Food notes: Berlin 2016

Melbourne Canteen is closed. What a shame!

The Silo: is still excellent for Australian food and coffee.

The Pantry: I was disappointed. I understand that the chef of this Asiany sort of place was trained in Melbourne but I’m a little surprised at the consequences. To me the food lacked balance. Too much sweetness, not enough of the sour, hot and salt that create the completeness of flavour. Everything tasted a bit like Rosella tomato sauce. The famous ribs were rather bland, I thought.

La Banca: Is the bistro of the Hotel di Rome. It does a fabulous lunch menu: 3 courses plus tea/coffee and bottled water 26Eu. The food was impeccable, service good, music was not intrusive, though not always to our taste. It was a nice place to take one’s time, it serves all day and therefore there is no rush to get you out the door. My only gripe after several meals here was that they had something called ‘lasagne’ on the dinner menu which was awful. It had one sheet of pasta at the bottom of the plate, and on top a horribly sweet lumpy meat sauce which they misguidedly called ‘bolognaise’. Nothing like any bol sauce I’ve ever eaten.

Tea was excellent, good quality pots, extra water when asked (not having to ask would be better) and nice china.

The Lobby at The Regent: The menu here is more substantial than one would guess from looking at their site. It includes schnitzel, for example, which was simply served with fried potatoes and a sweet sauce, perhaps cranberry, served on the side.

Its tea was same standard as La Banca’s, served similarly. Again, one had to ask for extra hot water, but it came in a pot as requested. The music is classical. At 12 Eu/pot I would expect no less. Fabulous iced chocolates, by the way.

Aigner: We only ate here once, we had fish soup, which was good, but not great. It was a special and maybe expecting better than good in an Austrian restaurant was unreasonable.

Monsieur Vuong: Very trendy, theoretically Vietnamese, though traditionalists will roll their eyes at that. I had Pho which was very short on herbs and the beef was too posh for the purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I wolfed it down. We were all very happy. The place is a licence to print money, it was large and packed at 6.30pm in a country where people seem to eat fairly late. If you are in the area, it’s fun and worth a visit.

No Fire No Glory: one of the best regarded coffee places in Berlin. Okay also for simple breakfasts like granola, but it isn’t like Silo, caffeine is what it’s all about. Good atmosphere, Australian at the counter.

Cafe Moma: Manny (my coffee tester) pronounced this the best of the three he’d had that morning, which must make it outstanding, since there must have been some sort of diminishing returns thing going on there. Australian behind the counter. Must go back for food.

Cafe Stockholm: has a great feel to it, love to have the time to have a leisurely cafe meal here on another visit. Cinnamon bun nice, but I think I made a mistake having it heated. Micro-waving things like that never works. Coffee was okay, but behind Moma and No Fire. All are within a few minutes’ walk from each other.

Microsoft Eatery: The drinks are great: excellent tea, good coffee, juices squeezed to order. The lunch food we ordered was terrible. Breakfast was better, but the bircher muesli was so thick one could hardly get a spoon into it. Fortunately we’d ordered a serve of yoghurt and fruit too and mixing them together worked. Stick to drinks is my advice!

Cadadia: does a nice blueberry scone of that Germanic type: huge, heavy, dense. Other things will have to wait for another time.

 

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Getting a cuppa in Europe

I mentioned in a post recently that I used my own teabag in a cafe in Berlin. Perhaps that needs a little explanation. It’s darn near impossible to get a good quality plain ornery cuppa in this part of the world, even in London, but certainly in Europe proper.

Kusmi contaminates everything. Typical teas:

Euphoria A tasty blend of maté, chocolate and orange, Euphoria is the perfect drink for a wellness-inspired teatime. Chocolate lovers can now indulge without feeling guilty.

Sweet Love A true invitation to awaken your senses, Sweet Love offers smooth, sensory delights. Its blend of spices, guarana, liquorice and pink peppercorn has a naturally sweet taste. No one can resist its enticing flavour.

I realised how bad things had got when I went to Boreal one day and this happened. Of the 28 varieties of Kusmi flavoured teas, they used to stock one that was just tea flavoured. If you wanted a cup of tea that didn’t taste like liquorice or peppercorns or guano (sic), you could order that one tea. But one day I walked in and even this had disappeared to make room for Prince Vladimir or detox or booster or something equally untea-like.

