German

Prost! Berlin Hustles Harder: Part One

Boy Mestizo’s food (and drink) adventures in Berlin

 

When people ask me how my recent trip to Berlin was, I recount the moment when my friend, having just had a digestive post-lunch nap in Kollwitzplatz, opened her bleary eyes, propped herself up on her elbows in the grass, looked up at the blazingly blue sky, and said thus:

“Mark, I want to live in Berlin now. It’s like London, but less insanely busy. Mark, can I live here now, please?? I can get a tech job, learn enough German to get by, have a dog… Mark, let’s all move to Berlin!”

One could therefore draw the conclusion that we may have had a good time out there (just).

Before we had gone, though, a friend of ours had mentioned that unless we loved house music, we’d hate Berlin; another had called it the Shoreditch of Germany, contrasting it against the Kensington & Chelsea of Germany (Munich, of course).

But what we were finding was that there was a lot of variety and a lot of different characters all across the city – from the smart and preppy Friedrichstadt to the leafy and wealthy calmness of Charlottenburg, to the grime and edginess of Friedrichshain, there was a lot going on everywhere. It was, as my travelling companion had very boldly stated, like a quieter and less hectic London.

The eclecticism was reflected in the food and drink we enjoyed whilst out there – although we stuck primarily to the German classics, the delivery and packaging made all the difference. So, let us begin with this non-comprehensive guide of good eats and fine drinks in Berlin.

 

Dom Curry

Gendarmenmarkt, 10117 Berlin

The first food to pass our lips in Berlin was, of course, that firm Berliner favourite: the currywurst.

Dom Curry: feeling a bit wurst for wear after our flight...!

Dom Curry: feeling a bit wurst for wear after our flight…!

Our choice of Dom Curry, a simple fast food stall in Gendarmenmarkt, was based purely on the fact that it was the nearest snack stall to our flat. However, it was a very serviceable purveyor, probably a bit different from the others in that they also offer a whole range of different mustards (with my banana mustard being pleasingly sweet) to go with their standard wurst and their Brandenburger speciality wursts. So far, so okay – but let us not forget to mention their fries, which were delightfully crunchy and textured, if perhaps a little over-salted.

Welcome to Gendarmenmarkt

Welcome to Gendarmenmarkt

However, the real clincher for your visit to Dom Curry would be the fact that you can enjoy your currywurst whilst sipping a beer and admiring the views of the beautiful French and German cathedrals that frame Gendarmenmarkt, one of the key highlights of Friedrichstadt.

 

Capital Beach Bar

Ludwig-Erhardt-Ufer, 10557 Berlin

Having been frustrated in our efforts to visit the Reichstag (not knowing that we needed to make a booking to visit the dome, silly us…), we decided to aimlessly stroll through the adjoining gardens towards the river. There, to our pleasant surprise, we found the Capital Beach – a pathway and embankment by the River Spree that had been jam-packed with bars, food stalls and deckchairs.

Beer, deckchairs and sunshine. Perfection

Beer, deckchairs and sunshine. Perfection

One of Berlin’s urban ‘beaches’, Capital Beach is open just for the summer, so as far as we were concerned our visit was very timely. It just so happened that it was Beer O’Clock as well, so of course we had to settle ourselves down on some of the deckchairs on the grassy bank sloping towards the river.

Prost!

Bottoms up!

Here I had my first taste of Schöfferhoffer hefeweizen, a Frankfurter wheat beer: crisp, fresh, ever-so-slightly citrusy; it was the perfect beer for a warm summer’s day.

It may not be much of a beach, but when you have deckchairs, sunshine and beer involved, you’ll feel exactly like you’re on the French Riviera (maybe). Catch it while you can – prost!

 

Friedrichs 106

Friedrichstraβe 106, 10117 Berlin, +49 30 40520594, http://www.friedrichs106.de/

Feeling rather cheery after our beers at the Capital Beach, we took a stroll along the River Spree, enjoying the cool evening sun and breeze and taking in the modern sights. We talked of life, we talked of love, we talked of the future – but as we passed more and more riverside eateries, with the smells of grilled meat wafting their ways towards us, our conversation eventually turned to food. Finding ourselves by the Friedrichstraβe bridge, we felt that Friedrichs 106 looked like a decent enough option for that night’s dinner.

