A Self-Guided Food Walk in Berlin

A Self-Guided Food Walk in Berlin

Repeatedly scarred throughout its long and often depressing past, today's Berlin has made a comeback as a major bohemian hub which lures artists and creatively-minded folk from all over the globe in their droves. It may well not be considered a typical foodie destination yet, but in recent years there have been a growing number of decent places to eat in Berlin serving both German and international cuisine. At some point, the city has even earned itself the title of a vegetarian capital of the world, contrary to what one may have expected of the German capital. Amid all this renaissance in creativity and culture, coupled with the influx of the multicultural young, the food scene of Berlin has become diverse and surprisingly delicious. This guide takes you to explore the area lovingly referred to by locals as Kreuzkölln – the conglomeration of neighboring Kreuzberg and Neukölln districts – replete with bars and cheap eateries, renowned for their tasty and affordable treats. No wonder it has proven to be a mecca for foodies constantly on the lookout for real hotspots, away from tourist traps.

1. Kreuzberg

Kreuzberg
Image Courtesy of: Andreas Lehner
Few areas of Berlin can illustrate the city's transformation since the fall of the Berlin Wall as vividly as Kreuzberg. Once curbed by the Wall on three sides, Kreuzberg (then part of West Berlin) began to draw artists and quirky lot (immigrants, hippies, squatters and the likes) in their numbers to eventually become the hipster epicenter of the capital. Nowadays home to a large Turkish community, this neighborhood also accommodates some world-class street food including, but not limited to, the yummiest kebabs on the planet, outside Istanbul!
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You can carry this article in your mobile device to read offline and create a self-guided walk to visit the venues featured herein with the GPSmyCity App (available on iTunes App Store or Google Play Store).

2. Kreuzberg: Mehringdamm

Kreuzberg: Mehringdamm
Image Courtesy of: Er nun wieder
Our walk of Kreuzberg starts on Mehringdamm street in the southern part of the district, offering a wealth of food options. Among them, just as on almost any other street in the German capital, are the two of Berlin’s most popular snacks – currywurst and döner kebab. Mehringdamm stretches from Mehringbrücke in the north all the way down to Tempelhof in the south and has earned a place on the modern food map of Berlin if only for two spots – the legendary Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebab stall (Mehringdamm 32) and Curry 36 - a snack bar found further up the street, at Mehringdamm 36, reputedly serving the best currywurst and fries in the city.

- Mustafa's. Needless to say that today no visit to Berlin is complete without a bite of the ubiquitous döner kebab, a pita-based delight invented within the local Turkish diaspora. And when it comes to having the best of döners, Mustafa’s twist on the traditional kebab with chicken and roasted vegetables is the safest bet. Worry not if you're a vegetarian – their veggie version is just as incredible (feat. freshest ingredients and hard-to-decipher secret sauce to die for)! Be ready to queue up for an hour or so though, as the place is perpetually busy (very much so as to claim the “longest queue in Berlin” going around the block from the nearby Mehringdamm underground station). But you will find the wait all well justified. Also adding to the hype recently has been the unusual collaboration between Mustafa’s and the Italian denim brand Diesel promoting their new collection of apparel with Diesel’s and Mustafa’s logos on right in front of the kiosk (captured in a video commercial) much to the surprise of the international fashion industry, thus wittingly (or unwittingly, perhaps) enhancing the cult surrounding this iconic kebab joint.

- Curry 36 is yet another legendary fast food shop on Mehringdamm, established in 1980. Located some 50 meters away from the Mehringdamm U-Bahn exit, over the years it has introduced many first-timers in Berlin to the currywurst culture. This includes the international celebrities like Tom Hanks and others. Also adding to the place's international fame is the listing with Lonely Planet. Still, and most importantly so perhaps, is the reputation Curry 36 enjoys with the local taxi drivers who know a good curry sausage when they see one! These and other night owls visit the place regularly to fortify themselves during long late hours, pausing for a quiet, savoring bite. So, whenever you fancy a decent Berlin-made sausage yourself, just follow their suit!
Offline reading and travel directions:
You can carry this article in your mobile device to read offline and create a self-guided walk to visit the venues featured herein with the GPSmyCity App (available on iTunes App Store or Google Play Store).

