I have found Berlin food surprisingly diverse – maybe because it is such a young cosmopolitan city in Germany. You can get some of the best German food in Berlin but you also have lots of ethnic things to eat in Berlin. A Berlin food tour is a great way to experience the city’s culinary diversity. I once took one of the Withlocals Berlin food tours and loved it for I finally got to appreciate some of the best food in Berlin! A local foodie named Liz enriched my discovery quest of Berlin foods with lots of insights, anecdotes and fun facts about the delicacies, venues and places we were exploring together. The small scale of the tour meant we got to experience both typical Berlin food but also lots of the stories behind the food. As a bonus (and as you all know, the kids and I have got a sweet tooth), there are plenty of sweet treats considered Berlin local food.
Typical Berlin Food: Currywurst
You can’t leave Berlin without experiencing Currywurst which is ubiquitous in the city. We are always happy to try street food in a new place. This German fast-food equivalent of pizza for Americans or fish and chips for the British has a relatively recent history.
After World War 2, ketchup was in scarce supply to accompany pork sausages. An enterprising Berliner came up with a sauce involving ingredients she got from the British forces stationed in Berlin. This sauce of tomato paste, worcestershire sauce and curry powder quirky caught latched onto the public’s tastebuds and a food icon was born. As an Indian-American, I am always fascinated by how widespread the British love of curry went.
One of the most popular places in Berlin for Currywurst is Curry 36 in the young and trendy Kreuzburg district. Open 24 hour, Curry 36 caters to the late night bar and club crowd in the area well.
Currywurst is typical Berlin food and is ubiquitous.
Berlin food : Kartoffelpuffer
Technically Kartoffelpuffer (German potato pancakes) are not just a Berlin local food. They are popular everywhere in Germany. Berlin however is such a walkable city and Kartoffelpuffer is a great street food snack.
Fun Fact! Kartoffelpuffers are NOT potato rostis even though they look similar. Rosti uses shredded potatoes but the katoffelpuffer uses grated potatoes for a finer texture.
German potato pancakes are among the great things to eat in Berlin.
You can serve Kartoffelpuffer as a sweet or savoury dish. We prefer our Kartoffelpuffer dusted with icing sugar but you can also get it served with apple sauce. The savoury version has a yogurt sauce or sour cream.
What to eat in Berlin: Berliner Pfannkuchen
A Berliner Pfannkuchen (or Berliner for short) is a type of German doughnut. Just to be contrary, Berliners call this pastry treat a Berliner Pfannkuhen but Pfannkuchen is technically pancakes elsewhere in Germany. Don’t get conned into eating pancakes when you are looking for doughnuts!
Urban Legend Alert!
American media has called out John F. Kennedy’s famous speech in Berlin where he said “Ich bin ein Berliner“
for using the indefinite article wrong. Instead of identifying as a Berliner, he was thought to have referred to himself as a jelly doughnut. Wrong! Apparently the indefinite article use was correct AND no one from Berlin calls the Pfannkuhen a Berliner anyway.
You can get Berliners everywhere but traditionally they were eaten at celebrations like New Years Eve and the period before Lent. Berliners can come as jelly doughnuts or have no filling inside.
According to my sugar loving kids, some of the best food in Berlin is a Berliner Pfannkuchen (a jelly doughnut)
Food To Eat in Berlin: Schaumkauss
Schaumkauss (translated as “foam kiss”) are tasty little treats of chocolate covered marshmallow. Similar to a teacake in the United Kingdom, you can find them easily in Berlin. In fact, there are approximately 1 billion schaumkauss made in Germany which works out to a dozen per person per year.
Schaumküsse are a great food to try in Berlin.
Sometimes you can find Schaumkauss served in a bun. I personally prefer to put the extra carbs to use in eating more Schaumkusse itself.
Food to try in Berlin: Baklava
When did Baklava become German I hear you ask. Well, there is a huge Turkish community (including German-born descendants of Turkish immigrants) living in Berlin. They are located mostly in the areas that were formerly West Berlin (let’s face it immigration to East Germany was not happening).
