The Culinary Capital – East German Cooking and International Cuisine

Berlin today is more international than ever. Influences from all over the world are obvious on the streets as well as in the local restaurant scene. From Asian to Latin American, Oriental to African cooking, a wide variety of international flavours are easy to find in Berlin. This Saturday marks the start of Berlin Food Week, a week of food markets and events to celebrate good eating.


International Cuisine in East Germany

In East Germany, any kind of exotic food was hard to come by. However, a number of restaurants on Karl-Marx-Allee catered to those with an appetite for discovering the cuisine of the GDR’s socialist ‘brother countries’, including Russian, Romanian and Hungarian specialties.

In the 1950s, the East German Trade Association launched seven of these restaurants in East Berlin: Moskau, Budapest, Warschau, Bukarest, Sofia, Praha and Morave (a wine restaurant named after the Serbian river). They all served national dishes and hosted a variety of events aimed at creating a bond between East Germans and their Eastern neighbours. Café Warschau, for example, employed mainly Polish staff and specialised in Polish cakes and other delicacies.

Cafe Moskau
Café Moskau, Source: Bundesarchiv

However, since their prices were steep by GDR standards, these restaurants were patronised almost exclusively by the East German elites and – somewhat surprisingly – guests from West Berlin, who enjoyed sampling a variety of dishes from the Eastern bloc. According to an entry in the guest book, these luminaries included future U.S. President Richard Nixon, who once had a hearty meal accompanied by gypsy music at the Budapest restaurant.

Central Berlin - Cafe Moskau
Café Moskau

Fast-Forward to Today

Unfortunately, Karl-Marx-Allee is no longer the culinary paradise it used to be. These days, if you happen to find yourself in Berlin with a craving for Polish, Russian or Bulgarian food, you’ll need to travel a bit further afield to find good Eastern European restaurants in the German capital.

If it’s Russian food you’re after, check out Datscha (Gabriel-Max-Straße 1, Friedrichshain). For Polish delicacies, try Pierogarnia (Turiner Straße 21, Wedding); for Hungarian cuisine there’s Budapest Calling (Dorotheenstraße 12, Mitte), while Baron (Hermsdorfer Damm 133, Reinickendorf) serves Romanian food and Primaria (Gärtnerstraße 12, Friedrichshain) caters for those who fancy a taste of Bulgaria.

Good news for lovers of Czech cooking: you can stay right here on Karl-Marx-Allee and pay a visit to Prager Hopfenstube (Karl-Marx-Allee 127).

Authentic East German Cooking

East German delicacies are still a part of many Berliners’ everyday diets. Over the four decades of its existence, the socialist state developed its own distinctive flavours in spite of regional differences. Many East German dishes have their origins in the events of the immediate post-war era. After World War II, millions of Germans were forced to flee to East Germany from the former Prussian provinces of Silesia and East Prussia and what is today the Czech Republic, bringing with them their regional dishes and culinary traditions. This led to the creation of new dishes that were virtually unknown outside the GDR, but have survived reunification to become integral to contemporary German cooking.

Küche DDR
GDR cooking; Source: kallejipp-photocase.de

East German dishes were based on traditional local and regional ingredients: pork, beef and poultry served with potatoes or rice. Anybody who grew up in East Berlin will remember dishes such as Kochklopse (boiled dumplings) and Ragout fin from their kindergarten and school canteens. Favourite desserts included the Schwedenbecher, a kind of sundae made of vanilla ice-cream, stewed apple puree, advocaat and whipped cream that is still on the menu of many restaurants across the region.

Eisbecher
Vanilla sundae; Source: time.-photocase.de

Some other dishes that were becoming increasingly popular across the western world, were frowned upon by the socialist regime. When the first pizza parlours opened in West-Germany, the delicacy from capitalist Southern Europe was seen as having a corrupting influence, as were burgers and hot dogs.

East Germans eventually created their own pizza. Although never explicitly advertised as a socialist alternative to pizza, the dish known as ‘Krusta’ bore striking resemblances to its western counterpart, consisting as it did of a crunchy base topped with cheese, vegetables and meat.

Krusta
Krusta – GDR Pizza

A Taste of the GDR

For a culinary journey back in time, there are plenty of restaurants in Berlin that serve up authentic flavours of East Germany.
The best among them include the Volkskammer (Straße der Pariser Kommune 18b, 10243 Berlin) near Strausberger Platz, which serves up down-to-earth socialist cooking in an ambience of authentic East German design, and Restaurant Pila (Weinstraße 11, 10249 Berlin), which is part eatery, part museum.

To experience an authentic East German treat known as Kettwurst – which was as close to a hot dog as GDR citizens were allowed to get – head to the Alain Snack food kiosk (Schönhauser Allee 116A, 10437 Berlin). Guten Appetit – enjoy!