3. Kreuzberg: Bermannstrasse and Gneisenaustraße

Kreuzberg: Bermannstrasse and Gneisenaustraße
Image Courtesy of: Jens Cederskjold
Exploring eclectic Kreuzberg further, to the east of Mehringdamm we find ourselves on Bermannstrasse, the long thoroughfare spanning several blocks chock full of bars, wine shops, cafes, restaurants and fast food joints, bewildering passers-by and spoiling connoisseurs with the richness of choice embracing German, Italian, Turkish, Vietnamese, American and many other national cuisines. The area between Bermannstrasse and Gneisenaustraße, a cute tree-lined street running parallel to Bermannstrasse in the north, is by far one of the hippest in Berlin packed with cafes, international restaurants and cozy bars (situated around Gneisenaustraße U-Bahn station, in particular) serving American, German, Mediterranean (Turkish, Greek), Mid Eastern, Pan Asian (Indian, Thai, Chinese, Korean, Tibetan, Japanese), Colombian and other cuisines. If you're a culinary adventurist, this place is definitely for you, ideal for parking yourself at a local bar or delicatessen and watching the crowd float by. Unlike other parts of Kreuzberg (such as Oranienstrasse, drawing tourists and hipsters with cheap eats), the true foodies flock to Bergmannkiez [kiez = neighborhood] allured by its tasty and affordable restaurants. However, should ever you find yourself at a loss amid this row of eateries, not knowing where to go, wanting to try something new, then head to the place at the corner of Bermannstrasse and Zossenerstrasse, called Marheineke Markhhalle. This large modern indoor food market offers quality fresh and organic foodstuffs (you can even find vegan currywurst varieties here!) at reasonable prices for on-premises dining or a picnic out in the park.
Offline reading and travel directions:
You can carry this article in your mobile device to read offline and create a self-guided walk to visit the venues featured herein with the GPSmyCity App (available on iTunes App Store or Google Play Store).

4. Kreuzberg: Marheineke Market

Situated on the lively and idyllic Marheinekeplatz (Marheinekeplatz 15), the Marheineke Market Hall is as much a landmark of Kreuzberg as the TV Tower is that of Alexanderplatz. This market is relatively quiet during a week, not quite “touristy”, catering mainly to the locals, seeing most of the “action” on Saturday afternoons. There certainly may be some tourists here as well, but overall the authentic“gritty” vibe of the place suggests that it's not too much designated for out-of-towners, serving more like a community forum. The vast (up to 3,000 m²) space is jam-packed with nearly 50 different shops (meat, vegetable, and fruit stalls, bakers, fishmongers and food booths) offering exclusively fresh organic products and delicacies from Germany and other parts of the world - China, Vietnam, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Arab countries, etc. Whatever you're hungry for – top quality meats, cheeses, milk, bread, fish, sea- or specialty foods, wines, sweets, honey, juices, fruits, dried nuts, or vegetables – you're likely to find it all here. Prices are wallet-friendly and, for extra fun, you may taste before buying! The choice of eating options in and around the market is enormous and fit to satisfy every taste, including vegans and vegetarians. There is a tea shop, juice bar, ice-cream parlor (offering a variety of fine organic ice cream creations in summer), obligatory currywurst stall, numerous snack stands, cozy cafes, plus the Matzbach restaurant with a terrace overlooking Marheinekeplatz. A definite must-visit on a foodie tour of Berlin!

5. Kreuzberg: Oranienstrasse

Kreuzberg: Oranienstrasse
Image Courtesy of: Jörg Zägel
Unlike Bermannstrasse, the quieter side of Kreuzberg, the colorful Oranienstraße has always been its wilder opposite, capturing the very essence of the hipster district with a mind-boggling variety of snack bars, cafes and international haunts, luring and dazzling those in favor of “pubbing” and “clubbing”. The street runs through the very heart of Kreuzberg between Görlitzer Bahnhof and the iconic Checkpoint Charlie (ending just three blocks from it).

A few steps off Oranienstrasse, on the adjoining Dresdenerstrasse, spilled out on the sidewalk we will find the Ottorink wine bar. Here, apart from enjoying some of Germany's greatest white wines (especially those from the Moselle region), you can also learn a thing or two from a knowledgeable sommelier about weisswein from the local vineyards. The place is named after Otto Rink, grandfather of the current owner, who was born in Berlin in 1878, under the rule of the then chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and was named in his honor. The owner himself is a long-time winemaker and a chef, and this bar is the live manifestation of his two main passions rolled into one.

