Eating one's way across Berlin can take some effort. Unlike several other European capitals Berlin is not centred around a compact historical core and although many people had used various words to describe its famously diverse sprawl, I only realised what they meant when I actually tried working my way down my list of must-eats. Berlin is pretty big!
5 days might not have been enough time to truly appreciate everything this glamorously gritty city has to offer, but it did give me a fairly good taste of Berlin's eclectic culinary scene. Starting of course with...
The International Berlin Beer Festival
The World's Longest Beer Garden as it is sometimes known, the International Berlin Beer Festival is an annual beer fest that is strung along 2.2 kilometres in the heart of Berlin, along Karl Marx Allee. Having dropped off our bags there seemed no better place to toast Berlin than this congregation of more than 340 breweries from 87 countries, presenting 2,400 beer specialties all at one giant party. From German pilsner, to European microbreweries, Asian favourites and Caribbean fruit beers, all you need to do is grab a glass and get tasting. Entry to the festival is free with most stands selling both taster and regular sized glasses to enable you to get a good feel for everything on offer. There was also plenty of the usual hearty German fare from spit roasted pork with crispy crackling, doner kebabs, curry wurst and Bratwurst with Brötchen to soak up the damage and live bands every couple of blocks accompanied by traditional line dancing competitions to keep everyone in good spirits. Definitely a good introduction to Berlin! The festival takes place over a weekend in summer and we were lucky to turn up in the city on the very last afternoon of the three-day fest.
A hallmark of the city's culinary scene is its plethora of pop-ups and secret supper clubs, underground restaurants and concept dining evenings. A combination of last minute planning and the summer lull meant that I wasn't able to book myself into any of the supper clubs taking place the week I was in town (on the wish list were a High Summer Dinner featuring an evening of inventive raw vegan specialties and biodynamic wine with Chef Boris of b.alive! and dinner with Deborah Tomassini-Buechner of Festin Supper Club fame) but I did manage to book myself in for a meal at one of the city's hip "hidden" restaurants Cookies Cream, tucked into a service alley behind The Westin Grand hotel with only a giant chandelier to point the way. The vegetarian wonders turned out by this little gem included seaweed caviar with ricotta cheese, celeraic baked in salt dough served with sesame, spinach and onion and a utterly divine dessert of raspberry and vanilla sorbet served with a crunchy almond, cashew and malt crumble. Definitely worth the wander into a deserted backstreet of Berlin!
Street Food Revolution
Obviously not exclusive to Berlin, street food is definitely a firm fixture on the city's current culinary scene and we dived straight into one of Berlin's most popular street food markets on our last evening in the city. In two years Markthalle Neun has grown from a collection of 30 odd stalls to one of the city's most popular weekly food events with its Street Food Thursdays now attracting an average of 120 vendors to this historic market venue every week. We managed to plough through German wine, Tinto de Verano from Spain, Japanese takoyaki and "naanwiches" - Indian flatbread stuffed with pork (no one said this was traditional ethnic cuisine) in the span of an hour and there were plenty of other global bites we didn't have tummies big enough to try. Other popular street food events include Bite Club Berlin - a street food party on the banks of the river Spree, and the Bar & Food Night at Neue Heimat at Friedrichshain.
Add to this the city's lively bar scene (stay tuned for more!) and you definitely won't struggle to stay happily fed and watered in Berlin :)
Berlin Digs: 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin
There seemed no better place to admire the urban jungle than from one of Berlin's hip new hotels 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin which opened for "monkey business" (as it puts it) last year bang opposite the Berlin Zoo - you can wake up to the sight of a herd of deer and the gorgeous green canopy of the city's sprawling Tiergarten from your floor-to-ceiling windows..
With its superbly convenient location in City West, easy access to the city's U-Bahn, S-Bahn and bus routes (as well as free use of bicycles and even a Mini), the 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin is definitely a great choice from which to launch your culinary jaunts in the German capital.
The hotel has both "Urban Rooms" (city-views) and "Jungle Rooms" (Zoo + TierGarten views) , done in a hip and incredibly functional style, along with plenty of cool communal areas like hammock-strung "hangout lounges" at reception, curtained 70s-inspired workstations for those who need to catch up on email and even a House Bakery for those who need a quick grab-and-go breakfast.
Quirky touches include original black & white illustrations by Japanese artist Yoshi Sislay squiggled all across the hotel - everywhere from rooms to stairwells, and bathtubs that come with the ability to plug in your iPod so you can listen to your own personal tunes underwater which I thought was particularly cool.
Best of all the hotel's in-house restaurant Neni - a breezy conservatory-style rooftop gem did the best shakshouka and crispy flatbreads (and a sinfully delicious rice pudding) I have had for breakfast in months and its sister roof-top Monkey Bar had a truly lively vibe, with palm-fringed balcony seating and colourful cushioned stepped perches indoors on which to enjoy a host of classic and signature cocktails. I opted for the King Kong - one of the bar's special "Monkey Classics" made from Home-made Guatamalan vanilla rum, sugar syrup, chocolate spirits and cherry bitters. Definitely a sweet way to end an evening in Berlin.
Disclaimer: 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin hosted one out of our two-night stay but the delightfully eccentric yet superbly functional Design Hotel has been a firm favourite ever since I first came across the brand in Vienna a couple of years ago and every bit of praise is truly well-deserved. 25hours Hotels' ability to capture the essence of their physical locations in a surprising and utterly creative way continues to blow me away. Take a ride up the Berlin Zoo-inspired lift at the Bikini Berlin property to see what I mean ;)
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