I previously mentioned that I would be meeting up with Erik in Berlin during the last leg of his European vacation. While we didn’t make a point of visiting specific beer locations, since most of our party of seven wanted to make some wall a higher priority, we did do our fair share of beer related activities, mostly drinking. Berlin wasn’t super high on my list of cities to visit, but you can’t argue that the place isn’t chock full of recent history. First there were these Nazi people (bunch of jerks) that got the whole city destroyed, then these communists (also jerks) that didn’t take very good care of one half. The city is now made up of recently built modern buildings and bland eastern bloc leftovers with fragments of the past scattered amongst them, which doesn’t make for the most charming of settings. And since I’m not particularly interested in modern art and the new music scene (or erotic sex clubs), I wasn’t particularly taken with Berlin as a whole. What did strike me about Berlin was the local food and beer culture.
We made a point of sampling Berlin’s two fast food staples, currywurst and doner kebab. Currywurst is fried bratwurst sliced up then covered in ketchup and curry powder, often served with fries and mayonnaise. It may sound like a disgusting heart attack on a paper plate, but it’s actually a tasty heart attack on a paper plate. You can’t argue with the price either, just 1.50 euros. Next up was doner kebabs, which are similar to a gyro, schawarma or donair. The added Berlin twist is the crispy toasted pita or flat bread, versus the usual soft variety. Doner kebab was also delicious and also affordable at 2 euros for a substantial portion. We didn’t just eat fast food, we also managed to track down some braised pork knuckle, a traditional Berlin dish that goes by the name of eisbein. While pork knuckle might sound a bit unappetizing, it’s actually just the foot end of a ham hock and I highly recommend it.
Of course we had to drink some delicious German beer to go with our local gastronomic treats. We managed to drink many local Berlin beers, including the ubiquitous Berliner Pilsner and the wares of local Brauhaus Lemke. By far our favorite Berlin beer experiences were found in the biergartens, two of which we visited were located in leafy public parks. On a dreary Friday afternoon we visited Golgatha in West Kreuzberg and found ourselves the only people there. No bother, we brought our own party and thoroughly enjoyed our delicious maibock in the park. You could tell that Golgatha can get pretty crazy because of 0.50 euro deposit they demand per glass, which you get back when you return your vessel unshattered. They also list their closing ours as 6AM that, judging by the big screens being built for the world cup, might actually need to be enforced in the coming weeks.
Our second biergarten experience came on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the packed out Cafe am Neuen See in the Tiergarten. Nestled in the massive park and fronting a lovely pond, this treed in biergarten offered one of the most delightful beer drinking settings I’ve experienced. The cold, smooth, and delicious helles lager I was drinking went down so blissfully that I never wanted it to end. I wish Vancouver had something like this (London does, London is one big BYOB biergarten). It’s not like the place was full of smashed youth up to no good (like London is), but Cafe am Neuen See actually had multiple playgrounds for kids to play in. There were people of all ages and walks of life there just behaving themselves and enjoying a beer in a lovely setting. I’m jealous of Germany and their biergartens.
The icing on Berlin cake came when, during the fleeing hours of our last day, we came across Das Boot in a touristy store. If you’ve seen the movie Beerfest then you’ll know all about Das Boot and how the toe holds an air bubble that causes beer to splash you in the face if you don’t turn it at the right time. If you haven’t seen Beerfest, know that it doesn’t have much to do with beer and is so ridiculously stupid that it becomes funny. I had to buy Das Boot and make good use of it. It holds one litre, or three standard bottles, of Berliner Pilsner and the toe is indeed as tricky as I was lead to believe. However, there’s no need to turn the boot at a critical moment if you just turn it from the start. Das Boot and I had the first of many more fun nights to come.