At the intersection of Oranienstrasse and Adalbertstrasse (precisely at Adalbertstrasse 93) sits the Lebanese joint Maroush. Reputedly one of, if not the, best in Berlin for chicken shwarma (their falafel sandwiches are just as good!), this eatery has become the epitome of a good value for money. There's a decent selection of grilled meats on offer, complete with a traditional mezze (hummus, a chickpea paste made with tahini), all selling for a fistful of euros. Albeit tiny and not really a sit-down place, Maroush projects an image of a perfect spot to breath the authentic Lebanese falafel atmosphere outside Lebanon. If you crave a bit of Mid-Eastern flavor on your palate, this one is not to be missed!

6. Kreuzberg: Markthalle Neun

Kreuzberg: Markthalle Neun
Image Courtesy of: Jörg Zägel
Not far east off Oranienstraße, in Eisenbahnstraße, lies the Markthalle Neun (Market Hall Nine). In a broader sense, this historic indoor market represents the hallmark of Berlin's transcending politics, religion, language and beliefs manifested in the food scene that is reflected here better than anywhere else. A foodie microcosm of modern Berlin's mentality, Markthalle Neun is where the German, Asian, African and Antipodean culinary traditions collide to produce an atmosphere of unity and oneness. Established in October 1891, the market survived the 20th century relatively unscathed to reopen its doors once again in October 2011 – 120 years later – in its rejuvenated form. Now modern and trendy Markthalle Neun, apart from the regular weekly sales on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (during which one can buy traditional groceries: fruit, vegetables, meat, bread, wines, etc.), organizes various food events, such as the weekly Street Food Thursday, monthly Breakfast Market, and the annual Stadt Land Food festival, Cheese Berlin, Wurst & Bier, and the RAW Wine fair, to mention but a few.

The Thursday evening event (held between 5-10 pm) is particularly popular, drawing up to 5000 people anxious to get themselves mouth- and bellyful of various street food delicacies from all over the world: British pies, Thai tapioca dumplings, Mexican tacos, Allgäu cheese spaetzle or Nigerian FuFu. The lineup of vendors changes week to week, although some appear more or less regularly. While the main focus of the event is food, there are also some great drink options to enjoy including craft beer (brewed right there in a cellar), terrific wines and cocktails, so it does take a great deal of “talent” to leave this place hungry or thirsty!

Similar set-up is observed during the Breakfast Market, a street food event with the emphasis on breakfast, held each third Sunday of the month. A true paradise for those keen on morning meals, feat. a wealth of gargantuan delights associated with breakfast (goodies from local producers, cooks and pastry chefs).
Naschmarkt (snack market) is yet another major draw of Markthalle Neun - a manifestation of many's childhood dreams, showcasing savory sweets like cakes, biscuits, chocolates, macaroons, honeys and chocolates.

On a regular, quieter weekday, Markthalle Neun is just as exciting place to visit. There is a good number of stalls worth checking out including Il Pane di Sironi (Italian bread), Glut & Späne (home-smoked fish), Käsespätzle, Pulled Pork Sandwich, Ramen Burger, Arepas, Big Stuff Smoked BBQ, Taiwanese pork buns and most notably the hip Kumpel & Keule butchery.

- Kumpel and Keule is a classy and “glassy” butcher shop run by two “meatcraft enthusiasts” – Jörg Forstera (youngest butcher-Meister of Germany) and Hendrik Haase (“Wurstsack” food activist). Back in 2015 the two joined forces to create a ground-breaking butchery renowned for its glass-sided storefront that allows visitors to observe the entire meat-handling process. On top of that, visitors are welcome to ask for any meat cut they like to be grilled right before their very eyes. It is therefore imperative for any passionate meat eater not to leave Markthalle without trying some of their goodies: dry-aged beef burgers (some of the best in Berlin) or delicious Leberkäs-Semmel (“liver-cheese” pate-like sandwich), or some of their specials, like the handsome red-wine braised oxcheeks, or some of their divinely freshly-made sausages (from classic German varieties like Bratwurst and Currywurst to the seasonal ones like Merguez and Salsicciathat) each well worth a bite! Kumpel & Keule is the ultimate spot for a grilled sausage, burger or steak in Berlin!

