Despite my constant fantasising about what the first thing I’d eat in Germany would be, I ended up only getting a sausage croissant from Le Crobag, which was the closer to the French equivalent of a Gregg’s bakery. Don’t get me wrong, the croissant was the epitome of buttery goodness and sausage inside equally tasty, but it was no mind-numbing culinary discovery or the pinnacle of Deutsch gastronomy. It was just a yummy croissant. If we had stubbornly gone in search of ‘the special’ we would have been hungry a long time, and perhaps even more disappointed had we resigned ourselves to something less appealing than a sausage pastry. I think we made the correct decision. It was like getting a smudge on new shoes, or a nick on a new car: the trip’s ideal was dashed, so now I could get on with enjoying it without having to live up to my initially high standards.
We commenced with what became our routine strategy for efficient tourism: the first day in which we visited a place would be devoted to random roaming and unplanned sight-seeing. Explorers in unchartered territory, we would revel in turning an unfamiliar street corner to find astoundingly peculiar architecture or someone doing something inexorably foreign: like couples making out against traffic lights or moustachioed men flamboyantly speaking with their hands. This strategy also racked up the steps on our pedometer, which inspired us to walk around most of the city in a short amount of time.
We refuelled, later in the day, on some seemingly overpriced döner kebab, disregarding the diphasic rule of döner consumption. What rule you may ask? Well, it is as simple as knowing that no matter how apparently tasty a döner is while eating it, the shitty (in more ways than one) feeling of having a belly like a clogged drain and a tongue like salted fish always awaits you in aftermath. In my experience, if one is to eat a döner kebab, one must either be drunk, broke or starving.
But the döner in Berlin was different, at least with regards to the ones we had. Before going into how it tasted, I must first remark that döner, to Germans, did not seem primarily associated with frenzied hunger after a night out or a lazy takeaway before binge watching something on Netflix. It was street food and appreciated as such. One can find stalls and stands cooking the stuff on most busy streets, where people would stop by on their lunchbreak or in transit, or sometimes even buy to be packed up to eat as part of a picnic in the Berlin Tiergarten. One didn’t necessarily feel dirty eating a döner kebab in Germany. The one’s we ate were nicely toasted with salad that did not look like it had been on show for a week. The decadent garlic sauce was much like the spreadable kind you tend to get at Middle Eastern restaurants back in Dubai, usually accompanying grilled platters or in shawarma wraps. The meat…well it was still döner, tasty but a portent of eventual boulder belly known all too well by customers of the British variety. Overall, it was a tasty wrap and we ate it underneath sunshine only recently escaped from the clutches of dreary cloud-cover and in the company of some brave German sparrows that mistook us for the sharing kind of tourist. No-sireebob!
Our evening meal was rather underwhelming, but only because our expectations were so high. Everywhere we went we saw shops and stalls selling currywurst. When planning our time in Berlin, we’d heard rumours of its legendary status amongst the locals, a beautiful plate of red sauce and curry powder on top of large sausages that would topple all pretenders to the sausage snack throne. Our imaginations ran rampant, stimulated by the shimmering charm of google images and food blog photography. Unfortunately, however, the real thing was a disappointment. I personally thought that the sauce would be more interesting than squeezed ketchup, and the sausage tasting more than the generic wurst you could buy at the local butchers.
We even went to the highly rated Curry 36, whose rags to riches heritage is owed to an enthusiastic sausage vendor who set up his wooden stall in front of 36 Mehringsdamm. We wanted the best currywurst Berlin had to offer, but looking back, we probably should not have trusted all the tourist lists and pamphlet advertisements. Curry 36 is now a glorified fast food chain like the rest of the big boys, with the same level of mediocre quality and mechanical consistency the promotes mass production. Maddy never wanted to have another again, even though it was so cheap. I, however, though saddened by the end product, wanted to withhold judgement until I tried a couple more. The primordial currywursts must have been special to initiate such a revolution, and I refused to believe that these were now extinct. We didn’t, in the end, get a chance to find them in Berlin, but we did find something close in Dresden – and we were glad we did.
I think one might be surprised with how much ground we covered on our first day in Berlin. Within around 30,000 steps we saw the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, relaxed in Lustgarten surrounded by the magnificent Berliner Dom, Altes Museum and Schlosplatz, and strolled through the park on the way back to our Airbnb in Kreutzberg. Berlin is a remarkable city with large open spaces and architectural variety that almost mirrors that diversity of its population.
I was also viciously attacked by a sparrow, probably heard through the Berlin birdy grapevine about our not sharing our food earlier in the day. The incident took place near the Berliner Dom, by the Landwehr canal while taking in more sun and snacking on some Käse pommes (cheese fries). Don’t let their size fool you; these are vindictive birds that will not hesitate to peck at foreign guests. Be wary of these cute disturbers of the peace, for more than your lunch is at risk. You have been forewarned.
Taking the whole trip into consideration, we ate very little (yes, little, you read correct) on our first day in Berlin but saw a lot more than we planned. There were so many things to do and try, but if we continued with the same sort of energy and enthusiasm, we knew we would probably have a good shot at experiencing a lot of what we set out to do. Before turning out the lights in our small room on our first night, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for an amazing day, one that would set us up nicely for the ones to come.