The season begins with an exploration of the host's own Kiez as she gets to know people in her neighborhood and hears stories that remind her how important curiosity is, especially when trying to innovate toward a more just and sustainable world.
Bakery Cafe by the Ubahn: https://www.birkenwunder.de/
"a third [of Berlin's bakeries] have been lost within the past 15 years" Berlin isst anders. Ein Zukunftsmenü für Berlin und Brandenburg
"The newish spot by the folks at Cafe Tirree" --> Tante.Tirree
Samie: Hey. I’m Samie and welcome to Food in my Kiez
Samie: How often do you question the way things work, or why something is the way it is? And what about food? Its something we have to think about, at least minimally, multiple times a day…. But have you ever really thought about the food that is around you?
Generally, we humans, particularly those of us in cities, have a habit of taking our surroundings for granted. Which is why with this episode, we are starting off the season guided by the concept of Curiosity, something I believe is essential in the process of building more sustainable societies. That’s because when we are curious about the world around us, we tend to notice more and more ways to, potentially, make our lives better.
So, in this episode we are seeing where our curiosity can lead us as we explore Stephankiez, in Moabit, where I’ve lived for just over a year now. I’ll introduce you to some of my neighbors, and you’ll hear some of their stories, as I begin to unravel a string of thoughts that will guide us through the rest of this season…
First we’ll meet a friend of mine, who loves Moabit even more than I do…. So naturally, she was one of the first people I thought of when I started to explore my new Kiez…
Geena: I'm Geena. I'm a proud Moabiter. Um, Moabiter, I think that's, that's how you say it. When I tell people that I live in the west and also close to Zoo and Kudamm, people think, oh, that's very industrial, but I think it's actually a really nice living area. You know…..you have parks at every corner. It's a little green oasis, you know?
And I just love the feel of, it's a little suburban, you know, but also you do have spots where, where there's a lot of character here, you know, especially talking about food culture and like culture in general..”
Samie: How would you describe the food in your Kiez?
Voices from the Street:
"You have a lot of different restaurants, but mainly like asian food and Mediterranean food - like Turkish, Lebanese, Arabian, the Chinese one, the Vietnamese. Its quite good."
"There is from the Berlin typical Kebap, asian kitchen in the mall, bibimbap in our place, traditional german food in Markethalle"
Geena: There are so many bakeries where you can get homemade cake and just sweet stuff. So many different nationalities and homemade soul food. So the food system in Moabit is very much representative of what you can get in Berlin, you know, pretty much anything. Just stroll through the neighborhood and find what attracts you and try it. And yeah, there is much to explore.
Samie: I met up with Geena at Birkenwunder, a little bakery cafe near the ubahn. They have really good croissants…. And I had always assumed they made their baked goods in house,,. but then one day, I asked, and it turns out they buy almost everything frozen. In fact, according to a new report by the Berlin Food Council, there are just 135 genuine bakeries left in Berlin today, a third have been lost within the past 15 years. So most places get bread and cakes from central factories or bake frozen products like Birkunwunder does. Which was kind of surprising honestly, I mean, bread is a big part of German culture, and good bread - bread made with care and craft, is a beautiful thing.
So a place like Domberger Brotwerk, also here in Moabit, is something special. Not only do they make delicious bread and other yummy treats, the owner, Florian, has developed a business concept that aims to support future generations of artisan bread makers and bakery owners - their apprenticeship programme focuses on all aspects of running a bakery, especially the importance of basic yet quality ingredients, and of the time needed to produce quality products. It sounds simple, but to see it in action is ...so fun.. go by one morning and check it out for yourself - the shop’s open floor plan allows customers to see the bread-making in all of its glory, and the staff are always happy to tell you more.
Directly across my street corner is my neighborhood supermarket - a branch of Edeka,one of Germany’s major food retailers, but it’s run and owned independently, which means they buy and stock their own products, leading to them having a particular selection that feels somewhat unique.
There’s also a few small food stores, like the newish spot by the folks at Cafe Tiree or the delicious little Gözleme and Manti shop on the main street, Perleberger Str. And just around my corner there is an Afro Shop - Isheri’s. It’s tiny and you have to walk down some steps to get into it, but it has a ton of different food stuff in it. It’s where I get my legumes, ripe plantain, my peanut butter and these super addicting plantain chips from Venezuela! So good… and one day, I finally asked the owner, Annet, about her shop, and I ended up learning much more…
Annet: My name is Annet Aderele. I came to this country in 1990. My intention was to continue my education, but unfortunately, I find myself as an… asylum seeker… which was not my wish”
Samie: Annet told me that the same day she got her Aufenhaltstitel to stay in Germany, she got a job at McDonald's, where she ended up working for eight good years. And although she was a great employee, often selected to be employee of the month, they never really valued her or offered a promotion. So she decided to further her education by doing a Weiterbildung.
