November 2017

I searched, I found, I tasted

Determined to try some real German baking, I headed out early one morning to Konditorei Buchwald in Berlin. They’ve been baking since 1852 and specialise in baumkuchen (“tree cake”), a cake baked in 15-20 layers – one at a time – on a spit in the oven.

The separate layers make it a light bite, but denser than sponge, and the chocolate coated version makes this unusual cake a little bit tastier. While there, I tried a cream cake filled with Christmas flavour: cinnamon and raisins, with chocolate shavings. Finished off with some toffee rooibos tea, and set in a proper old cafe with locals filing in for a pastry fix, it was the authentic experience I was looking for, especially when sugar was the star attraction for breakfast. Bacon and eggs? Pfft.

Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, near Berlin, is the perfect name for this majestic hideaway

Built in 1747 and surrounded by terraced vineyards and a 700-acre park filled with 3,000 fruit trees, Sanssouci (“without a care” in French) was the summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, used when he wanted to just kick back somewhere quiet when not in court in Berlin. With 12 rooms deocrated from ceiling to floor in gold, mirrors, art and paintings, it’s not a bad weekend retreat, is it?

Midnight feast in Berlin

In some glorious mishmash of culinary culture, currywurst is one of the most popular takeaway dishes in Germany and consists of a skinned or skinless pork sausage (bratwurst or bockwurst) cut into slices and smothered in a spicy tomato sauce and curry powder. Not what I expected to find when looking for typical German street food but it definitely hits the spot, even if it takes a while for your brain to put the two worlds of flavour together.

An old train toilet serves the best burgers in Berlin

At just €4, I spent more on the taxi getting to Berlin’s Burgermeister than on the burger itself. But when you wrap your hands around the juicy beast they hand you through the window, you realise they’re undercharging by about 500%. The place is always packed, and you’ll always wait about 15 to 20 minutes, but half the charm is that you’re buying food from an old train toilet under the tracks of running U-Bahn trains above you. The other half is the thing that you spend the 20 minutes drooling over while you watch other people eat them. Their burgers. They’re ridiculous. Golden toasted brioche bun, juicy chargrilled patty that’s 100% meat, a slice of tomato, a leaf of lettuce and (because it’s the one everyone asks for) a slab of cheddar cheese. And they have fat chips! Shoestring fries must fall! I feel a second visit coming on.

For a teaser of what to expect from this tiny gem of a place, watch this background video on your desktop computer:

Night at the Museum Island

The German obsession with efficiency is even on display at Museum Island, where all five of Berlin’s main museums (Pergamon Museum, Bode-Museum, Neues / New Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie / Old National Gallery, and Altes / Old Museum) are housed in one place, on a separate patch of land, surrounded by water, making it easy to move between them.

Right next to the museums is the Berlin Cathedral, a spectacular baroque building commissioned in 1747, adorned inside and out with gold and religious history that must make it a very special place for those who use it as a spiritual sanctuary.

This is the heritage, culture and architecture that puts Europe at the top of my favourite places list. It’s hard to truly take in the scale and intricacy of the buildings, statues and reverence for the monuments that still celebrate the soul of the past.

Surviving sushi with the Yakuza

Somewhere along a nondescript part of Kantstraße in Charlottenburg, there’s a seriously dodgy-looking place, covered in graffiti, that you’d otherwise want to cross the road to avoid. I’m glad we didn’t though, because it’s home to 893 Ryotei, one of the best sushi restaurants Germany has to offer. 893 is a losing hand in the Japanese card game oichokabu, a combination that when pronounced in Japanese sounds like yattsu-ku-san, which is where the Yakuza got its name from.

So I’m inside a mafia-connected street bar in the middle of a European city and I’m thinking ordering room service may have been a better idea. Thank god I didn’t. This isn’t the sushi doled out to us at fast food joints. No California rolls here, just beautiful, scrumptious pieces of seafood and red meat finger art that goes down smooth … and fast. Just don’t order the veal heart skewers, please. That’s not right.

A bit of a surreal stroll around Tiergarten

Tiergarten is a huge inner-city park in Berlin, named after the ‘tier’ (dier / animals) placed here for hunting in the 16th century by the electors of the Holy Roman Empire. As you do.

Today, it’s known as the green lung of the city and includes the Berlin Zoo in one of its corners, with over 19,000 animals that help contribute to global breeding programmes.

I took a stroll on a rainy day so it was pretty deserted, which made some of the hunting statues even creepier, and the pop-up shrine to Michael Jackson (wet teddy bear and all) a little too uncomfortable.

As you emerge from the park at the one end, the Berlin Victory Column shines in the sky in bright gold, celebrating the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War. I just wonder how they polish the statue of Victoria at the top!

The Monkey Bar

A bar in the sky in the middle of Berlin, right next to the Berlin zoo, filled with branches, leaves and brilliant food.

Das Stue!

What looks like a monument from the outside is actually one of Berlin’s best-loved boutique hotels, Das Stue. Right on the edge of a park, it’s comfy, convenient, a little luxurious and something quite unique in the middle of a bustling city. I won’t mention the Apple screen and keyboard intergrated into the TV and music system, the monogrammed slippers and gown, or the digital controls across the entire room. And the foyer. You could stand there for ages just taking it in. Old and new, no one else does them both quite like Europe.