I wrote and complained. I asked wasn’t it enough to have 27 weirdshit varieties of tea, did they really REALLY need that 28th one? Couldn’t they squeeze in one plain tea? The management responded that they might consider it the following winter, that is to say, in many months’ time. I replied with a threat that they could not have cared less about: well, in that case, I will consider coming back to your establishment in winter. In contrast, see what happened when my local French cafe Cacao in Melbourne tried doing this to me here.

In fact I didn’t. I realised that I was much better off saving my tea money for trips elsewhere. I have tea at home. I carry around teabags for emergencies. I sometimes carry my own milk too. In Geneva, like much of Europe, almost no cafes have fresh milk. You get UHT milk, or that coffee creamer plastic tub that passes for good taste over here. Particularly mysterious, this, in a country in which the population is largely cows.

Fortunately, as is the case in Australia, where even if, like me, you don’t drink coffee, you can nonetheless reliably suppose that with good coffee comes good food and good tea, the same holds for Berlin. Go to one of those terribly earnest nothing-in-the-world-is-more-important-than-the-right-attitude-to-coffee cafes and you will get commensurate standards with what they consider to be the incidentals, that is to say, tea and food. I didn’t have a bad cup of tea in Berlin.

In fact, it was the first time since I’ve left Australia where I really felt like saying Aaaaah. Robur.

Facil: a two-star Michelin restaurant in Berlin

We decided, apart from testing the cafes of Berlin, to have one first rate restaurant experience. That’s a difficult choice, there are a host of classy establishments offering affordable, interesting dining.

Like high end dining the world over, in Berlin it is dominated by male chefs. Sonja Frühsammer is the only female to have a Michelin star. Causing a lot of excitement lately has been Dottir, headed by Victoria Eliasdóttir, a young Icelandic chef. You get an idea of her style, which really fits into the cafe decor of Berlin, as it would Melbourne, on the restaurant’s facebook page. Initially we made a booking here, but unfortunately she’s such a star right now that she has two seatings and it didn’t seem to us we could fit in either for an evening meal.

Instead we chose Facil for lunch. One of the things that attracted me to this place is that unlike that sense one has of cafes and restaurants in Melbourne these days – businesses where the chefs scarcely cook a thing anymore, instead providing a name, doing publicity, more likely to be on a book tour than in the kitchen – Facil is a close-knit group that’s been together for ever. The chef, Michael Kempf, has been there since 2003, the sous chef since 2006, the patissier since 2006, the sommelier since 2001 and the manager since 2001. That says a happy team that is dedicated to its restaurant.

We decided to have lunch there, where an excellent value menu is provided:

LUNCH
VINEYARD PEACH – GOAT CREAM CHEESE, CHICOREE AND SORREL
BEEF TONGUE – RADISH AND YOGURT
CEVICHE OF YELLOW FIN MACKEREL – CORIANDER AND RADISH
GREEN GASPACHO – TARTAR OF CHAROLAIS-BEEF AND DOUGLAS FIR

CHAR – LEEK, CIDRE AND GRAIN
ROCK OCTOPUS – BEAN, ARTICHOKE AND TOMATO
SUGO OF POLTING-LAMB – POINTED CABBAGE AND JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE
SHOULDER OF LINUM-VEAL – CAPERBERRIES AND TASMANIAN PEPPER
FARMER BEUTHE’S WOOLY PIG – RYE BREAD CREAM AND ROSCOFF-ONION

RAW MILK CHEESE
BLACKBERRY, CARROT, HAZELNUT AND SHISO
RASPBERRY, CURRANT AND VIOLETS
COCONUT, EDAMAME AND YUZU

19 EURO ONE COURSE
34 EURO TWO COURSES
45 EURO THREE COURSES
15 EURO EACH FOLLOWING COURSE

Coming from Geneva, where one is relieved to have received one edible main course for 45CHF, this offer is a bargain. The food is pretty much as advertised on the restaurant’s site:

…elegantly light fare accented by purist luxury and modern avant-garde ….the perfect place for unconventional gourmets seeking a culinary experience….style of cooking is modern and creative….fresh and mostly local products…dishes are subtle and straightforward. The flavours are fine and distinctive.