Fun Fact! The German Turkish community is the largest population of Turks outside of Turkey!
Tasty Baklava is a surprising entry in Berlin local food to try.
You can find “Little Istanbul” in the southeast part of the trendy Kreuzberg district. If you’ve stopped at Curry 36 for a currywurst, it’s easy to meander over to this area for something sweet afterwards.
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5 delicious Berlin local food suggestions (including Berlin food your kids will love)
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When we went to Salzburg earlier this year, we decided to follow in the von Trapp family footsteps and head out to the mountains. The Sound of Music after all does glorify Austrian countryside and its mountains. With visions of dancing atop mountains in our heads (skirts swirling in a perfect circle of course), we headed out from Salzurg for a day trip to Lake Konigsee. The lake is only a 45 minute drive from the center of Salzburg. One minor niggling detail is that technically Lake Konigsee is in Germany.
Lake Konigsee in Germany
Lake Konigsee is famous for being one of Germany’s deepest and cleanest lakes. During its history, Konigsee has been beloved by Bavarian royalty as well as Adolf Hitler. Hitler had a summer home nearby, The Eagle’s Nest, which meant that the Nazi high command had homes in the area as well. Today, the Eagle’s Nest is a restaurant. In real life, the von Trapp family’s home itself was taken over by Hitler’s architect of the Final Solution, Himmler who wanted to have a vacation home near to his leader at the Eagle’s Nest.
Today, Lake Konigsee still gets lots of visitors but it is protected within the Berchtesgaden National Park. Thanks to receiving its national park status in 1978, the park, the lake and everything in it is protected for future generations.
Beautiful mountains in the Berchtesgaden National Park.
The water is so clear that you can see a fair way into it. The lake was created by glacier activity during the Ice Age. It is about 8 kilometres long, 1 kilometre wide (at its widest) and 192 metres deep.
Wonderful solitude and a comfortable bench
The mountains loom straight up on the lake’s side reminding people of a fjord. This topography also produces a clear echo which is demonstrated on the boat with a trumpet about half-way from the dok to St. Bartholoma, the first stop.
An electric boat on the lake.
Since the early 20th century, only electric boats and row boats are allowed on the lake. The electric boats take tourists from Schonau to the ports of St. Bartholoma and Salet on the lake. It’s about a half-hour to St. Bartholoma and an hour to Salet.
With a fleet of almost 20 boats, the boats run pretty regularly but, be forewarned, all the explanation is in German. You can get a free app for your iPhone or Android that gives you the English translation. We didn’t have WiFi though and, frankly, I’d rather just contemplate the beauty of the place than listen to an explanation.
Welcome to St. Bartholoma!
St. Bartholoma, the first stop on Lake Konigsee
We got off at St. Bartholoma to explore. There are several hiking trails that depart from near the boat’s dropping off point. We were trying to find an ice cave that is about 6km away but we merely got lost. We took an easy stroll along a trail that lead around the lake. The kids practiced skipping stones in the clear water. We found a small playground where they spent time goofing around as well.
Ducks gliding by in the crystal clear water
The St. Bartholoma church was built in the 12th century but then later remodelled in the 17th century to reflect Ottoman influences. The onion-domes are very striking against the green of the trees on the mountains.
St. Bartholoma church is incredibly picturesque
Near the St. Bartholoma church there was a former hunting lodge of the Bavarian kings which is now a restaurant. We thought the food was pretty good serving the usual Bavarian fare (and beer, of course). We had a hearty meal of sausages and potatoes and were ready to hit the trails again.
A hearty Bavarian meal
We followed another hiking trail in search of the elusive ice cave at the bottom of Mt Watzmann. According to legend, the peaks of Watzmann represent a king, queen and his 7 children who got turned into stone because of their cruelty. This trail takes 2 hours round trip to get to the cave where the ice doesn’t melt even in summer. It’s not encouraged that you go into the ice cave though because of the danger of ice falling on you.
Excited by the thought of the ice cave, we set out to find it even though I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I wouldn’t let them inside. I know my kids though and they can never do a straight-forward hike because they stop to play and to explore constantly.
