January 16, 2011

Berliner Spezial no. 1: The Best Bagel in Kreuzberg?

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Which Bagel is the most Brilliant of All? 

I greet thee to the first ever Berliner Spezial. And this time – bagels. I can already see those wrinkles on your foreheads, your curved eyebrows and that questioning look: why bagels? Aren’t Berliner-Spezials supposed to be about something representative of Berlin? What happened to Currywurst? Eisbein? Döner? Worry not! They will all receive their due place in the footprint annals of history. However, it somehow felt right to start with bagels. Let me explain...

It may be a fairly new thing, but bagels seem to have been adopted by Berliners. I believe it started with the Bagel Company. A few years ago it was still nearly impossible to get bagels in most places. Cafés in Berlin were mostly about coffee, cake and breakfast, with the odd sandwich out every now and again. And then, just about the same time as the hipsters had invaded Neukölln and Berlin had become a European Tourist Mecca, a wave of bagels suddenly came upon us.

I like bagels. I also like that international flair they convey: at the end of the day they are the culinary outcome of what the academia would define as “trans-national border crossing”. Poor Jews had left their home countries and came over to seek a better future in the New World, just to turn bagels – as they eventually turned themselves – into an essential and innate symbol of the worldliest of world cities: New York. Bagels to New York are like the Big Ben to London. Any city wanting to stand in New York’s worldly limelight needs its own local bagel culture. And this is where Berlin enters the picture, with bagels becoming ever more present in the city’s café culture.

The last week was spent in the company of bagels from five different cafés in Kreuzberg and Neukölln. Those cafés were marked and ranked according to four criteria: Variety, bagel quality, quality of the filling and ambience (an inevitable factor, as we are talking about cafés. Nevertheless, I tried to avoid including the quality of coffee or cake into the picture. There will be other posts for that). Feel free to comment on the results:

Overall rank no. 5: Cuccuma, Zossener Str. 34, 10961 Berlin

Price: 2.50 €

Variety: 5th. A very small and unspectacular variety. Mostly lox, salami and Gouda. The bagels stand in the display case ready with the filling. Visual selection is easier than choosing from the menu, yet it still makes me think it’s less fresh and it gives me the creeps because I don’t know how many hands have already touched it.

Bagel quality: 2nd. Yes. The bagel itself is fantastic. Doughy, tasty and light. Highly good quality.

Filling quality: 4th. The filling itself is alright, even though it’s fairly unspectacular: it tastes fresh (even though the fact it’s been standing outside in the display case might awaken other instincts) and the quality is alright. It’s even healthy, with two slices of tomato and salad. Quite good, really.

Ambience: 5th and my real beef with the place. It is the most Starbucksy of the lot, trying to be a real iBook-café, but without the space needed for a comfortably professional atmosphere. As it is, it just reminds me of what I dislike about Manhattan: Not enough space, too quick and too plastic-fantastic. Americans in need of a less “European” vibe might appreciate it, I just thing it’s useless.

Lox bagel

Final remark: Not a bad bagel, really. It’s a shame the variety and the ambience couldn’t be more convincing.

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Overall rank no. 4: Ringo, Sanderstraße 2, 12047 Berlin
Price: 3.50 €

Variety: 4th: You can choose between three types of filling and cross it with three types of bagels. I’m not impressed by gouda and ham fillings, but you can’t blame them for being basic.

Bagel quality: 5th: I’m sure it was a frozen bagel from Kaiser’s or even worse – Lidl? It was warm, which was nice, but it still tasted of what ready made bread from the freezer tastes like after a good toasting. It was fluffy without being good. I don’t mind fluff when it comes to English white bread, but bagels? No.

Filling: 5th: It was very generous and just right, really: the cream cheese, the lox, the rocket leaves, everything smudged together was basically right. But it wasn’t fresh. Not at all.

Ambience: 1st: Which brings me to why Ringo was such a bagel disappointment in the first place: It’s a really nice café! It’s one of those “wannabe Brooklyn cafés”, yet it is so much better than anything you’d ever find in Williamsburg. It’s got the space, the cake and the prices only Berlin can offer with a touch of inclusive “coolness”: even though it’s a hipster café, you won’t feel bad about yourself sitting there not being one.

Lox and cream cheese

Final remark: Brilliant café, just don’t go there for the bagel!

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Overall rank no. 3: Goldmarie, Grimmstraße 29, 10967 Berlin
Price: 3.20 – 3.70 €

Variety: 3rd: A few more options on the menu than the former two. Officially, you can’t choose the bagels to go with the fillings, but you could if you asked the waitresses.

Bagel quality: 4th: What can I say? Not very good. Really, why do you offer bagels if you can’t find a good bakery to produce them? It was small and didn’t taste of much.