Annet: So I do Weiterbildung in secretariat and IT. While doing it I have interest in, you know, like business... better, because they, this country, doesn't give you a chance, even if you do Weiterbildung, you know, the system… because of my color... they will not even employ me! so I don't need to deceive myself.
Samie: Annet shared that despite her qualifications, she found it hard to find work in her studied field - an experience far too common amongst immigrants - racially rooted exclusion, which often forces people from diaspora communities to carve their own paths. So, for Annet, it was time to move on and pursue a lifelong passion and skill for business.
Annet: After the Weiterbildung, I said okay... I should go into business, you know? …. While I was in Nigeria… I had a shop, a cosmetic shop....so I have the experience already… better. Let me just go into business. So I started renting a shop that was… 2001.
Samie: She started her first shop with a partner, that was over on Alt-Moabit, and after some time, once she knew she could stand on “her own two feet” as she says, she applied for a loan from the government to help her start her own business. This allowed her to open her first shop, by herself, but the neighbors there didn’t like the smell of her food. So in 2009 she moved to where she’s at now - Rathenowerstrasse.
Annet: The first year I lost 17,000 euros... which my… Steuerberater told me… it will take three good years before you will be known… before the community knows there is a shop, you know
Samie: Annet said many organisations started to put her shop on their local maps, and slowly but surely, she became a well-known staple of not only the local community, but the Nigerian community in Berlin as well. Annet is known for having some of the freshest, direct imports from Lagos, and for supplying many other Afro Shops and African restaurants with the products they need.
Annet: Majority comes from US… the others come from Africa to Holland… the Netherlands… and Belgium, and England… they are more familiar with our food
Samie: Annet told me about the learning curves she experienced as she was beginning to import directly from Lagos - all the paperwork and securities that were needed - and that things like Nigerian milk or seafood could only be imported through Holland, not directly to Germany…. its really just all political she says…
Annet: So now I thank God, I'm able to bring my food, my things, my product direct from Nigeria. There are some things we got from Holland… that they order from China… but they are not Bio... they are not original… They are not good. If you taste African… foods, like a vegetable, like, um, what do I say, fruits… it is better. If you taste it, you will know the difference.
Samie: Annet is not the only one who was adamant about this difference either - I spoke with a couple of regular customers and they all mentioned the freshness and memories of home that shopping at Annet’s provides. Overtime, Isheri Afro Shop has become not just a place for the community to buy their food, but a place to congregate, a place to help mostly Nigerian immigrants settle into coming to Germany…
Annet: We have different types of food. We have egusi soup with fufu. We have Ogbono soup. We have vegetable soup, then we have rice and beans. And jollof rice.
I sell German products too...I make it multicultural. If an Asian man comes here, he will see something to buy. If an Indian man comes, he will see something to buy…. Yeah. It's important because...if you look at most of my customers, they don't live around here. Some are coming from far places. Majority of our people, the black community, they don't have time to cook. So that's why we thought we would have take away food for them, and for them to feel at home. Yeah. To have African tastes. you want them to be okay. Not only because of the money I'm getting here, but for people to feel at home to feel good. I like it. I like that so much.
Samie: Just down the street, on Turmstrasse, is a similar story from the man who started Nusantara, an Indonesian restaurant.
Bran (in German): Hello, good day, my name is Bran Fernardin
Samie: Bran came to Germany in 1990 as a football coach for the Bundesliga. He lived a year in Frankfurt and then moved to Berlin.
Bran: Well, I noticed that Berlin is a very MuliKulti, International, city.. And Indonesian people or students were growing… and they missed Indonesian restaurants.. So I thought, yeah, slowly, to build an Indonesian restaurant.
Samie: He told me how he had wanted for some time to open up a restaurant, and after recognizing the multiculturalism of the city, and the uniqueness of the food served in his home country compared to the many thai, vietnamese or chinese places that already existed in Berlin, he decided to open an Indonesian place - but not any Indonesian: original, typical, Java cuisine.
Bran: It is an Indonesian speciality in Berlin [that is different than the other restaurants, for example, the Thai or Viet, or Chinese restaurants.. Indonesia is another speciality.]
Samie: We talked about how he started with spices from China or Thailand but they taste different, and he needed the original. At the time, though, the big asian supermarkets weren’t stocking spices from Indonesia
Bran: So I talked to the owner of GoAsia about my restaurant and the ingredients I was looking to buy, andhe managed to do it for me.
