Where to stay
Orania.Berlin Dating back to 1913, this sumptuous retreat from lively Oranienstrasse has a superb restaurant and bar (see Where to eat). Doubles from £135. Oranienstrasse 40, 10999, 00 49 30 6953 9680, orania.berlin
The Dude This intimate boutique hotel, located in one of the city centre’s oldest buildings, is an easy hop to Kreuzbergon the U-Bahn. Rooms are kitted out with Bose bluetooth sound systems and Egyptian cotton bed linen. Doubles from £60. Köpenicker Str. 92, 10179, 00 49 30 4119 88100, thedudeberlin.com
Michelberger Hotel A former warehouse just on the other side of the canal from Kreuzberg with eccentrically decorated rooms. The buzzing courtyard is the heart of the hotel in summer. Doubles from £86. Warschauer Str. 39–40, 10243, 00 49 30 2977 8590, michelbergerhotel.com
The Yard Minimalist accommodation with pretty gardens and a wellness area in a quiet location on Kreuzberg’s border with Mitte. Doubles from £109.Alexandrinenstrasse 125, 10969, 00 49 30 2592 3890, hotel-theyard.berlin
Straddling the River Spree, Berlin is Germany’s capital and largest city. Kreuzberg and Neukölln lie in the city’s south. Currency is the euro and time is one hour ahead of GMT. Flights from the UK take just under two hours.
British Airways flies direct from London Heathrow to Berlin’s new Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport.
easyJet offers direct flights from London Gatwick and Luton Airport
or from Manchester Airport to Brandenburg.
VisitBerlin is the regional tourist website and is full of information to help you plan your trip. The German National Tourist Office, the country’s official tourist board, is also worth checking out.
Where to eat
21 Gramm Located in a beautiful converted Chapel of Rest, this café-bar-restaurant is a popular choice with locals for breakfast. Highlights include mushrooms and poached eggs on sourdough toast, which
come with pickled dill and chilli gherkins on the side and buttermilk pancakes with sticky date mascarpone. Breakfast with coffee, from £11. Hermannstrasse 179, 12049, 00 49 30 7679 5810, 21gramm.berlin
Albatross Bakery This is a bakery with cult status – specialities include the Queen A, a dense pastry made with caramelised croissant dough sprinkled with salt. Open every day from 8am – get there early and be prepared to queue. Pastries, from £1.60. Graefestrasse 66/67, 10997, albatrossberlin.com
Café Botanico The Italian dishes on offer at this eccentric, welcoming café feature organic wild herbs and vegetables from the on-site permaculture. Pick a spot on the patio to enjoy a refreshing wild herb lemonade and a plate of ‘pasta alle erbe’. Three-course meal (excluding wine), from £21pp.Richardstrasse 100, 12043, 00 49 30 8962 2000, cafe-botanico.de
CODA Each course of René Frank’s two-Michelin-starred, seven-course tasting menu comprises a dessert with a creative drinks pairing. An unforgettable experience. Seven-course tasting menu with snacks and drinks at 7pm, from £118pp; four-course tasting menu with snacks and drinks at 10pm, from £71pp. Friedelstrasse 47, 12047, 00 49 30 9149 6396, coda-berlin.com
Eins44 Located in a renovated old distillery, the modern European menu on offer here changes weekly, and the solid wine list features both natural and conventional wines. The chef’s beef cheeks with plums dish is a real must-try. Three-course meal (excluding wine), from £43.70pp. Elbestrasse 28/29, 12045, 00 49 30 6298 1212, eins44.com
Five Elephant Close to Neukölln’s border with Alt-Treptow, the Kreuzberg outpost of this speciality coffee shop also houses its roastery. Their Philadelphia cheesecake is legendary. Coffee and a pastry, from £4.70. Reichenberger Str. 101, 10999, fiveelephant.com
Isla Coffee An unpretentious circular economy model café. The horchata panna cotta with plum blackberries and granola is a sweet, crunchy delight. Brunch with coffee, from £5pp. Hermannstrasse 37, 12049
Jaja A natural wine bar and bottle shop run by a French-German couple with a passion for sharing the French way of drinking. Sit inside with a carefully considered cheese plate or take a bottle out onto the street. Three-course menu with paired wines, from £43pp. Weichselstrasse 7, 12043, 00 49 30 5266 6911, jajawein.de
Kreuzberger Himmel Freshly prepared Syrian food made and served by refugees as part of an integration project run by a local initiative, ‘Be An Angel e.V.’ The restaurant’s mixed starter platter offers myriad textures and flavours such as fried flatbreads with sheep’s cheese and sabaneh pastries with pomegranate. Two-course meal (excluding drinks), from £22pp. Yorckstrasse 89, 10965, 00 49 17 1785 8939, kreuzberger-himmel.de