I had recently read an explanation of how Michelin-ratings work. The reviewers are anonymous, anybody might be a reviewer. It is a democratic concept, what is relevant is that you love food, not how you dress. One way or another I tested that out during our meal.

Firstly by making a complete mess of the previously crisp white tablecloth with a errant spoonful of soup. Surprising just how much mess it made. I discussed it with a waitress who said not to worry, there was another tablecloth under the top layer. Well, I already knew that, having surreptitiously established that it had gone through to the next layer and even the layer below that, which was the table protector. My, this was a bottomless spoon of soup. She went off and returned with a small cloth which neatly fitted over the green stain of yes, you’ve guessed it, the green gaspacho, which I might add was a really lovely combination of ingredients. It was the first gaspacho I’ve wholeheartedly liked.

Secondly, by bringing out my knitting. Eating at Facil was both a refined and relaxed experience. I felt no less comfortable click-clacking away than I would have at a cafe knitting meet. I hadn’t realised how cozy a fine Michelin restaurant could be.

It made me wonder, though, how this meal stacked up to something similar in Australia. We have hats, not stars and my favourite restaurant in Australia is Ezard, despite the fact that Ezard is precisely one of those chefs I was earlier criticising for being a businessman ahead of a cook. It has two hats. Earlier this year we tried the express lunch:

EXPRESS LUNCH MENU
THREE COURSES AND A GLASS OF WINE $55

cured swordfish, pickled cucumber, wasabi, soy and sesame,
native finger lime steamed spanner crab dumplings, yarra valley salmon roe, chervil, coconut tom kha
twice cooked pork belly, mustard glaze, black pudding, apple, celeriac and fennel pollen

I would say, despite the glass of wine, that this lunch was more expensive than Facil’s because the dishes are teensy. Nonetheless, I was in love with Ezard’s, but admiring of Facil’s. Being born and bred in Adelaide, I had the privilege growing up in the seventies of experiencing Cheong Liew’s food at Neddy’s. There he was the first in the world to do the East meets West cooking which became a world-wide phenomenon. Indeed when Food and Wine called him one of the hottest chefs alive, it stated:

Liew has earned a reputation as the father of East meets West

So for me this style of food is personal, I grew up with it. Facil’s food is discreet, Ezard’s is exciting. I dream Ezard food. He is Cheong’s heir and I wonder if any chef in the world has taken that mantle as successfully. I’m glad to see that two hats is at least as high a standard as two stars.

Yeah, well. Back to Facil. The staff were all one would expect of such a place, attentive without being intrusive. The setting was serene, the size of the dining room no doubt contributed to that, maybe 14 tables or so inside. The bread selection was excellent and when offering more bread with our main course, the waitress suggested the right one – clever and thoughtful. Other small things adding to the meal were an amuse-bouche and a small selection of sweet endings with our tea/coffee.

I don’t know if I will return to Facil, but that is a reflection on the array of eating available in Berlin; for anybody in town and looking for the European style of fine dining as maintained by Michelin restaurants, may I thoroughly recommend it.

‘No tourists here.’ What makes a good restaurant?

The concierge at our hotel in Berlin recommended a particular restaurant to us. There would be, he assured us, ‘no tourists there’.

Well, there is the point, being a tourist, that I’m being insulted to my face. But leaving that aside, what I’ve never understood about this derogatory attitude towards ‘the tourist’ is that ‘the tourist’ is a resident somewhere else. What is supposed to happen exactly in this process? At home, let’s say in Melbourne, I’m an exacting connoisseur of food wherever I go, and that’s in the most exacting city in the most exacting country.

But I go to Berlin. Suddenly I’m no longer this fussy pedant. Instead I’ve become an ignorant buffoon without a clue as to what good food is. And my concierge is going to send the new food-dumb me to a place where no other foreign food nitwits will be. Just me.

