Berlin: Shish And Sauerkraut To Go

Berlin has a huge Turkish population, hip Kreuzberg is their home. Just follow your nose - it's where some of the city's best food is served. Andrew Spooner tucks in.

I'm staring at a mountain of delectable grilled meat. There's moist lamb shish, tender chicken, pungent kofte (a minced, spiced sausage) and luscious lamb chops. It is my third day sampling the delights of Berlin's Turkish food and I've arrived at my zenith of indulgence at the city's celebrated Hasir restaurant. I've already gorged on a mammoth spread of meze (starters). Then comes salad and bread. My eating buddy, Heiko, a Berlin film-maker, looks incredulous. "I don't think I can eat all this," he says.

Half an hour later and we are looking at a pile of bones. The table is cleared and the waiter reappears with dessert. Oh no. "This is called a kunefe," he says. "It's a shredded, filo-style wheat cake drenched in honey syrup and stuffed with feta cheese. We then smother it in cream and crushed pistachios and eat it warm." The kunefe is humungous and I don't know how much more of this I can take. I notice that Heiko's eyes are as big as saucers. Before I know it I look over and Heiko is licking the plate. Disgusting. Five minutes later I'm doing the same.

Turkish food might lack the refinement of French and some of the delicate handling of Italian but it more than makes up for this with a huge slice of pure, unadulterated pleasure. The massive community of 250,000 Turks that Berlin is home to is the fifth largest Turkish settlement on the planet - making the German capital the perfect spot if you want to enjoy your food rather than endure it.

"You could say that when we arrived we thought the food culture in Berlin was pretty poor," says Seftar Cinar, a speaker of the TBB (Turkish Union in Berlin-Brandenburg), Berlin's most important Turkish community organisation. While the first Turks arrived in Berlin more than 300 years ago, with a second wave landing during the 19th century when the links between Germany and the Ottoman Empire were strong, most of the city's present population arrived as Gastarbeiters (guest workers) during the 1960s and 1970s. "The rural areas of eastern Turkey provided a large part of the migrant labourers," says Seftar, "and, of course they brought their food and traditions with them. You could also say that food became one of the first sites over which the Germans and Turks came together."

These days it's hard to escape the doner kebab in Berlin. With an estimated 1,600 kebab shops in the city, not to mention the numerous bakeries, restaurants and cafés, Turkish fare dominates. A lot of it is plied from the ubiquitous Imbiss - a typical German-style fast-food outlet that you can find on almost any street corner. But the best food is to be found in Kreuzberg, the heart of Berlin's Turkish community.

"I am born and bred in Kreuzberg," says Gokcen Demiragli, a German of Turkish origin who works both as a tour guide and social worker. We're visiting the small Kreuzberg Museum and Gokcen is explaining the history of the district. "There have always been immigrants in Kreuzberg," she says. "First came French Huguenot refugees, then immigrant workers from eastern Europe, Russian Jews and the Turks in the 1960s."

The museum houses a few simple displays charting these population movements and the expulsion and murder of the Jewish residents during Nazi rule. It also documents the rise of Kreuzberg as a hotbed of squatting and radical left-wing politics. "By the time we get to the 1980s," says Gokcen, "Kreuzberg had become not only the centre of the Turkish community but also of alternative lifestyles."

We head out on to the street, stopping first at the Serhat Firini bakery - "This is one of the best in Berlin," says Gokcen - where I buy half a dozen pieces of gorgeously sticky baklava. The streets around the museum are filled with pasty German youths eager for a dose of alternative underground culture and Turkish women with tightly worn headscarves and obligatory shopping trolley. Then there are the T-shirt sellers and loud music vying with an endless hubbub of Turkish food and goods. It is a curious juxtaposition of wild indigenous youth and conservative migrants, a study in mutual tolerance.

Lunch is approaching and my appetite has been whetted by the baklava. First, we stop for Turkish tea on the rooftop terrace at the Cicek Pasaji, a tasteful collection of small, food and drink outlets housed in an urban development at Kottbusser Tor. "This place has only just opened and the community is quite proud of it," says Gokcen as we sip our tea and bask in the bright May sunshine.

The strong, dark Turkish tea adds a zip to my step and I soon arrive at the canal-side Turkischer Markt - one of Berlin's brightest food markets. Giant piles of fresh, pungent mint, stacks of rotund Turkish bread and vendors hawking towers of obscure sweets mingle with nuts, olives and shouts in German and Turkish. Women in sequinned headscarves, enormous red splashes of vivid tomatoes, children grabbing for goodies, gorgeous smells and colours bustle through the mêlée. If I was peckish before, now I am ravenous. "We all go to a place called Adana Grill," Seftar had told me earlier in the day. "It has an authentic mangal [charcoal grill] and the meat is just fantastic."

By this point I'm reasonably sated and return to my hotel to take a snooze. I'm woken by a call from Heiko and before I know it we're in Hasir and I've devoured a full portion of the mighty kunefe, leaving only a spotless plate behind. "Let's finish with a smoke," says Heiko. A short taxi ride deposits us a Heinrichplatz, the centre of Kreuzberg's nightlife and we disappear into the exotic charms of the Orient Lounge.

"We have a full shisha menu," says the waitress, as Heiko and I lounge in a private, curtained booth. This time I'm sure I've had enough and I quietly explain to Heiki that no, I really can't eat any more and that I am likely to expire if he insists. "A shisha is waterpipe," he says "We don't eat it. We smoke it." My relentless sojourn into the delights of Berlin's Turkish food ends with the satisfying gurgle of a giant and rather pleasant hookah.

THE COMPACT GUIDE

HOW TO GET THERE:

Andrew Spooner travelled as a guest of Rail Europe and Deutsche Bahn (0870 830 4862; raileurope.co.uk). Return fares from London to Berlin start at £193 per person, including Eurostar to Brussels and a bed in a six-berth couchette sleeper service onwards to Berlin.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

For further information contact the German National Tourist Office (020-7317 0908; germany-tourism.co.uk).

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
News
i100
Life and Style
life
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits