This post is part of my Must Eat A to Z Blogging Challenge series. Join me as I share my favorite Must Eat Experiences from around the world.
B is for Berlin Food Tour Beer & Currywurst Experience
My favorite way to explore a new city and learn about the local culture is through its food. This is why a Food Tour is always a Must Do, or should I say a Must Eat, activity on my travel list. It’s a fantastic way to combine sightseeing, exploring the local food scene and meeting new people from around the world, who also happen to share my love of food. Berlin was no exception. I was in town attending ITB Berlin, the world’s leading travel trade show, and was lucky to be able to squeeze the Berlin Food Tour Beer & Currywurst Experience after a day of meetings. It was a fun night out and I discovered why Berlin’s famous currywurst and beer is a Must Eat in Berlin.
I learned about Berlin Food Tour via LuxeAdventureTraveler.com and I’m thrilled I did. I love to promote local businesses and this startup was founded by Bastian Schwithal, our tour host, a Berliner with a love for travel, food and sharing his dynamic city with visitors. He was charming, full of great stories and recommendations and a genuine care for ensuring his tour participants had a great time. And that, we did!
He offers several types of tours in both German and English, from Absinthe to Whiskey tasting, Coffee & Cake to Chocolate, exploring the diverse food and bar culture of Berlin. Check the schedule online to select the tour and date that best suits you. I chose the Beer and Currywurst tour as I wanted to try something new and was told this was a Must Eat in Berlin. I am not a beer drinker and I had never had currywurst so I was definitely expanding my taste buds.
During the three and a half hours leisurely walk around the Mitte district of Berlin, we got a chance to visit three stops to sample various forms of currywurst and sausages and five stops at local pubs to sample the beer. It was a varied mix of locations, very well planned with enough time in each stop to enjoy and chat without feeling rushed.
I highly recommend taking a food tour at the beginning of your visit to Berlin as you will get a good sense for the area plus, great recommendations from your tour guide to take advantage of during the remainder of your stay. I found the tour, priced at 38.90 Euros, a great value and totally worth it. It included all the currywurst and beer tastings we sampled, and we did not need to spend any additional unless we wanted other beverages.
Why are Beer and Currywurst Berlin’s Must Eat Foods? Let me tell you.
Everyone knows Germans love beer and sausages.
Sampling sausages is a must in Berlin and you can find many shops with cases full of variety.
What I didn’t know was how much they loved this bratwurst dish, smothered in a special tomato and curry sauce, called Currywurst. Germans are so serious about their love affair with currywurst, they have a museum dedicated to it!
It is estimated 800 million currywursts are consumed every year in Germany, and on average a Berliner will consume currywurst every two weeks. A fun fact: the Volkswagen plant runs its own butchery producing upwards of 3.5 million currywurst per year, for the consumption of their employees alone! Currywurst is definitely a Must Eat in Berlin.
What is Berlin Currywurst?
Currywurst, the most popular street food in Berlin, was invented in 1949 by Herta Heuwer, a fast food stand owner, who created a flavorful sauce adding Worcestershire and curry powder, obtained from British Soldiers after WWII, to ketchup. She used the sauce to top grilled and sliced pork sausages – bratwurst – presumably to give a bit more exotic flavor to the traditional German sausage. The dish became popular with construction workers rebuilding the devastated city as it was cheap and filling. It still is to this day, with a normal portion costing around 2 Euros.
Heuwer’s street stand in the Charlottensburg district of Berlin was selling upwards of 10,000 orders per week at its height of popularity. That’s a lot of sausage! She was convinced to patent the sauce in the late 1950s, calling it Chillup, yet it is believed the original recipe went to the grave with her as she refused to reveal all the ingredients.
What is the secret ingredient X? No one knows exactly, therefore you will find slight variations of the sauce at the various street stands around Berlin. Some add onions, others add more spices, yet regardless of the combination, I can tell you all of the ones I sampled were simply delicious.
I tried to recreate Currywurst when I returned home but was definitely missing ingredient X. The City of Berlin itself may be ingredient X, as nothing can replace the feeling of eating this hearty treat on the streets of this exceptional city.
How to eat Currywurst like a Berliner?
It is best to eat currywurst the way it was intended, on the street, with the little tiny fork they give you. I imagine restaurants around Berlin serve their own gourmet versions of this iconic dish, which rather defeats the point of street food, don’t you think?
In some stands, you can order the brats with our without the skin or casing – mit Darm (with skin) or ohne Darm (without skin). Both options are delicious, it is simply up to your preference.
You can opt to add a bread roll – brӧtchen – or not. The bread in Berlin is some of the best I’ve had anywhere and it is fantastic to dip in the sauce, so GO for the roll!
