Until recently, Berlin's most notable contribution to the food scene was currywurst. A popular snack food that is to Germans what the meat pie is to Australians, it's basically a pork sausage that's been steamed, fried, chopped into pieces, then smothered in a tomato and curry sauce and served with fries.
"It's the most democratic food in Berlin," says Bastian Schwithal, who runs food tours in Berlin. "Everyone from construction workers to lawyers eats it. Ten years ago, food here was still all about currywurst, liver, onions and mashed potatoes. It's only been in the last few years that the food scene has exploded, from street food to craft beer to great coffee to restaurants using ethically sourced and produced food."
Andrea Schulte-Peevers, who writes the Lonely Planet guide to Berlin, agrees.
"Food is the new sex in Berlin," she says, laughing. "I moved here five years ago, and finding good food was tricky. The quality just wasn't there. With the influx of people from food nations, like Australia, Spain and Italy, they've brought this new entrepreneurial spirit to open great cafes and restaurants."
In fact, the Berlin food scene has become so big that you now need help choosing where to go. Here's a guide to some of the best of what the city has to offer, from breakfast to burgers, morning coffee to late-night cocktails, street food to degustation menus. And yes, even currywurst.
The long march of the flat white and the La Marzocca coffee machine has reached Berlin. The pioneers in the field are Bonanza Coffee Heroes (bonanzacoffee.de) in Prenzlauer Berg, right near Mauerpark. The light-filled café, with exposed concrete walls and bleached floorboards, has a much sought-after front courtyard with benches for hanging out and lazing over great coffee. Gipfeltreffen (gipfeltreffen-kreuzberg.de), on the edge of sprawling Gorlitzer Park in Kreuzberg, has killer caffeine and plenty of long tables and benches on the sidewalk to watch the world go by.
It may be named after a Dadaist poem from 1919, but there's nothing absurd about Café Anna Blume (cafe-anna-blume.de). The café/flowershop is like a little corner of Paris in the middle of the wide, tree-lined streets of Prenzlauer Berg. The breakfasts are lovingly made and beautifully presented – if you're there with a friend, order the Anna Blume Special, a three-tiered sampler of just about everything on their menu. California Breakfast Slam (cabslam.com) - Cabslam to the locals - is the hip place to hang out in Neukolln. Dig in to thick pancakes with maple syrup, spicy huevos rancheros and great coffee from Five Elephants. In an unassuming backstreet of upmarket Mitte is Distrikt Coffee (distriktcoffee.de), a post-industrial space with a warm atmosphere and excellent breakfasts including poached eggs with bread stuffing, sorrel and chicken gravy and buttermilk pancakes with banana, maple berry preserve and citrus butter.
Even before you get to the café itself, the walk into House Of Small Wonder (houseofsmallwonder.de) via a spiral staircase is enchanting. Fitted out with recycled materials, it's like a skylit country loft retreat in the middle of Mitte, with innovative breakfast, brunch and lunch options that reflect the backgrounds of the married couple who own the place – he's Jewish-American, she's Japanese. Brunching in the grounds of a former hospital mightn't sound like the most inviting experience, but 3 Schwestern (3schwestern-berlin.de) is a hidden gem in Kreuzberg, whether you eat in the grand art-deco dining room and bar or the lovely garden. Tomasa Villa Kreuzberg (tomasa.de) also has a magical setting – a 19th century villa at the edge of stunning Viktoriapark in Kreuzberg. Their famous Tomasa Brunch starts with grilled pork, smoked salmon and baked camembert and just keeps going from there.
Fancy eating a burger made in a former public toilet directly underneath an elevated train line? In Berlin, people are willing to endure long lines for the privilege at Burgermeister (burger-meister.de). Once you've tasted their juicy cheeseburgers and crunchy fries, you'll understand why. Meanwhile, The Bird (thebirdinberlin.com) is legendary in the city for both its New York-style steaks and big, beefy burgers. The meat comes from Iowa and is aged for 30 days.
It may not be the prettiest thing to look at, but Berlin's most famous takeaway snack food hits the spot. Invented in 1949, over 800 million are consumed each year and it's estimated Berliners eat a currywurst at least once every two weeks. Asking a local for the best currywurst is like asking a New Yorker for the best pizza. Bastian Schwithal swears by Curry 61 in Mitte (curry61.de). Other highly regarded spots are Curry 36 (curry36.de), Curry Baude (curry-baude.de) and Krasselt's Imbiss (krasselts-berlin.de). It's all about the sauces, whose exact ingredients at each shop are guarded fiercely. The old divided Germany is still evident in the different sausages on offer – the eastern version is white and skinless; the western is brown, with skin. If you're feeling frisky and want to add some extra curry kick, say "ein bisschen schärfer, bitte" to your server (translation – a little sharper, please).