7. Neukölln

Neukölln
Image Courtesy of: Palickap
Southernmost of all Berlin's boroughs, Neukölln – similarly to its next-door neighbor Kreuzberg (and, perhaps, the further-off Friedrichshain too) – is by far one of the coolest in the city for bar crawling and eating out. Just as Berlin in general, Neukölln in particular is reputed for being a vegan paradise, buzzing with vegan and vegan-friendly places. Among the latter is Sahara Imbiss, a somewhat low-key Sudanese joint (off Weserstrasse, epicenter of the local bar and cafe scene) renowned for its peanut sauce added to pretty much everything on their menu (falafel, haloumi, chicken wrap, etc). Overall, Neukölln is a melting pot of cultures and sure does live up to its reputation, food-wise, featuring a good number of eateries serving exotic (African, Vietnamese), near-abroad (Italian – lots of it!), and “domestic” Turkish cuisine. Speaking of the latter, the Turkish culture is so much rooted in Neukölln these days that it is jokingly nicknamed “Little Istanbul” of the German capital. Attesting to this are the cumin-flavored delicacies sold all over the borough, plus a Turkish street market sprawling every Tuesday and Friday along the canal separating Neukolln and Kreuzberg.

8. Neukölln: Landwehrkanal

Neukölln: Landwehrkanal
Image Courtesy of: Jörg Zägel
A liquid border between Kreuzberg and Neukölln, the Landwehrkanal (Landwehr Canal) was originally built in 1845-1850 as an important industrial shipping lane winding its way across Berlin for 11km linking the Eastern part of the Spree River in Friedrichshain with its Western part in Charlottenburg.

Today the canal is a popular place to stroll or sit by in the sun and chill out with friends. In summer, when the nights are warm and long, parts of the embankment turn into a social hub with patrons staying up late, chatting and drinking. The canal area abounds in picnic spots, taprooms and eateries where you can sit comfortably and enjoy yourself indulging in nachos and beer, watching boats passing by. Several days a week the canal plays host to a bustling market on the Maybachufer embankment, with Tuesdays and Fridays reserved for the so-called “Turkish market” rich in fresh produce and Mediterranean delights.

- Horváth. At some point, after turning West, the canal follows the quiet and picturesque Paul-Lincke-Ufer street replete with weeping willows, cafes and restaurants of various sort. Among them, at Paul-Lincke-Ufer 44a, is Horváth, a rather unconventional yet much acclaimed (two times Michelin-starred!) restaurant overlooking the canal on its northern shore, named after the Austrian-Hungarian novelist. Run by ethnic Austrian chef Sebastian Frank and Jeannine Kessler (manager), this place offers a creative twist on the quintessential Austrian cuisine which, in many's opinion, is the inspirational mother of all German cooking. In contrast to its conventionally elegant, wood-paneled, candle-lit interior, Horváth's menu features some rather intricate culinary creations of the Austro Hungarian Avant-gardism made with simple products, artfully magnified to the level sometimes “bordering on the absurd”. Mushroom tart, ice cream made of some bizarre root, roasted nuts and seeds with cream cheese and gravy (Frühstückssackerl), Stör Paprikas and baked carrot are just some of them. Particularly exciting are their non-alcoholic beverage combinations (whey and horseradish, concentrated mushroom essence, pear and celery). The service is impeccable, and the staff are ready to bend themselves backward to ensure the clients' satisfaction.

- Five Elephant. For the ultimate Landwehr experience, follow the flow of water to the point of the triangular junction of Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Treptow boroughs. Here, you can either stop over for a quick, well-deserved pint of beer or head further to the nearby Five Elephant café (Reichenberger Str. 101) for a cup of really terrific takeaway cappuccino made with excellent Kenyan coffee beans roasted right there on the site. Berliners take their coffee seriously, and when it comes to claiming the best cup in the city, Five Elephant 5, a modest roastery tucked away from the main tourist paths, is definitely one of the strongest contenders. In addition to their wide selection of coffees, you can also treat yourself to some of their tasty freshly-baked cakes, or even get yourself a bag or two of their special beans as a souvenir.

- Nest Cafe. If it's Sunday morning or early afternoon and you feel like having a brunch, head straight to the Nest Cafe, at Goerlitzer Str. 52, near the eponymous Görlitzer Park, for a buffet (on Sundays only!) of the world cuisine with a Berlin touch. Here you will have international fare – German, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Iranian, etc. – meet on your plate in a tasty, hearty portions, healthy in form, freshly and lovingly prepared, topped up and refilled regularly. There are tonnes of vegetarian options on offer, too. Complementing the food choice is a good selection of hot and cold drinks (freshly squeezed juices, ice tea, etc.), tasteful interior (stripped wood floor & terrace), English menu card and free Wi-Fi. Truly great breakfast, brunch, lunch, coffee or even take-out! Service may prove a bit slow at times, given how busy the cafe usually gets.