What gives here? It’s too stupid for words. I will happily often rely on the opinion of a tourist rather than a local. It depends, doesn’t it. I’m not going to rely on the word of an overweight American whose tripadvisor reviews are always lamenting the absence of Starbucks or praising the all-you-can-eat. But I am likely to rely on the word of an Australian, all things being equal. Whereas if I am in Leipzig, I shan’t trust the opinion of anybody at all.

Which brings me to the schnitzel and the reason why Leipzig is to be seen as a town of hazards which need to be negotiated in the process of searching for food. After a good deal of research I felt assured that the place to go for good honest German food would be Großer Keller. For those that aren’t in the know it is in a famous old arcade in the old town.

I shan’t complain about the noise or the heat: it’s a large place full of people having a beery good time and noise and heat are going to be part of that. I shan’t complain about indifferent service, I guess staff at places like that don’t have much fun. But I will complain about the horrible food. I thought I’d be on safe ground with a schnitzel, but that was not the case.

My BREADED VEAL ESCALOPE -200g- 20.90 was not even in the ballpark of veal. Why there is a certain sort of place that thinks a huge paper thin piece of overcooked meat is desirable, I don’t know. Presumably it’s because they have a certain sort of customer. It wasn’t as bad as the worst schnitzel I’ve had – a story for another time – but it wasn’t far off the mark. I was with two others, neither of whom thought anything about the place, including the food, was acceptable.

This was a case where the almost universal online opinion was that this was a good eating experience, and if you went to look at the ‘poor’ reviews on tripadvisor (for example), the complaints were mainly about service, not the food. Even Australians – may I hang my head in shame – spoke well of it. Touristy but okay anyway!

Ha. I beg to differ. This early experience in Leipzig put me in my shell. I ventured out a couple of times while there to Hotel Fürstenhof to eat at their winter garden bar. Here I had a better schnitzel with a nice warm potato and cucumber salad which is a traditional accompaniment. It was a pleasant place to eat, excellent service and only a little more expensive than my previous night’s experience. Presumably, being a hotel, we can describe this as a touristy place too. We found the food here to be very nice on several occasions over the few days we were in Leipzig. It was a safe bet after that first bad experience.

But it was back in Berlin again that I had a schnitzel that made me happy, in particular because it was, as advertised, veal, but also because instead of being a dried out piece of cardboard in crumbs, it was a thicker, smaller succulent piece of meat. It was at the restaurant next to our hotel: The Aigner.

Wiener Schnitzel
from saddle of suckling veal
with a lukewarm potato-cucumber salad with bacon 23

All of two euros more than the first one I had, but in lovely surrounds with efficient, but nonetheless enthusiastic, waiting staff. Silver service as opposed to bar tavern. Again, one would have to say this is a tourist spot, located in Gendarmenmarkt.

On another occasion we had their specialty:

Boiled beef served in a Brass-Kettle
Garnish
Sliced pancakes 1.5
Classic egg custard 1.5
Bone marrow dumplings 1.5

The Brass-Kettle
Prime boiled beef from young bull
a piece of Vienna in Berlin 26
Boiled breast of young bull
very succulent 23
Boiled beef tongue
delicate and cured 22
“Gustostückerln“ –
combination of meat 25

All sorts of beef are served in a brass kettle together with beef soup
and root vegetables. The soup is the first course and comes with
your selected garnish. The main course – the boiled beef- will be
served with creamy spinach and hash browns and with
horseradish and crème fraîche.

I’m a sucker for those Austro-Hungarian boiled meat and creamed spinach dishes. This one was notable for the lightness of the spinach, bogged down in cream it was not. The whole thing was very nicely done.

Is there a moral to the story? One can’t generalise about how to get information about eating. I mean to say, you don’t look inside the window of a Sizzler’s in the US or Australia and go through this thought process ‘Hmmm. Full of locals. Must be good.’ Tell me you don’t do that. Please. So the idea that because we see a Chinese restaurant full of Chinese people makes it good, must be flawed mustn’t it? Even if we accept the possibility that the Chinese in general have higher food standards than Americans.

By the way. Sizzler is retiring injured in Australia, closing shop. Between that and the singular failure of Starbucks in Australia, maybe it is not just pure chauvinism to find Australian opinion more reliable.

Next up: we visit a two star Michelin restaurant in Berlin.

