It's always becoming, and yet it never becomes. This is the cliche of Berlin.
Food writer and author of Food Culture in Germany, Ursula Heinzelmann, says this is Berlin's strength.
"People are critical of Berlin in this regard. If it became, it would be the end of the Empire. Nothing would be happening, there would be no change, no transformation. Berlin is a city that needs to remain rough around the edges in order for it to grow and to support change," Heinzelmann says.
Courtesy of Ursula Heinzelmann
Ursula Heinzelmann is a prominent German food writer and Berlin native.
Ursula Heinzelmann is a prominent German food writer and Berlin native. Courtesy of Ursula Heinzelmann
It is this grittiness that allows Berlin to support a food culture that is as diverse as its population.
I first met Heinzelmann in October 2010 at a Slow Food event in Torino, Italy where she led a workshop called "Feeding the City." Here, she discussed the history of Berlin and the city's relationship to its surrounding countryside.
In no small part, it was Heinzelmann's workshop and her writing about Berlin and greater Germany that influenced me to relocate myself here. Eight months after attending her workshop, I found myself in a cafe in Berlin's bustling Mitte district, sitting face-to-face with Heinzelmann over ginger tea and chocolate cookies.
We discussed Berlin's current climate-its intermittent afternoon rain showers and evolving food culture.
"There are two trends at the moment," Heinzelmann said. One that emerged following the 2006 World Cup, when Germans allowed themselves to express national pride. The reclamation of a national identity renewed Germans' interest in their own food culture, including a strong desire to reconnect with the land and its producers.
Heinzelmann identified the second trend of openness.
"Berlin is Germany's largest city and historically a melting pot." It is this "openness" to new cultures and new taste that supports ventures, such as an authentic Szechuan Chinese restaurant with an impressive German wine list and a clientele that includes neighborhood friends and high-profile politicians.
"Furthermore, there is not a lot of money here and therefore not many fancy restaurants."
Instead, food is geared to the everyday and the everyday person, whether it is a Turkish döner kebab, a bowl of Vietnamese pho, or a currywurst. Berlin's food culture draws upon a variety of influences and more importantly it supports and encourages new ideas.
It is an exciting time to be here for food. The wine industry is evidence of an attitude shift in food culture. Here the producers are young, creative, and eager to collaborate with one another.
Furthermore, they are learning from outside viticultures in order to expand and to improve their native one.
In the forward to Food Culture in Germany, food historian Ken Abala writes,"There is no better way to understand a culture, its values, preoccupations, and fears than by examining its food culture." Berlin's encompasses all of these ingredients, and its food culture reflects its current attitude, that of change and openness to it.
Courtesy of Molly Hannon
Molly Hannon is NPR Berlin's newest contributor writing about the intersection of food and culture in Berlin.
Molly Hannon is NPR Berlin's newest contributor writing about the intersection of food and culture in Berlin. Courtesy of Molly Hannon
Molly Hannon is a US-born freelance writer based in Berlin. She holds a Master's in Gastronomy and Communications from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, where she will this fall lead a Master's-level seminar about 20th-century food literature and its relationship to contemporary food writing.
A contributor to the Newsweek's Daily Beast, Molly's writing focuses on food's cultural influences, narratives and literary legacies—-how they shape civilization and bring us together. She also maintains a blog, LesGensFaims, which translates to "Hungry People."