At Helden Am Grill, run by a third generation butcher inside the Alexa Mall, the sausage was infused with curry powder for an added touch of flavor.
You can add hot sauce – schärfe – if you like to add a bit of a kick and various levels of heat are available in some stands. At Curry 61, you can sample Dragonfire at 95,000 Scoville to Black Mamba at 375,000 Scoville! That will set your world on fire!
The traditional currywurst sauce is not spicy in terms of heat. It is flavorful from the combination of Worcestershire, black pepper and curry powder, plus all those secret spices. Don’t be afraid to let them know you want it mild or GO for full heat with some added hot sauce!
One of the most common accompaniments to your currywurst is French fries – pommes frites – smothered in mayonnaise. DO NOT SKIP THESE! If you’ve never had fries dipped in mayo, it’s the European thing to do. The mayo is tangy and much more flavorful than the mayo we are used to in the States. Potato salad – kartoffel salat – is also available as a side dish in some street stands.
You may also notice on the menu board that many of the stands sell each item a la carte, with a bread roll, fries, and even ketchup and mayo being ordered in addition to the wurst, incurring an additional charge. Ask for clarification if you are not sure what is included.
At Curry 61, one of the most popular currywurst stands in Berlin with locals and tourists alike, every bite of our currywurst and fries was devoured.
You can even order their sauce online, which I may have to do to get my currywurst fix until my next trip to Berlin.
Pfefferhaus for spice lovers
The start of our tour that night was a short walk from the Alexanderplatz station, at Pfefferhaus – literally The House of Peppers. I should have known we were in for a spicy evening when our first stop was sampling hot sauces from around the world.
Owner/manager Felix Eichholtz guided us through various hot sauces discussing ingredients and degrees of heat. This shop, one of the few in town dedicated to all things peppers, has become quite popular with Berliners, especially the sauces they produce locally.
If you are a fan of hot sauce, this is the place for you. From chili oils to essences so powerful they have to be kept under lock and key, to the sweeter varieties including BBQ and fruit infused sauces, this hot sauce lover was quite happy. My favorite sauce, and one of the most popular, was the Stinger Habanero Chili, which had just the right balance of heat and flavor. If you’re adventurous they also offer a ghost pepper sauce that will definitely put hair on your chest.
Alexanderplatz & The Mitte District
The Beer and Currywurst Tour takes place around Alexanderplatz in the Mitte neighborhood in Berlin, this public square is the largest transportation and shopping hub in Germany with the S-Bahn and U-Bahn as well as all major bus lines feeding into the Alexanderplatz train station. Look up and find the tall tower, the Fensehturm or TV Tower, and you’ll know you’re in the right area. It is the tallest structure in Germany so you can’t miss it!
Mitte – German for middle or center – is the center of Berlin comprising many of Berlin’s famous historic landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, the Reichstag, the Fensehturm, The World Clock, Checkpoint Charlie, Museum Island and many others, sites that were all once part of East Berlin. During our walking tour we remained within a one mile radius around the Alexanderplatz area and the Alexa mall.
One of the best things about taking a walking food tour is that not only do you work off the calories as you walk from place to place, you also get a chance to do some sightseeing.
The streets of Berlin are full of character and history. The street art in Berlin is definitely a Must See as walls along the streets are covered in graffiti, making for some fun conversation along the way.
I learned about artist El Bocho, famous for creating ‘Little Lucy’ a devilish girl with a penchant for killing her cat in the most creative ways. Morbid but that is art, right? Several of his works can be seen around town.
Posters for concerts and shows are also common and it was fun to see how they glue one on top of the other. This would look dirty and unkept to me in the United States, and yet here it’s art. Amazing how location changes your perspective.
Walking around Berlin, we felt safe, but a word of warning from Bastian, watch out for bicyclists. Around many parts of town they ride on designated bike lanes, located on the actual sidewalk, and they will run you over if you step over the line into the bike lane!
B is for Beer
There is no more popular B in the German language than bier. Berliners love their beer. The pubs – kneipe – included in the tour were all fun, in their own unique style, and now I know where I’m meeting up with friends on my next visit to Berlin.
The Pub, located under the arches of Alexanderplatz station, is a pug themed bar with tables where you can tap your own Berliner pilsner beer, which is not as easy as you may think.
We were all excited about pouring our own beer and took turns using the three taps on the table. The standard pour should have two fingers of foam, but here you can end up with lots more if you don’t adjust the nitrogen valve as you pour. Tables sit atop a 1,000 liter tank located on the floor below and gas is added to the beer as you pour it.
