By now I’ve finished my intensive language course, the first of many levels, and I’m unable to take the second level straight away as my grad school orientation interferes. However, I was able to have an entire conversation in German at the nail salon last week, so if that’s not a testament to progress then I don’t know what is.
Living here is still a bit surreal — Berlin is so vast that I constantly feel like a tourist. New York, with its grid street plan, is a wonderful city for the directionally impaired, like myself. Berlin, not so much. Most of the time I have no idea what direction I’m walking in, and that’s with the help of Google Maps. It does make for an adventure, and I’m always up for that.
The past few weeks have been filled with more great restaurants and neighborhood explorations — here are some highlights:
1. A raw vegan restaurant in Prenzlauer Berg
Rawtastic is the second raw vegan restaurant I’ve tried, and rawness aside, this is hands down one of the most delicious and creative vegan spots in Berlin. From the entrees to the desserts to the kombucha to the matcha lattes, every menu item is carefully crafted, full of flavor, and so yum.
2. Vegan döner in Friedrichshain
One of the first things that Max introduced me to in Berlin is döner. It’s Turkish street food that was invented in Berlin and it’s literally everywhere. Döner shops and stands are more common than both one dollar pizza and bagels in NYC. While different from anything I’ve tried, the taste is most comparable to a gyro – it’s essentially a pita sandwich (but it’s nothing like the pita you’re thinking of, it’s better) with street meat, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and sauces. It’s pretty delicious, and lucky for me, Vöner offers vegan alternatives. Vöner is a vegan shop that specializes in döner, and also has amazing veggie burgers, fries, and other “fast food”. It’s fantastic and insanely popular — if you want a seat, don’t go at the normal lunch or dinner rush. Max is the number one fan of traditional döner, and even he thought Vöner was delish.
3. A craft beer bar in Friedrichshain
Before Vöner last week, Max and I were looking for a drink in the area and happened across Frenc, a craft beer bar and crêperie. Frenc is cozy, laid back, and the beer is excellent. I had their IPA and Max had the pilsner, and then we had another round of the same. We didn’t try the crêpes or galettes, but they looked and smelled amazing. The craft beer scene in Berlin may not be as big as it is in the US, but Frenc in Friedrichshain and Vagabund Brauerei in Wedding are no joke.
4. A fairytale-themed bar in Friedrichshain
Sexy Alice in Wonderland bartenders, a wall of absinthe, champagne cocktails served in glass slippers, and more make Fairytale Bar a lovely spot. It’s intimate, imaginative, and mysterious, and both service and drinks are outstanding. The cocktails are a bit pricy, but well worth it, and the bartenders are very engaging and eager to help you find the perfect drink. I’d recommend the Cinderella cocktail (the one served in a glass slipper) and anything with absinthe. It’s actually quite smooth, and if you tell the bartender what flavors you normally like, they’ll mix you a delicious specialty drink. Perfect for a date night or a small group of friends.
5. A burger restaurant and tap your own beer bar in Mitte
In search of an after-class drink near Alexanderplatz, Max, a friend, and I discovered The Pub. Aside from its burgers, The Pub is known for it’s individual tables that are each equipped with various beer taps so customers can tap their own beer. It was packed when we showed up, so we sat at the bar and had some yummy German beers and the best sweet potato fries. A great spot for an after work beer and, I’m assuming, a burger. The Pub has other locations in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, and Romania.
6. Vegan bowls of heaven in Friedrichshain
Following drinks at The Pub, we headed to a recommended vegan restaurant in Friedrichshain. The Bowl is located above Veganz, just a block from the Warschauer Straße S-Bahn stop. As the name suggests, The Bowl specializes in delicious Buddha bowls of veggie goodness. It’s a little pricier than other vegan places, but still affordable and the portions are huge. Everything we ordered was exceptional — I’ll definitely go back to try other dishes. I had the California Bowl which was so much yum: sesame spinach, lemon quinoa, avocado, roast sweet potatoes, raw apple carrot salad, fresh salsa, teriyaki hibiscus sauce, mixed greens, and superfood dressing. The Falafel Bowl was sold out, so that’s definitely my next pick. And they have matcha lattes, so I’ll be trying one of those too.
7. Brunch and matcha lattes in Mitte
House of Small Wonder is a brunch must-try. The original and super trendy location is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the Berlin branch has been open since 2014 and is just as popular. The decor is really warm with lots of greenery and wood, and the culinary style is comfort food with Japanese influences. Max and I only popped in for a matcha but couldn’t resist the menu, so we ended up splitting a brunch plate. They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait for a seat, and know that it’s well worth it.
8. A Mexican food market in Friedrichshain
Last weekend Max and I hosted taco night at our apartment, so we were in need of authentic ingredients not readily available at normal Berlin supermarkets. Chili and Paprika is the spot for all of your Mexican cooking needs. This tiny shop in Friedrichshain has packing in just about every Mexican food product imaginable. The shelves are overflowing with hot sauces, beans, hot peppers, can goods, candies, tequila, beer, and, most importantly, FRESH HOMEMADE CORN TORTILLAS. Sold by the kilo and extremely affordable. They made for delicious tacos and very satisfied friends.
9. Happy hour in Wedding
Max and I have been wanting to check out Schrader’s for brunch for a couple weeks now, but every time Sunday rolls around we’ve forgotten to make a reservation. So instead, we stopped by with a friend for happy hour last week, and now I know why this place is so popular. Both interior and menu have a multicultural vibe: the sofas and lounge chairs are upholstered in various animal prints and moroccan patterns, and the dishes range from tapas to burgers and salads to poutine. Happy hour cocktails are 5€ and the wine pours are generous. Bonus: ambient lighting and chill playlist. The atmosphere here was cozy, fun, authentic, and laid back — exactly what makes a regular spot perfect. Ideal for a date night and large groups alike. Can’t wait to try the brunch.
10. Running in Wedding
I’ve been running all the loops I can find in Volkspark Rehberge, and then some. This neighborhood is turning out to be a very pleasant surprise.
Special shoutout to Kathi for coming all the way from NYC and bringing two of my favs: Cape Cod potato chips and Santa Cruz peanut butter. You are a beautiful gem, thank you!