36 hours in Berlin
36 hours. That’s the time we have. We are going to pack food and adventure into 36 hours in this new series. Why 36 hours? You might know that my life has had some impactful changes in the past few years. Two children, a move to the Black Forest, a new job, and an impending move to Switzerland - life became hectic, and I did not have much time for the “foodies” part of the blog. That is about to change. Not that I have more time, but I am shifting priorities. I am going back to writing about two of my great passions: delicious food in interesting locations. The caveat? I only have 36 hours. My new job is demanding, and I am working crazy hours, except Sunday and Monday - both days I have off, so any foodie trip can start on early Sunday morning, and must end late Monday evening. 36 hours. That’s all we have.
For our first trip in this series, Sven and I decided to go right back to my old stomping grounds - Berlin. As you might know, I spent a few years in Prenzlauer Berg. I lived and worked in this bustling part of this unforgiving city, and I loved every minute of it, so it was logical to start here.
The trip started with a 3:30 a.m. wake up call, and a very early drive to Zurich airport. We had discussed only a few spots in advance - not even really planned. One thing we both agreed on was that breakfast should be oysters. The classic spot would be KaDeWe. Neither of us thought to check opening hours until we were standing in front of Tegel airport - sure enough, KaDeWe is closed on Sundays. Where to? It was still early, barely 9:00 a.m. We decided to drop our bags at the hotel and see where this city wanted us.
We had booked at Gorki Apartments right in Mitte, and what a great decision that was. We were greeted in the reception and instantly felt at home. The apartment had everything we needed - and then some. The highlight was the gorgeous clawfoot bathtub and the high ceilings that reminded me so much of my old apartment a few blocks over.
As beautiful as the apartment was, we were restless. From the hotel we took only a few steps until I remembered how much I had missed this city. I realized I had not been a Berliner in a while, and I had forgotten that Sunday is hangover and party day - there simply aren't many places open for breakfast. I pulled out my phone and checked my own network - yes, one of my all time favorites would open at 10! By now, we were quite hungry, as the only breakfast so far had been coffee and a bit of tempura at home from the previous night. So we hastened our step in anticipation of what I knew would be a spectacular breakfast - we went to Tinman.
When we walked up, we saw the whole gang outside, and we were greeted like old friends that hadn't been gone for long. We chatted, and were ushered inside. The place is still bright and welcoming as always, the service I have come to love over the years was warm and personal. In no time, we were looking at Eggs Benny two different ways - one gluten free with bacon, the other with all the gluten and a habanero sausage. I was beyond happy that Tinman has not lost any of its charm - nor the food any of its quality. The team still makes some of the best poached eggs I have ever eaten. The bacon was sliced thickly and cooked to perfection, and the habanero sausage was a dream. Absolutely perfect as our first meal in these 36 hours. We left Tinman with a smile on our faces, a full belly, and a recommendation for the next day’s lunch. This was shaping up nicely. Little did we know that, just like our breakfast, plans are not our forté on this trip.
We started to feel the 3:30 a.m. wake-up, and decided to head back to Gorki for a quick nap. The quick nap, which lasted almost two hours, set us up for a spontaneous lunch. We hadn’t really planned anything, other than trying to make our way to Neukölln. The hotel informed us that they rent out electric scooters, so naturally, we had to take them up on it. I had ridden a Vespa in Vietnam, so how different can this be? Turns out, not much, except for a screaming man-baby sitting behind me, holding on for dear life. We took the scooter out of the hotel, and rode it up the road to get a feel for it. We didn’t make it far, because we spotted Yumcha Heroes a short distance ahead. Spontaneous dumplings! We parked the scooter, to the relief of the aforementioned screaming man-baby, and sat down. If you have ever been to Asia, you will be familiar with the wafting smell of steamer baskets filled with small delights. It is a distinct fragrance, usually unique to the back alleys of Taipei, Hong Kong, or Shanghai. Here, in this small street in Berlin Mitte, you are greeted with the same olfactory sensation, and if you close your eyes, you can briefly feel yourself transported a few thousand miles east.