You pay based on your seat number entered on the screen above the tap and tables can accommodate up to 10 people. They even have competitions to see which table in the restaurant has consumed the most beer, responsibly of course! These people know how to have a good time!
The restaurant is decorated with pictures of pugs and their motto Mӧpse Trinken Bier – pugs drink beer –is plastered on the walls. They even have honorary bowls for the owner’s pugs, rumored to be filled with beer and not water. Those are some happy pugs indeed. The beer of choice here is the Berliner, a pilsner style, most popular with Germans.
Brauhaus Lemke was a bit more modern vibe, brewing their own variety of beers. We learned from Bastian the microbrew scene is gaining popularity in Berlin. Here we sampled a craft beer flight of their own four beers on tap including a pilsner, dark lager, Monk beer and IPA, accompanied by toasted malt as a snack. I thought it was there simply for decoration, but found it was a crunchy treat that paired really well with the beers. I guess that’s their version of beer nuts at this pub. I was surprised to find my favorite beer here was the dark lager. It had a nutty, full-bodied quality, without being overly bitter or hoppy. (is that a word?)
Schnelle Quelle was a contrast to our previous stop as it looks like an old style pub that has been around forever, with loads of antiques and funky decor crammed everyone including the ceilings, and ultra soft lighting. Smoking, although against the law indoors in Berlin, is implicitly allowed so be warned if you are a non-smoker. It is said this pub may be closing or relocating to make way for a Starbucks. What a shame.
Hüver, the owner, behind the bar pouring beers was welcoming with that German tough guy look and attitude which just added to the ambiance, and I mean that in a good way. Here I chose to drink a shandy – a refreshing combination of pilsner topped with lemon soda. Not quite a tough drink to hang with the boys, but I needed a bit of a palate cleanser. Remember, I’m not much of a beer drinker and this drink was like playing pretend dress up.
At the Berliner Marcus Bräu, where they brew their own light and dark beer in-house, we sampled a delicious liqueur, similar to a schnapps, but made from beer. Sweet but not overly syrupy giving a nice variety to our beer dominated evening.
Our last stop, and one that we enjoyed immensely was the Weihenstephaner. The restaurant, located in one of the oldest buildings in the Mitte District, dating to 1749, serves beers from Weihenstephan, the oldest brewery in the world, established in 1040, as the monastery brewery of the Benedictine monks, and now officially run by the Free State of Bavaria.
We took up a large table in their basement, a vaulted wine cellar, where we enjoyed a choice of wheat beer, which is their flagship, or a pilsner.
By this point in the tour, everyone knew each other and was comfortable sharing stories of travel, food and life. In their company, I was reminded of Julia Child’s famous quote:
People who love to eat are always the best people”
I met some of the best people that night. To start with, Bastian from Berlin Food Tour could not have been a better host and guide. He is that guy you want to hang out with that will show you all the insider best spots in town. We were joined by a couple from the UK, celebrating a 50th birthday (woo hoo!), two lovely ladies from Holland who also work in the travel industry, and a young man from Hong Kong, with a nicer camera than mine and an avid sense of adventure. These tours are great for solo travelers like him, and he mentioned he does them in every city he goes to. I like his style!
After the tour was “officially” over, we ordered a few more rounds and chatted until they kicked us out. Ok, it wasn’t really like that. We closed the place down, but were surprisingly sober after all those beers. It must have been the walking and the currywurst that keep us in check! No wonder it’s so popular.
On the Beer and Currywurst Tour with Berlin Food Tours, you get your fill of beer with full glasses, not tasting portions, as is common on most food tours. As a non-beer drinker, I enjoyed sampling different beers and now have a much greater appreciation for it. Pilsner is not my first choice, but the wheat beer is definitely one I would order again. And then, there’s always a refreshing shandy, perfect to enjoy on a hot Florida day.
When someone says Berlin, I will always think of Berlin Currywurst and Beer, a definite Must Eat in Berlin. I highly recommend you do the same. No trip to Berlin is complete without these two B’s Beer and Berlin Currywurst and the Berlin Food Tour was a great way to explore both in one night.
Do you have a favorite Must Eat Food Experience that starts with the letter B? Please share in the comments.
Check out the Must Eat A to Z Blogging Challenge and join me. If you missed it, A is for Big Apple and the Must Eat Food of New York City! Stay tuned for C… All I can tell you is: It’s going to be invigorating!
Disclosure: On this evening, we were media guests of Berlin Food Tour and no other form of compensation was received. As always, I only share with you experiences worth celebrating. This tour is a Must Eat in Berlin. Berlin Food Tours can be reached via website to make reservations.