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I missed out on doing a food tour when I was in Munich so naturally one was included on my Berlin itinerary during my second visit to Germany. That, and I was determined to prove all the naysayers wrong about Berlin not being a great place for German food (stemming from the fact that it was closed off for decades outside of Soviet bloc countries. Also, food shortages were common in the East German Republic). I booked my food tour with Secret Food Tours Berlin as I was now a veteran of theirs, having done prior tours in Istanbul and Amsterdam. (Full disclosure-I am in no way affiliated with them; they simply are a company with worldwide tour offerings and I have had positive and fabulous experiences with them.)
The tour took place in what used to be East Berlin, meeting outside the Warschauer U-Bahn Station, a short walk from Oberbaum Bridge. During the Cold War era, the bridge connected Friedrichshain, which belonged to the Soviet sector, with Kreuzberg, part of the American sector. The bridge was closed to vehicle traffic in the mid-1950s and following the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, was closed completely until 1972 when it was reopened to pedestrian traffic as a result of the Four Power Agreement on Berlin. The architecture of the bridge is stunning to look at today but you can’t help but see it in a different light when you think of how those towers were once used as watchtowers by the GDR to prevent people from escaping into the West.
For many reasons I’m glad the tour took place in East Berlin. I stayed in West Berlin at the Grand Hyatt and while it’s a lovely section, close to numerous historic sites, the area is (mildly) overrun with tourists, whereas in East Berlin, you definitely experience a more authentic, local feel and can also easily imagine what East Berlin looked like 50 years ago when it was a communist city with all the Soviet-style architecture.
There were a total of five stops on the tour (three sit down stops, and two on the go) and I’ll list below the foods we had at each one. As is the custom with Secret Food Tours, they prefer the business names of the stops to be kept secret which is why I won’t be listing them. If you’re truly dying to know what they are, send me an email!
As I would learn on the tour, schnitzel is prevalent in both Germany and Austria. However, in Germany schnitzel is ONLY made with pork, whereas in Austria, it’s made with veal (hello wienerschnitzel). I adore veal, and pork to a much lesser degree but the meat in this sandwich was so tender and had been pounded to such a thin consistency, it was perfect.
Okay, so there are many German foods that are not native to Berlin but currywurst is and is one of Germany’s most popular and iconic foods. I remember seeing it for sale at the Viktualienmarkt in Munich but didn’t have any, so needless to say I am so happy I got to try it, even though just about every restaurant and outdoor food stall in the German capital had it available. However, I know the spot I tried in Berlin was probably one of the best. Currywurst consists of steamed, then fried pork sausage that’s usually cut into bite-sized chunks and seasoned with either curry ketchup or a ready-made ketchup seasoned with curry and other spices.
Currywurst also has a pretty fascinating origin story. During the years immediately following World War II when food shortages in Berlin were the norm, a resourceful German housewife was simply trying to make do with the limited means she had- German sausage or wurst, and then ketchup and curry powder she obtained from American and British soldiers, that she then mixed together. And voila, a star food was born.
We got to try both the East and West Berlin versions of the dish- East Berliners had no access to casing for the sausage during the Cold War, so currywurst in the Eastern Sector tended to be softer than the version found in the West.
I would eat it again that night for dinner from a stall at a Christmas market that was near to my hotel.
Berlin is home to large immigrant populations, including an Iraqi one- some who immigrated to Germany during the First Gulf War, and a second round that came during the Second Gulf War in the late 2000s and 2010s. At the third stop we tried a delicious chicken shawarma sandwich. The chicken was sublime and I could have easily eaten just the pita bread too. Everything was wonderfully fresh and aromatic.
Baklava and candied nuts
The fourth stop had the least amount of food but it was one of my favorites as we went to a Turkish sweets stop. It brought back wonderful memories from my trip to Turkey only a couple of months prior. Turks are one of Germany’s oldest immigrant groups and also its largest minority group; they started arriving in Germany in the 1960s as part of a guest worker program. Here we tried some candied nuts (which I liked although I generally hate and avoid any type of nuts) and baklava. I so prefer Turkish baklava to the Greek kind; it’s much less sickening sweet, and no honey is used, so a lot less messy too. ‘
Flammkuchen & fruit dumplings
The final stop had the most food (as I’ve found the food tours tend to do). Here we had flammkuchen which is a specialty of Alsace and the Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz regions on the German-French border (I actually had some at an Alsatian restaurant when I was in Paris ). It’s composed of bread dough rolled out very thinly in the shape of a rectangle or oval, which is covered with fromage blanc or crème fraîche, thin-sliced onions and lardons.
I unfortunately don’t remember the German name for the fruit dumplings nor the fruit filling but they were delicious. But then again, of course they would be considering the cinnamon sugar exterior and the warm, sugary gooey interior.
All in all another fabulous food tour experience with Secret Food Tours, including a great guide (Alex). My food tour was the only time I visited East Berlin so I’m glad I got to experience both the history and food of this fascinating section of what used to be the Eastern sector.