Certainly not Alte Berlin

Certainly not Alte Berlin

It’s an attractive traditional Viennese restaurant perched right by the bridge, with nice views towards the northern end of Museuminsel. With deep booths, a long classical bar and some uniformed garçons et demoiselles, Friedrichs 106 offers up a taste of a proper continental bistro – not quite the Berlin we were led to believe existed.

Bendy. Sourced from Friedrichs 106 website!

Bendy. Sourced from Friedrichs 106 website!

Grabbing a table on the terrace, we warmed ourselves with a couple of glasses of German rotwein and watched the sun go down. It was a pleasant and genteel atmosphere, aided by our merry temperaments – but it most definitely helpful that the food was pretty good too.

Geschmortes Jungbullenbäckchen auf Sellerie-Salz-Karamell mit Bergkäseknödel und rotem Mangold... translate that!

Geschmortes Jungbullenbäckchen
auf Sellerie-Salz-Karamell mit Bergkäseknödel
und rotem Mangold… translate that!

My friend’s flammkuchen was crunchy and lavished with toppings, whilst my braised ox cheek was so tender and moist, and doused in an extremely savoury and rich celery-salt-caramel sauce, a surprisingly good combination. Coming with a soft and substantial Bergkäseknodel (mountain cheese dumpling) and a smattering of red chard, my ox cheek was a definite winner of a dinner. A delightful meal overall.

 

Blechbilderbar

Simon-Dach-Straβe 35, 10245 Berlin, +49 30 2913863

Transport yourself away from the pretty cobblestones of Friedrichstadt, all the way across the Spree, Museuminsel and Alte Berlin, and you find yourself in the graffiti-strewn pavements of Friedrichshain, where we must have counted nearly ten dreadlocked men and women playing either guitars or accordions by actual barrel fires.

“What’s happening here?”

“This… this is counterculture in action”

We were here to meet my old friend for a drink, and had been directed to Blechbilderbar on Simon-Dach-Straβe. Having been previously told by her that this was one of the places to go out in Berlin, when we finally got there I was finding it hard to picture her as the type to hang out with the overly-bearded hippies – my mum had once commented, in a very complimentary fashion, that she dressed like a very classy grandmother – and was sort of wishing that I hadn’t overdressed myself.

But that was the nice thing about Berlin – it was so achingly hip and avant garde, but no one seemed to care about it. It was all so effortless and… non-judgemental.

However, I do reserve my judgement about a German alcoholic concoction that another friend had led me to believe would be mind-blowing – the Diesel or, as we would probably see it, perfectly good beer ruined with Coke. Nah, actually, it wasn’t that bad, but it was weird.

Beer and bricks. Photo courtesy of Tiana Kai's blog http://blog.tianakai.com/2013/04/berlin-to-dos/#.U7yAnrHCcqd

Beer and bricks. Photo courtesy of Tiana Kai’s blog

The other cocktails, of which there were perhaps a few too many, conversely were rather well-put together – and strong. And, from what I remember, rather cheap. So, whilst my travel buddy was being a cheap date and finding herself drowsy and a bit drunk, I was able to take in a bit of the bar’s setting: exposed brickwork everywhere, shabby chic furniture, pictures within frames within other frames, random art pieces hanging around, chalk sprawled across the walls… yup, this was a place with character.

It was a good night cap, and a great way to end our first action-packed and alcohol-fuelled day in Berlin. And, rather nicely, the last-minute visit to Blechbilderbar did help me to fulfil my prophecy from the night before:

I may have a somewhat... skewed idea of what Berlin is like

I may have a somewhat… skewed idea of what Berlin is like

Wunderbar!

Currently listening to: Smoke or Fire – Irish Handcuffs

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Munching in Munich

Boy Mestizo’s food adventures in Munich

It’s that time of year again. You know the one I’m talking about: where you get jealous of colleagues and friends who take a cheeky weekend (or even cheekier weekday) flight down to Munich to partake in Oktoberfest and get wonderfully merry/horrifically drunk. Cue lots of photos of men in lederhosen and girls in dirndl. I’ve already overheard two conversations about Oktoberfest this week *sigh*. (Yes, I did start writing this back  in September… it has been a busy month)

How lederhosen and dirdnl should be worn *shudder* Sourced from http://www.dirndlguenstig.de/blog

How lederhosen and dirndl should be worn *shudder*

Well, I did get a taste of it the other Friday, when I arranged for some friends to go to the London Oktoberfest in Kennington Park. With a Groupon deal, each of the eight of us paid £5 and got a ½ pint, a pack of crisps, two sausages and a plate of chips in return – a wonderful way of easing us into an evening of, er, ‘socialising’… Suffice to say, a lot of actually decent specially-brewed-for-London-Oktoberfest beer was had by all, for some, maybe too much (no names, but you know who you are!). And it was so much fun, that I organised for some work colleagues to hit up a Thursday session in Millwall Park… but the less said about that, the better.