Breakfast in Berlin

Living in exile here in Switzerland, undoubtedly the single thing I miss most is the Australian cafe. You can tell how dire things are from this. Go to tripadvisor and look for the highest rated cafe in Zurich. It is Cafe New Zealand. It’s only been open a few months, it’s in the seedy redlight district below a backpacker’s hostel. One wouldn’t have thought this was the stuff to make the hospitality industry of Switzerland quake in its boots, but such is the dismal nature of the cafe in this country that it should be doing so. The antipodean cafe is heading this way. Unfortunately this intrepid sortie into Switzerland has a food menu which is, alas, more Swiss than Australian. But do I have cause for optimism?

Enter Berlin, my newly discovered and unexpected home away from home. I’ve never been in a place in Europe that feels like Australia – maybe Melbourne, or even Adelaide. Part of this was the look of the place. Wide roads, a combination of very high buildings (which are generally lacking in Europe) and lower ones mixed together.

But it was also because of the cafe scene. There is a strong Australian influence, though I shouldn’t ignore NZ either.

1) Mitte Kollwitzkiez Prenzlauer Berg area

One of the first places we went to was The Antipodes. It’s a charming place with good coffee, good tea and, though the sampling will have to be for another time, we believe good food. Its setting is serene, the day was lovely, sitting outside with a book – wunderbar.

Nearby is The Barn. I don’t know if this was an Australian venture – it did have several Australians behind the counter while we were there. This does European food, so we had a nice sandwich, good cakes. As for the coffee, I will leave it to you to decide if they take themselves just a tad too seriously.

Apart from coffee rules regarding milk and sugar, there are some others to do with how the place functions. The first I thoroughly approve of: no laptops. It was a pleasure to be in a place that didn’t feel like an office as we lingered over our repast. The second is not something of which to approve or disapprove: strollers/prams aren’t allowed. Well, honestly, the place is about 2 square metres in all, so this is hardly surprising. Who would try to take a baby in tow to such a place?

What struck me, having read their spiel online and being a little circumspect about going, is that it is a lovely friendly place for people who aren’t addicted to being online. Yay.

In this Mitte Kollwitzkiez Prenzlauer Berg area there are lots of other lovely cafes as well: next time for us.

2) Kreuzberg Bermannkiez area

Our next outing took us to the Kreuzberg Bermannkiez area where you will find – again amongst lots of cafes that look good – The Melbourne Canteen. Oh the happy little humming noises I could have made here. It’s fairly large, a bit dark, but a nice place to hang out. It has an unambitious but quintessentially Australian menu.

Melbourne Canteen Breakfast & Lunch Menu

Two Eggs poached, fried or scrambled on a sourdough toast 4 €

with a choice of sides from 1,5 €

Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon or Parma ham 7 €

Eggs Florentine 6,5 €

Eggs Berliner 6,5 €

Boiled egg with toy soldiers 2,5 €

Avocado on toast 5,90 €

Sourdough toast with marmelade, honey or Vegemite 1,5 €

Corn fritters with bacon & avocado and a crispy salad 7,5 €

Parma ham & cheese toastie 5,5 €

Ricotta pancakes with Greek yoghurt & banana 5,9 €

Seasonal fruit salad with Greek yoghurt & walnuts 4,5 €

Sausage rolls 4,5 €

Quiche Lorraine 3,5 €

Vegetable tart 3,5 €

Selection of daily fresh salads from 4 €

FRESHLY BAKED PANINI

Tomato & mozzarella with fresh basil 3,5 €

Ham & Cheese 3,5 €

Roasted seasonal vegetables & rocket 3,5 €

Bacon lettuce & tomato 3,9 €

Chicken, tomato & basil 4 €

FOR THE SWEET TOOTH

The Melbourne Canteen citrus cheese cake

Lamingtons, Madeleines, Anzac biscuits

And many other freshly baked cakes and pastries

After egg dishes, we decided to sample the sausage rolls too – simple unadulterated honest things they were.

Again, there are lots of cafes in the area. We would have dropped in on Chapter One, but they were closed on a Monday.

