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.
When the pavements are boiling and the parks are full of happy families with loud children running around, sneaking away to the partly abandoned “pho-belt” at the bottom of Kingsland road is quite nice. Normally busy Song Que was half empty on my last visit, a nice break from the normally bustling atmosphere in there. Song Que tend to be the critics’ favourite out of the Vietnamese options around here, and not without reason. It is cheap, friendly and the standard is consistently high (at least every time I’ve been).
Vietnamese may also be the perfect food for hot days like this, at least refreshing summer rolls and tangy vermicelli. We started off with four summer rolls to share, and they arrived incredibly fast but tasted fresh and juicy, so I doubt they had been waiting around. They were crunchy and the dipping sauce was perfectly spicy, however I lament the peanut sauce that used to be serve with them. Nonetheless, these are the best summer rolls I’ve tasted in at least a year.
My brother had the mixed seafood stir fry, which he argued was the best out of the lot of what we ordered (me and his girlfriend disagreed, however). They came with fried crispy onion on top and whilst looking rather plain, they were savoury and satisfying. Katrin had the tofu with crispy noodles, which generated an immediate “ah!” and thumbs up to the waiter (which I assume is a good sign).
Having tried all three dishes however, I felt like my vermicelli with grilled pork, shredded pork and spring rolls was the true winner. For all the extras that went into it, I found the £7.90 very reasonable. It was refreshing and incredibly aromatic, whilst also perfect summer food with the cool glass noodles at the bottom, the sweet chili sirup and the filling wholesomeness of the newly baked spring rolls. All the fresh herbs and the cucumber made me feel like summer is actually here, whilst sitting inside a quite Song Que and looking out on the busy Kingsland road flashing by. Song Que also do a £5.90 lunchtime special which may come in handy for cash-strapped students, so it’s all thumbs up for this soothing and light restaurant in the summer heat. 7.5 meatballs out of 10.