My children got distracted by a river with giant rocks along its bank and a small waterfall. They spent so much time playing by the waterfall we did not make it very far on the trail. I decided we needed to head back because I did not want to spend the night in St. Bartholoma if we missed the last electric boat!
A forest trail
Large stones to clamber over and little stones to throw by the riverside.
A pretty little waterfall
We never made it to the port of Salet either which takes you to the smaller Lake Obersee and Germany’s highest waterfall, Rothbachfall. We had a really nice day even though we didn’t do half the things I planned to do at Lake Konigsee!
Lake Konigsee is a very popular destination in Germany for Germans themselves. The boats and the restaurant were busy and full of people. We were pretty much on our own on the trails though – people seemed to disperse fairly quickly onto the nature walks. We really did feel that we were on our own in this gorgeous national park.
How to Get To Lake Konigsee
We hired a driver who dropped us off and picked us up. You can, however, take a public bus from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden, the nearest town. Then it’s a bus from Berchtesgaden to where the electric lakes depart on Konigsee at Schonau am Konigsee. You can check timetables and prices at the English-language website.
One of the truisms of life: You can’t go wrong with a restaurant recommendation by a food blogger in their own home town. Uncharacteristically for me, I had dropped the ball in making dinner reservations for the Saturday night of The Hive conference in Berlin (now sadly defunct as a blogger conference). Lucky for me though, there were lots of food bloggers and Berlin locals at The Hive. We were there for a travel conference but also a fun weekend getaway to Berlin.
So I was pretty comfortable when one of the other attendees I knew at The Hive conference, the lovely Natali from Kochen, Kunst & Ketchup, made a reservation for us to eat dinner at a popular new restaurant in town, Spindler Berlin, in the trendy neighbourhood of Kreuzberg.
The original plan called for dinner with Elisabetta, an architect and design blogger at Italian Bark, and Sarita who blogs at The Orange Gift Bag. We had all been to The Hive last year and had become friends. By the time we had left the Scandic hotel for dinner though, we had morphed into a happy chattering group of people.
We didn’t have a problem until we got to the restaurant.
“The reservations you made are for 5 people.”
“Yes, but there are 10 of us now.”
The German waiter looked flustered. Not surprising. It would be hard to accommodate 10 people on a Saturday night at any popular restaurant in any big city.
We were offered a table outside. After the afternoon rain, all the outside tables were empty. The evening though still had a chill in the air from the rain. We apologised to the nice waiter at Spindler and went en masse to the restaurant next door. Good thing we were on a street known to have lots of good restaurants, Paul-Lincke-Ufer on the canal.
The twinkling lights of the lanterns in the front garden of Chan Asian Food Market were welcoming.
The fragrant smell of delicious Thai food wafted through the air. The waiter at Chan, likewise, was a bit flustered but offered us drinks in the garden until a table could be found.
Fairly soon, he had tables for us even though the restaurant was pretty full. The atmosphere of the restaurant itself was friendly and relaxed. The food was as delicious as it smelled. We were all talking and laughing the night away.
You know you are with bloggers when everyone takes photos of the drinks before they start drinking. This place had great cocktails!
I had the tofu Thai red curry which was excellent. Elisabetta pronounced her Pad Thai as terrific as well.
Good food and good conversation – what could be better? I loved that our group was so diverse. As with any large group though, you chatted with the people who sat nearest you. In my case, that was Anita, a Hungarian interiors blogger living in Budapest writing at Creative With Love; Agata, a Polish design blogger living in Milan writing at Passion Shake; and Magdolna, a Hungarian luxury fashion blogger living in Germany writing at Silk So Fine.
We discovered we were all dog lovers. Even though some of us had children, it was photos of our dogs that were passed around! I think that is another life truism: People who love dogs are good people!
Our dinner plans came together somewhat haphazardly but all’s well that end’s well. Natali told me later that Chan is well known among locals for having excellent Thai food at reasonable prices.
