Thursday, 26 July 2012

Berlin Adventures

A couple of years ago I did a interrail tour of Europe and skipped merrily and carefree across the continent for 5 weeks soaking up every part of the local culture I could find. and lots of booze. Of all the cities I visited there were two that made the greatest impact on me, sure Venice was stunning, Split was blisteringly hot and Krakow was astonishingly cheap but no where compared to Budapest or Berlin.

Right at the very start of our trip, Berlin grabbed us by the (proverbial) balls and threw us in at the deep end and we embraced it's grimy bars and streets which seeped history at every corner.

Of late I have been trying to convince the other half to jet away with me for a few days (you wouldn't think that would be such a difficult task) and I knew that of all the places we could afford to go to Berlin was at the top of his list. A quick shifty on the internet and we had flights + accommodation booked for £180. All the more money to spend on German beer.

Here's a selection of snaps (not just of food!)

We stayed at Hotel 38 and rather bizarrely they'd decorated our room with newspaper. I think it's meant to be 'edgy and designer'.

The large Turkish population (largest outside of Turkey, fact fans) meant there was killer falafel everywhere. On the Tuesday morning we'd ventured to Kreuzberg and by chance there was a huge Turkish food market on. A man shouted at me for photographing his chicken. 

Further adventures in Kreuzberg involve the best burger you'll ever find in an old public toilet (or perhaps anywhere from Burgermeister. This place was mentioned in all the guides and recommendations I read and it really didn't disappoint. Incredible burger that cost around 3.50 euros, and super crispy fries. 

Another great find was the Santa Maria mexican, we stopped for a drink, ended up staying about 3 hours and it was taco tuesdays meaning all tacos were 1 euro i.e a total fucking winner. Plus all you people still drinking cocktails out of tea cups and jam jars, that's so old, the new hip thing is terracotta plant pots, didn't you know?

I also had to sit outside Static Shock records for around an hour whilst the other half shopped for records - I ate a feast on the pavement outside. 

Perhaps surprising for me, this break wasn't really about eating at the best places in town, or even really eating that much at all, just picking up bits and pieces of street food and snacks as and when so as not to detract from more important matters - drinking plenty of german beer. It feels like all I drank in 3 days was Berliner Pilsner in a variety of different bars and cafes. The cultue of the city seemed much more in tune with relaxed drinking rather than fancy dining. 

As well as plenty of river side cafes and fake beaches (Strandbar Mitte if you want a recommendation - also does good pizza and has an outside theatre + dance floor that gets busy later on), we found a beautiful little deli with hundreds of homemade salamis and sausages hanging behind the couter and battered wooden tables which typified this brilliant attitude. I'd have taken a picture but the owner was a stern looking woman who didn't seem to want people messing with her meat. 

We were staying in central Mitte on the Oranienburger Tor and saw all the typical sites in that area but the number one recommendation (and possibly the only gallery I managed not to visit when there the first time) was the modern art gallery. Housed in the old Hamburger Hof it was a fantastic gallery with some really interesting exhibitions on - this thing with mist and darkness and white circles which is very difficult to explain but very interesting. Plus like all good galleries, an incredible bookshop. 

Like all of the city, there are plenty of ramshackled buildings, and one of the best is the Clarches Ballhaus which was like something out of a dream. The front is all rosebushes, fairy lights and tables dotted about where you can get drinks and incredible pizzas, and then at 10 the magic starts. The inside is still a traditional old ballroom with different dancing every night - Monday's are salsa and the room was filled with all sorts of couples going at it. The other half refused to join in much to my dismay but it was amazing fun just to watch before we hopped out to another bar down the road. 

The ballroom was on Augustrasse which is home to lots of non-touristy lovely little bars, cafes and shops. Just across the street from the ballroom you'll find which superb coffee and these huge open sandwiches, after a morning of art I devoured by grilled chicken smothered in anchovy butter on soft, freshly baked focaccia.

Also on Augustrasse was Do You Read Me? a boutique magazine shop which was about the best place ever for someone like me who loves beautifully put together publications. I picked up a couple of different food magazines naturally.

Although I said this wasn't much of a 'food holiday' we always had the intension of treating ourselves to one proper meal out. And we made a fantastic choice. As you can tell we hadn't exactly been dabbling in much traditional German fare, and it doesn't exactly come with international acclaim. But it's like British food being slated when all someones tried is a dodgy portion of fish and chips. We discovered this wonderful restaurant called Zum Schwarzen Hasen which we think had just opened and was serving 'German tapas'. This wasn't tucked away in some hidden side street but on the main drag in Mitte. I really wanted to tell them they shouldn't call it that, tourists get easily put off and don't like to be adventurous. The rank, tacky looking mexican next door to this place was evidence of this. 

It was actually a selection of small plates, showing that German food could be light, intricate and carried out to a high standard. The cold cuts plate had the most incredible cured herring on it as well as this smokey finely sliced venison. The rabbit salad came with heritage black carrots and a sweet, zingy dressing and lovely edible flowers. A perfectly cooked haunch of venison with cherries and chanterelle
mushrooms in a rich reduction. Some deep fried woolf fish with a cucumber pickle and caper dip, it was so surprising and so good. And of course we couldn't go without carbs, this is Germany - a basket of local breads and some fried potato dumplings. 

I could have eaten the whole menu, there were several more options that sounded equally tempting. And something with dripping and apple that I just wouldn't be allowed to eat at home. They also had a short but expertly chosen list of German wines. 

Whoever was turning this food out was seriously talented, it was just such a shame that more people didn't want to try it and the restaurant was half empty. I say pack up and move to London, it would go down a treat in Soho. 

 A wonderful little break to sooth my ever increasing itch to jet off travelling again. From the urban cool, edgy parts of the city covered in murals and graffiti, you're only ever a corner turn away from a beautiful old building like the one below. It's what makes cities so exciting. 

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