I saw the true face of God in Berlin.
No, it wasn’t the emotional remnants of the Berlin Wall, nor was it the heartbreaking Holocaust Museum (which must be experienced to be believed), nor was it the fabulous Berlin-based drag queen, Tatjana (in all of her amazing glory above)...
It was the top floor of the infamous Berlin super store, KaDaWe.
The day was brisk and I was hungry. Andy and I stepped off of the tram which took us to the front of KaDaWe. The store was a sprawling, gleaming fortress of commerce. The newest designs from Prada and Dolce and Gabbana lined the front windows, draped over the German models like colored leaves in fall.
I was unimpressed. Being from New York, I see famous designers in windows all the time. Unfortunately, fashion for the rich is dull, since most of us cannot afford it. It’s pretty, but unavailable.
We opened the front doors of the mammoth, block wide store. A rush of artificial air hit floated over us as we walked through the brightly lit foyer and entered the cavernous main hall. To our right were walls upon walls of Gucci, Prada, and Versace; to our left a long white hall devoted exclusively to the wrapping of anything bought at KaDaWe. The walls shimmered, covered in gold and white lace. Music from above fell out of the speakers and covered us in a warm hush.
We yawned. How very New York. Just like Macy’s or Saks.
Up the first floor we traveled on the massive escalators, flanked on all sides by crowds of people. Languages rolled and tumbled in the air: French, German, Italian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, fractured English, a bit of Spanish. Up and up we traveled, mirrored escalator after mirrored escalator.
Second floor. Women’s cosmetics (look! They charge a fortune for Vaseline!).
Third floor. Men’s clothes (look! Levi’s are $200 a pair!).
Funny, but boring.
Fourth floor. Home accessories (Macy’s, with better lighting).
What's that smell?
Fifth floor. Kids, kids, kids (fun to watch German kids talk in German).
What IS that smell?
Sixth floor. Party planners. Yawn.
Seventh floor. Something about German commerce.
Dear God. The smell, it's overwhelming, what is…
The escalator stopped at the seventh floor and I froze. People fell over me, children screamed, KaDaWe employees begged me to move, but couldn't.
I had arrived in heaven. I was Bruce Willis. I had died, I just didn't know it.
In front of me, as far as the eye could see was food, food and food. In a daze, I walked ahead, my mouth opening and closing like a fish on the deck of a New England ship, gasping for air.
All around me where giant, sprawling tiny villages of food. Ahead of me was a station of cheeses from around the world. Spanish cheese, German cheeses, wheel upon wheel of French cheeses (dear God, I may pass out), soft cheeses, hard cheeses (I think I’m hard), bubbling vats of melted cheese, bread cubes beside the cheese, forks to dip the bread INTO the cheese (my GOD)…
To my left another small village of perfect vegetables. Impossibly large shallots, round, perfect onions, the most beautiful white asparagus I’ve ever seen (I’m going to grab it and eat it, I can’t contain myself), tomatoes the size of my fist, carrots meant for God, cucumbers bigger than Popeye’s forearm (where are these grown? Mars?), colors I can’t take in, brilliant orange, shimmering blue, throbbing deep purple (purple potatoes!)...
A new island – breads for every corner of every part of the word in shapes I never knew possible. Salt covers one loaf, cheese another, four different sliced olives cover that one (maybe if I distract the worker I can take a quick bite while they aren’t looking), small bread, tall bread, tiny, tiny bread with edible flowers (this can’t be real; I am Bruce Willis), all calling my name, like the tiny mouth-buds on the plant in Little Shop Of Horrors, mouths are in the food, opening and closing, calling me to taste, to feel, to experience…
What is that? Is that…no, that can’t be…
Is that a live butcher in the middle of the store? And what is that behind him?
Is that…no…a…a…sushi bar?!
Behind the sushi bar is a wine bar, a tasting station for cured meet, cooked meats, more cheeses, one for tasting olives, for mustard, for…for…for…
It’s a tasting station for chocolate.
I’m going to pass out and wake up in a German ER room with a mean looking nurse named Helga (wart on her nose, a small, crinkly wisp of black hair rising out of the tip) will slap me across the face with flank steak (the one I stole before I passed out).
