June 3, 2012
Berlin, Day 1: Dessert for Lunch, Sandwich for Snack, Schnitzel for Dinner
I chewed. And I tasted almost nothing.
Before you take any of my food recommendations seriously, let me tell you this: you probably shouldn't. When Mother Nature does that "unleashing of the pollen" business, my nasal cavity tends to respond with that "swelling and mucus-dripping" business, in turn rendering my sense of smell about as useful as that wee bit of dental floss you get when you reach the end of the spool, turning thoughts of, "Sweet, sweet interdental cleanliness is mine," to, "Noooooooooooooooo."
...Oh yeah, I recently used up a spool of floss. But I actually had a spare on hand. I really dodged a bullet there. [dramatically wipes sweat off brow]
Anyway. If you can't smell much, you can't taste much either. And thus my ability to taste stuff during the whole trip was at maybe 15 percent capacity. (I had allergies for about a month leading up to the trip as well. Makes me wonder what the last year of allergy shots has done to me, besides cost hundreds of dollaaaaaasrrrghhhohgod.) Losing most of my sense of smell gave me a much, much greater appreciation for it, especially when the flavor of something I had already swallowed only registered after I blew my nose. It was like being visited/haunted by the ghost of whatever I just ate. A ghost made of smell.
So this thing I was chewing. I bought it randomly at Kaiser's, where my first German purchase consisted of a 10-pack of tissues featuring "verwöhnbalsam," which Google translates to "pampering balm," aka stuff that gives your ragged, red nose a touch of coolness (I daresay...pampers it); a can of guava juice (you know, good ol' traditional German guava juice); a pack of Skittles (bought purely for the neat little box it came in), and this thing I was chewing, "Käsecremewaffelm Roquefortart." I didn't take a close look at the label; I just thought, "Hey, this sweet cream-filled cookie ball thing is probably a nice snack. I definitely don't need to take a closer look at the label of a snack I've never seen before. I'll just buy it without thinking. Wind, feel my caution!" If I had read the label, I would've see the words "roquefort," which isn't German at all, but French for something like "cheese funk sledgehammer." (I didn't know that "käse" means cheese, but I do now.)
I chewed some more. Even though I couldn't taste much, I could tell it wasn't sweet. I could taste the crunchy wafer shell and the thick, creamy filling. Also, that something wasn't right. And so I blew my nose. And the food ghost attacked.
"Ohhahhu...god...this tastes like...funk." It didn't taste bad; it was just...really far off from what I was expecting.
I don't know if Diana laughed at my reading comprehension fail, but I would've if I were her.
So that was the first thing I ate on German soil. Washed down with guava juice. Time: around 10 a.m.
Diana and I had landed at Tegel airport at about 7:30 a.m. It was the quickest, shortest disembarkation I've ever had from an international flight. The customs booth was about a baby's throw from the gate ("stone" may be the more common unit of throwing, but stones come in all sizes; I'm thinking of your typical lump of newborn flesh), with the baggage claim a few steps beyond that, and the airport's exit not much further. It's a surprisingly small airport for such a major city—and thus it's not surprising that Tegel and Schönefeld airports are closing next March to be replaced by the new Brandenburg Airport. (Back in April, Brandenburg was scheduled to open this June, but it's since been postponed to next March, in case you recently tried to book a ticket to Berlin and had no idea what this new airport was.) There are no trains from the airport; you take a bus to a station, or in our case, straight to the neighborhood Diana was staying in. (The modern splendor of Brandenburg is going to have a whole buttload of train connections. Easy airport-train connections fill my heart with glee.)
Since Kåre wasn't scheduled to arrive until 11:20, Diana and I roamed around aimlessly after dropping our stuff off at her hotel, Hotel-Pension Bregenz. A few sights along the way:
- The third sex shop I saw that morning. Quite un-sexy.
- ick koof bei lehmann! I think it's an alcohol wholesale company.
- Oops, we've stumbled upon the Kurfürstendamm, which is probably more fun to shop on if you're Scrooge McDuck-rich.
- At few things at Kaiser's.
