On a recent visit to Berlin, I came across Oderquelle, a well-recommended diamond for German cuisine in Berlin. Having gone through poor kebab and sushi experiences all weekend, I was desperate for some sturdy German cooking and did my research before going out. As they single-handedly re-gained my faith in worthwhile eating I figured the initial East Berlin guide would have to be amended – with a strong review for Oderquelle (if meatballs were awarded this would be an 8.5/10), and a few warnings issued for the well-recommended but terribly dry places I also happened to come across.
Oderquelle has a seasonal menu that changes daily and they don’t post anything about their food on their website, so you have to go on the day and see if anything takes your fancy. I’m sure it will. We had starters of smoky broccoli soup and handmade cumin cheese with chopped onion and parsley vinaigrette. At 3 euros these were a bargain, because they were huge portions for a starter – I was told this is the German size. The handmade cheese came with some bread and butter at the side and tasted very similar to Swedish cumin cheese eaten at Crayfish fests coming up now in August – so I was over the moon. And also rather filled up by the first course together with the generously sized southern wheat beer.
For mains, my veggie friend Tim had risotto stuffed peppers with goats cheese, Mr Meatball had veal with fried potatoes and béarnaise, and I had duck with apple and red cabbage sauerkraut and spätzle. It was all delicious, and again, very generously sized. My duck was braised to perfection and broke off beautifully with the sweet and sour red and apple sauerkraut. While I find spätzle (a homemade kind of German pasta) a little bland, it worked wonders with the strong sauerkraut and red wine sauce.
Oderquelle is close to Mauerpark and sees a rather lively nightlife pass by even on a quiet night – so we had to put up with a lone guitarist busking a screechy version of Radiohead’s Creep for twenty minutes before Romani accordion players pushed him away and started serenading individual guests at the restaurant. If you can deal with all this, Oderquelle is definitely the place to go in East Berlin for traditional German cooking in some fresh new clothes. The service was lovely and we ended up forking out only 25 euros each for the massive starters, mains and two large jugs of German beer.
If you, after eating, fancy to play some games whilst drinking more of that cheap German beer, a place around the corner (to the right as you face Mauerpark) without sign has a pool table, darts, ping pong table, playstation and other fun things to have a go at with beers starting a 1.50. Like a mix between a youth club and drinking hall for grown ups, its also worth a visit.
Avoid: The German restaurant November in Prenzlauer Berg – expensive and shabby, the kebab places close to Mauerpark (of course, there may be some good ones but in that case we missed them), and the Japanese restaurant Tabito in Friedrichshain (they supply fun toys to play with, but the Sushi wasn’t worth the price tag, and atmosphere was too sticky with a chef dressed in a “Will buy drinks for sex” t-shirt. Eww.)
Being the eastern outpost for the London part of the blog, I happily remain easterly when visiting Berlin (although it’s sort of all down to my friend Tim living in Prenzlauer berg…). Berlin is my most favourite city perhaps ever, because it has everything you could have wanted from East London but is bite-sized, lively but not intense, feels strangely Scandinavian yet wears its history like scabby scars. And if you’re into history or are just a little bit emo, that has a strange appeal as well. The eastern parts of town have an abundance of amazing food and nice places to drink, and is cheaper than the majority of the European capitals. So, here are the meatball’s favourite haunts if you want to go exploring.
Eating. My favourite restaurant in Berlin is actually Russian, and is called Gorki Park. The interior looks a bit like the cover of Regina Spektor’s Soviet Kitch record, with tacky decorations and loads of old family photos framed on the walls. Settle down here after a tiring day out on town with Russian strawberry drinks or cold Moscow drafts, and order in blinis, stroganoff with potato cakes and the mixed dumpling selection (wareniki) with sour cream. Their blinis (pictured above) are large like pancakes and come with fat red caviar roe. It is delish.
If you want something more German, Cafe Hilde serves a lovely Flammkuchen with smoked salmon, lemon bits and spring onion. It’s cheap and cheerful, in a lovely café that looks like your grandmother’s living room. Lots of things in east Berlin do. When I was at Hilde they were playing The Whitest Boy Alive, so they possibly also have very good music taste. Update: (10th August 2012) neo-German restaurant Oderquelle by Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg serves absolutely superb authentic, new takes on german food without robbing you – a good option for a nice evening out – more about that place here.
The Vietnamese scene is apparently strong in Berlin and I have been told there are plenty of good places to recommend. I was particularly treated at Si An, who impressed with their cheap and excellent cocktails (just check out the beauty below), a strong yellow curry and particularly nice summer rolls with a Tamarind-y sauce (not sure if that was in them but it tasted along those lines.
Lots in Berlin is about chilling, and people seem very good at it. If you need somewhere with decent coffee and a plug so you can do work, then Oberholtz is a good place to go – my friend Elke goes all the time instead of going to uni to study. Really wish there was a place like that in London. A general nice thing about Berlin café culture is that you don’t have much pressure to earn your keep by continously buying more cakes and more coffee – everyone just sits about, reading or working.
There is also beautiful French Café Fleury (although beware of the French/bitchy service), which is just next to Gorki Park mentioned above. If the weather is sunny and you just want to enjoy something soothing on a bench/pavement around Kreuzberg, I would recommend the hazelnut ice cream from local ice producers Eismanufaktur. They have a friendly bar in Kreuzberg. Eating their ice cream makes you this happy:
Going towards the evening, there are ridiculously many bars and clubs to explore for drinking and dancing. Since Berlin is so friendly going ahead and exploring can be a lot less painful than in other places (although places like Berghain remain rather selective in their admissions policy…). Fitcher’s Vogel, with its own little facebook page, put on good night AND show football. The ambience is lovely, bar staff is very friendly and the bar is, Berlin style, decorated with a mix of tit for tat furniture and odd bits. This includes miniature buddhas in the walls, religious drawings and Gramophones in the windows.
For some old school dancing, there is always Clärchen’s Ballhaus, the oldest ball room in Berlin (since before World War one). They have a gipsy-restaurant (sadly didn’t get the chance to eat there) and you can dance all sorts of dances in the evening. Old school as in really, actually old school, not Hammer Time. Finally, if German is the word then Tomsky is a cheap, gay-friendly, smoky and loud neighbourhood bar to enjoy.
Since summer is here (and as opposed to London, it really HAS come to Berlin) then picnics with a bicycle might be the best way to enjoy the city whilst eating. German supermarkets have excellent bakery, cured meats, cheeses and quark fillings to go mental with. Not to speak of all those cakes and sweet pastries with a sweet German white wine… and there are bike rental places all over the place. Berlin is small, so with a bike you can quickly make your way to the the deserted-airport-made-public-park Tempelhof, or go listen to people embarrassing themselves at public karaoke in Mauerpark. If you fancy going a bit into the wild you can also take your bike with you on the S-bahn and head to Teufelsberg, the CIA’s now abandoned listening station in the forest outside Berlin (since it was all about listening to and intercepting what people in East Berlin were up to before the wall came down, it’s being allowed it’s entry here. It is also where Tim is standing at the top of this entry). Spooky and eerie but with beautiful views over the city, and health and safety gone out of the broken windows, it might be one of the coolest places in Berlin.