3) Friedrichshain

Now, although we will happily return to The Melbourne Canteen, nonetheless, the highpoint for us was Silo. It’s in a third part of Berlin’s ‘burbs that we explored, Friedrichshain. They pretty much only speak Australian, the menu is written in Australian and it has that high end Australian cafe commitment to both ingredients and the outcome.

We both had Citrus Avo, with Bacon & Manchego; true this is a simple dish that requires and did have excellent components, but nonetheless, poached eggs require precision timing and these are as good as I’ve ever had, maybe the best. My whole-hearted admiration for a kitchen staff which can do that at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon, with a packed out – if small – restaurant banging their cutlery on their tables ‘Eggs, eggs, eggs, give us EGGS’!! Well, okay, nobody was doing that, but the staff all knows that this is what the patrons want to do. They are thinking it, for sure.

Coffee was good; a small miscommunication with my order meant I used my own teabag as I thought they only had weird teas, but this practice was welcome. Super friendly, completely together staff, brilliant. Oh, and the cakes we had for dessert? A gluten free banana bread was as it should be, ie yummy and not an afterthought for the diet fusspots. A pear and salted caramel stacked brioche with mint and Philadelphia was supposed to be shared with the banana bread, but we were both so happy with our starts, we didn’t want to exchange.

I notice on their fb page a while back this statement which really sums up the place:

Silo Coffee are looking for a Kitchen Assistant to produce and prep our daily breakfast menu. This job requires to produce orders on demand both independently and in a team. We are a close knit, passionate, organised and hard-working team and are only seeking people of a similar mindset and work ethic.
Prep, time management and efficiency are all absolutely key in providing a good service out of a relatively small kitchen for a lot of covers.
The successful candidate will gain long-term, contracted employment with a workplace committed to team culture and delivering great coffee and food to Berlin.

To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, and hoping for the best, ‘First we’ll take Berlin, then we’ll take Geneva’. Please come and take us. Please, please, PLEAAAASSSE?

Bookshops in Berlin

(1) Mitte Kollwitzkiez Prenzlauer Berg.

There were several areas of Berlin we went to that struck me as places I’d love to live and this area would have to be top of the list.

The first bookshop we went to was St George’s English Bookshop.

Can’t recommend this place too highly. It has an excellent selection of stock, both new and secondhand with a special emphasis on local. This is the place to buy English translations of German books. I’m in the middle of one now: Going to the Dogs by Erich Kästner. It has nice seating and a really good feel to the place.

If only Geneva had such a place. We did have a specialist English bookshop, but most people here would rather support Amazon than a local bookshop. Thankfully Berlin doesn’t seem to have this disease.

Next we went to Shakespear & Sons. This has much smaller holdings than St George’s. On the other hand, it is a delightful place to pass the time with inviting arrangements of sofas, tables and chairs. You can also eat here and I am told the bagels are splendid – unfortunately sampling them will be the onerous task of another visit.

Finally over this side of town we dropped in on Mundo Azul.

This is a specialist children’s bookshop for many languages including English. We were there so Manny could shop for books to develop his fledgling German. There are areas for small children to occupy themselves, but fortunately some adult sized seating as well. I knitted, Manny shopped. After all, at the yarn shops he read while I shopped. There was a nice balance to our day.

This is by no means an end to the bookshops in the area, but it was what we planned for the day.

(2) Kreuzberg Bermannkiez area.

This is another area with a vast array of bookshops. Unexpectedly, it was a not-for-profit shop we found to be the best.

Berliner Büchertisch is a spotless, large bookshop with an excellent assortment of stock. It is predominantly German, but it had a good English section. We went to their shop at Gneisenaustraße 7a. They have another large shop a few minutes’ walk away, but it was closed, being a Monday.

We were disappointed with the other bookshops we went to in this part of town. One was Fair Exchange which unfortunately had a relatively small and unappealing selection of stock. I do wonder if that isn’t because it is competing with both Berliner Büchertisch and Another Country. The latter is large and ramshackle. It is the furthest removed from spotless of anywhere I went in Berlin. Not to put too fine a point upon it, we didn’t stay for long. It seemed to be very popular, lots of people in there browsing away. I gather it is a veritable institution in Berlin. Enough said!

