Berlin is no longer playing catch-up with other culinary capitals but is a destination and foodie center in its own right, due in no small part to the influence of its Turkish immigrant population.
Nearly three million people of Turkish descent live in Germany today, making it the single largest immigrant group in the country. The biggest wave arrived in West Germany in the 1960s to replenish the labor supply cut off by the newly constructed Berlin Wall. The Turks arrived looking for reasonable rents, and headed to a part of West Berlin that had been largely destroyed in World War II.
That neighborhood, Kreuzberg, became a haven for Turks and other foreigners, including those who immigrated from the Maghreb and West Africa. The current mix of immigrants and underground, antiestablishment Germans transformed the neighborhood into a true hipster’s paradise today. Since it's the best place in Berlin to get a taste of Turkish cuisine, Kreuzberg should be a part of any foodie’s itinerary.
Here are some of the best places to get a taste of the neighborhood:
Fisch-Schmidt: Established in 1908, this popular fish market is named after its original German founder. He failed to entice his son to carry on the business so he handed it over to his superstar 18-year-old Turkish employee, Ayshe. She and her family ran it ever since, and the market now serves traditional German dishes (pickled and smoked fish and potatoes) alongside Turkish-influenced salads, sides, and spices. Most of her clients learn about the place by simple word of mouth. “We don’t do any marketing and we don’t need to,” says Ayshe.
Little Gourmets: The enticing smell of these Turkish sweets travels down the street. It boasts variety worthy of a bazaar, with roasted and sweetened nuts, Turkish delight, dried fruit, and baklava. Customers are able to dig through the buckets and scoop up multiple bags to take next door to an attached teashop offering more than one hundred types to sip. The store owners are not at all interested in rushing anyone–they encourage their patrons to savor every last bite and sip.
Baraka: It’s not just the Turks who have opened up successful restaurants in Kreuzberg. Baraka is a Moroccan and Egyptian restaurant named after its Moroccan owner. Baraka’s father ran a restaurant in Casablanca in the early 20th century that was frequented by German business travelers. He thought he could make a killing if he opened a restaurant in Germany, so he did just that when Baraka was a young child. When he arrived in Berlin, he met an Egyptian immigrant and the two decided to go into business together. Today people arrive in hordes for the vegetarian lentil and chickpea soup, and the fresh bread piping hot out of the oven.
Parita Shah covers food, travel, and international affairs. She has traveled to more than 50 countries and believes sharing a meal is the best window through which to learn about people and cultures. Follow her journey on Twitter.