At Diana's hotel, I dumped out the morning's accumulation of Euro coins to remind myself what the denominations were. Whenever I travel outside the US, I have to relearn how to use...money. It's like being a kid again—but in the stupid way, not the charming childlike wonder way. Euros are easy, of course; unlike American coins, they actually have numerals on 'em. (Numbers on coins! What a concept. Admittedly I'm leaving out the Presidential $1 coin because we Americans just aren't that into using dollar coins. With bills in wide circulation, there isn't much reason to. The only time I ever get dollar coins is as change out of train ticket machines.) I just have to remember that €2, 20¢, 50¢, and 2¢ coins exist. 2¢ coin? Yeah, that's useful.
We met up with Kåre at Hotel Berlin, our home for the next week. It's a monster of a hotel—the opposite of a charming Airbnb apartment—but Kåre found a 40%-off deal through hotels.com and $581.82 for seven nights sounded just fine to us. A nice bed and bathroom + free wifi = HAPPY ROBYN.
After parting ways with Diana, and taking a much needed nap, Kåre and I headed to Werkstatt der Süße to meet up with Annette, a TGWAE reader who was generous enough to reach out to me before my trip and offer to show us around for the day.
I added Werkstatt der Süße on my "to visit" list after one of my many "comb the Internet for stuff to do in Berlin" sessions. Thanks, Foodie in Berlin, for pointing me in Werkstatt der Süße's direction. This patisserie makes rather delicate, fancy-pants-looking desserts at very reasonable prices, in a casual-but-sophisticated setting. Definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.
I labeled this photo "pear pistachio tart thing" (€3.60, about $4.50) because that's all I could remember about it. Sigh. Amazingly, I haven't learned by now that taking notes is, like, super important if you ever plan on writing about a vacation. (The only reason I know the prices is because I kept the receipt.) Unfortunately, this wasn't the best dessert to choose while in stuffy nose mode. Unlike the following chocolate desserts, I couldn't taste much of the tart, although I liked what I could taste, which was...crust and nutty filling. It may not be obvious from this photo, but it was a hefty tart.
On the opposite end of the heftiness spectrum was Kare's Manjari chocolate mousse cake (€3, about $3.80)—or not cake as much as triangular wedge. A very light, creamy wedge. A wedge I could sort of taste! Yay.
I could also sort of taste Annette's multi-layered chocolate raspberry cake (€3), which may have also had some nut action and a layer of crispy-something going on, aside from the raspberry jelly.
After the sugaring, the roaming began. A few sights:
...This building! (What Google Translate is telling me: kapitalismus = capitalism; normiert = normalized; zerstörte = destroyed; tötet = kills.)
A peek into a cute art supply store.
A small grocery store where Annette suggested I get a pack of Ahoj-Brause, a old timey German powered drink mix that tastes like barely fizzy candy water flavored mostly with sugar and vaguely of orange, lemon, raspberry, or sweet woodruff (not that I can vouch for the flavor of woodruff since I didn't even know what that was until now). She didn't suggest it for its flavor, more for its ubiquitousness. After trying it, I can tell ya there's a reason eight sachets costs €1 or less. I'm guessing I'm at least 21 years older than the target audience, but I'm glad I tried it for the hell of it. My mom would never let me drink stuff like this as a kid. LOOK AT ME NOW, MOM. FEEBLY GRASPING AT WHATEVER STRANDS OF YOUTH I CAN.
At Annette's suggestion, we popped into French-style Cafe Fleury for a savory bite.
Annette and I split a turkey, cucumber, tomato, and mustard sandwich (€3.50), while Kåre ordered the same thing and split it between his present mouth and his mouth 10 minutes in the future. It may not look like much, but for a snacky, inexpensive sandwich, I was happy with it. Admittedly, I'm pretty happy with any sandwich as long as the bread is good; put anything (or nothing) between the halves of an adequately crusty, chewy baguette and I'm good to go. I liked the bread, along with the cafe's cuteness.
If you don't come across a China Box while you're in Berlin. you'll surely come across another Chinese/Asian food take-out advertising budget chow mein-in-a-box. There are loads of 'em.
Annette led us to Mitte's Haus Schwarzenberg (for info in English, read this article at Spotted by Locals), a backyard/courtyard home to cafes, bars (Eschschloraque), shops (Neurotitan), a movie theater (Kino Central), museums/exhibitions (Anne Frank Zentrum, Museums Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt), awesome street art and murals, and more, behind decrepit walls covered with graffiti, flyers, and stickers. We only took a quick peek around; if I had known more about it beforehand I would've loved to have given it more time.
