And so on to West Berlin. Despite the two halves of the city being unified with the fall of the wall in 1989, there’s still something disparate about the Eastern and Western halves of the city. The formerly Communist part of Berlin has embraced Capitalism with open arms, as can be seen in the glittering edifices of Potsdamer Platz, which looks like something out of ‘Blade Runner’. Meanwhile, the formerly modern-looking buildings on the Western side look slightly tired and dated, as though they’re heaving out a long sigh at how things have turned out over the course of the past 23 years.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area known as ‘Zoo’, the beating consumerist heart of West Berlin. Before coming to the city, I knew only three things about it – one, that it contained a Zoo full of polar bears, penguins and other cute and fluffy animal delights, two, that it was the setting for seminal early 80s film ‘Christiane F’ (well worth a viewing if you like films featuring super hot teenage heroin addicts, scenes of vintage Berlin, and footage from a Thin White Duke-era David Bowie concert. He sings ‘Heroes’ in German! It’s exactly as amazing as you think it’s going to be!) and three, it was a great place to go if you fancied a Currywurst.
I always fancy a Currywurst – especially when it’s as good as the specimens you get from Curry 36. This was an unassuming little stall situated outside Zoo U-Bahn station, which had a giant queue of tourists, students and hungry office workers snaking around it. For five Euros, you can get two fat, smoky sausages and a large portion of hot, crispy fries – all smothered in curry ketchup and mayonnaise. We accompanied these with bottles of achingly cold Becks, and all patrons get a free lungful of ozone fumes from numerous German cars – as Curry 36 is a stall, there’s no seating area meaning you eat standing up. It’s totally worth the discomfort.
However, woman cannot live on Currywurst alone. After a few beers in the food hall at KaDeWe (the largest department store in Europe, which contains some of the most splendid specimens of sausage I’ve ever seen) Mr. McMc and I decided that we’d treat ourselves to a traditional slap-up German meal in a traditional slap-up German restaurant. Which led us to Marjellchen.
How to describe Marjellchen? Well, imagine going for dinner in your Grandmother’s house. Your Grandmother who is fond of kitsch ornaments, whose walls are covered in old photographs of actors you’ve never heard of, who enjoys playing wonky (and continually skipping) records of warbly chanteuses. Oh yes, and this hypothetical Granny from a part of Germany that no longer exists.
Marjellchen specialises in serving up the food from the Ehemalige Deutsche Ostgebiete, the lost areas of Germany: East and West Prussia, Silesia and Pomerania. This is hauntological cuisine, all served up in a strange time warp of a restaurant (when we walked in, we were treated to the sight of a diner simultaneously wearing a monocle and smoking a pipe). And it was absolutely amazing.
To my eternal discredit, I probably filled up too much on my starter – a fillet of smoked eel, accompanied by bread and butter. This was my first experience of eel and it was a revelation. The flesh was firm and meaty, emitting just the right amount of smoke in its flavour. However, the real highlight was the accompanying basket of bread. It was full to bursting with fresh, pleasingly chewy slices of rye, some of which were studded with ever-so-slightly-sweet pumpkin seeds.
My main was the rather clunkily translated Masurian Jugged Game of stag and wild-boar, with bacon and forest mushrooms, besides potato dumplings, stewed cabbage and cranberries. This was seriously old-school food – the kind of thing you’d serve up to a hunter who’d spent all day tracking deer through a wintry forest. The stew itself was rich, warming and tangy – the kind of dish that my father would describe as ‘sticking to your ribs’. However, the true highlights were the little potato dumplings that came as a side. I’d had potato dumplings before when I visited Prague last year so I had some idea of what to expect. However, these were wolfing great carb bombs comprised of buttery mashed potato and not much else. I loved them, but I could only eat one before admitting defeat. “Did you not like them?” said the owner when she cleared my plate, and I was forced to show her my distended belly to prove that that I’d eaten so much, I was carrying a full-term food baby.
It’s difficult to do credit to Marjellchen in words, as there is so much uniquely brilliant about the place – the clientele; the wine, which comes in little glass jugs which you pour into your glass; the fact that every dish – even the desserts – appears to be designed for people who exist solely on a diet of meat and potatoes. Essentially, if you’re ever in Berlin and fancy dining on the kind of food that the Kaiser would have eaten, you should definitely pay it a visit.
Next time, I’ll talk about Kreuzberg – land of hipsters, donor kebabs and some of the best baklava I’ve eaten in my life.