Samie: So, Bran got in touch with the owner of the local GoAsia, introduced himself and his restaurant, and soon, GoAsia started to carry some of the things the kitchen at Nusantara needed. Sometimes I guess it's just that simple…
Samie: Bran buys most of what he needs though at the GrossMarkt, only a few essentials from GoAsia. We talked a bit about sustainability, too, but as is common amongst immigrants trying to make their way in the food world here, he is really just focused on creating a space for people of his community to feel at home, and for Berliners to be introduced to real, Java cuisine.
Bran: We need to try everything, not just Indonesian restaurants, Thai restaurants… or neighbors here, Nepal… Vietnamese… to take care of the Multiculturalness of the city”
Samie: He did mention something to me that I thought was very interesting though… He said that a few weeks ago an Indonesian guy came to eat at the restaurant. They started chatting and it turned out that the man has been growing Indonesian varieties of beans and chillies, and now Bran is considering using them at the restaurant.
Now I didn’t get all the details of how and where this guy is growing these things, but this idea - that of growing what one needs locally when possible, is super intriguing to me. And as our climate continues to change, agriculture will and must change too. In northern, typically colder countries like Germany, its likely that we will be able to grow more and new things, while some parts of the world won’t be able to grow much at all. We can fill a whole episode talking about the injustice of that reality, but ultimately global food systems will need to shift and adapt, and to do that resiliently, I think, involves working towards closing the gap between farms and kitchens, between producers and consumers…
There’s already a few folks in the city experimenting with special crops, like schezuan and mizuna, too, but this is largely for more high-end use, rather than being produced at a capacity that would make it more widely accessible. To me, it shows potential and, I mean, I guess its good that were starting somewhere?
Samie: On the way from my flat to the heart of Moabit, theres a co-working space/cafe that has two signs in the window that have always puzzled me… one says “Winzer” wine - which I learned, because I finally asked, means wine from small producers..and the other says “Bibimbap” but nothing else there seemed to have anything to do with Korean food… so I popped in one day and met the owner, who had me sit with his son, Anton, to learn more…”
Anton - CISpace: Now we are CI Space Moabit, its a new project… a combination between coworking, cafe, light food, korean kitchen, Slovenian wines… a crazy mix. We originally wanted to do a coworking space, but our Neighbor, Delutier, is Korean, so he wanted to have Korean food here and he said its popular in Berlin so you definitely have to do Korean food too…. And he taught us how to produce it the authentic way. Literally, he came into the kitchen, he brought products he had bought himself and started teaching us how to do Bibimbap… hes just like a neighbor, and with time he became a good friend of ours of course”
Samie: I love this story, and I love this space – because it definitely is a crazy mix – it feels a bit thrown together, but you can tell its done with love and out of a desire to just offer something nice and genuine
Anton: We ourselves produce meat in Slovenia so we have some sausages, and we produce wine so we have Slovenia wine, and we decided if we have good products and good recipes, we can just show them to people here and see if they like them, and they are
Samie: I took one of those Winzer wines home with me that day and it was good. If you are ever in the area, definitely stop by CI-space and say hi to Anton and his dad.
Samie: Just down the street from CI Space is Moabit’s very own Markethall - The Arminusmarkthalle.
It has an interesting mix of vendors, some old, some new, and after speaking to a few them I learned that they all, along with the owner, Christoph, have been working hard to figure out what the future of the markthalle will be, especially after surviving the hard times of the pandemic. I got in touch with Christoph to learn a bit more, and he told me how he describes the space as a “theater” where everyone plays a role - the vendors, the artists that sell their crafts, the pensioners who come in for early coffee looking for a space to socialize, the folks that come for food and drinks in the evening - everyone does their part to make the markthalle what it is.
Christoph - Arminuismarkthalle: I think the Arminuismarkthalle must be a place for everybody. So you have a very inhomogeneous structure. Uh, you can go to [BulzeWerner] or to other, let's say places where you get things for lower prices, but you can also drink a bottle of champagne or eat some oysters. So it's... a little bit of an unfinished structure in the Arminuismarkthalle… in comparison to the Markthalle 9, which probably has a little more... of a social idea of ecological products.
Samie: Besides restaurants, there’s also a cute little notary shop in one corner with a huge card and sticker selection, a boardgame shop and a typical Kiosk. And the imbiss stand where the infamous „Drei Damen vom Grill“ show from the 80s was filmed still exists, as well as a tiny Kneipe, Die Brutzel-Ecke, that serves typical German deli delights like Metbrot.
And for food, you have your comfort Thai/Vietnamese place, an italian spot plus delicious pizza by Mangaire, great pisco sours from Naninka, and genuine Canadian Poutine crafted by a guy named Holger who traveled all over learning how to make the best cheese curds and gravy, and then came back to work with local farmers who now help him produce it.
But generally, the Markthalle feels quite meat heavy, and you’ve probably all heard that, at least when it comes to food, the two most impactful things any one person can do for the climate - especially in cities - is to stop wasting food and to eat wayyyy less meat.