The civilised enjoyment of Germanic cultural activities

The civilised enjoyment of Germanic cultural activities

But it’s all made me think: what does the actual person think of Munich outside of the context of Oktoberfest (does the place even exist at other times of the year??)? We all think of beer and German sausage (ooh err), but there is a lot more for the average food-lover to appreciate there.

To set the scene, I visited Munich earlier this year in May for a few days to see a friend and take some much-needed time off between client projects. I was there to party, sight-see, sit in biergartens and eat and drink!

But what I did not realise was that May is asparagus season in Germany, and I must say, I have never seen a nation so obsessed with asparagus as the Germans. But the asparagus – spargel – that they are all stark-raving mad about is the white asparagus, which has been grown under soil and so has been denied sunlight. You can find them everywhere: there are special spargel menus in restaurants and cafés; there are stalls in the markets that sell nothing but spargel; and households are stocked with spargel. It has a milder flavour than the green stuff we are familiar with in this country, and I would also say that there is a slight creaminess about it as well. I was very fortunate in that I got to try it in a very traditional manner: lightly-steamed, served with ham, boiled potatoes and doused in Hollandaise sauce. Simple and tasty – I can see why it is much-loved, but I don’t quite think I share their obsessive national appreciation of spargel.

Finest Bavarian spargel on sale in the market

Finest Bavarian spargel on sale in the market

Spargel is EVERYWHERE

Spargel is EVERYWHERE

Spargelzeit!

Spargelzeit!

Spargel, ready to be cooked by my host for the trip

Spargel, ready to be cooked by my host for the trip

I do, however, appreciate a good amount of German sausage (oooh errr), but surprisingly I only had it twice when I was out there. My friend introduced me to an absolute winner of a breakfast item: weiβwurst. These big, fat, meaty veal sausages are boiled thoroughly until they are juicy and soft. Once done, the skin is peeled off (however, I am told it is edible) and then the delicately-flavoured sausage is served with a special sweet and mild mustard (weiβwurstsenf) on hunks of lightly-salted bread (brezn) – a mix of different tastes that match together very well. It is a hearty meal that makes for a rip-roaring start to the day.

The second instance of sausage fun times was some currywurst I had in a restaurant on the way up to Neuschwanstein. I was reliably informed by my friend that the Berliner version is far superior, but as an ignorant foreigner I didn’t know any better. The version I had was contextually amazing: the cold drizzle had swept down from the Alpine foothills and the temperature had correspondingly dropped, all of which was unfortunate because I seemed to be the only tourist there who hadn’t brought a thick coat. So, having freshly-cooked wurst swimming in spicy and thick curry ketchup over some really crunchy chips was a real life-saver.

Currywurst at Neuschwanstein

Currywurst at Neuschwanstein, washed down with a radler

So if I only had sausage twice over the course of four days, what else did I eat?

 

Der Wintergarten in Schwabing

Elisabethplatz 4 b, 80796 München, +49 89 27373134, http://www.wintergarten-schwabing.de/

No visit to Munich is complete without a trip to the local biergarten, and as it was a gloriously hot and sunny day (30c+), my friend was more than willing to oblige and take me to one. Ending up at Der Wintergarten in Schwabing, he introduced me to the radler, or as we in the English-speaking world know it, a shandy. Except, of course, that drinking shandies in Germany is perfectly acceptable for manly men like my good self. Seriously though, mixing up some good German beer, ideally wheat beer, with lemonade is extremely cooling and refreshing. I refuse to be judged for drinking a shandy (please don’t judge me, I have very thin skin).

To accompany my radler, I went for the Münchner Tellerfleisch mit Kartoffelsalat und frischem kren (Munich ‘plate meat’ with potato salad and fresh horseradish), more out of curiosity than anything else. “What is ‘plate meat’?”, “What is kren when it’s at home??” Even my German friend was not able to answer these questions. What I got was essentially cold cuts of cured pork, ham if you will, served with a creamy potato salad and a tart Bavarian horseradish pickle. A cooling and filling meal for a hot, hot day, but not quite the big fat hunk of hot meat (ooooh errrr) I was hoping for.

