January 12, 2011

Gentrification and Food

Silberlöffel - Neukölln

One of the incredible contradictions inherent to Berlin is how mellow and low-key it can seem, when in fact it is in the process of going through extreme changes. Walking down Berlin’s quiet and slow paced streets, it is hard to imagine that they change their wardrobe a lot more often than the buzzing streets of Paris or to some extent even Manhattan. Just think of the pace in which most of Berlin’s central districts have ceaselessly been reinventing themselves in the last couple of decades following the fall of the wall. Yet nowhere has this change been as complete or rather as intense as in the northern end of Neukölln AKA Kreuzkölln.

Talking about Kreuzkölln is always quite an ordeal. It fills me with tears and makes me feel like an old spinster talking about the good old times that will never return. My recollections are always about a different, primal and naïve Berlin; the way it was when I had only just arrived with my oversized bags at the Zoologischer Garten on the night train. I love wallowing in memories of things long gone. However, there is still one disturbing fact attached to my endless Berlin-nostalgia; even though I may consider myself to be older than the hills, I’ve only been here for a mere six and a half years. And within such a short time, Kreuzkölln has managed to change beyond recognition. Hell, forget six and a half years, why won’t you make it three? Up to roughly three years ago, the very name Neukölln had been enough to scare off most decent folks. True, people had talked about the possibility of Neukölln becoming the next best thing, but frankly – nobody had taken any of it seriously.

And then it happened. It started out of nowhere and within mere months the area between the canal, Kottbusser Damm and Sonnenallee all the way to Pannierstraße suddenly metamorphosed into hipster paradise. By the time Zitty dedicated its cover story to Neukölln, it had already been clear that Kreuzkölln was the most up-and-coming area east of the Atlantic. Weserstraße had already been paved with bars and Friedelstraße had gained a reputation for being Kreuzkölln’s culinary heart. Did someone just say the word “cool”?

Yet I, I still remember what it used to be like before the invasion. But as hard as try to conjure up a positive picture of it, I just keep coming to the same unavoidable conclusion: despite the romantic edge attached to talking about places before the hipster takeover, the place was quite a dump. I just remember Friedelstraße as one of these generically plain, empty streets you could also find in Wilmersdorf or Steglitz.

The only two points of interest on Friedelstr. were the Mona-Lisa and Eckbert, both on the corner with the canal. The Mona-Lisa was a dodgy pizzeria, now replaced by another dodgy Indian restaurant. The Eckbert, however, was a real institution. It combined a splendid location inside a corner-building alongside the canal with good, hearty German food, a ghastly aquarium and the most obnoxious waiter Berlin has ever produced (which is – as almost everyone would agree – quite a thing to achieve, with waiters in Berlin constantly competing for that one). It was precious. And then it moved out in December 2009 and a few months later a new restaurant, Silberlöffel, opened its gates. The new owners changed the dodgy interior into something more upscale, with the smudgy pink walls painted white and the plain massive tables replaced by posher dark wooden furniture. Oh, and yes, that sordid aquarium is gone, too. The large and simple menu of the old Neuköllner institution was also replaced by a rather small variety of traditional German dishes with a changing daily menu. Now that the place has been around for nearly a year, I thought it was about time to check out that symbol of Neuköllner gentrification.

As we walked through the door, I saw my old Eckbert habits refused to die: my eyes were swerving into a frown and my muscles were ready to flex to fend off an obnoxious remark to be made by the waiter. Instead, we were greeted with a smile and a friendly “guten Abend”. We ordered a large Lübzer (3.50 €) and a glass of nice French Cabernet Sauvignon (3.40 €) and started examining the menu.

Schnitzel and Spätzle

Being in a carnivore mood, we opted for the very meaty options. However, it feels like I should at least mention that the menu is very accommodating for vegetarians, with roughly half the main courses and starters being completely without meat. We started by sharing the standard appetizer-plate (the one with meat on it, 7.40 €, also exists in a vegetarian version for a couple of cents less). It contained a variety of the usual German sausages, grilled salmon, antipasti-like vegetables and a vegetarian paste. All in all, it was good. The portion was pleasingly large and the quality of the produce was definitely good. The grilled vegetables were sometimes too grilled though. It was a nice dish, but not all too refined. The pleasant surprise came with the main courses. We ordered the Wiener Schnitzel (it usually comes with a potato salad and another cucumber salad, but as I despise both, I ordered Spätzle instead. All for 14 €) and a Hüftsteak (sirloin steak, with fried potatoes and a salad, and by far the most expensive thing on the menu 17.50 €). The schnitzel was absolutely perfect: a large portion, tasting of meat and not only the batter, whereas the meat was thinly sliced, as it should be. The batter was also extremely tasty and not too greasy. The spinach-green Spätzle I got on the side were also very good. The steak was pleasing as well: good quality meat, with medium being medium. Not too charred and not too bloody. It reminded me that eating real meat was actually great fun.


We ended the meal with a crème brûlée (3.80€), which was very good despite the fact I thought it was a bit too lemony, and a splendid Kaiserschmarrn (5.50 €). The Kaiserschmarrn was one of the best I have had in Berlin so far – perfectly doughy and soft, and yet caramelised where it should be. It was spectacularly enjoyable.

And that brings us to the end of the meal: it was not perfect, but it was definitely worth more than four prints, which leaves us with five. To be fair, the less spectacular parts of the meal were also priced accordingly (the appetizers cost almost half of what one would pay elsewhere for a large antipasti plate and were not any worse for it). It will thus have to be remembered as a positive side of gentrification. And about that legendary Eckbert: it moved to Görlitzer Park to a new location called Eckbert Zwo, which will have to appear on this blog at some point in the near future.

Overall mark:

Maybachufer 21, 12047 Berlin
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