- Haus Schwarzenberg walk-through, by Berlin Street View.
- The Bloch in motion, from antipattern on YouTube.
You can't miss The Bloch, a moving sculpture of some sort of bloated metal bat-owl-monster-I-don't-know by Hannes Heiner, part of the Dead Chickens artist group.
Look at the ground outside the entrance of Haus Schwarzenberg and you'll see these brass plaques, made by artist Gunter Demnig to commemorate "those deported and killed by the National Socialist regime." Each plaque features the information of the victim outside where they last lived. He named these plaques stolpersteine (German for "stumbling block", "obstacle", or "something in the way") and he's mounted over 30,000 thousand of them in hundreds of European cities formerly under Nazi control.
For dinner we headed back to Prenzlauer Berg to eat at Weinstein, a cozy wine bar and restaurant that focuses on German cuisine made with local ingredients. Head to Slow Travel Berlin for a lovely review of Weinstein that I can't improve upon. Here, I'll just foist photos upon you with insubstantial notes.
I ordered two appetizers for my meal, starting with this...this...uh, ok, I didn't write down the German description. Behold, the only notes I wrote about this in my notebook: "aspic? SOUP JELLO. w/pork, carrot bits." (My notes continued to be woefully incomplete for the rest of the trip.) I'll put that into a more composed description for you: a mini round of aspic suspended with chopped bits of pork, carrot, and onion. The out-of-focus mass of greenery in the background was a salad dressed in an intensely sharp horseradish-y dressing and topped with sunflower seeds. Since the number of times I can remember eating aspic hovers around zero, I can't tell you how this compares to others, but it was pretty refreshing for cool, savory Jell-O, with its clean flavors and lack of heat. And the salad punched my nasal passages open, which was nice, aside from my watering eyes.
Appetizer number two: "Kleines Schnitzel vom Saalower Kräuterschwein auf Steirischem Kartoffelsalat" (€7.50, about $9.30). Or a small schnitzel made of Saalower Kräuterschwein, with Styrian potato salad. Saalower Kräuterschwein is a type of pig from Saalow, a district (I'm not sure if that's the right word; it's a...something) in Brandenburg within an hour's drive south of Berlin. Wikipedia tells me the pork is only sold to nearby regions and the pigs feed on many kinds of grasses and herbs, hence the name "kräuter," which means herbs or herbal. ...Shorter description: It's a kind of local pork partially raised on herbs.
As for what a Styrian potato salad entails, according to food blog multicul(t)inarium that means the salad is made with pumpkin seed oil.
I honestly don't recall if the pork tasted any differently from a run-of-the-mill non-herbed pig, nor if the light potato-cucumber salad carried the flavor of pumpkin seed oil, but it was the most refined schnitzel presentation I'd ever seen, and it tasted great because crisp fried, breaded pork + potato salad tends to fall in the "tastes great" category. (It was also my gateway to potato and cucumber salad, which I tried to recreate at home but failed terribly at.) Even though I'd happily eat a portion three times the size, I appreciated the small plate option; I'd find out over the rest of the week that portions tend to run in the "gigantic" range (or maybe it was just the restaurants I chose).
Kåre ordered a reasonably priced prix fixe meal that included a glass of wine and a dessert (not that I can tell you the price since I didn't write it down, uuugghhfff yeah). Methinks this little sundae was made of caramel ice cream topped with chocolate sauce and candied nuts.
Weinstein is a great dinner option in the area, more so if you're into wine, since that's their focus. It wasn't crowded when we arrived there around 8 p.m. on a Thursday night...maybe because they open at 7 (on Sundays they open at 6). Or because that's how Thursdays are. Thanks to fellow Serious Eater Caroline for recommending it to me!
And many thanks to Annette for hanging out with us for so long, up through dinner! Visiting a new city is immeasurably more pleasant and rewarding when a friendly local shows you the way. I hope I can do the same for new visitors to New York.
Lastly, for no reason besides I think it looks neat, here's an ATM. The machine itself isn't anything special, but I quite like the floating EC logo-ed box hanging next to it.
Weinbergsweg 20, 10119 Berlin, Germany (map)
Posted by roboppy at 8:21 PM
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