December 08, 2010

Reconciliation the Hanukkah Way: Going Greek

Berkis - Taverna

Something awfully strange happened this week: I celebrated Hanukkah (albeit half-heartedly) for the first time since I moved out of my parents’ house. I went to that preposterous Hanukkah-market at the Jewish museum, bought a menorah, fried some greasy latkes and finished with unspectacularly dry doughnuts from the Turkish bakery. Personally, I find Hanukkah food uninspiring, but for the first time ever, I realised the entire holiday was actually quite a fine tradition.

Hanukkah is not a religious holiday, and is therefore considered to be a relatively marginal event in the Jewish calendar. Yet living among people who get into that embarrassing Christmas frenzy every year, European Jews decided they needed something to keep them busy while their neighbours went bonkers over shopping and pre-Christmas-dinner therapy sessions. Celebrating a festival of lights for eight days in a row probably seemed like the appropriate solution in the cold, dark and otherwise depressing Northern European winter.

Hanukkah’s religious outsiderness might explain the fact it is one of the only happy Jewish holidays. All the important Jewish holidays usually involve commemorating collective suffering through more collective suffering (may it only be because they involve being trapped around a table with large, dysfunctional Jewish families). It is usually about how someone did something awful to us at some point. But Hanukkah is different: It is about how we kicked the Greeks’ asses 2.500 years ago. Those pesky Greeks had conquered Judea and done all of the things conquering nations do, until lo and behold, the Jews rebelled and regained their independence (albeit for a short time, the Romans arrived soon enough to happily enslave them yet again).

But with all due respect for stories, lights and traditions, in the current political climate it feels wrong to celebrate one’s crushing victory (as ancient as it may be) over a nation that’s currently struggling with insolvency. Those pesky Greeks are on the verge of a financial and political meltdown and only Germany under the leadership of one sour Frau Merkel is there to save the day. Talking about gloomy perspectives. This was enough to convince me to bury the hatchet: show some Jewish spirit of reconciliation and to try out a Greek restaurant.

We chose Berkis on Winterfeldstraße, just off Winterfeldplatz. The place does not look inviting from the outside and the inside with its overall crème vibe and brown leather theme is not too cosy either. I could add the fact that the lights were painfully bright, but at the end of the day I was positively surprised by the decoration, since the restaurant managed to avoid the dodgy pillars that usually ornate every Greek establishment in Germany. To be fair, even though every little village in Germany can boast a local Greek restaurant, they are usually cheesy and bland at the very same time. Without pillars, Greek gods or that annoying Greek font everywhere, Berkis allowed us to hope it might be authentic and yummy. The authenticity seemed to be enhanced by the immediate reaction to our entrance: the owner grunted at two blokes - who seemed to be the local representatives of the Greek mafia - in order to clear their table for us, which they gracefully did (after a bit of grunting of their own).


The food came quickly. The portions were all pleasingly big, which yet again helped the authentic vibe. We started out with the daily soups: Psarosoupa (fish soup with too much dill, 3.50 €) and rewithosoupa (tomato soup with chic peas and other vegetables, 3.00 €). Both came in big bowls, but were a bit too salty. Alright, but nothing too inspiring here. We then ordered three starters from the otherwise overwhelming variety of appetisers: Kolokithokeftedes (courgette balls with tzatziki, 3.00 €), dolmadakia lemonata (warm dolmas with meat and rice filling in lemon sauce, 4.50 €) and sikotakia poulerikon (chicken liver in lemon sauce, 4.50 €). They were all very good, with the dolmas and the liver being close to excellent. The portions were large and the sauces all had something special about them. Even the tzaziki was a lot tastier than what Greek restaurants in Germany usually serve.


We were quite happy to continue to the main courses: Bifteki gemisto (ground steak filled with feta cheese, 8.50 €), mousakas (well, mussaka, layers of minced meat, potatoes, aubergines and courgettes, 7.50 €) and a chicken souvlaki plate (chicken skewers, 8.00 €). Unfortunately, they were turned out to be a bit less exciting. The souvlaki and the bifteki came with a mountain of low quality chips (those frozen ones that were not fried long enough for them to lose that “really bad quality supermarket food” aftertaste) and dry and horrid pita bread. The chicken skewers themselves were actually quite fantastic – soft with a strong seasoning, whereas the bifteki was a different story altogether: it would have been nicely seasoned, if it hadn’t been for the copious amounts of salt used on them, and the meat was just dry. The mousakas was quite good. It was big and pleasing, quite good quality, but too bland to be a revelation. We then left after witnessing another exchange of grunts between the owner and the two mafiosos over at the next table.

Berkis was quite alright overall. It served us nice, decent food and was definitely a lot better than most Greek restaurants around. It was not excellent though. It wasn’t even exciting either. Greek food actually is very simple, so it’s usually all about the large portions and the quality of the meat and other ingredients. Even though the portions were all pleasantly large, the seasoning tended to be too salty and the quality of the meat – though organic – was not entirely convincing. However, one thing I would like to do is to return and just compose a meal out of the many starters on the menu. They were the best part of the meal and would be an experience between four and five prints if it weren’t for the boring soups and the inconsistent quality of the main courses. For the time being, it will have to be satisfied with a solid, decent three print mark.

Overall mark: 

Berkis: Taverna
Winterfeldtstraße 45, 10781 Berlin

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