Orania.Restaurant & Orania.Bar Dinner at this plush yet relaxed hotel restaurant is a lot of fun. Choose head chef Philipp Vogel’s Xberg Duck menu and enjoy a high-quality bird four ways, including grilled breast in a sweet pepper sauce with soured pickled apple, and crispy hoisin pancakes made from the bronzed skin. XBerg Duck menu (for two or more, excluding drinks), from £56pp. Oranienpl. 17, 10999, 00 49 30 6953 9680, orania.berlin
Velvet Bar Moody lighting and elegant, understated decor set the scene for seasonal and foraged cocktails. Try the Old Fashioned Twist, made with korn spirit that’s been infused for six months with spruce cones foraged from a nearby park. Cocktails, from £10. Ganghoferstrasse 1, 12043, 00 49 163 4605031, velvet-bar-berlin.de
- Cold, savoury yoghurt-based drink
- Dark sausage made from pig’s blood and diced meat
- Sausage made with finely ground mixed meat whichmay be either simmered or grilled
- Pork sausage with or without its casing, served withtomato sauce, curry powder and chips
- Döner kebap
- Seasoned, rotisseried meat and salad in pitta bread Eisbein Boiled pork knuckle, usually served with sauerkraut and potatoes
- Königsberger klopse
- Veal meatballs in a caper cream sauce
- Coffee with hot milk/black coffee
- Jam-filled doughnut
- Eggs in mustard sauce
Food and Travel Review
Over the past five to ten years, ‘Berlin has just gone crazy for coffee,’ says Philipp Reichel over toffee-coloured lattes morning and we’re enjoying the sunshine outside his relaxed café and its glass-fronted sister roastery at the Kreuzberg district’s legendary indoor market, the Markthalle Neun.
A salty, caramelised hockey puck of a croissant-dough pastry sits on the table between us. Philipp explains that although coffee is hugely popular across the city, the coffee area is definitely Kreuzberg – there are at least five roasteries in less than half an hour’s walk, he points out. The focus on sustainability and staunch commitment to environmentally and socially responsible business practices goes with the territory – his Kaffee 9 and the Vote roastery simply echo the ethos of many in this cool corner of the city. And these are just two of Philipp’s Berlin-based coffee projects, supplying locals with fully traceable and fairly traded speciality coffees from Central and South America and Africa. ‘With our beans, we want to stand up politically,’ he says. ‘Our aim is to decolonise coffee.’
With its history as a divided city, Germany’s capital doesn’t have a geographical centre. The 12 districts, including Kreuzberg and the neighbouring district of Neukölln, are made up of countless smaller neighbourhoods, each with its own history, character and culture. In these two districts alone, we repeatedly find ourselves feeling as if we’ve stepped through Alice’s looking glass as we turn a corner into what feels like an entirely different place. We wander around the gradually gentrifying Schillerkiez, still rough around the edges but crammed with small cafés, galleries and bars; and along the Landwehr Canal, passing runners, dog walkers and hipsters playing boules. We explore Rixdorf, a historical village-like quarter founded by Bohemian refugees in 1727; and pass through the loud and colourful Kottbusser Tor, with its inexpensive kebab houses and spätis (late-night stores). The Markthalle Neun indoor market itself first opened in 1891 and many see it as the beating culinary heart of Kreuzberg, if not the whole city. Although it’s a tourist destination for food lovers, it remains a trusted shopping spot for locals and supplier of regional produce to Berlin’s restaurants.
A half hour’s walk south, on a cobbled Neukölln side street, we meet with two kindred spirits to Philipp, local food heroes Marion Coulondre and Thomas Giese, former owners of bistro Bichou. The French-German couple’s food ethos is one of ‘simple food rooted in French cuisine’, says Marion. The pair share their love of food and recipes with locals and online and they cook for us some of their favourites. We try their plat chaud: a comforting dish of pork shoulder braised with pears with mashed potatoes, all served in a glass jar. Marion doesn’t pay lip service to transparency and traceability: she sources from independent producers only, whether that means meat from the local butcher or olive oil from a cooperative in Greece. Sipping her homemade fermented ginger lemonade on a bench outside, she tells us of like-minded food folk in the area, ‘taking small steps towards zero waste, reducing and reusing as much as we can’.