I did return for ‘new regional German food’ at Spindler Berlin on another weekend trip to Berlin and it was indeed fabulous! Berlin is an easy flight from London so we do visit frequently for long weekends. It’s got lots of interesting history, good food, great nightlife as well as amazing street art and the more kitschy stuff like the the Ampelmann crossing guards and the Buddy Bears.
Who knew that pedestrian crossing lights do not have to be so, well, pedestrian? The pedestrian crossing lights in Berlin are really special. The design of the so-called Ampel Men (Ampelmann), tare one of the holdovers from when Germany was a divided country.
The Design of the Ampelmann
In 1961, traffic psychologist (now that’s specialised!), Karl Peglau, designed these signals to combat the growing number of pedestrian accidents in East Berlin. The traditional red, yellow and green are difficult for people with colour-blindness to decipher. My husband who is colour-blind, for example, just knows the order of the lights and goes by which one lights up even if he doesn’t know what colour it is.
The beloved Ampelmann design is a relic from the days when Berlin was a divided city.
The stop sign is a man in red with his outstretched hands meant to convey that you can not enter. The go sign is the man in his little hat walking with his hand showing a forward directional movement. The jaunty little hat was inspired by a photo of Erich Honecker, leader of the GDR (East Germany) from 1971 until 1989, wearing a straw hat.
It wasn’t cost effective to replace all the traffic lights in East Germany so they only did it for the pedestrian lights. People really liked the Ampel Men. Let’s face it – they are adorable with their big head and short, stout feet.
In fact, the Ampelmann were so popular that they had their own television series in East Germany. They were used to promote road safety and were incredibly popular – like the recent mega-hit from the Melbourne transportation advertising, Dumb Ways To Die.
The Survival of the Ampelmann Post-reunification
In 1994, the Ampel Men faced being phased out as West Germany began modernising East German infrastructure The people who campaigned to keep the Ampel Men won in the end. Instead of changing the design, the authorities agreed just to change the outdated electrical wiring on the lights.
Now, throughout Germany there are three variations of Ampelmann – each of the old East German and West German Ampelmann and a unified design from 1992. Each German state decides which version of Ampelmann it wants to use. In 2002, Ampelmann’s girlfriend, Ampelfrau was installed in some cities like Dresden.
The Ampelmann is not without controversy – they are part of a movement nostalgic for the days of East Germany. Because, you know, cardboard cars, secret police and separated families really were the good old days.
The Ampelmann Shop in Berlin
There is an Ampelmann shop on Unter den Linden, the main street in front of the Brandenburg Gate. It sells all sorts of novelties with the Ampelmann design such as magnets, cookie cutters, gummy candy and tee-shirts.
If you are looking for a cool gift from Berlin, these souvenirs at least have style and history behind them. I though the gummy Ampelmann were so adorable I got them as treats for my children.
There is even an Ampelmann cafe in the shop. This little design really brings in the Euros!
A small section of the shop is devoted to pedestrian crossing lights in other parts of the world, sort of like a mini-museum of pedestrian crossing lights. Needless to say, it is completely fascinating for children – completely random and not very big.
Two of the more interesting crossing lights I saw were from Mongolia and The Netherlands.
Since 2011, crossing lights in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, show the country’s three national sports – archery, riding and wrestling.
Since 2000, this little girl graces the traffic lights of Amersfoort in the province of Utrecht in The Netherlands. She has been nicknamed Sofie by the locals.
Have you seen any cool pedestrian lights in your travels? I have to confess the Berlin Ampel Men are the first time I even realised not all traffic lights are the same.
The Trabant, also known as the Trabi, is an East German car that became the punchline of many jokes. Here are some old Trabant jokes that have made the rounds frequently.
- Q. When does the Trabant reach its top speed? A. When it’s towed away.
- Q. What goes on pages 4 & 5 of the User’s Manual? A. The bus schedule.
I could go on with the Trabant jokes but I won’t because I thought they looked adorable. I saw them on the streets of Berlin when I visited last year.