It often surprises visitors to Berlin to discover that the city has the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey. As a result, kebabs are big here. The Berlin version, which originated in the 1970s, uses grilled chicken sliced from a rotisserie, combined with vegetables, salad and sauces and served inside a crusty bread pocket. Kebab shops are everywhere in the city, the most famous being Mustafa's Gemuse Kebap (mustafas.de), a tiny demountable on the footpath of a busy street in Kreuzberg. Depending on when you get there (hint: avoid lunch time) you may be in for a half-hour wait in the queue, but it's worth it. The kebabs are filling and fresh and it's the crumbling of feta cheese, squeeze of lemon and a Mustafa's secret sauce that make the difference. That said, there are dozens of good places, including Ruya Gemuse Kebap and K'UPS Gemüse Kebap.
Nothing exemplifies the new Berlin food scene more than the proliferation of multi-course tasting menus paired with wines, at restaurants with facades and entryways that are a combination of art gallery and speakeasy. At Nobelhart & Schmutzig (nobelhartundschmutzig.com), chef Micha Schafer and owner/sommelier Billy Wagner have a "brutally local" approach, only sourcing ingredients from the immediate area for their creative dishes, with guests sitting at a communal bar around the kitchen. At Einsunternull (einsunternull.com) – literally "one under zero", because it's set in a white-tiled former cellar in the basement – you'll graze on the likes of king oyster mushrooms, bacon and sunflower seeds. At Tim Raue (tim-raue.com), the restaurant named after the celebrated Michelin-hatted Berlin chef, you'll eat a procession of delicious Asian fusion dishes surrounded by intriguing modern art, from paintings to photo montages.
Time your visit to Markthalle Neun (markthalleneun.de) for Street Food Thursdays, held every Thursday from 5-10pm. Inside a beautiful building with skylights in its high gabled roof, you can go from stall to stall sampling a lot of what multicultural Berlin has to offer right now, from Nigerian soul food to Vietnamese crepes. There's also a breakfast market every third Sunday of the month. For a more traditional department store-style gourmet food hall experience, visit KaDeWe (kadewe.de) where the sixth floor is packed with gleaming counters offering savoury and sweet delicacies, all beautifully presented.
Berlin prides itself on its beer gardens. If you only have time for one, make it Café am Neuen See (cafeamneuensee.de), set on a lake in the middle of Tiergarten. Yes, that's a biergarten in the Tiergarten. There is a table service restaurant, but you can just sit at the long tables and benches on the massive waterfront terrace with a beer and pretzels, pizza or sausage and take in the scenery. Prater Garten (pratergarten.de) in Prenzlauer Berg is Berlin's oldest beer garden. It's a bustling place where you're sure to end up getting to know strangers who share your table, especially when the football is playing on the big screens in the courtyard and the locals get vocal. Their signature Prater Pils is the beer of choice. Prinzessinnengarten (prinzessinnengarten.net) is a leafy little retreat in Kreuzberg where you can drink beer and eat startlingly fresh organic salads made from ingredients grown in the market gardens all around you.
You want drinks? You want views? Here are your two best bets. Klunkerkranich (klunkerkranich.de) is an outdoor bar that's like an urban garden dotted with wacky sculptures on top of a shopping centre parking garage in gritty Neukolln. Get up there just before sunset, lounge on a wooden bench with an excellent pils and watch the sky slowly darken over Berlin. The Monkey Bar at the top of the 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin (25hours-hotels.com) overlooks the Berlin Zoo and Tiergarten. With its outdoor terrace, excellent DJs and killer cocktails, it's a hot ticket in town and queues can be long if you're not up there early. Hot tip: if you're staying at the hotel, you don't line up, but get to ride a private elevator all the way to the top.
Lufthansa operates flights from Australia to multiple gateways in Asia on partner airlines, then daily connecting flights from Asia to Berlin via Frankfurt or Munich. See lufthansa.com/au
25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin is a hip, modernist hotel that overlooks Berlin Zoo in Charlottenburg, right next to designer mall Bikini Berlin. 25hours-hotels.com
Arte Luise Kunsthotel is a quirky boutique hotel in Mitte, close to the River Spree and Brandenburg Gate. Each room is designed by a different local artist. luise-berlin.com
Bastian Schwithal runs a food tour of Mitte, a breweries tour and a currywurst tour. berlinfoodtour.de
Barry Divola was a guest of Visit Berlin, Lufthansa, 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin and Art Luise Kunsthotel.