Berlin, a day in the life
‘I like to evoke a traditional image in the name of the dish and then surprise people with its execution – taking the comfort of homecooked food and putting it into a new setting,’ he tells me. One of his most popular inventions is a brilliant combination of halibut and black pudding, its smoky weight a pleasant contrast to the light white fish.
In the borough of Mitte, Weinbar Rutz is split between a Michelin-starred dining space upstairs and a ground floor wine bar. Its stated aim is ‘the rescue of the German cuisine’. Dishes like ham sausage from the Berlin district of Neukölln, lightly crisped on the outside and intensely meaty within, are a banishment to the humble bratwurst. The floor-to-ceiling wine racks are rigorously nationalistic too, with every Riesling imaginable squeezed on the shelf.
Matthias believes that while the stereotypical Prussian mentality of all work and no play has meant that culinary indulgence has historically taken a back seat, it is now coming in handy. ‘The work ethic plays a big part in German kitchens,’ he says. ‘That strict focus on detail benefits more elaborate dishes. We take a very clean, disciplined approach, and it is taking German cuisine to new levels.’ Berlin is a city where little details matter, and where even a dinner plate can contain a revelation.
Night: Life is a cabaret
The aloof exterior of the building belies its former life. Now home to the Speisekammer Bio Supermarket, the only clues to its infamous Eldorado club incarnation are an Art Deco sign above the door and black and white photographs on an inside wall. They show a bar filled with glamorous women – and men in drag – by a portrait of Marlene Dietrich. Ninety years ago, this was the heart of the city’s cabaret scene, known for its decadent, sexually charged stage shows.
‘This has been a gay area for 100 years,’ says Brendan Nash, whose Cabaret Berlin blog chronicles the buildings that have survived the Weimar years, a period of particular cultural intensity in Germany. He lives nearby in an apartment backing on to the former home of British writer Christopher Isherwood, and gives tours of the area. Isherwood moved to Berlin in 1929, capturing the era in his book Goodbye to Berlin; when he left in 1932 it was well on its way to destruction. ‘When Hitler came to power, one of the first things he did was to bring in closing times for all bars featuring decadent or “homosexual dancing”,’ explains Brendan. ‘Eventually, most clubs were raided and shut down.’ The Eldorado building itself was turned into a Nazi headquarters.
Yet the spirit of Weimar Berlin and cabaret survived the onslaught. The 1972 movie Cabaret, inspired by Isherwood’s stories, provoked renewed interest. And in recent years, Berliners have set about recreating and reimagining the excitement of the Golden Twenties once more. For Viva Misadventure, a cabaret dancer taking Brendan’s tour in order to research the roots of her vocation, Weimar Berlin still has untapped potential. ‘It was a period of so much hope and energy, of real freedom and lust for life. And it all went horribly wrong. People want to know why, to understand what happened and get back that feeling.’
The swanky Las Vegas-style cabaret shows at the vast Friedrichstadtpalast offer a taste of the Twenties, but true authenticity can be found at smaller club nights. The raucous all-night parties of the cabaret-era Clärchens Ballhaus draw Berliners of every generation, while the Bohème Sauvage events are joyous celebrations of the Weimar era. Every month, a crowd dressed in scrupulously authentic outfits dug out from the city’s vintage stores descend on the fantastically opulent Weimar-style mirrored tent of Bar Jeder Vernunft. Red velvet drapes hang across a tiny stage, where bands play whipsmart jazz and swing, and singers in ballgowns, silk gloves and slick bobs smoulder in front of an audience sipping cocktails long into the night.
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