Filling: 3rd: Oh joy. It was great. Quality and quantity all combined. Heaps of vegetables and healthy stuff, carrot and cucumbers cut into small shapes and forms just to give you the impression of being king. Yay. The only problem was that it was difficult to discern one main taste to give the whole filling a bit more character. But still – go for it.

Ambience: 2nd: It’s a really nice café. Just by the canal, comfortable seats, pleasant service. An address to remember (and I am biased by their cake. I know, I said I wouldn’t mention it, but come on, like, rhubarb or gooseberry cake? How can anyone resist THAT?).

Lox and cream cheese

Final remark: Nice café, good bagel presentation, with the filling compensating for the poor bagel quality. It gets even nicer in summer, though.

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Overall rank no. 2: Wilhelmine, Gneisenaustr. 67, 10961 Berlin
Price: 2.80 – 4.00 €

Variety: 2nd: The menu didn’t have more options than Goldmarie’s, but they were a lot more exciting. Not only the usual sesame bagels with lox and cream cheese, but also a za’atar bagel (za’atar is a Lebanese/ Middle Eastern mixture of spices and herbs). Quoting Glee’s Kurt: Vive la difference!

Bagel quality: 2nd: Just about together with Cuccuma, really good bagels. The overall quality of the bagel might have been a bit inferior to Cuccuma’s, but then again, together with the za’atar it was quite fantastic. And anyhow: just right, doughy and joyous.

Filling quality: 2nd: The bagel came out with fewer slices of carrots and cucumbers to decorate the endeavour, but it was generous with the right things. It provided the bagel with a strong, distinct taste of what you had ordered. Very good quality.

Ambience: 4th: I really like Wilhelmine, but mainly because of the friendly service and the fact it’s so close to home. Otherwise, its design and choice of furniture, lights and atmosphere are far from perfect. It’s all very functional and comfortable, but can seem a bit sterile at times.

Za'atar, goat cheese, sun dried tomatos

Final remark: The perfect place to take your parents for a bagel. Cosy and suitable for dark wintry days, it’s a pleasant café with good quality bagels.

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Overall rank: 1: A’horn - Café und Fahrradladen, Carl-Herz-Ufer 9, 10961 Berlin
Price: 3.80 €

Variety: 1st: A list of eight types of homemade bagels to be selected with eight possible types of fillings. No traditional lox bagel, but then again, the world has more to offer than just smoked salmon.

Bagel quality: 1st: What can I say? Absolutely delicious. Perfect quality with the increased joy of choosing between things like olive or tomato bagels. They have the perfect texture and taste. I wouldn’t mind them being bigger though.

Filling: 1st: Again. Very good. Generous amount of high quality filling together with just enough vegetables and pesto to make it all taste as it should. And it even gave me the satisfaction of eating something healthy looking.

Ambience: 3rd: The A’horn is a new place, opened just on the corner of Baerwaldstraße and the canal, which used to be quite a dead and drab corner. Livening up the area is a blessed idea and the design is nice. It’s a perfect café if you want to get some work done: it’s quiet, spacious and you won’t get disturbed. One downside: I had to wait for a LONG time before getting served. Take it into account.

Olive bagel with goat cheese

Final remark: Probably the best bagels I’ve had in Kreuzberg so far, all packed in a pleasant atmosphere. Go there for the bagel or if you’re around the block (because there aren’t any other real options to begin with), but if you are looking for the perfect café, there are better places on this list.

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And a few general remarks about bagels:

1. Size does matter. I couldn’t help thinking how much I missed those bulky bagels from America. You know? The ones you can’t just fit into your mouth. They might be over the top, but they reflect the true essence of bagels: being as large as they are, they’re all about the dough. I believe this is the reason even my Brooklynite family’s embarrassingly horrid taste in food was not able not ruin a bagel. Even though they managed to wham every possible culinary (kosher) atrocity on their table (which was, same as the rest of the furniture, covered by a plastic foil), turning dinner into the most painful experience I have ever endured, the bagels still remained an island of edibility: my own private survival cord through painful Shabbat dinners.

2. Bagels are not necessarily the “healthy American option”, which they seem to be hailed as around these parts. Big, chunky and fat bagels are not any worse than healthy ones. It also means the filling should be treated accordingly. I definitely enjoyed receiving bagels I could eat without worrying their grease would kill me within the next couple of hours, but I did wish I could choose options like “eggs and cheese”. Personally, I would be in favour of starting a petition to introduce bagels with scrambled eggs into the local variety. Who’s with me?


  1. In New York, the cheaper the bagel the better, usually.
    Too many New yorkers find it hard to start their days without a bagel, and when people come to New York City they are like, okay so where are the best bagels?

    But with the growth of organic and healthy food in the city, they are reinventing the bagel. Now they have Flagles... as in flat bagels... now that is just wrong.

  2. Sorrry i find best bagel you can eat by bagel coffee culture.mehringdamm 66.try please gaucomole bagel