The History of the Trabi
The Trabant started off as a serious answer by the Eastern Bloc loaded with ideology. With this East German car, automobile ownership would be available to the proletarian masses. The Trabi was supposed to have enough room for four people and some luggage. It was also designed to be simple enough for the average person to make their own repairs so they didn’t need to rely on auto mechanics.
The most popular car in East Germany, the Trabis were also available for export to the Eastern Bloc countries. After the fall of communism, unlike other Eastern Bloc cars such as the Yugo or the Skoda, the Trabi was not sold in the West.
The Trabi had some major issues, primarily that it was very loud and very smelly. The cars were made of an eco-friendly material called Duroplast (a combination of waste cotton materials and resins) because steel was in short supply in the Eastern Bloc. The joke that the Trabi was made of cardboard is not true. Not that you should test it out in a car crash or anything.
Other Trabant jokes were made about the waiting list for these cars and their parts. The Trabis were very popular and the factory could not make enough to satisfy customer demand even though there were approximately 3 million Trabants produced.
The last Trabi was produced by the factory in Zwickau in 1991. Germany has permitted the Trabi to be an exception to the modern exhaust and emissions rules which this East German car would have no hope of passing otherwise.
Trabis in Current Use
The Trabi Safari tours are a popular way of seeing Berlin. You get to choose and drive one of the colourfully painted Trabis the company owns. There are several different tours that are lead by a guide in the front car.
There is also a Trabi Museum in Berlin right near that other iconic image of East Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie. Many East Germans remember the Trabi with nostalgia – not necessarily the Communist era but just the East German car which made family trips possible for them.
More Trabis are now being exported as collectible cars because the designation of vintage only applies to cars that are at least 25 years old. If a car is vintage, then it does not have to pass modern exhaust and emissions rules.
With a Trabant Museum and Trabant Safari adding to its nostalgia and cult status, this East German car may get the last laugh. After all, you could have picked up a Trabant in the 1990s for the equivalent of £60 but I’ve seen Trabis advertised as classic cars in the UK for upwards of £2000. That’s not a Trabant joke by the way.
The Trabi Museum in Berlin is open from 10-6 and admission is currently 5 Euros (under-12s are free). The Trabant Safari is available in Berlin and Dresden and its not cheap to drive a piece of history.
Kreuzberg in Berlin is one of the trendiest neighbourhoods of the city. A fairly considerable area, the neighbourhood is eclectic and interesting. You can easily spend a few days in this area and not be bored.
The area is an architectural mix of buildings which date from the mid-19th century when industrialisation fueled the growth of Berlin and fairly uninspiring modern buildings. Irrespective of the building’s architecture, the facades of these buildings are the backdrop to the area’s famous street art.
During the Cold War, the Berlin Wall isolated Kreuzberg on 3 sides. Being pretty much surrounded by the Death Strip made it neither desirable nor fashionable. The neighbourhood was left alone which was great for those people with counter-culture leanings and squatters. The squatters are still there from what I saw of a commune set up in an abandoned car park.
Kreuzberg has also been the home of Berlin’s punk rock movement.
The SO36 Club was Berlin’s answer in the 1970’s to New York City’s CBGB. The SO36 is still going strong as this line to get into the club on a Thursday evening shows.
Traditionally though Kreuzberg has been home to many Turkish immigrants. There are many cafes, restaurants and shops that cater to the Turkish community which is still a significant part of the population.
Gorlitzer Park is where the Turkish families come to picnic on a nice day. It has stone terraces which are supposed to remind the Turks of the thermal hot springs and calcite terraces of Turkish UNESCO World Heritage site Pamukkale. Possibly if I had tried the drugs that Gorlitzer Park is notorious for, the resemblance might have been clearer.
The original Pamukkale terraces
The urban Pamukkale terraces
The young and the hip have moved into the neighbourhood. I was told Kreuzberg most closely resembles the Shoreditch area of London. I love this combination of a yoga and deli. I bet they sell at least one quinoa dish.
Inevitably, the young and the hip have children. Gentrification along the lines of Islington surely is not far behind.
Kreuzberg is one of the most interesting parts of Berlin which in itself is a pretty fascinating city!