The South African’s Guide To Eating Out In Berlin
It’s no secret that I’ve spent the last few months in Berlin. Before I left Cape Town, I was pretty excited to be exploring the culinary side of the city, eagerly awaiting all the yummy food and new adventures that would await me eating out in Berlin. Turns out, as a South African, I needed a serious reality check when it comes to eating out in this European hub. So to save all of you the trouble if you ever find yourself in Berlin, here are a few handy tips.
Disclaimer: I’m writing this as an overview of a general experience and am referring to issues that I have encountered numerous times at numerous restaurants and cafes. There are certainly restaurants and cafes that are exempt from all of the below points.
Kill Them With Kindness
Germans are known to be direct, punctual, and incredibly efficient. It’s what makes them great engineers. Unfortunately, some Germans also find themselves in the service industry, an industry that’s based on smiles and friendliness and, well, good service. Not such a good fit. I’ve travelled a lot and lived in various countries, but never in my life have I had service as shockingly rude as in Berlin. Waiters will shout at you, be blatantly rude, and not give a hoot about their customers. How any restaurant with service like that survives is a great mystery to me, but I was often told that that’s just the way it is in Berlin (the infamous “Berliner Schnauze”) and, if you stay here, you better get used to it. I think it’s sad. The world would be a much happier place if we’d all just be nice to each other.
I found that there are two approaches to this problem of rudeness when eating out in Berlin. Firstly, you can try to kill them with kindness. It’ll work about 99% of the time and those in the service industry won’t understand why someone is being so nice just for the sake of being nice. The other 1% of the time it won’t work. In that case, hold your tears, leave without tipping, and crawl into bed to mourn the lack of common decency and service professionalism that’s so widespread in Berlin.
Sell Everything You Own And Then Some
The lack of service professionalism in Berlin isn’t completely true. You can get it. But then – most likely – you’re gonna have to be willing to pay for it. For years I’ve been hearing Europeans celebrate our glorious South African food prices. I finally get it. And, no, it’s not just the exchange rate. In South Africa, we can get great quality food at a fairly reasonable price. Things in Berlin are just incredibly over-priced in contrast to Cape Town. For example, if you’re having an expensive steak in Cape Town, you’ll probably be paying about R200 a fillet. In Berlin, you’re looking at spending at least 30 Euro (I’m talking fine dining quality steak). That’s R480! For a steak! See the crazy?The Perfect Cup Of Ridiculously Overpriced Coffee
Be Prepared To Dehydrate
Unless you’re willing to flesh out a gazillion Euros for a bottle of snazzy water, which, it must be noted, can come with no sparkle, a little sparkle, and a lot of sparkle (you know, in case you were wondering), or – gasp! – pay the equivalent of R30 for a glass of water, be prepared to dehydrate. Or, at least, be prepared with a water bottle of your own (obviously not to drink in the restaurant, but for on the go). That thing we South Africans do of ordering tap water when we don’t really want a drink but just quench our thirst? Apparently that’s not a thing in Berlin.
In fact, drinking tap water in general isn’t a thing. Almost everyone I met gets their daily water in by buying bottled water – preferably with a bit of fizz! So if you’re wondering where the world’s problem of too much wasted plastic comes from, here’s your answer. I love that South Africans are snazzy enough to simply install a water filtration system. Plastic problem solved. And if you’re on the go and not really wanting to drink tap water without filtration? Get yourself a re-usable Bobble Bottle – best thing!
Going To The Restroom Is Illegal
Well, not really, but chances are that if you’re out and about, snacking a burger and downing a Coke and suddenly feel the need to go – well, make sure you have some serious moola on you for all your restroom requirements coz each trip to the loo will set you back at least one Euro. That’s R16 to make use of facilities installed to keep you a happy customer. I get the charge for public restrooms – if you’re in the park or on the street and make use of one of those fancy self-cleaning facilities, sure, by all means, pay ahead. But if you’re at the railway station or the mall, I don’t know, it just seems a little ridiculous. Not to Berlin dwellers, of course. Guess they’ve got their money-making capitalism all figured out here.
Want To Pay By Card? Think Again.
Now this one isn’t true for all Berlin establishments. If you’re at a fancy restaurant you can probably pay by card. But if you’re grabbing a take-away or exploring one of the Berlin bars, it’s probably best to check if they take cards before you order! It’s not the credit card that Berlin is allergic too. It’s all cards. So kiss your debit card or traveller’s card bye-bye. In a city as alive and forward-thinking as Berlin, this is probably the most backward thing ever and makes life as a tourist incredibly difficult. The days of carrying heaps of cash are way over everywhere else in the world, but in Berlin it’s a time-old habit that will make your tourist life pretty hard. So come prepared with those stacks of Euros and leave your PIN-protected card at home. The Berlin establishments will thank you.
All of this said, there are a lot of lovely things in Berlin. You have culture and life and excitement and all things good and wonderful. And, as you’ll see from the photos, sometimes you even get lucky in the food department. But, generally, eating out in Berlin is just not one of ‘those lovely things’ – at least not if you’re coming from the Mother City. Coming from Cape Town, eating out in Berlin is a nightmare.
And as I’m sitting here realising this more and more, I’m gonna go pack my bags, hop on a plane, and head back to sunny South Africa, where the smiles are always warm, tap water and restrooms always free, good food at a decent price always available, and my trusty plastic card always accepted. We’re a lucky bunch, us Cape Town dwellers, and I can’t wait to be back among all of you and our glorious food!
Oh. One note. Eating out in Berlin is not all bad. They have the most amazing ice cream. Now that I’ll miss!
Article Date: October 2016