Andrew Burke

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Berlin: Finding the Best Wurst
Posted on: 2010-07-21

While my preconceptions of Istanbul were formed by history and ancient myth, my ideas of Berlin were formed by movies. The movies that most invoked Berlin for me are perhaps as valid for the modern city as Gibbon was to modern Istanbul:

  • Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, which shows a day in the life of 1927 Berlin, before all of the destruction and division of the following 52 years.
  • Fritz Lang's M, a creepy proto-Film Noir made right before the Fascists took over, showing Berlin as a 'Dark City', where it's hard to tell the police from the criminals.
  • Wings of Desire, which is obsessed with the alienation and devastation of the Wall and the ghosts of the city's past sins.

The physical and psychological landscapes of these movies don't really exist in the same way in the Berlin of 2010. I have a much more sophisticated blog post in the works about my general impressions of the city, tied in with the Baudelaire/Benjamin concept of the Flâneur and the city's recent rebirth - but that's going to take some spare time and energy, which are both sorely lacking in my life right now.

Instead, I'd like to talk about beer and sausages.

The image of Berlin that is most etched in my mind is this one, a parenthetical shot from "M":

I've long been inspired by this guy with the epic 'stache. He just seems so happy with his goblet of beer and his plate of sausages. I was inspired to seek out a similar dining experience in Berlin.

I looked around for old-style common-people Beer Gardens in my walks around town, and didn't quite find the right kind of place. I think that the traditional restaurants have gone more upscale, while the cheaper places are more into pizza, doner, or noodles instead of sausage. I was also not able to find beer in goblets, unfortunately - I wonder if that's a European Community regulation, or maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough.

A friend who knows Berlin recommended a place in the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz - I initially pooh-poohed this, since from Google Maps it was clear that this was some kind of space-age shopping mall or something, and it couldn't possibly have a proper old-fashioned brauhaus.

Well, during one of my days in Berlin I wandered into the Sony Centre and sat down at a nice looking patio - a brief exchange on Twitter revealed that this was in fact the place that my friend had recommended: Lindenbräu. So I ordered the 'Brauhausteller' sausage plate with a Hofbräu-Weiße to wash it down. And, uh, holy mackerel:

Epic Meat Plate

Just to clarify, the two 'slices of bread' on the plate are (if I recall correctly) a thick piece of roast pork, and some kind of ham/bacon loaf. The mashed potatoes in the middle are also meat flavoured and covered in gravy. It does have some fresh steamed vegetables underneath, but they're almost an afterthought compared to the full onslaught of traditionally-processed meat products. That said, it does go nicely with sweet mustard.

I like meat and sausage and bacon and all that, but even so I found this to be quite daunting. Heart disease runs in my family and right before I left on this trip my doctor suggested I reduce cholesterol intake in my diet. This might be the last meal I ever eat with this level of processed meat.

I at least felt like I had properly fulfilled my cinematic mission - even if the beer came in a tall thin glass rather than an epic goblet.

I ended up here again the next day, as my partner wanted to see the Filmhaus museum. I toned things down, and instead had my friend's favourite 'Weisswurst', which came in an urn of hot water accompanied by a soft warm pretzel, and which I found a bit bland and frankly not very appetizing-looking.

Me and Weisswurst and Beer

The common fast food snack in Berlin has changed over the decades - the current favourite is still sausage-based, but is even less healthy than the traditional options: behold the "Currywurst":

Currywurst

Not only is it a sausage - but it's a deep fried sausage. Smothered in a red sauce somewhere between ketchup and shrimp sauce. Then covered in curry powder.

These are on sale everywhere. I didn't actually manage to get one until we were at the airport getting ready to leave - they had a little outdoor snack stand near the entrance that sold currywurst. It's tasty enough - the curry powder gives the flavour an extra bit of zing - but I'm really glad that it's a small snack. More than one sausage worth of currywurst would likely be hard to get down.

I'm glad I got to try these foods, because I'm not likely to eat like that again. Believe it or not, when I got back to Halifax, I discovered that I was significantly lighter than usual - I expected that with all of this heavy food I would have packed on the pounds, but I think the large amounts of walking, as well as occasionally missing meals due to the vagaries of travel, made a bigger difference. Either that, or sausages are healthier than I had imagined. Somehow I doubt that.

(More photos of Berlin can be found my flickr set.)

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