Since I had been at Yumcha before, I knew pretty much what I wanted. Since we were still a bit full from breakfast, this was only supposed to be a small bite to hold us over until dinner. We settled on three kinds of dumplings: steamed black beef, fried orange prawns, and steamed Shanghai bao. These dumplings are simply on point, and they do their origins proud. The twist of coloring the dumplings adds a flair of Berlin to a traditional dish. Overall, as delicious as I remembered.
To contrast the great food, we observed a limping rat dying in the park across the street. Except it wasn’t dying, just playing dead. Sven was not amused.
After our improvised dumpling stop, it was time to head to Neukölln. Since I rarely give up control of anything, I kept on driving our electric scooter. Since I was not familiar with the way, the screaming man baby had to pull it together and guide me with his phone. We passed remnants of the Wall, and the trip only took about 30 minutes, to my delight and his horror, but we made it. We were a bit early, and our appointment happened to be in Wipferstrasse, which is also home to Café Vux. Well, don’t mind if I do try the dark chocolate chilli cake and a flat white.
After this quick pit stop, it was time to get inked. My friend Laura from Bowser Tattoos now works at Baby Berlin, and was gracious enough to fit us in. We had a few exchanges before the trip, and knew roughly what we wanted. We sat down, and Laura had started sketching a few things. We chatted, made some adjustments, and were lucky enough to witness her creative process. The talent she displays is absolutely amazing - she drew a steamer basket with three xiao long bao, the fourth missing, which became the second sketch. Just for fun, we threw in a partner to my alpaca “Karl”: Rubén. We think they are lovers, but we are not sure yet. Need to check back with them.
After we realized that our tattoos take longer than expected, we changed our dinner reservation. We didn't mind - not only because the tattoos were absolutely gorgeous, but also because seeing my friend Laura again was a delight, but what we were about to experience was also worth the wait.
We hopped back on our scooter, and raced back to the hotel to return the scooter. This was essential, because I was not going to be the designated driver for the evening. We dropped the scooter off and hopped in an Uber towards Friedrichstrasse to save time, where we had a reservation at Crackers. Yes, THE Crackers. I have been here a few times, but only for events, and I lead us down a dark alley to what I believed the entrance was. Turns out, that is only the entrance for events, and the boyfriend now was afraid of being murdered. So, out the alley we go, around the block, to find the actual entrance.
When you enter Crackers, you are greeted with the motto for your evening: “You’re fucking free!!!!!” And we realized how true this rang for us tonight, fourteen hours into our adventure. For thirty-six hours, there were no responsibilities, no pressure, just the prospect of good food and good company. For this evening, we had made plans with one of Sven’s friends, Marco, who lives in Berlin now, but whom I had not met before. He waited for us patiently, because we were terribly late, and he greeted us with a smile. The good company and good conversation part was there, so all that was missing was the good food.
We started out with Burratina with fig, lime, and basil, as well as the Stained Sea Bass and the Tartar of Beef, all of which was on point. This was followed by a main course of Filet of Salmon, a dry aged Entrecôte, and a black feather chicken breast respectively. The Entrecôte was tender and juicy, and the chicken was divine. Marco finished the Salmon all by himself, so I cannot comment on it, but the fact that nothing was left speaks for itself. Since our friend ordered the Salmon, I decided on one bottle of Mosel Riesling for the table, which complemented the dishes nicely. We didn’t want to get crazy just yet, we reserved that for later.
Instead of a dessert at Crackers, we decided that some craft beer was in order - who needs all that sugar, anyway. So back into an Uber we hopped and made our way to Mikkeller. As I had been here before, I knew they always have a Peter, Pale and Mary for my gluten free enjoyment. My partners in crime for the night decided on a Schönramer Hell and a Wildflower IPA. We only had about 30 minutes to closing time, so one beer is what we had. From here, the night still seemed young this side of midnight, so we headed across the street to Neue Odessa Bar.
Here we were first greeted with a suspicious look by the bouncer - and I use that term loosely, as she was only a hair taller than I was. After asking to remove our masks and inspecting Sven’s beard, she approved, and we were greeted with a somewhat full establishment, in which you could easily forget that there is a global pandemic spreading on the other side of the door you just entered through. Happy people dancing, sad people also dancing, but sadder. I made my way to the bar to supply the boys with a staple Gin and Tonic. We had a blast, and the night carried on, as it so often does in a place you feel at home.
