzel which looked amazing with an egg on top! The other one with the baked potato stuffed with herring and wow, I couldn’t believe he could finish it. After that, we let our food digest and check out another night club, which I wasn’t feeling so I just went home at 1am.
I decided to spend the day by myself and went to check out Prenzlauerberg. I stopped for a spread of cheese, fruit and bread at Café Amelie, accompanied by an ok coffee. After that I wandered around, checking out cafes and Christmas markets on my way towards the Mauerpark flea market. This market was insanely huge and a definite must see if you’re in Berlin on a Sunday. Many hours out in the cold, I warmed up with a latte at Bonanza coffee, which provided me with a much more tasteful roast of espresso beans before taking the tram back. Laundry and chilling in the evening, plus some trouble shooting on my computer and working on this blog.
I got up to go catch a tour on the River Spree, only to learn that the tour I chose only ran at 10am and 1pm. It was 10:30am. So I walked over to the Reischtag and took pictures and waited in line for tickets to the dome, scheduled for the following day. After that I spent the afternoon wandering around the Tiergarten trying to learn the different settings on my camera. A quick hop back to the hostel and a shower later, I was back by the opera house to visit LaVida Wine Club for a glass of wine. I really like the concept here and would definitely recommend checking this place out if you like wine and are in Berlin. Maybe not on a Monday (there were only two other people there).
Caught my morning Reischtag tour, then went on a tour of the River Spree at 1:30pm! It was a cold day on the water, but I got some good pictures! After that, it was time to warm up with coffee before taking a couple photos at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. That evening I went to Speisehaus again because I was tempted to get the schnitzel, but instead I went with the Konigsberger Klopse (German meatballs) which were served with mashed potatoes and capers and were SO mouthwateringly amazing. My friend got the schnitzel and I got to try it, but nothing was taking the limelight away from those meatballs!
Spent the day Potsdam. I walked around the historic Dutch district, down the main streets with the Christmas market, through the “Brandenberg Gate” miniature, and through the Park and Palace Sanssouci. Amazingly beautiful, you could just picture the parties on the terrace. All the while I was listening to podcasts. NPR-featured ones mostly but also Tim Ferriss. My favorite of the day was a segment of “Short Stories” in which they covered Lydia Davis shorts and Jane Curtain was hosting. The story The Two Davis’ and the Rug was extremely entertaining and just my kind of humor. I didn’t go inside because after walking all day I was starving and I wanted to go find some food. Maybe I should have because the cold soft rain falling on my all day chilled me to the bone.
…Pictures coming … I’m really struggling with integrating pics onto wordpress 😦
I went back to the Dutch quarter to visit Maison Charlotte for a huge Croque Madam. Again, coffee and a dessert in the mid-afternoon was something on my mind that turned into a dream during that very filling meal.
After this, I wandered around the market a little more before heading back to Berlin. A shower and some rest, I was ready for a swing dance lesson at Clarchen’s Ballhaus! It was a very fun time and I learned that I swing is definitely something I want to commit to more when I get home. Plus they’ll play better music in the states (all the stuff here was from the 40’s). Back at the hostel, a big group was preparing to go to Tresor, a popular nightclub not too far away. I decided to give it a late night and join my hostel friends, for many of whom it was their last night in town. Hello, 6am bed time!
Of course after that, I slept quite late and felt like having a chill day. I bundled up and headed out in the cold rain Charlottenberg. I quickly sought the comfort of indoors and, though not by accident, wound up at KaDeWe (a huge department store). I learned that there was also a gourmet floor here! So I went to check it out, and this one put the other one to shame. I was immediately confronted with multiple champagne bars. So I sat down and a glass. Then another.
Being that I hadn’t eaten since that Croque Madam (yeah, I’m being a bad dietitian), I went to a restaurant nearby for a cup of onion soup and some mussels. Very delicious and just what the weather called for. I went back and chilled at hostel before heading in for a much needed full night’s sleep. My last night in Berlin. What an amazing city!
**Note: I was in Berlin in 2009 and saw the Holocaust museum, Checkpoint Charlie, and everything on the walking tour then. I was not so interested on this trip to keep re-living WWII stories, and it was nice to explore the different neighborhoods and make time for my hostel friends.