If you go to Berlin and you are reading this blog and you are a person who loves food, listen to me. You must, must, must visit the top floor of KaDaWe and taste until you drop.
And on the top floor, above the food floor, is a full service, sit-down restaurant with views of all of Berlin.
Germans know about FOOD.
We tried Gruke cheese, one of the most popular cheeses in Germany and loved it. The Germans though we were crazy (apparently, this is like saying we like Velveeta), but we put it on everything.
We had what they call a ‘California Chicken Sandwich” which was Hahnchenbrust, Salat, Mandarine, Erdnusse and Honigsenf scharf. Amazing.
And in case you are low on bread? Do you need to stock up until, oh, I don’t know, 2020?
I love this German bread.
Salty and amazing, called OSTERBROT.
Oh, sorry. Forget there was also THIS bin of delectable bread…
In the main KaDaWe hall, there was a small station run by a very severe German woman (don’t get me wrong, I really do dig Germans, but they could use a good joke now and then), who served cheese and only cheese all day long. But not any cheese.
This was the most amazing melted cheese I had in my entire Food Tour of Eastern and Central Europe. This was the place inside of KaDaWe:
For barely 2 euros, we got four slices of fresh baguette on a place. Over the bread was poured the strong smelling and mildly tasting cheese (reminded me of the smell of Stilton, but alas, I didn't get the name of this German cheese, so sorry). Served on the side was a hearty serving of pickled vegetables. Needless to say, the combination of the strong smelling cheese, the mild taste of the cheese and the sting of the pickled vegetables combined with the bread was intoxicating.
A feast for the soul and senses.
Germans love their pickled vegetables, and this was no exception. I bought two jars of pickled veggies before we left. This weekend, I’ll show you how to pickle food. It’s very simple, tasty, adds very little calories to food and pairs well.
Needless to say, I’ll also discuss the Food/Mood connection with pickled food as well (can anyone say vinegar?!).
After eating the savory plate of cheese and bread, I was so woozy with the smells and the tastes I got lost until I saw this sign:
Meats are huge in Germany. Meat, meat, meat. I am a fan of meat, but not quite as much as Germans. But as you can see their cuts are pretty spectacular (vegetarians may want to cover their eyes):
And these...(the meat keeps coming, folks)...
And yes! More meat!It was now time to head up to the main dining floor at the very top of the building. I had been warned I would be amazed and I was not disappointed. We took another escalator and ascended into food heaven once again, coming onto this:
Dear Lord – it was food heaven with a view OF heaven. The smells, the sounds, the clinking of silverware meeting plate, of glass lowered onto table…fantastical, mind-bending - a dream.
What is amazing about KaDaWe is you DON'T have to overeat. You taste, taste, taste and don't gorge. If only America would take their lesson, maybe 1/3 of our country wouldn't be obese.
Once you enter, you proceed left and find a small row of food awaiting you, cafeteria style. And by ‘small’, I mean small for European standards. Here is what awaits you…
Upstairs in the main dining room, they had a sublime selection of pastas and what the call a salad bar.
They call it this:
I have no idea what this says (well, I get the baguette part) but it was fantastic.
Amazing array of more pickled vegetables and fresh veggies, along with oysters on the half-shell.
And this:Potato cakes and fresh mozzarella with basil and olive oil and homemade pesto and anti-pasta salad...dear Lord...
There was a small section of cakes, but to my surprise, they were only okay. Here is a standard shelf of one type:
Germany doesn't seem, on the whole, too terribly interested in sweets...but in Vienna?
That's for an upcoming post...Vienna = Diabetic Coma.
When we finally had to leave, I let Andy pull me along, my fingers torn free of a baguette smothered in a lightly smoked French cheese, only made in the south of France. I couldn't ask for the name, as my mouth was filled with bread.
Inside of the taxi, I turned my face towards the towering gastronomic glory of KaDaWe and this is the picture Andy took of me:
KaDaWe, you will always be my coy, intoxicating, secret Berlin lover.
Come back to me, KaDaWe. Come back to me...