When Ivan travels, he doesn’t simply seek out delicious food to please his palate — he keeps his eye out for meals and restaurants that will help him understand the city he’s visiting. A frequent guest blogger for Travelogged (read about his trip to Iceland and watch his foodie videos about Rio, Belo Horizonte and New York City), Ivan reflects here about a recent visit to Berlin.
It is midsummer at the Aigner Gendarmenmarkt restaurant in East Berlin, and large paned windows open to moderately deserted sidewalks, cloudless evening skies, a midnight on its approach, the hum of tires slowly passing the crosswalks, a light breeze, a fleeting nirvana, a reminder that everything is temporary, to live and to enjoy, to soak in this stimulant. It is the emotion sparked by escapism that culinary arts, combined with history and travel, can conjure. The moment is not lost, however, that such decadence in flavor and setting are the blooming haunts of what was once a war-torn patch of the apocalypse.
Aigner Gendarmenmarkt, the namesake of a famous Viennese restaurant, Café Aigner, which operated from 1903 to 1980 in Vienna, is a wonderful example of the restaurant movement in Germany’s capital city. The Aigner of today has the same set of furnishing as what was employed once upon a time in Vienna, and successfully attempts to replicate the atmosphere of an adherence to well- prepared cuisine that its predecessor represents.
The kitchen operates on a farm-to-table model and everything is fresh. For starters, I ordered the clear beef consomme with shredded pancake and vegetables, which sits on your palate long after it has started its journey, leaving a wonderful taste.
Fortunately, portion sizes are manageable and soon I found myself studying the menu for my next target, which was the veal dumplings with beetroot and mashed chive-potatoes. Depending on the size of your remaining appetite, request the wiener schnitzel with luke warm potato-cucumber salad. The lightly breaded and fried, thinly sliced veal is nothing less than superb in its representation of East Berlin cuisine.
This demand from Berliners to strive for good taste should not be surprising. In the years prior to 1914, Berlin was a cultural center of sophistication and the arts, full of influence, the capital of an economically strong Germany.
But as it was pulled into WWI as the backstop to Austria’s vengeful attack of Serbia, and hence Russia, Germany fell head first into the first World War. The WWI defeat in 1919 was followed by strict rules imposed by the Treaty of Paris, including among other items, that the burden of the Great War financial expenditures be refunded by none other than the German citizens.
This unbearable expense, in addition to the cost of four years of war, created poor economic conditions and a deep anger that would support the rise of the Nazi party, which promised to return Germany to its once glory days but instead nearly led to the country’s complete demise. The Nazi occupation led to to WWII, which ended in defeat and division of the country.
Berlin was completely razed and was occupied by both Russia and the US influences, separated by a harsh standing barrier that stretched for hundreds of miles. It wasn’t until 1989 that the fall of the Berlin Wall truly reunited Germany for what may be considered the first time since WWI.
The seventy-five years between WWI and the re-unification of Germany set the stage for Berlin’s re-emergence on the sought-after-scene of cities to explore. And in the 22 years since the wall fell, the city has constantly been evolving yet always manages to maintain its cool vibe — fitting for a city that has left its dark history behind.