Sven tried to play with my camera, and appeared to fail spectacularly to take a picture of me, yet created art inadvertently, and the picture perfectly symbolizes Berlin - not what you set out to do, somewhat gritty, but accidentally hilarious, just like the city that keeps going long after you wanted to quit. After two hours we see the lights flashing, and agree that we will not be swept out of this bar, not again.
We left, said goodbye to our friend Marco, and headed back to the hotel. The first seventeen hours of our trip were a glorious, roaring success. We had fun, we had food, we had drinks, and we had conversation. It was time to rest.
Our second day started slow. We slept in a bit longer than we had planned, as the action from the previous day was still palpable. We decided to go for a breakfast close by - Café Datscha it was. To our delight, they offer a very simple option to try lots of things, the “Arbeiterinnen & Bauern” (worker and farmer, as a play on the designation East Germany gave itself as the Worker and Farmer State).
We sampled scrambled eggs, salmon tartar, trout mousse, blintschki pancakes, baby buffalo mozzarella, eggplant ragout, rösti, avocado, almond quark, and sirniki. Everything was great, but the sirniki stood out, and it didn’t help that there was an uneven number. We eventually traded the last one for some more salmon tartar, and we found that this late breakfast had set a great mood for the rest of the day. Had Sunday been dreary, Berlin tried to make up for it with sunshine and a balmy 19°C this Monday morning. Because breakfast started late and dragged past noon, we knew we could not make it to our original lunch plans, a recommendation from our friends at Tinman. Next time, I promise!
Since the theme of abandoning plans continued, we decided to go shopping for a bit. Laces for my boots, a dress for Pepa and a shirt for Otis were a nice start. We kept just walking, window shopping, and feeling the fall sun on our skin, and chatted the afternoon away. Since everything is more expensive in Switzerland, I decided on a quick manicure and pedicure. The first three places were already booked out, so I ended up in the place I used to go to regularly. The boyfriend took the opportunity for an upright nap on a wooden bench, while I got pampered. By the time we were done, it was almost four o’clock. Too early for dinner, so we tried that ice cream place I heard so much about - Woop Woop.
It started out with what I want to call “flavour soup”, and you could choose from four different flavors. We went for chocolate hazelnut and raspberry cheesecake. The “flavour soup” is added to a bowl, and liquid nitrogen is poured over it, resulting in a spectacular display of evaporating nitrogen. Once frozen, the ice cream is portioned and toppings (or bottomings, as they go first in the cup) are added. Woop Woop doesn’t mess around - these were not pre-packaged toppings. Chocolate and crushed hazelnuts on one, and half a slice of actual cheesecake, along with a raspberry sauce on the other. Delicious!
Sufficiently sugared up, we continued our walk. After an hour we realized that our 36 hours are coming to an end, and we needed to be at the airport by 19:15. Continuing our spontaneity, we decided on the spot that phở was in order as our last meal in Berlin. As I said before, these were my old stomping grounds, so while we tried a few new things, I really wanted to go to tried and tested Đistrict Một.
You can see my many visits over the years on my instagram, but it is a place close to my heart, and i wanted to share it. We both had the phở, one with beef balls, one with sliced beef. We added some spring rolls and chicken thighs on the side for good measure. The authenticity of the food and the immersive decor always warms my heart and makes me long for my five weeks I spent with Pepa in Vietnam. This was a perfect closing meal for this trip.
After this early dinner, we headed out to Tegel. If you know me, you know I like to travel cheap to have more money to spend on food and wine, and this was no different. I refused to take a taxi, and we took a combination of subway and bus, with a bit of walking in between, but made it with plenty of time to spare. Finally on board of a full plane, Sven put his headphones on me, turned on our travel playlist, and I fell asleep before take-off (note to self: get me some B&O Beoplay H9). Writing all this down, I realize that we packed a lot into this trip, but I don’t want to miss any of it.
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life ― and travel ― leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks ― on your body or on your heart ― are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” Anthony Bourdain, The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones.
I can say that the marks this trip left on our bodies and our hearts are all beautiful, and only man-baby said the tattoo hurt a bit.
I am Andrea, or as my friends call me, Jinx. I am a foodie living in Berlin, eating my way through life. Here are my recipes, cooking events, dining experiences and more...