I was in Berlin for a few days last week. While I usually like to write about the food I ate while I was away, my affair with food abroad this time was a little bit… different. I was travelling alone and this meant that I didn’t have to worry about feeding anyone but myself; a completely foreign experience. Each time I opened the fridge of my little Air BnB flat, I smiled at the lonely carton of milk. There were no half-drunk bottles of orange juice to keep it company, no cling-wrapped blocks of cheese, half cucumbers and avocados waiting for tomorrow’s salad, no yoghurt or any of the usual things that I might find in my fridge.
Don’t get me wrong – food was always on the agenda, but it was the way I ate, that made this trip so different. I strolled around Lidl on my first day, knowing that I’d be eating out mostly and so I had to decide what I might need in the case of a snack in my down time. I still chuckle when I think about what I came home with, wine (duh), coffee (duh), crisps (duh), milk and some bread and butter.
What was I doing solo in Berlin? Glad you asked. I was attending the launch of a book I’ve co-authored with Tobias Fischer, my cohort over at 15Questions.net. In case you didn’t know, I also like to write about music, and I’ve been editing the 15Q site for almost 4 years now. Tobias and I wrote Animal Music: sound and song in the natural world as the first in what will hopefully be a series of books about music. To read more about it, visit the 15Q site. If you think you might like to buy a copy, head over to Strange Attractor Press – one of my favourite websites in the world where you can find all kinds of weird and wonderfully interesting books. It is no small thrill for me to see Animal Music for sale at the SAP shop.
The food in Berlin is pretty good, in fact I’d go so far as to say it’s excellent. There’s a variety reflective of the colourful immigration history of the city that reminded me a lot of Sydney. I stayed in a place called Prenzlaur Berg. Once part of the eastern side of the wall, it is an area full of lots of young families living in a very urban setting. My flat seemed to be in a no-man’s land between an area with lots of Arab immigration and an area with lots of hipster infiltration. I could walk one way and get a kebab and the other way to get Asian fusion and organic socks. I did try the Asian food, Tobias took me to a nice restaurant along the Gleimstrasse (the street I stayed on) and I had a strange noodle dish that was kind of like pad thai.
The next day I walked to the Neues Museum and found myself a very nice coffee and bagel with cream cheese for breakfast – probably the best one I’ve had since moving away from Sydney. And it was so cheap, the equivalent of 3 British pounds. I know for a fact I’d have to pay at least double for the same thing here in Britain. The meal at the launch, which was held at an Estonian Cafe and Creative Space Jaa-Aar was fantastic, a tasty pie with homemade pastry crust; probably the most nutritious thing I ate the entire trip.
My finest food memories from Berlin however, came in the form of sausages. The German wurst tradition doesn’t seem to play a big part in Berlin, it’s competing with their world-famous kebabs, their fresh and authentic Asian cuisine, the coffee, the cakes and all the other distractions that a cosmopolitan city like Berlin has to offer. And so it was that in my efforts to experience an authentic German eating experience, where ever I found a sausage, I ate one.
It started at the shopping centre near my flat, hunched awkwardly over a massive bratwurst in the fluorescent ambience of a food court delicatessen, and then continued with a curry-wurst snack by the Tiergarten with guests from a wedding party and some American tourists. Curry-wurst is a popular way of eating bratwurst in Germany, where they serve chunks of hot bratwurst covered with curried ketchup with a bread roll. My bratwurst binge ended with a trip to Lidl, late on my last night. I bought a packet of vacuum-sealed sausages, a bottle of ketchup, some cheese and a ready-made salad. At least I didn’t eat all four sausages. I kept the evening elegantly understated by slicing up some of my bread that would have otherwise gone to waste, and cheese. Paired with a glass of the cheapest red wine I could fine, and a grainy, German-dubbed version of The Day After Tomorrow on the telly – I couldn’t have been any further from the reality of my life back in Cookham.
And it was good.