Saturday, April 7, 2012

Prussian Pork in Berlin

Berlin’s outward-looking dynamism, nonconformism, and hip self-confidence have transformed it into one of Europe’s most exciting cities. Many world cuisines flourish here, but in the city’s corner pubs, earthy traditional favorites such as Eisbein still survive. This tender pork knuckle dish allows a rare taste of the flavors of Berlin in its heyday, as the capital of Prussia. Berlin had a famously eventful 20th century, to say the least. The Nazi era and the city’s subsequent near-obliteration in World War II, followed by its division by opposing ideologies and the Berlin Wall, all left the city deeply scarred. With points of interest that are often somber and include bombed-out churches, remains of the Wall, and dozens of memorials to almost unimaginable horrors, it’s not really a place for light-hearted sightseeing, yet exploring its layers of history quickly becomes a compelling activity.

 But it’s not all gravitas in Berlin. Reunification and an almost constant rebuilding process have fostered a creative atmosphere that encourages the lively and offbeat, evident in the city’s many festivals, its thriving arts scene, and its intense nightlife. The rebuilding has left the city with a showcase of cutting-edge architecture and its museums have a wealth of treasures to rival any national collection. Berlin is also inventive in its food and restaurants, which include places where food is served in the dark by blind waiters, or where you pay according to how wealthy you feel. Yet its traditional foods speak of a simpler and earthier time, ruled by calorific dishes like Eisbein, which was a particular favorite of both philosopher Immanuel Kant and singer and actress Marlene Dietrich. The enduring popularity of the dish has something to do with Germany’s love of pork – the country eats more of it than all other meats and poultry combined. This love affair dates back to Roman times, when wild boar was the meat of choice at feasts. Fresh, pickled, or smoked pork became the basis for hundreds of specialties, and there’s a recipe in traditional German cuisine for every part of the animal.
 Eisbein is a heavily fat-marbled cut of cured pork clinging to a large bone; it frequently unsettles unwary and squeamish visitors, but remains a firm favorite among Berliners. The pork is cured and sometimes smoked before it is soaked overnight in brine or rubbed with salt, pepper, garlic, and caraway seeds. Its extreme tenderness comes from hours of slow simmering, after which it is served with simple vegetables, such as sauerkraut, puréed peas, and boiled potatoes. First mentioned in a Berlin cookbook in 1638, Eisbein is a genuine taste of the past.
 Cooking Courses
 Berliners have developed a healthy interest in world food, and most courses at cooking schools reflect this. But you can also find instruction on mastering the basics of German cuisine together with cooking modern and traditional German recipes. Kochetage ( is a highly rated Berlin school whose range of courses include instruction on preparing meat, game dishes, and German sauces. Kochschule Berlin ( offers a huge number of courses, including those on the basics of German cooking and its traditional dishes. Kochatelier Berlin ( offers a broad range of courses, including “Oma’s Küche” (grandmother’s kitchen) and the “Berlin-Brandenburg,” lessons on traditional cooking using local ingredients.
 A Day in Berlin
 Central Berlin gathers around the city’s pivotal grand avenue, Unter den Linden, and is compact enough to be explored on foot.
 Begin at the west end of Unter den Linden, at the Brandenburg Gate. Then ascend the impressive cupola of the neighboring Reichstag, Germany’s parliament, for city views. Afterward visit the giant Holocaust Memorial on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate and wander through Tiergarten Park to the impressive modern architecture of Potsdamer Platz.
 Follow the former course of the Berlin Wall, passing a preserved section en route to Checkpoint Charlie, the famous former Iron Curtain checkpoint. Then walk north through the Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin’s most elegant plaza, to Bebelplatz, a square surrounded by stately Neo-Classical buildings, before exploring the adjacent Museum Island, the location of Berlin’s greatest museums.
 Pass through the Nikolaiviertel, a rebuilt version of old Berlin, on the way to the distinctive Fernsehturm Television Tower for night views of city. Afterward, explore Hackescher Markt nightlife area to the northwest.
 Berlin’s Schoenefeld Airport is being expanded to become Berlin Brandenburg International (BBI) in 2012. The city has an excellent network of metro trains, buses, and trams.
 Circus Hotel (inexpensive) is a youthful and central hotel with classy, colorful rooms and a beer garden. -- Luise Kunsthotel (moderate) is an eccentric and attractive art hotel in an 1820s building near the Brandenburg Gate.
 Adlon (expensive) is the grande dame of Berlin’s hotels, with an elegant 1920s feel and first-class service and amenities.
 The Best Places to Eat Eisbein 
 Zur Letzten Instanz expensive
 Berlin’s oldest restaurant has a real sense of history. There’s been an inn on this spot since 1621, when a schnapps bar opened; it was still going strong when a conquering Napoleon Bonaparte visited in 1806. The present business dates back to 1924, when it was a popular stop on the way to the nearby courthouse. In honor of this, all the dishes here have been given legal-themed names like Zeugen-Aussage (“Eyewitness Account”), but it’s the wood-clad interior and classic tiled oven that really preserve the historic feel. This, and its superb execution of Berlin’s traditional dishes, make the place so authentic and so well known that foreign heads of state have often been brought here, including former Soviet statesman Mikhail Gorbachev and former French president Jacques Chirac. Eisbein is the most popular dish, but if you want something lighter, try a boulette – a ground meat and herb burger that’s also a Berlin specialty and is done here to perfection. Waisenstrasse 14–16, Berlin; open noon–11 PM Mon–Sat, noon–9 PM Sun;

RIGHT : Restaurant Zur Letzten Instanz (“To the Last Judgment”)
has counted Napoleon and Beethoven among its customers

Left : The traditional German dish Eisbein, a slow-cooked knuckle
of pork, is usually served with an accompaniment of sauerkraut

 Also in Berlin 
 The plastic and Formica decor of Schusterjunge (+49 30 442 7654; inexpensive) reminds visitors of life in former East Germany, but this old-fashioned Berlin corner pub has built up a cult following for its mountainous portions of no-nonsense Berlin food, including Eisbein.
 Also in Germany 
 Outside Berlin, genuine Eisbein is hard to find and pork knuckles are more commonly prepared as roasted Schweinshaxe, with mustard, horseradish, and pickled chili peppers. However, Max Walloschke (; inexpensive), a friendly 1950s-style urban pub in Hanover, and the lovely old-fashioned Restaurant Eisbeinhaus (+49 20 2251 4670; moderate) in Wuppertal both serve wonderfully tender Eisbein, with giant portions of sauerkraut and mashed potatoes.
 Around the World
 Elsewhere in the world, authentic Eisbein is almost impossible to come by. However, in the US, Mark’s East Side (www.markseastside. com; moderate) in Appleton, WI, is extremely competent at cooking German food and will serve Eisbein simmered, rather than roasted, if requested. Meanwhile, the slight inauthenticity of Eisbein in Bar do Alemão (www.; moderate) in Curitiba, Brazil, can be forgiven once tasted; the addition of herbs and pickled salads gives this dish some South American flair and color.

1 comment:

  1. Well I don't know if I'm ever going to come to Berlin, but thank you for this guide, it's very well done!
    Please visit