This post is a well overdue round up of a long weekend in Berlin in May. This was my second visit, and the city felt very different from my first in 2008. More polished I suppose, with a bit of the edge gone. Discovering one of the most memorable bars from my first visit, a converted former social club for the stasi complete with 1960s decor, had been demolished to make way for luxury apartments was probably part of that. We had a lot of great recommendations from family and friends who have made Berlin their home, so there were few mis-steps over the weekend. Except the currywurst, which is best avoided.
I had visited this tourist favourite on my first time in Berlin, and was drawn to go back for reasons I couldn’t quite understand. It is in every guide book, and the kind of place I usually avoid. It’s decorated in a dark, heavy traditional style complete with tartan tableclothes and steins of beer. It serves one main dish, a roasted half chicken for €8 together with side dishes of potato salad, cabbage, currywurst or sausage. We ordered a half chicken and potato salad each, washed down with lots of Bavarian lager. I had remembered the chicken being good, but I had forgotten how good. It looks on the outside like a confit, but inside the meat is perfectly cooked and moist. This is not a place to go if you don’t like crispy chicken skin. Honestly, this is probably not the blog for you if you don’t like it either. It was so rich and decadent, it felt a little bit wrong to eat in public, the sort of thing that should be consumed in a private booth hidden behind a velvet curtain, away from the gaze of strangers. The potato salad probably came from one of those large industrial buckets, but I didn’t care, it was sweet and tangy and perfect with the chicken. I would go back here in a heartbeat.
Basically a hole in the wall that you would miss in the blink of an eye, Akroum Snack is one of a long line of Middle Eastern (largely Turkish) restaurants along Sonnennallee. They have one table outside and a few in the dark interior behind the take away window. It was early and on a tip from my brother, we ordered a portion of Fatteh to share for €5. I hate the expression “hug in a bowl” but that’s what this was. Soft, plump, perfectly cooked chickpeas, topped with thick slightly tart garlicky yoghurt, deep fried pieces of pita bread, olive oil, lemon juice and pine nuts, served together with pickles, chopped tomato, onion and flatbread. This is the kind of food you get up for. I can’t explain what makes it so good, it’s more simple than I usually like, but it was so much better than the sum of its parts. I would eat this for breakfast every day if I could.
Gel Gör Inegöl Köfteci
We ate a lot of Turkish food on this trip, but Gel Gor was by far the best. This was another recommendation from my brother who had been raving about this place for years after once seeing one of the staff hand picking leaves from a large bunch of mint in there at 4am. It is a Turkish take-away with a few seats specialising in köfte that is open 24 hours a day. It was worth the hype. We both had köfte sandwiches. The bread was light and crisp, like a banh mi baguette, topped with rich meatballs with just enough fat to make them tender, fresh herbs and salad leaves, a light yoghurt sauce and a swipe of spicey ajvar for contrast. It felt clean and fresh and surprisingly wholesome.
I had been warned that high end restaurants in Berlin tend to disappoint. While not quite the fanciest place I’ve ever visited, Lokal was at least triple the budget for every other meal we had (because you have to do something a bit fancy for your 30th). It’s located in a Scandi style whitewashed ground floor space in the heart of Mitte. The menu features lots of offal and lots of vegetables, very simply done. We started out with tiny fried sweetbreads with different spring vegetables, and a very bland veal tartare paired with a sparkling Riesling. I went with a vegetarian main, featuring every conceivable type of beetroot served every conceivable way with asparagus and pearl barley and a natural Gewurztraminer. It felt wholesome without being sickeningly virtuous. The vegetables were simply prepared to let their natural flavours sing. Also, the portion sizes were very hefty. We finished off by sharing a generous cheese plate with lots of fresh bread. It was a pleasant place to visit, with lovely service, and a bright space that was perfect for people watching. I’d definitely go back.
Cafe Einstein is a Berlin institution, with two branches, including one located in a neo-renaissance villa on the tree lined Kurfürstenstraße near the Embassy district. Stolpersteine commemorating the Jewish owners of the villa on the pavement outside were a sobering reminder of its tragic history. These are scattered throughout many countries in Europe to mark the homes of those who died in the Holocaust. The interior of the villa looked like a set from cabaret, with a perfectly intact 1920s decor. It was one of the few buildings in the area to survive the Allied bombing raids.More than anywhere I’ve been before, Berlin is a city that has had, and continues to have a reckoning with its past, which is difficult to escape wherever you go.
This was another recommendation from my brother, who maintains that Einstein’s has the best club sandwich in the world.Although not really a fan of the idea of club sandwiches, I had to give it a shot. Since it was my first proper club, I can’t really say if it was the best, but it was very tasty. There is nothing fancy about it, just bog standard toasted white bread, fresh chicken breast, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato and lots of mayo, but it was deeply satisfying and a great meal to welcome me to my thirties (yes, I had a club sandwich for breakfast that day).
We had many plans for our Sunday, only one of which came to fruition – a trip to Neuheimat. A Sunday street food market in the heart of Freidrichshain, it was surprisingly commercial for the most hipster area in Berlin. It was well organised with bouncers, entrance fees and bag searches, all things I wouldn’t have associated with the relaxed atmosphere inside. Set in a series of old warehouses near the railway line, with courtyards in between, bands played live music and the best of Berlin street food was on offer. We ended up spending the afternoon there chatting, idling around, people watching and snacking when the mood took us. We had some organic Spatzle from Bavaria, tacos from Neta and some decent Gewurtztraminer from a wine bar inside. There was also a great craft beer festival on that weekend, so we got to sample beers from Lithuania, Norway, Poland and Berlin itself. It was the sort of place I could see myself revisiting a lot if I lived there for a relaxed way to ease through the Sunday fear.
When I visited this bar back in 2008, I was absolutely blown away by it. It’s the original speakeasy kind of bar that is copied all over Europe now (look for the picture of Samuel Beckett in the window to find it). I’d never tried a cocktail like it, Dublin just didn’t offer them in those days. I could never go back to a €5 tequila sunrise in Capitol Bar again. Revisiting, the prices had gone up steeply to €12 a cocktail. They were great cocktails, but I think I’d hyped the place up in my head in a way it could never live up to. If you’re a cocktail aficionado, this should definitely be on your list.
The Freischwimmer felt like stepping into another place and time. Located down a dark wooded laneway, on the edge of a canal, in a historic wooden boathouse, it felt a million miles away from the bustle of the city. It looked like the kind of place the Hardy Boys would have used as a base for an adventure. The drinks were standard, but it was a beautiful calm place to sit and watch the water. The bar on the opposite bank had a more hedonistic vibe going, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Not Only Riesling
Conveniently located about a minute from our apartment on Bergmannstrasse, this lovely bright and friendly wine bar specialised in German wines (as the name might suggest) with bits and pieces of charcuterie, cheese and olives on offer. A great place for an aperitif and a snack
It was cold and grey when we decided in typical Northern European fashion that we were going to have a beer outside, because that’s what you do in May. The fact that it started drizzling after we sat down didn’t deter us. Prater biergarten is a giant, historic beer garden off one of the main streets in Prenzlauerberg. It has hundreds yellow painted benches and tables surrounded by chestnut trees and floodlights for evening. It felt like a uniquely German place to visit. You can buy different types of beer, and traditional snacks like pretzels and currywurst from the stands on the edge of the garden.