We tear into spiced chai brioche buns with glossy, chewy tops and gloriously sticky bottoms; the pastries have been baked fresh using a chai blend made in house to brew tea. These sorts of ideas for recycling ingredients and produce are being implemented more and more around the city. ‘Berlin tends to want to be green,’ Marion states simply, ‘and lots of places want to set an example.
‘I hope it’s more than a trend.’ She explains how much Neukölln’s food scene has changed over the past few years. ‘There’s a huge mix of places, and they all complement each other well. There’s no competition, though: they’re all doing what they do best.’
On another quiet Neukölln street, close to the Landwehr Canal, thick grey curtains are drawn across the front windows of the two-Michelin-starred CODA, renowned for its seven-course surprise tasting menu consisting entirely of desserts. From the outside, the curtains give little away; inside, their effect is theatrical, providing a backdrop to a dark, purist interior. ‘We don’t want to make the exterior of the restaurant obvious,’ says head chef René Frank. ‘In this neighbourhood, you’re left alone to do what you want – the curtains ensure that people don’t, won’t look.’
Seven courses of desserts? René’s dishes are not the traditional, sugary sweets associated with the word in western Europe. ‘Dessert hasn’t developed here,’ the pastry chef explains. Inspired by ‘differences in understanding of what desserts are, and what they mean’ around the world, he looks at how other cultures use specific ingredients and then uses classic techniques to interpret them in his own progressive way. The use of bone marrow in a soft, dome- shaped ‘beef cake’ is inspired by a Persian custard. ‘The rest of the cake is almond,’ says CODA’s co-creator, designer Oliver Bischoff, before quickly adding, ‘well, almost the rest – there are always ten more things.’ The scone-textured cake is sweet with a faintly bacony flavour. One is very much not enough.
As we perch on tall stools at the bar, a series of astonishingly clever salty, savoury and sweet dishes are slipped under the spotlights onto the counter. There are fermented soya bean churros with a miso and hazelnut dip; poached aubergine with liquorice salt and pecan nut ice cream; and corn waffle sandwiches stuffed with stringy raclette, accompanied by homemade yoghurt, a dusting of gherkin salt, and a glass of pale pink peach brandy and sparkling sake. René and his team use only seasonal ingredients, sourcing as many as possible from the region, and much via the Markthalle Neun. ‘There may be apricots on the menu in December,’ he tells us, ‘but they’ll be pickled from July.’
Every last element of each dish and its paired drink is made from scratch, from the dried and powdered beetroot in the intensely flavoured gummy bears (course number one) to the chocolate in a mousse paired with plum sorbet and puffed pork rinds at the end of our meal. ‘Making these powders is extremely time-consuming,’ René admits, ‘but for us, it’s the challenge that’s fun.’
The streets around CODA, with their cobbles and graffiti, craft beer shops and neon signs, balance charm and grit in equal measure. It’s only a short walk from here to busy Sonnenallee, a wide street once divided by the Berlin Wall, where the Turkish, Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian culinary offerings reflect the diversity of Neukölln’s residents. Here, bakery windows display neat stacks of baklava, restaurant menus list falafel and adana kebabs, and stands outside grocery shops are piled high with persimmon and fresh dates. Despite the urban regeneration creeping in on either side of the 5km-long street – turn down a side street and you’ll stumble on a raw cheese shop or a natural wine bar – Sonnenallee remains shaped by the flavours of the Middle East.
We criss-cross our way back into Kreuzberg through its noisy, busy Kottbusser Tor neighbourhood. Bordered to the east by the River Spree and, with it, former East Berlin, the district was historically Berlin’s poorest. It has long been famous for its alternative scene, and today remains home to diverse communities, from nonconformist countercultures to the families of the Turkish guest workers who came to Germany during the Sixties and Seventies. Today, Kreuzberg finds itself at the centre of burgeoning creativity in the form of tech and media start-ups and, like Neukölln, a dynamic, multicultural, rapidly evolving food scene.
We wander through the peaceful Gräfekiez quarter in Kreuzberg’s bourgeois north, with its leafy streets lined with pretty Wilhelminian- style buildings and small independent cafés and shops. In the tall windows of the popular Albatross Bakery – source of the pastries at Kaffee 9 – is a minimalist display of baguettes and pumpkin-seed rolls. A short walk away, on a street corner overlooking a broad, green strip of park, Janosch Thomsen welcomes us to his neighbourhood gastropub, Lausebengel. ‘I’m deeply connected to this area,’ he tells us. ‘I was born across the street and grew up next door.’ Janosch has spent his whole life surrounded by the local Turkish and Arabic communities and appreciates what immigrants from all over the world have brought to Berlin – including their food. ‘I ate doner kebab before I tried currywurst,’ he grins.