There were two shops we intended to visit in this area and decided we didn’t have time for: Perquod Books and The Curious Fox. The former is a multilingual shop, the latter is English books, new and secondhand. I look forward to visiting these next time!

So it’s Sunday. The bookshops are all shut, no Sunday trading in this part of the world. What do you do for your bookshopping fix? The answer is flea markets. We went to one here:

It was raining and we didn’t idle, but nonetheless there were German books to be had for a few euros apiece and some English too. This is an area stacked with bookshops which will be for another trip. I love the look of Cafe Tasso which, being a cafe, opens on Sunday as well as the rest of the week and Lesen und Lesen has caught my eye too. Merely to name a couple!

You’ve got the drift of this post? Berlin is a bookshopper’s paradise even if you are stuck, as I am, on English. I can envisage a time when the bookshops disappear here as they have in English speaking countries. Quite apart from the precariousness of having to rely on a population that doesn’t want Amazon warehouses to set the tone of a town, I wonder whether Berlin is able to support so many bookshops because it is a cheap city. I understand, however, that this has changed quite a lot over the last years and will continue to do so. One hopes it doesn’t become a wasteland like Fitzroy Street St Kilda, with many premises empty and the bookshops expelled by landlords who don’t care about the community and would rather have an empty premise than a bookshop paying a modest rent.

May Berlin never suffer from this plight.

Yarn shops in Berlin

This is by no means a comprehensive survey – Berlin has yarn shops coming out of its whatsit. It suited us, for reasons that will become evident, to go to two areas of Berlin for our explorations of the town.

(1)Kreuzberg Bermannkiez area.

It was an education coming from Geneva. Here, with one exception, all the yarn shops are the same, they keep exactly the same labels and even exactly the same yarns from each label. In Berlin, it seems every shop has its own character. Die WollLust has a stress on lace knitting and not necessarily at fine gauge either. They have lots of samples knitted up and suggestions for patterns. A large variety of labels which were new to me, very friendly staff, a wife and husband, the latter speaking good English should you happen to need it. They had a winder set up and so I wound the skeins of silk/cashmere I bought on the spot.

There is a table set up where one could sit and knit.

Needles and Pins is only a few minutes walk from Die WollLust and has entirely different stock. We were actually lucky to stumble on this one as somehow it had escaped my pre-trip research. It has a wonderful selection of high quality yarns which had me wanting to buy more than just a little something to remind me of Berlin. This shop suited me the best of these two, I confess I’m dying to go back. One of the things I liked about it was that it had Lang yarns which I can’t get in Geneva. Given that Lang is Swiss, I find this most mysterious. Lang make lovely yarns you can buy in France or Germany, but not, apparently, in Geneva! But the range here is plentiferous, many labels, angora, cashmere, beautiful tweeds, interesting specialty accent yarns as well as good quality straightforward knitting yarns. English is spoken! Here I took away two balls of angora and a ball of tweed wool I’m hoping will look good together.

I don’t recall a place to knit downstairs here, but there is a table on the street level outside the shop where it would be very pleasant to knit on a nice day.

(2)The other yarn shop area we went to was Mitte Kollwitzkiez Prenzlauer Berg.

We went first to handmadeBerlin. Another splendid shop, quite different again in stock. This shop specialises in Handmaiden and Ito, so we are talking high end here. There are samples knitted up, bits and bobs, of course and facility to sit and knit. I was torn here too, so much I wanted to buy. I came away with some Handmaiden sock yarn, plush in feel, a lovely red. Really looking forward to knitting it.

There is a knitting shop very near here that I didn’t get to: Knit Knit Love Wool Instead we took a very pleasant – this area is really very nice – stroll to Loops.

Loops has a vast array of stock over two rooms. Again very helpful staff who speak English. There is a strong accent on German yarns here and not as high end as the other shops, so if you want more basic workman yarns, I’d say this is the place. But nonetheless I managed to come out with a couple of balls of Annie Blatt super angora. This is one of my very favourite yarns for winter and it was a great price, about half the cost of the same yarn in Switzerland. Bargain!

We loved Berlin and will certainly be going back, so I hope to visit some of the other shops – and revist these – soon. I will report.