 

Zum Franziskaner

Residenzstraβe 9, D-80333 München, +49 89 2318120, http://www.zum-franziskaner.de/

I would get that big fat hunk of hot meat later that night, when I was taken to Zum Franziskaner for dinner. It’s one of the restaurants owned by the Franziskaner brewery, and it is admittedly a bit of a tourist spot: we had girls in dirndl, heavy wooden panels on the floors and walls, white-washed ceilings, and various Bavarian ornaments (antlers, heraldic devices etc.) scattered about. Atmospheric and decidedly Germanic – and priced for it too. To start, I had a glass of fine Franziskaner dunkel hefeweiβbier which was much-appreciated for its smoothness and depth of malty flavour.

Dark beauties

Dark beauties

And as for food… I was in it to win it, and my Niederbayerischer Krustenbraten in würziger Dunkelbiersauce mit Bayrisch Kraut unter Kartoffelknödel (Lower Bavarian roast pork in a spicy dark beer gravy, served with Bavarian cabbage and potato dumplings) was definitely a winner of a dinner. The gravy was deep and sweet and worked well with the tender and savoury pork, which was cooked just right. I’m always a fan of dumplings, and these were particularly fine ones, with a light crunchy crust encasing a nicely stodgy and smooth interior. A hearty meal – just what I like.

Doesn't that pork just look glorious?

Doesn’t that pork just look glorious?

Café Kunsthalle

Theatinerstraβe 8, 80333 München, +49 89 20802120, http://www.hypo-kunsthalle.de/newweb/informationen/cafe-e.html

The second day of my trip started off a bit grimly: slightly hungover and definitely very tired after the previous night’s shenanigans partying it up with the InterNations crowd, it was a real struggle to get out and about and appreciate Munich, especially on what was looking to be a wet day. We eventually made it to the Residenz, the former palace of the Electors/Kings of Bavaria, but an afternoon traipsing around appreciating the residence somewhat took it out of us. We retired to the nearby Café Kunsthalle for a spot of coffee and a taste of a local dessert. If Vienna has its Sacher torte, Munich arguably has its Herrentorte, or ‘Gentleman’s cake’. It’s a finely layered creation of marzipan and dark chocolate – perhaps a bit too rich and cloyingly sweet for me, but still pleasant enough. Café Kunsthalle did a pretty decent version, though it left me struggling afterwards.

Rich and chocolatey, a torte only for gentlemen

Rich, chocolatey and marzipany, a torte only for gentlemen

Airbräu

München Airport Center, Terminalstraβe Mitte 18, 85356 München, +49 89 97593111, http://www.munich-airport.de/en/micro/airbraeu/index.jsp

But let’s save the best for last. My friend had told me that there was a biergarten at the airport, which I thought would prove very useful in providing a decent alternative to the dreaded airplane food (not that Lufthansa was that bad, mind). So, determined to have a last beer and possibly even a plate of wurst, I settled into the attractive settings of the Airbräu. Even if you aren’t there for beer, you should definitely spend some time there – it’s all outdoors but covered by the gigantic glass roof that protects the giant courtyard in front of the airport. There are fountains, plants, flowers… it’s a veritable wonderland of alcohol and meat.

Glass and steel, steel and glass

Glass and steel, steel and glass

But it’s a wonderland that should come with a food coma warning.

Not quite knowing what I was getting myself into, I asked for the ½ gegrillte Airbräu-Schweinshaxe auf Ismaninger Faskraut und Semmelknödel, which is essentially half a roast pork knuckle served with cabbage and bread dumplings. What this translates to is a MASSIVE meal. Sooo much tender, tasty meat encased inside a crunchy and well-roasted exterior; such fine and soft bread dumplings that soaked up the more-ish gravy perfectly; and the Faskraut was tart in flavour and crisp in texture.

Munich's last farewell - a real killer blow

Munich’s last farewell – a real killer blow

It was such a delightfully meaty and savoury send-off from Munich, one that I would heartily recommend. But do note that it very nearly KO’d me, almost preventing me from making my gate on time. So yes, do go there on your way out of Munich, but approach the Airbräu with caution.

So there you go: a quick culinary introduction to Munich and Bavaria. As you can see, there is a bit more to the place than just wheat beer and sausages. I could go on at length about leberkäse (a meatloaf-type of meat that goes particularly well with strong mustard and fried onions) and obazda (Camembert mixed with butter and spices, especially caraway seeds, that spreads wonderfully on bread), but I’m afraid that I might just make you all a bit too hungry. And then you’d have to go to Munich in order to buy some; I just don’t want to be responsible for the subsequent spending of moneys that you would have to undertake to satisfy these cravings.