9. Neukölln: Sonnenallee, Berlin's Arab Street

Neukölln: Sonnenallee, Berlin's Arab Street
Image Courtesy of: Andreas Lehner
No other part of Berlin shows the spectrum of the local Arab culture more vividly than the busy Sonnenallee avenue in Neukölln. Food-wise, it may look to a stranger like a mass of falafel and schwarma shops. Nicknamed, back in the day, as “Little Beirut” for the prevalence of Lebanese stores and cafes, in later years Sonnenallee has seen the influx of Palestinians, Kurds and now Syrians who have lined it on both sides with restaurants and snack-bars, gradually turning it into an epicenter of Berlin’s Arab community. Nowadays firmly established in its Mid-Eastern setting, Sonnenallee is commonly dubbed by Berliners as the “Arab Street.”

Among the most notable places here marking the Syrian presence is Konditorei Damaskus (Damascus baklava shop), at Sonnenallee 93. It has quickly gained reputation for their sensationally delicate bird's nests of shredded phyllo filled with cashews or pistachios, as well as the top-notch “halawat al jubn” - rosewater-flavored ricotta-like cheese stuffed inside a sweet dough made of semolina and more cheese.

If you see a crowd outside, it is most likely to be Azzam at Sonnenallee 54, a classic Lebanese restaurant (founded by Palestinians, but now also frequented by members of the local Jewish community), where people routinely queue for a bowl of hummus or musabaha (chunky, pestle-pounded analogue), served with pickles and pita bread. There's also a chance to get a free bite of falafel here, while waiting. Azzam is the only spot around here to stay open through the night.

A few doors down the street, at Sonnenallee 34, there's an Iraqi-Syrian family-run cafe Um Kalthum recognizable by trays of baklava and cremeschnitte dished out regularly by the staff. For the most part their menu lacks German descriptions, so it may be useful to have some knowledge of Arabic to find your way around the plethora of meaty dishes on offer, from schwarma to grilled lamb hearts to Iraqi rice plates (e.g. khouzi ala timman, with braised lamb shank) to Syrian stews.

Another hard-to-miss spot on Sonnenallee, at # 40, is the Al-Andalos restaurant serving, reputedly, some of the best and legendarily cheap falafel in Berlin (€1.50 for a snack-size falafel sandwich, or €6 for a vegetarian combo platter big enough to last you a week!). All of this makes it a strong favorite among the local vegans.

A strong favorite for breakfast is the Lebanese joint Al-Pascha, Sonnenallee 77. Great place to cure one's hangover with a baked-to-order manakish (flatbread topped with cheese, meat or ideally za'atar) dipped into a hearty bowl of fatteh (chickpeas with yoghurt, fried pita chips and cashews). No coffee is served here though, so you'll have to bring your own.

- Aldimashqi is one of Sonnenallee’s most popular haunts for schwarma and other Levantine food. Opened in the summer of 2016 it has since moved to a larger facility at Reuterstraße, just off Sonnenallee, to continue delighting schwarma lovers with their signature dish which many believe is a true “gift of G-d” manifested in the hand-cut juicy pieces of chicken properly marinated and then grilled to perfection (in a charcoal grill), wrapped in a crunchy flatbread and topped with a generous dollop of dangerously delicious garlic yogurt sauce. A simple dish that keeps Aldimashqi packed to the brim with clientele day and night!

10. Food Mappin and Tips:

Food Mappin and Tips:
1. On the Street Food Thursday (5-10PM), Markhalle Neun gets crowded very quickly so it is advisable to get there before 6PM so as to be able to explore all the stands and see all the food presented. Grab yourself a seat (if you can) to relax and enjoy the atmosphere!

2. While the Street Food Thursday officially lasts until 10PM, the food usually runs out by 9PM.

3. If you're in for Mustafa's iconic chicken kebab, prepare to stand a line for up to an hour (normally, 30-40 min). It is that popular!

4. Mustafa's also caters to vegetarians producing a veggie version of their kebab.

5. For vegan currywurst varieties and other vegan and vegetarian-friendly options, explore Marheineke Markhhalle.

6. Neukölln is generally considered a vegan paradise with tonnes of vegan and vegan-friendly places.

7. Azzam on Sonnenallee, while open through the night, can get quite greasy if you show up too late.
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