Lausebengel was a local institution in its previous incarnation as a bar and music venue and Janosch has been careful to preserve its history and charm with details such as the original outline of the old bar on the wooden floor. He has added personal touches such as artwork by his wife and three-year-old and updated the venue, making more of the natural light that floods in through the windows that look out onto the park. Today the bar offers a choice of ten diverse beers from traditional German breweries and the menu comprises what he describes as ‘staples of traditional Berlin cuisine reimagined for a younger generation’. Berlin dishes such as boiled ham hock, bockwurst with sauerkraut and eggs with mustard sauce are classics of the city’s traditional pub culture, but historically, Janosch tells us, such meals were eaten simply to stave off hunger: ‘It was bad food, and not cooked by a chef.’ Dortmund-born chef Julian Hansmeier, who moved to Berlin 11 years ago, puts his own modern twist on many locals’ childhood favourites.
His generous königsberger klopse, East Prussian meatballs in a creamy caper sauce, are made with pork rather than the more usual veal – ‘it’s juicier’ – and come with mashed potatoes, a beetroot reduction, chive oil and a scattering of hot pink petals. Panko- coated blood sausage croquettes – ‘the best blood sausage in Berlin’, procured from a Neukölln butcher – are golden and crisp on the outside, deep crimson, soft and savoury on the inside, and served with smoked apple sauce and a sliver of pickled red onion. Janosch has reinvented soljanka, a rust-red spicy soup of Russian origin popular in former East Germany, where it is made with fatty meat, as a light vegetarian bowl of grilled red peppers and pickled vegetables, topped with yoghurt and bright green dill fronds.
On a very different street corner on the other side of the Landwehr Canal, chef and managing director of the Orania.Restaurant Philipp Vogel has his own distinct way of celebrating Kreuzberg through food. The stylish bar and restaurant at the Orania.Berlin hotel sit grandly on Oranienstrasse, a street famous for its lively clubs, shops and restaurants that captures, for many, the district’s very essence. The German chef, who has worked at top restaurants in London, Vienna and Shanghai, describes his signature Xberg Duck menu, in which four courses make use of one entire duck in four different ways, as representing ‘the multicultural twist of Kreuzberg’. There’s a lightly spiced duck dashi, a plump meat dumpling resting in the centre of a burnt umber-coloured broth. The second course sees a whole duck wheeled dramatically to the table for its shimmering bronze skin to be shaved off into bite-sized pieces, the crispy, fatty skin rolled into pancakes with spring onions and ginger, brown sugar and hoisin sauce. There are thick chunks of sweet and sour cucumber, too, topped with crunchy peanuts and fried onion. The breast meat comes hot from the lava grill; neat, pink slices served in a sweet, peppery sauce with sour pickled apple and pak choi. By the time we’ve polished off course four – duck fried rice with a pale yellow egg yolk we pop and stir through with chopsticks – there’s only just room for a welcome glass of herb liqueur.
We finish back in Neukölln at the moody, stylish Velvet bar, where award-winning mixologists Ruben Neideck and his colleagues create elegant cocktails ‘based on ingredients that either come from local farmers or are found on regular foraging expeditions’. The menu changes weekly, with the focus on fruits and botanicals such as strawberries, sea buckthorn or fig leaves, depending on the time of the year. A clear, honey-hued Old Fashioned Twist comes with a muddy green-coloured pine cone resting atop a large cube of ice; the drink itself a mix of korn (a grain spirit) that’s been infused with spruce cones foraged from a local park, plus Pedro Ximenez sherry, sake, amaro, bourbon and rhum agricole vieux.
In its complex blend of international spirits and ingredients from in and around Berlin, you could even say it’s a cocktail that sums up the breadth of Neukölln and Kreuzberg’s culinary offerings: playful yet polished. From patisseries to falafel, blood sausage to bone marrow beef cakes, the food and drink options are as diverse as the neighbourhoods in which you’ll find them. Whether you want to linger over house-roasted coffee, snatch a street snack or take your seat at a Michelin-starred table, making your way through intriguing streets to your culinary destination is all part of the fun.
Words by Christie Dietz. Photography by Uta Gleiser.
This feature was taken from the May/June 2021 issue of Food and Travel.
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