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Walking and Eating in Berlin's Mitte

DSC04930On our last few trips, we've gotten in the habit of looking around for good eating/walking tours, which allow us to sample a variety of local foods along with some sights, and some well-prepared information about the foods, their history and their role. We started with Istanbul (HERE), and will be reporting later on Prague.
In Berlin, there are a variety of tours available with different hosts and companies; we picked one that looked to have a good variety of experiences, and was centered in our "home" neighborhood, Mitte. In English, that's "Center" and it describes not only the area's location in Berlin, but its place in Berlin's history and growth.
We started off walking to our rendezvous, Katje's GrÜn Ohr, a cafe and confectioner that is strictly vegetarian. Not a surprise, because despite its many meaty attractions, as seen at the top, Berlin has been named vegetarian capital of the world by Saveur magazine. There we met our guide, Bastian, and our fellow eaters. and tasted our first foods: sweet little rabbits made of flavored vegetable gum, and a delicious brownie.



After Katje's, we moved on to a definitely non-vegetarian venue, Lindner's, just across the street. As you can see, there are baked goods there, too, but this is a store with delights for the carnivore as well; it's been providing many kinds of smoked meats, cheeses, butter—wonderful butter—and several varieties of 'bulleten," large meatballs, although that hardly seems the word for them. They're on practically every menu in Berlin.



A word about butter. It sometimes seems as if it's all the same in its supermarket packages (and it probably is). But a few years ago in Cannes we ran into some fresh-from-the-farm butter in a local cheese store, and life hasn't been the same since; we're always looking for really special tastes-like-farm. Lindner's came very close to Cannes...we wished we had known it was there earlier in the trip!




Which is another point, by the way: Shop early for food tours. When we got around to it, only a couple of weeks before the trip, many we might have wanted to try were sold out, because it's increasingly popular, and the good ones are small group only (you can't take a dozen people into a tiny place for sampling!) And plan to have your tour at the beginning of your time in a city, so you can go back to places, or follow foodie recommendation from the tour for restaurants.





This is in a courtyard along our route. It's not really food, but could I have left it out?



Some more amusements in the courtyard leading to our next stop. The vulture's wings actually flap when the mechanism is turned on.





And then on to Kahriman Doner. Although it's always referred to in Germany as Turkish, and certainly owes its earliest popularity to Turkish workers and immigrants, it's surely become German food in the way that pizza and egg rolls have become American.




This 60-kilo hunk of meat could almost be saying "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille!" as it takes center stage in the restaurant. It's kept frozen until it goes on the stand, and cooks from the outside, while only slowly thawing inside. I'm sure that's not the traditional original way of doing it, but it was both spectacular and delicious.




And then on to the eagerly-awaited stop at this bread bakery that's been in business for nearly 700 years (although not in this building!) Good solid crusty breads and rolls...this is where you can really see the difference between a bakery and a pastry shop, although, s you can see a few pictures down, they did have a sweet for us, but a solid one!




Before dessert, though, we were treated to sandwiches of ham and turkey, and small glasses of cider. Only then did we get the poppyseed cake and the slices of Linzertorte.






Then it was time for a little liquid refreshment at Eisenwein's Rieslinghaus, which doesn't actually limit itself to Riesling (although, how bad could that be?) There's champagne in stock, and other wines as well, with an emphasis on regional wines. We got to sample several wines while the owner explained both the wines and the shop.







Our next stop was at an unusual gourmet store, almost as interesting for its decor and location as for its foods. It's inside the Hackesche Hofe, a series of connected courtyards with interesting decor and tilework, some unusual art, and many "hip" establishments. Its name was nearly my choice for this blog's headline: Eat Berlin.




The store's logo plays with two of Berlin's prominent symbols, the Fernsehturm (TV tower) which is the tallest building in Germany and the iconic Berlin bear, combined in a graphic reference to King Kong on the Empire State Building. The first indication (at right) seemed just a little charming, but I really fell in love with the big aggressive one below. At this stop, there was less sampling, but an opportunity to buy quite a few goodies.DSC04949





But after all that, one needs to clear the palate, right? Nothing like a little gourmet ice cream to do that, no? And so we continued to this small cafe around the corner for macaroons and tastes of ice cream. 




Some of the flavors you might expect...berries, chocolate, coffee...but look closely at that list...the third item is spaghetti ice cream. Turns out that it's ice cream extruded through a pasta maker to look like spaghetti, and then topped with a red fruit sauce to complete the illusion.  








A little more "hip" decor along the route...a giant wall of paired antonyms. I'm not sure what the point was, but it was a useful vocabulary brush-up!



















Now for a big-name sweet stop; just beyond the contradictory word-wall, we had a bite at Cynthia Barcomi's dessert emporium. So crowded that Bastian had us walk through to see; then we waited outside while he brought us plates with samples of several desserts to try in the courtyard. Fun, famous, perhaps a bit too sweet for us.











A brief stop for some more background and history of the neighborhood and the changes since the removal of the Wall (Mitte was on the eastern side), and then on to Bastian's favorite currywurst stand.




Currywurst is a peculiar thing. Like poutine in Quebec, it is both loved and scorned, perhaps because of its plebeian origins. I've always taken Berlin to be its original home, but half a dozen cities in Germany claim it as their own; about the only thing you can really be sure is true is that it didn't exist before World War 2.



Basically, it consists of a pork sausage, ketchup and spices. Some boil the sausage, then fry it; others skip one or the other of those steps. The spice mix in the ketchup varies wildly, and there is no agreement on whether or not it is necessary to sprinkie additional curry powder on top. This was Bastian's favorite, we're still loyal to a hole-in-the-wall on Dirksenstrasse, near Alexanderplatz. 




And our last and most leisurely stop...a beer garden. But not just any beer garden; this one is attached to an artisanal brewery, Lemke, that's located beneath the arches that carry the elevated S-Bahn trains across the area. It's at the Hackesche Markt station; the market and a number of restaurants occupy space under the arches as well.




The owner sat with us for a while, as we tasted, and more than tasted, several varieties of been, including an excellent Pilsner, and then gave us a tour of the brewing operation.












If you're planning to eat Berlin, here's a link to Bastian's tour...highly recommended!


and here are some of the places we visited...

Katje's GrÜn Ohr,  Rosenthalerstrasse 32

Lindner, Rosenthalerstrasse 33 

Hofpfisterei Ludwig Stocker, Rosenthalerstrasse 31

Eisenwein Rieslinghaus, Sophienstrasse 8

Eisenberg's Cafe/Bistro, Sophienstrasse 5

Eat Berlin, Hackesche Hofe

Barcomi's, Sophienstrasse 22

Curry 61, Oranienburger Strasse 6

Brauhaus Lemke, Dircksenstraße 143


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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