And to think I barely scratched the surface (I’m thinking in particular of the Dallmayr delicatessen) – guess that means I’ll just have to go back to Munich soon *sigh*. Who’s with me?

Currently listening to: Therapy? – Femtex

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Oom-pah-pah on Villiers Street: Meat me at Herman ze German

Copyright of Herman ze German. Sourced from Herman ze German website

Copyright of Herman ze German. Sourced from Herman ze German website

Cuisine: German

Address: 19 Villiers Street, WC2N 6NE

Area: Charing Cross

Nearest Station: Embankment/Charing Cross

Tel.: N/A

Website: http://www.herman-ze-german.co.uk/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Casual dining, Takeaway, Filling meal, Sinful snacks

It’s been a month since I was in Munich, on a holiday between projects. Whenever I told anyone of my plans, I was asked whether I was going to gorge myself on sausages and beer, and I would reply enthusiastically in the affirmative (if I said I was going to a party to gorge on sausage and beer, that would sound horrifically dodgy – ooh err).

Now it may surprise many people, but I only had sausage twice those four days in Munich – weiβwurst for a rather sluggish and hungover breakfast on the Sunday, and a currywurst snack during a daytrip to Schloss Neuschwanstein. Rather, I came to appreciate the other regional dishes, such as roast pork knuckle, obazda, leberkäse and, rather surprisingly, white asparagus.

And, instead of plying myself silly with litre steins of Münchener weiβbier (I did have some, mind), I instead discovered a strong liking for the sweet, cool, refreshing taste of the radler and the russ’n, aka the shandy.

But that’s all for another day. Now that I am back in London, I find myself dreaming of big, fat, juicy German sausages (oooh errr), and bitterly regretting that the drei paar of weiβwurst I brought home with me lasted only three days. And so, where would I go to, in order to fix this absolutely wurst problem?

Enter Herman ze German from stage right. Anyone wandering along that crammed stretch of Villiers Street between Embankment and Charing Cross stations is bound to have seen this place, and thought to themselves, “Hmm, I hope that Herman has good sausage” (ooooh errrr). The fact that it is almost opposite one of the exits from Charing Cross has meant that I, and I’m sure countless others, have popped across the road to grab a meaty snack as we waited for our trains home.

And now, actually having been to Germany, I can come to Herman for my fix of all things German: the place screams over-the-top Germaness, specifically of the Bavarian Alpine lodge variety. However, as my Bavarian friend did point out, our perception of Germaness is… rather narrow-minded, let’s just say. But then again, there are loads of pictures of her wearing a dirndl, eating bratwurst and drinking weiβbier out of litre steins, so why should Herman disappoint us by not offering these?

Okay, there is a distinct lack of girls in dirndls and guys in lederhosen, and I don’t think they sell beer any more (*sob*), but there is wurst.

That eventful first currywurst

That eventful first currywurst

They will leave you feeling satisfied and all filled up. They are well-cooked, juicy and have great flavours. The old classic bratwurst is a favourite. But the first time I was here, I had the currywurst. They overloaded mine with spice, which made it difficult to finish off without a cooling beer. The sauce is perhaps too ketchup-y for my liking, but it has a strong and distinct tang about it. I like the fried onions that you can request to sprinkle on your sausage, and the sauerkraut is up to the job too – some crunch and texture, and not packing too much sourness.

However, I would recommend going for something a little different from the average wurst – the leberkäse. This translates, literally, as liver cheese. Before you vomit at the thought of that, hear me out. It is, roughly-speaking, a sausage meatloaf, and so has nearly (but not quite) the same taste and texture as the bratwurst on offer. Herman’s example is a pretty good one, and they have been quite generous with their portions, cutting their under-used loaf into hefty slices for your enjoyment and smothering them in punchy mustard.

As for the all-important fries that accompany this cornucopia of sausage meat – they are thin, crisp, and delightful when dipped in either curry sauce or mayonnaise.

So, the next time you find yourself at a loose end whilst waiting for your train in Charing Cross, why not pop out, cross the road, and enter a little haven of Germany?

VERDICT – A good place. Portions are hearty, prices are good, flavours are tasty; it is simple food done well. Sometimes, all you need in life is meat, bread and potatoes. ‘Nuff said.

Currently listening to: Circa Survive – Dyed in the Wool

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