Berlin confuses me. I have been here for a year and three months and I still feel as clueless as the day I got here. It it so hard to write about living here, when I don’t completely understand living here. It’s not that I think I’m all that special, all the expats and foreigners I’ve spoken to over this past year said the same things. It’s the essence of the city – German Bohemianism, an oxymoron if there ever was one.
Without getting into political arguments, and looking at it purely through an economical point of view, Germany needs its foreigners, it needs more people to grow its work force, its population is becoming older, and there are not enough young people around. But it doesn’t want to need them, and if they are here and there is nothing to be done about it, it wants them to become as German as possible (without ever failing to remind them that they are, in fact, not German enough). I guess there is nothing wrong with it, there is nothing wrong with them wanting people who live here long term (and by that I mean more than six months, which is the grace period you get) to speak fluent German, to understand the German Way of doing things and all that. It’s just that you can’t really portray yourself as an International City (and who didn’t hear the saying that you don’t really need German in Berlin? We sure did), and then expect it all to be done in the German Way (and in German). I know, it all sounds so dramatic, but it’s the truth – a city that so heavily relies on its expats has to learn how to live with them. Right now Berlin is in the middle of this change, so it leads to some very frustrating moments sometimes (like getting yelled at by the postman because I signed on the wrong line. An extremely serious crime apparently in Germany), some funny moments (but mostly less funny ha-ha), and some moments of bewilderments (on both sides).
Then again, walking the streets of Berlin, you can’t really not appreciate it, this city who went through so much and is determined to never forget. When we first moved here it was one of the things I immediately loved about Berlin, what felt to me like a pledge to remember where evil, fear and hate can lead, and a promise to never get there again. Every day last year I would take the tram to Yon’s kita and pass the remnants of the wall and the security towers and the buildings that has gigantic photos plastered on them of the city in the years after the war. And every day it filled me with owe, this amazing monument to death and despair and at the same time to life and beauty. Living here always feels like being inside a history book. The kind that talks about the past and makes sure we don’t stop appreciating the present.
And we do appreciate it. I think because of its history and this resolve (as well as because it is so darn cheap) people in Berlin are on a mission to enjoy life. Whatever that phrase means for you, you’ll be able to do it here. For us, it meant the opportunity to not have to think about every penny we spend, to travel as much as we could fit in the calendar, to eat out a lot, to wander around the city, to have the quiet we (ok I) craved when we left London.
Berlin is not an easy place to live in when you are an expat, it is not particularly welcoming or warm or friendly. But it is an excellent place to have a holiday, it is beautiful to walk around in, it has amazing food and great boutiques and shops and all the art & culture things you ever wanted. So we decided that while we can’t change Berlin and German people, we have no wish to change ourselves and assimilate better, therefore the only option we have is to just look at it differently. I know, I know, it’s so new agey of me, but that’s exactly what we did – took a deep breath and reminded ourselves it’s just a stop along the way, and if it is just a stop, why not look at it like that? Why not look at it like being on a long holiday in an amazing destination? Why not enjoy everything this city has to offer and live as if we are leaving soon?
It’s not that Berlin doesn’t drives me crazy anymore, and it definitely isn’t like I am zen now, or that I can actually do nothing but tour the city (though I did get approached by a “cool-hunter”. Yes it’s a thing apparently). But it’s always easier to have a mantra for when things get too much German, and also cake.
So in the spirit of long holidays and cakes, I am launching a “What did Orli do in Berlin” project. Well, unsurprisingly Orli photographed and ate lots of cakes.
These are the best places I’ve eaten in. All these places are in the Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg areas (because that is where the holly triangle of school-work-home is), all of them has friendly English speaking staff, and are good for vegetarians (me), normal people (Hidai) and kids (the kids).
Starbucks, there are a few in Berlin and the prices are relatively high, but there is still something about sitting in a Starbucks… And the food is really good (food meaning cakes and muffins obviously. I don’t touch the other things). We tried quite a few of them and the one I like the most is the one in Hackescher Markt (Hackesche Höfe, Rosenthaler Straße 40-41, 10178), because of its upstairs sitting area.
Ritter sport cafe (Franz. Str. 24, 10117), is inside the store and has… Unsurprisingly, things to do with chocolate. Good things. Excellent things. Really really tasty things. The only annoying part is that it is tiny and sometimes getting a table can be a bit of a problem. Also on the expensive side of things.
Café Butter (Pappelallee 73, 10437), was one of those places you walk next to every day and for some reason never go inside. Until you do, and then you ask yourself why the hell did you not do that sooner. It is not a German café, it has an international feel to it, and if you are after a good cup of coffee (the hot chocolate espresso is also amazing) or a full breakfast on weekdays or a breakfast buffet on the weekend – this is the place. On weekends it fills up really quickly and people usually wait around for a table (they don’t do reservations), but it’s worth the wait (or the early arrival).
Zeit für Brot (Alte Schönhauser Str. 4, 10119), unless you know about it most likely you will miss it completely. But you shouldn’t. It was explained to us that it is a Bavarian style bakery (I have no idea if it’s true, but it was said with much confidence), and also belongs to the parents of one of the kids from Yon’s class. Regardless, it is a cool place to sit (if you find a table, they fill up quite rapidly and people are in no hurry to get up) at with its open window to the kitchen, the coffee is good, and the cakes… Well, the cakes are heavenly. Especially the chocolate-Schnecke, or the cinnamon one, or the Schokobrötchen, or the carrot cake, or… You get the point.
