28 October 2006
Earlier, I had forgotten to mention that the traditional Berlin signature dish is actually the Eisbein (pronounced Ice-Bind). Lots and lots of places serve it, including some traditional breweries and kneipes (German pubs). It is actually the foot of a pig, boiled and served with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. Don't mix it up with Schweinehaxe, which is a ROAST foot of pig from Bavaria. Once a year, I force an eisbein down in places like the Lindenbrau or the Grossbeerenkeller (and am slowly getting used to it), but I guess it is something you can choose to try or not. It does not matter, unless you need the novelty value but if you like stodgy, filling food, it is really quite good and ridiculously cheap. Another very interesting dining place is the Nocti Vagus, but you might need nerves of steel although I think the food and dining experience is quite fun. Again, I won't describe the place as it is something you will either really find exciting, or make you run out screaming!
Oh, how can I forget to mention the oldest restaurant in Berlin, which has served both Napoleon and Gobachev: Zur letzten Instanz. This is another cool place to try with friends and visitors to Berlin. Yet another must-do place in a city full of must-do things and places. Oh well...
Well, the immediate "German" dinner event that springs to mind for a visitor would be the Medieval Knight's Dinner at the Spandau Zitadelle. The websites are www.zitadelle-spandau.de and www.zitadellenschaenke.de The atmosphere is great, food is excellent and copious and the wine is excellent (and free) and I always have a great time there. We also did a dinner club night there on April 2004 if you want to see more "real life" pictures of the place.
But, saying that, the Spandau Zitadelle is probably well booked out by now. However, the good news is that Berlin is full of very good restaurants, and depending on the atmosphere and budget, one can have a very good time. If you must have German Xmas food, beware that the traditional German Xmas dinner is large slabs of goose, cooked in its oil and with lots of sauerkraut and dumplings. I personally hate it as it almost always makes me ill afterwards, but if you must do fowl, then I would suggest Aigner in the Gendarmermarkt (more upmarket) or Restaurant Friedenau (more traditional and cheaper).
On the other hand, if you like gourmet German food, then please consider Vau, Vox, Facil or Hugos. Not cheap by any means, but very, very good. The best German food is actually Alsace-German and the 3 best ones in Berlin are the Berlin Sankt-Moritz, Storch or Borchardt (Tom Cruise eats here). Do a Google search and you will find reviews about them. Great restaurants, great food and not too expensive (compared to London). Vau's cook is Hr Kleeburg, quite a character if you get to meet him, Felix is the very knowledgeable sommelier at Facil, and last year, I had my Xmas dinner at Vox. One of the top restaurants in Berlin, in my opinion, is Facil but regrettably they are not open on weekends. Try also Gugelhof. President Clinton had dinner there once, so at least the politicians like the place. Angela Merkel's favourite restaurant is Chez Maurice and her favourite dish there is the blutwurst which is a great dish, but, well, it might not be to everyone's taste.
Note that Berlin dining has a different character to dining elsewhere in Germany, mainly because Berlin is so much more cosmopolitan. But if one wants other forms of German food, then you can also get Bavarian food (and beer) in Berlin as well. Try Loewenbraeu. For Schwabian food, it would be hard to beat Oma Mina (or Mink's as it is also called). Some members of the German football team eat here. Or try eating at a brewery. It's great fun and quite cheap as some places tend to serve food by weight so you can (should) never overdo it. There are lots of independent breweries in Berlin, some of them since the 16th century. A fine example is the Luisen Brau where you can order beer by the metre! A branch of a famous Bavarian brewery is also in Berlin. Or try something a little more afield, like Austrian food, in which case, you cannot beat Ottenthal in Kantstrasse.
If you want to combine a show with the dinner, then one really should consider Pomp, Duck & Circumstance. It is an unusual dining experience and something one will seldom see in the UK. It was pretty good when I was there but it would help if you speak German. The food is quite tolerable as with these sort of places but you go for the experience (and ignore the price). Another show-and-dine place is the Wintergarten, but I have no idea what their current Xmas show is like as the last one I attended was 10 years ago. But I remember it was really pretty good.
The best part about Xmas is actually the Christmas markets. You will probably know the main ones: Breitscheidplatz (near the Zoo), Schlossplatz, Gendarmermarkt, and Opernpalais (Unter den Linden) but I like the one at the old town in Spandau as well. It's a little cheaper and less "heavy commercial" but they are all very good markets where you can snack on half-metre bratwursts, bouletten and gluhwein. In Potsdamer Platz, there is usually Europe's largest artifical snow slope where you can slide down rubber tyres and play the original ice version of curling in the Sony Center. Talking of the Sony Center, there is also an English cinema there, Cinestar, and you should see the Sony Center roof at night after 8 pm!
To check out locations, please use Stadtplandienst. It's the best free map service in Germany. If you are staying a few days and moving around a lot, consider buying a daily ticket or weekly travel pass. The same tickets work for underground, overground, regional trains, trams and bus services so they are really good value for money but don't forget to stamp them at the stations or the buses. There is a tourist office in Tegel airport and the Europa Center near the Zoo where you can get free maps and brochures. Don't worry - Berlin is such a great city that you will never manage to do everything you feel like doing, so just get used to the feeling. I have been here 11 years and been around a lot and still there are things I have not managed to do yet and somehow, the list grows longer every year. :o)
Hope this helps!