We spent a summer weekend in Berlin recently. My last visit to Germany was great fun with lots of great memories but not memorable for the food. We were told that Bavaria is the Yorkshire Dales to the rest of Germany’s ….erm rest of England. The lederhosen are a Bavarian custom but are fancy dress everywhere else. In Bavaria they are very conservative, have a weird dialect and are just a bit odd apparently. If so, I must be odd too because I love both the Yorkshire Dales and Bavaria but, for now, I draw the line at lederhosen.
Berlin, we were told, is more of an international city like London or New York. I was keen to see the difference but to enjoy Berlin for itself. I had little food ambition or expectation.
First impressions are of a small city. Although a new bigger airport is being built, Tegen is a small provincial size and the Tempelhof airport of Berlin airlift fame is a thing is now just a big field on the outskirts of the city. After using the super-efficient shuttle train system between terminals in Munich it was a shock. The city itself seems dysfunctional in a way
that conflict and separation inevitably create. There are few vistas and panoramas which older, more established cities evolve in to. Nowhere is this more clearly defined than the Brandenberg Gate area. We stopped at a cafe alongside Unter Den Linden. We could see the Gate to one side of us, the TV Tower glistening in the sunlight to the other. Around us were embassies and bank buildings with stunning architecture. A broad avenue similar to the Mall or the Champs Elysee but all quite lowrise and unimposing. A few short blocks away we had another reminder of the history on Potsdammer Platz. A few remnants of the old wall stand aligned with its original path. What is now a vast junction with modern business buildings around had a huge area of no man’s land between the two halves of the city when I was born.
After an early start we had a mixed food day. Around lunchtime we stopped off at a cafe in the Humboldt University area. We just had a piece of quiche with some salad. It was a really nice quiche with excellent thin pastry accompanied by a couple of salads. The carrot salad was a little dry if it had been standing around all lunchtime. The beetroot salad was delicious.
The University area has its own history. In a square outside the old buildings a group of National Socialist students burnt the library books in a symbolic act. The event is commemorated with a moving memorial. Beneath the cobbled square is a chamber visible only through a glass panel. It is ghostly white and lined with empty bookshelves big enough to house all the destroyed books. There is a bookstall in front of the university every day selling second hand editions. This was my first clear example of how Berlin is reconciled with its past. There are no big tourists signposts to guide you to it but it remains there as a constant reminder with a brass plaque containing the chilling Heine quotation: “Where they have burned books they will end in burning people”.
After a long day of exploring we returned to our hotel and then just stumbled out on to the street – straight into Romiosini. This is a German/Greek restaurant on a shopping street outside the commercial and diplomatic centre. It may seem an odd choice for us but there are far fewer of the Munich-style pork-knuckle and brewery restaurants in Berlin. Our waiter brought the ladies a terrible Margerita which consisted of pure tequila and triple sec without the lime juice – eye-watering. I had the Berliner Leberkase. This was a slab of meatloaf with a fried egg on top, some sautéed potatoes and a side salad – all served with German sweet mustard. The German’s know their sausage. They love all different textures and colours. I can’t tell the difference between them and I personally definitely prefer a more coarse mouth-feel. The main speciality in Berlin is the infamous curry wurst which has the mustard sauce and curry powder on a Frankfurter (incidentally I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually likes it). My meatloaf had the look and feel of Frankfurter meat too. Essentially it was a German version of ham, egg and chips. For me it was typical of German cuisine: substantial, well cooked, good ingredients and tasty. It may not be sophisticated but it’ll do for me.