Cafe Oliv (Münzstraße 8, 10178) is considered one of Berlin’s hot-spots, and is really very trendy and urban and all that. But anyway, if you are near Alexanderplatz, go for the apple-strudel. It’s in a mug. (Also, the coffee is good, and so is the Schokobrötchen).
Cafe Bakerman’s (Knaackstraße 99, 10435). We actually ate lunch there because… Well because we were near it and hungry, so we said what the worst that can happen and went in. It turned out to be a great little spot for a light lunch (the quiche was one of the best I had in a long while), and everything comes with a swiss flag on top.
Zia Maria (Pappelallee 32A), this is our pizza of choice. It is also one of Berlin best pizza places, and the trendiest pizza I’ve ever eaten. Oh and because of all of this, it comes in rectangles. It has crazy toppings, a thin crust and a very good tomato sauce. It is all fresh (made on the spot, so it takes time), it’s only take-away (or eat in), and they only take cash. Also, they are not really careful about mixing the vegetarian options with the meat ones, so you have to ask and remind and beg. The staff are all extremely young and hip, as will be everyone eating there. Except for us.
Pape Nero Trattoria Pizzeria (Bötzowstraße 30, 10407), will give you the more traditional options, in a traditional Italian feel. We only tried the pizza, which was excellent (also take-away) but there is also a restaurant part to it, which I have every intention of trying 🙂
Pizza Pasta Tralala in Gesundbrunnen-Center (Badstraße 4, 13357) It’s my hidden gem. Mostly because tourists don’t get to the Gesund. But if you go through there, you should really consider stopping and having a bite at Pizza Pasta Tralala, which is an excellent Italian restaurant (my kids’ favourite food in the whole world), with really fresh and tasty food, huge portions, and a ridiculously cheap price tag (which you can only pay in cash).
Pizza-Scheune (Rosa-Luxembourg-Straße 49, 10178) it’s a tiny place and we ventured into it by mistake, but it was really worth it. Excellent vegetarian options, really cute atmosphere, and a totally reasonable price.
Andy’s Diner & Bar (we ate at Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 5, 10178, but they have 2 more branches in Berlin) is an American Diner, like it’s supposed to be (at least in the movies). It’s not cheap, and it’s mostly intended for tourists and people that just left the aquarium, but you get a lot for your money, and the food was excellent. One of the best vegetarian burgers I have ever tasted.
Kreuzburger (Pappelallee 19, 10437) Go for the burger, stay for the chips. It’s such a tiny place (sit upstairs) and you don’t think it will amount to much, but no, it has an enormous selection of burgers (including a million veggie-burgers) and about five types of chips. All of them really tasty. So go, go now.
Alex restaurant (Sony Centre, Potsdamer Straße 4, 10785) is our favourite restaurant in the Sony Centre complex. It can get busy and full, so a reservation is always a good idea, but not necessary. We ate there a few times, and everything we tried was really good (kids, vegetarian and regular people food). Service may be a tad slow, and the prices are quite expensive (as is everything in that area), but the food is worth it.
McDonalds everywhere – does not take credit cards.
Konnopke’s Imbiss (Schönhauser Allee 44 b, 10435), has a funny name and is situated under a bridge, but is also one of Berlin top food places and is a must. There is a big selection of currywursts but we always go for the traditional one (and the veggie one) which is why you should go there. So go.
Kanaan Restaurant (kopenhagener straße 16, 10437) for good Israeli food and excellent hummus. It has really good food, a nice atmosphere and reasonable prices.
Bakeries (Bäckerei) will be the best and cheapest option, and honestly my favourite thing about Berlin.
Back Factory (lots of branches) are my bakery of choice. Every time. I am still to taste anything I don’t like there, and we eat there a lot. The coffee is sh#£@!t but the food… Oh the food… They are the sole responsible for my gaining 2 kilos the first couple of months after we moved here.
Back Werk, for the sandwiches. The pastries are less good (unless you are in the Hauptbahnhof, there they have a big branch and everything is great. Except the coffee), but the sandwiches are the best. When we are in Alexanderplatz we usually go there to buy the sandwiches and then cross the road to Starbucks for the coffee and cakes.
Kamps, for the cheesecake, the doughnuts and the sandwiches. But mostly for the cheesecake.
Steineckes, for the bread, the pretzels, and the laugenecke (trust me). Also, they have cake in a cup. Which is surprisingly good.
Dunkin’ Donuts, because you can’t complete a favourite food segment without doughnuts. Berlin has doughnuts everywhere, but you really can’t beat a good Boston Creme (just don’t try the coffee, or the branch next to Decathlon. Both equally horrible).
Try a Baum kuchen, because even the store-bought ones are irresistible. For my kids it’s the perfect combination between a pancake and a doughnut, covered with chocolate.
Hokey Pokey ice cream (Stargarder Str. 73, 10437), is considered one of Berlin best ice-creams and in a city addicted to ice-cream it’s not an achievement to take lightly. There’s usually a queue, but it moves quite quickly, and you need it anyway to decide which flavour to try. It is not easy. Last summer we almost moved in there, and I’m sure as soon as temperatures go above freezing point we’ll be right back.
Berlin is full of excellent places to eat, and this is just a tiny sample of them, but it’s all places we ate at more than once and loved. I’m sure my list will grow though, because I already have a few new names to try out…