Clarence in Berlin: Currywurst
So I’m still partially deaf, I guess. Also still partially wallowing in self-pity about said deafness, I guess. No, not really. I am probably annoying the shit out of everyone I know by talking even louder than I normally do, which most people will attest is already pretty loud. Sometimes I worry that I’m that terrifying American girl who is obliviously shouting in public and everyone around finds me so grating that they are ready to unzip their skins and run for cover. Anyway, my friend’s ENT brother (just say YES to capitalizing on other people’s well-educated siblings) seems to think that this thing will slowly resolve itself. In the meantime, I am trying to keep reminding myself that not everyone else in the room feels like there is a pillow over their head.
I’ll tell you what, though, keeping up with this blarg thing is kind of hard when it’s oh-so-nice outside and there is other work to be done and friends to visit with and tulip-filled parks to stroll in and rillettes to eat and chilled rosé to drink. I don’t want to bore you with tales of how lovely my life has been lately. I know that it’s funnier when I’m puking on homeless people and being a sub-par English teacher to the youth of France. I will say (rather obliquely) that some really genuinely happy and positive things have been happening to me. In my typically neurotic fashion, I can’t help but wonder if I was being self-sabotaging in keeping some of these happy things at bay for a long time. But anyway, now that I’ve embraced the light, so to speak, I’m feeling pretty swell. Unfortunately feeling swell doesn’t leave me self-deprecatingly funny. Them’s the breaks, I guess.
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Let’s talk about currywurst, shall we?
Currywurst is this totally weird thing that I believe is somewhat idiosyncratic to Berlin, though I could be wrong. I guess it is sold in sociological lore as some kind of an East-West fusion dish, though if I was from the “East” I’d be pretty sore about the idea that my “culture” was adequately represented by a sprinkling of bland curry powder. If you read any information about currywurst online, you might be deluded into thinking that this is a more complicated dish than it actually is. In reality, it’s a deep-fried sausage chopped into bite-sized pieces, drowned in ketchup, sprinkled with curry powder, and hopefully served with fries (mit Pommes, pronounced the way you said it before your high school French class hammered all those final syllables out of you). I guess you can get currywurst with a roll or two (Brötchen), though I don’t think anybody really does. Currywurst are sold by Schnellimbisse (snack stands) all over Berlin. I’ve been told that West Berlin currywurst was traditionally fried and served with the skin on (Darm, and it should be pig intestine, people), while East Berlin currywurst was boiled without the casing. The website from the Currywurst Museum (awesome) informs me that skinless currywurst evolved from a pork intestine shortage in socialist East Germany. Cue sad socialist funeral dirge. “When I was your age, we didn’t even have pork intestines for our currywurst!” Well, like the Cold War, I think that the West has kinda won on this particular epicurean battle. Nowadays, Berlin currywursts are sizzling in hot grease all over Berlin, so much for the better. You might be asked if you would like your currywurst with (mit Darm) or without (ohne Darm) skin, but Clarence thinks that this one is kind of a no brainer.
While the sausage itself is quite a draw—juicy and plump on the inside with a slightly fried crunchy skin—the real draw of the currywurst is that it is a condiment-lovers wet dream. If you aren’t a ketchup lover, then there is no point in going down this particular road. The “curry” component of a currywurst isn’t particularly pronounced, especially if you are coming into this situation with an American palate. This is a fried sausage swimming in ketchup and nothing else. If you want to up the fat kid ante—and if you are reading this blog, of course you do—you will want to order your currywurst and pommes Rot/Weiss (red/white), that is, with a hearty dollop of both ketchup and mayonnaise. Is there any more sublime fat kid concoction than the beautifully pink mixture of ketchup and mayo? Plus, remember, you’re in Europe, so the mayonnaise is going to be made of actual eggs, not that terrifying whipped soybean oil that passes for mayo in the United States. Long live the Continent.
I really like the currywurst at the famous Konnopke’s Imbiss (Schönhauser Allee 44a, U-Bahn Eberswalderstrasse). In addition to the fact that this is the sine qua non of currywursts stand in Berlin (with a healthy dash of Stasi lore thrown in for good measure), Konnopke’s is well-positioned if you are hanging out in the Kastanienallee/Kollwitzstrasse/Prenzlauer Allee cute-cute-cute area of town (you’re planning to already, right?). The downside to Konnopke’s is that it gets insanely crowded, as it has been written up in every guidebook and is on every tour of Berlin. If I recall correctly, Anthony Bourdain went to Konnopke’s on his Berlin show and pretended like it was some big secret. No reservations, my ass. Nobody gets to the front of the line that quickly without television cameras.
I won’t say that Konnopke’s rests on its abundant laurels, because it doesn’t, but there are definitely better (and greener!) currywursts to be had in town. One of my favorites is at the all-Bio Witty’s (on Wittenburgplatz across from KaDeWe in Schöneberg, U-Bahn Wittenbergplatz). Berlin has perhaps embraced green living more than any other European city, and Witty’s is one of the more delicious outcomes of this trend. All of the wurst at Witty’s is from Neuland organic meat (just say yum) and they serve one of my favorite organic beers, Asgaard (I especially like the Premium Pils). Perhaps best of all is the selection of dipping sauces that they serve with your fries. I’ve heard good things about the satay, but the idea of mixing peanuts and ketchup kinda grosses me out. No, my heart belongs to Witty’s garlic mayonnaise (Knoblauchmayonnaise), an aïoli-esque concoction brought down from high to make all of us happier and more peaceful citizens of this new, eco-friendly world. It’s killer.
I sadly didn’t make it to either Konnopke’s or Witty’s on my short Berlin sojourn. There are only enough days in a week, and only so many of those days can be punctuated with currywurst (bio or not, it’s always quite the gut-bomb). I reserved my one currywurst meal (you would think I planned such things!) for the Kreuzberg institution, Curry 36 (Mehringdamm 36, U-Bahn Mehringdamm). FYI, the animated currywurst-consumption GIF that opens their website is alone worth the click. Curry 36 was pretty crowded, though not unusually so, when I showed up for a weekday lunch. After waiting in line for a half-hour or so, Clarence convinced me that I deserved the two-currywurst and fries combo with mayo and ketchup and a large Berliner Kindl (zwei Currywurst mit Pommes, mit Darm, Rot Weiss, you’re welcome). Some friendly neighborhood construction workers let me share their table and commended me on my oh-so-feminine meal of two huge sausages and beer. I’m one classy gal.
As with everything in Berlin, I spent a good deal of time marveling over how cheap everything was (at least compared to Paris):
After finishing my feast—do you even have to ask if I ate the whole thing?—I took my Kindl on the road (classy, remember?) and walked to my favorite park in Berlin, the nearby Viktoriapark. The beautiful, if artificial, waterfall that cascades down the hill provides a short, if healthy, hike up to the monument dedicated to King Frederick William III of Prussia and one of the nicest free views of Berlin. It’s also a lovely way to break a sweat after a decadent lunch of sausages, fries, condiments, and beer. A good way to spend an afternoon if you find yourself in Kreuzberg.
Up next, Clarence goes to brunch in Berlin! Stay tuned.
Hey, you need more fans! This is a great picture of Berlin. Of course it’s all in the Wurst.