Espiners Berlin : Tiergarten, the mother of all grilling places

In all my travels I have not seen an enthusiastic bunch of meat cookers concentrated in one spot like in Berlins Tiergarten. I also tested the most interesting ice creams of the city.

Blick in die neue Heimat. Der Brite Mark Espiner erkundet Berlin.
Blick in die neue Heimat. Der Brite Mark Espiner erkundet Berlin.Foto: Thilo Rückeis

Summer, let’s face it, is drawing to a close. Early. In a desperate attempt to try to fool myself that cruel winter wasn’t really on its way, I spent last weekend in full-on summertime pursuits. No amount of warm wine and bratwurst in the Christmas markets, I thought, can make up for ice cream and summertime grills.

So, I’ve followed the tips you sent me a few weeks back for Berlin’s best ice cream and in my taste testing have eaten enough to last me till next summer. My lactic Odyssey, though, had an unexpected outcome. It became a sociological lesson on Berlin. More on that later.

Before dessert, though, you need main course.

I’ve come to the conclusion that grilling should be your national sport. In all my travels I don’t think I have ever seen such an enthusiastic bunch of meat cookers concentrated in one spot

The truth hit me quite literally on the nose when I was cycling through Tiergarten and sped through smoke clouds wafting through the trees. For a minute I thought the Reichstag was on fire (again), so in a state of alarm peddled fast to find out. The sweet smell of charcoal cooking eliminated my worries and led me by the nose to the mother of all grilling places.

In a clearing, Berlin’s entire Turkish community seemed to have come out to sizzle their kebabs. Whole families - big families - gathered round the burning charcoal. What a great party.

In London you couldn’t barbecue (as we call it) in a park or any space without some health and safety fascist telling you to put it out. It’s another great sign of Berlin’s liberal attitude that you can do this sort of thing - and that there are public spaces for it too.

That said, I hear there are plans to ban it in Tiergarten. Don’t do it. If you do, you’ll be taking away something really special. It had a community feel and it was open enough to join in if you wished. So what if it produces a bit of rubbish. That’s easily solved, surely?

I devoted my Sunday (or should that be sundae?) to ice cream. Thanks again for all your top tips. I cross referenced them with Tagesspiegel’s excellent guide and with your help came up with my own unique list of recommendations. My plan was to find the best and report back to you. I’ve plotted my expedition on this Google map, so you can see where I went and watch the video attached to it, too, if you like.

It’s amazing what you can learn from ice cream. What started out as a fun and if I’m honest a little indulgent consumer test, began to take on the appearance of investigative journalism.

The first rule I applied - to give this job the air of scientific research - was to test vanilla at every place. This flavour would provide a useful measure for comparison. You might think it’s the most boring, but a good vanilla is untouchable. In addition, I would try the most unusual taste on offer.

Rule two: I would only eat out of a cardboard tub. No cones. This would mean that those offering home made waffels or elaborate high-class glass serving cups wouldn’t be at an advantage. The test would stand on the ice cream alone.

I started out in Wedding at Eis Henri’s on Ben’s email suggestion. Home made to Henri’s recipe (who has since departed) and now created before your very eyes by Mohammed the hardworking ice cream maker. He literally scooped the ice cream out of the machines behind the counter on a giant shovel directly into the display containers. The vanilla was ok, a bit watery perhaps, but the mango was fantastic - sharp and refreshing - and the portions were huge and cheap. 

On my bike to Kauf Dich Glucklich in Prenzlauer Berg. A  few of you suggested it and I’d heard a lot about this place - but the queue was massive, the service slow and the ice cream so-so. I know I’m an outsider and should have felt at home with all those English voices, but this place felt a bit fake and I wasn’t sure the ice cream was theirs. If it was homemade it wasn’t distinctive. I really wanted truly homemade stuff. On that score, @chrrristo’s twitter tip of Tanne B on Lausizter Platz was good, organic, but not outstanding. It was made on the premises out the back, though.

So was Aldemir’s in Kreuzberg which had a real Turkish twist. The quark, sesame and honey flavour was tasty, but the vanilla was oily and sickly. They didn’t seem to care about any organic stuff, proudly proclaiming the index of e-numbers and additives their products contained in a little book on the counter.

Schöneberg was, I’m told, the Italian settlers quarter, surely the emperors of ice cream, and so should have been a great resource. But it was South American not Italian ice cream that stood out. Gerhard Eilers, a Peruvian emigre, offered the most tropical and so far the tastiest flavours at Inka Eis. There was Tamarind (a bit like cinnamon and very unusual), Passion Fruit, Acerola and special Southamerican chocolate. The vanilla wasn’t the best, but his others are definitely worth the trip.

At Der Eisladen in Mitte I bent my own rules and dispensed with the tub to eat a fantastic homemade vanilla and waldmeister - a novelty flavour for me - out of a wafer shell. I was told that in the DDR, where ice cream was apparently a real and rare treat, they ate it out of these shell shapes. They stood proudly on the counter in a jar and I learned that they brought waves of nostalgia for “Ossies” buying their ice cream there. For the record: shells are a much more sensual if slightly messy experience.

Back in Kreuzberg, on SarahG’s advice, I saw some of Berlin’s eccentric spirit. Charlotte Pauly set up Fräulein Frost “to survive”. Financial necessity, she said, and an entrepreneurial flair motivated her to learn how to make and sell it. And she’s come up with the best recipes. Cucumber. Yes, you heard right. Thyme and honey. Pineapple and mint. If that doesn’t get your tastebuds twitching, her absolutely outstanding vanilla will. Try this place before the summer ends.

As I licked my way around the city, it suddenly struck me that even a benign dairy product possessed the spirit of its neighbourhood and had the unmistakeable stamp of Berlin. The working class honesty of Wedding, the gentrification and changing face of Prenzlauer Berg, the multiculturalism of Kreuzberg on the one hand and its inimitably resourceful and survivor spirit too. Even in the ice cream lay some evidence of the once-divided city. With those wafer shells there was a little lesson in the difference between East and West German tastes.

I have to say, though, that as good as it all was, when it comes to ice cream the best is my New Zealand grandmother’s. You can make it at home. And if want the recipe (vanilla of course), just email me.

I asked last week for you suggestions about squat culture in Berlin. Thanks for your tips so far - do please keep them coming.

You can email Mark at mark@espiner.com with your suggestions or follow him on twittter at @deutschmarkuk

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