Berlin is a city full of options for plant-based eaters - and more and more Germans are starting to identify with a plant-based diet - but still, the Heinrich Boll Stiftung recently published its Meat Atlas and found that most people who say they only eat meat occasionally tend to underestimate their meat consumption - on average eating a good 70% more than they think.
James - Pound & Pence: I think there are two aspects of this. One aspect is yes, we should eat less meat. Me running a burger restaurant its a little bit difficult for me to say don’t eat meat. But definitely eat less and think about what you are eating, what you are buying… really question people in the supermarkets about where the products are coming from.
Samie: That’s James, the owner of Pound & Pence - one of two burgers in the city that I treat myself to when and if I’m craving one. I, personally, describe myself as a conscious omnivore - someone who generally eats everything, but tries to make choices that reflect the environmental and social impacts of food production. When it comes to meat, I’m conscious of the horrible ways in which industrial meat production treats animals, and the outrageous amount of land and water resources consumed in meat production - so I prefer not to eat it. But I do believe there are forms of agriculture that can incorporate animals respectfully and in an ecological way - but that kind of agriculture will not be able to produce meat at the rate in which it is currently consumed. So while we ultimately need to just eat less meat, I can appreciate places trying to serve meat more consciously.
James - Pound & Pence: For me, when I opened up the burger shop, I said… ok if I’m going to do it I want to do it sustainable. I want to be one of the best in town. I want to make everything myself as far as possible. And for me, the only option was to find a local farmer and… work together with them
Samie: James and three other restaurants in the city buy an entire cow from a local organic, free-range farmer and split it amongst themselves. Because James knows the farmer and how he works, he can ensure the quality of the meat, and because the restaurants team up like they do, the farmer is able to sell the entire animal at a price that reflects the care and labor that has gone into raising it.
James - Pound & Pence: Now.. Especially through the pandemic theres been options to buy from farms. Online. Once the whole cow is sold. Yeah, you’re not going to get your meat tomorrow, you might get it in a week or two, once the cow is sold but do that. Do it. It costs a little but more but you’re going to get quality. Because at the end of the day, buying cheap meat… a kilo of pork for 3 or 4 euros, what kind of life has that animal had? What are you eating there? Its antibiotics in there, mainly.
Samie: Maybe what makes the meat-heavy menus stand out so much is the complete lack of fresh produce. My potentially romanticized idea of a market hall includes, first and foremost, an abundance of fresh veggies, but the only offering at Arminiushalle was from a tiny bio-stand that has since moved on.
But maybe all market halls don’t need to be a place of immense regionality and fresh produce like others in the city… I mean, since being privatized, each of the remaining historic Markethalls in the city have developed quite distinctly. Arminiushalle is known as the “International & Neighborhood” market which still caters to a mix of community members that live around and frequent it. Go by in the middle of the day, any day of the week, and the place is buzzing with locals on their lunch break, and in the evening, the restaurants open up and the place, with its typical Berliner aesthetic, feels like an extension of your living room…and it works, because it’s not easy to keep markethalls in the traditional sense running these days…
Christoph - Arminuismarkthalle: People go to the Edeka, to the Aldi... they use Gorillaz or whatever. And what is changing, the digitalization of our daily life. And so somebody who is running a platform in the market hall to sell meat or the vegetables, he has absolutely no chance… It's not the question of the rent. That's quite low for these people, but it's a question of how... how pay your employees.
If we, as customers, are not buying vegetables in the market hall, or we only go there for let's say cultural or… event situation on Saturdays, for example… but you can’t run a Market Hall... six days a week without having people buying vegetables in the Market Hall - That's our problem… because we have supermarkets where you can buy everything. People have more and more to realize that what they can buy there, that they can also eat there. And realize that it's a better product than the product you get from the discounter”
Samie: What Christoph is asking for is a paradigm shift - a break in patterns learned in the last decades of industrial food production. We have to reconnect to producers, and begin to care again about the food we have around us…not just how good it tastes, but why it does, and how it was produced.
Christoph - Arminuismarkthalle: you know, I'm positive… I'm sure that we will be able to change the things which we have now to change after Corona and then we would see. I think a place like Arminushalle has a great future because it's... an open space... for all kinds of individuals. I think we need all of these places in this…. country.
Samie: There is one last place I was curious about - a place Geena mentioned when we were walking around Moabit: Humbaba Falafel. She said it’s one of the top 3 falafel shops in all of Berlin - now I haven’t been able to confirm that, but it's definitely very good.
And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the conversations around “sustainable food” and farming that I’ve been a part of here don’t ever seem to include the people involved in imbisses or Donor shops, even though these places feed so many people in the city everyday. So, yeah, I went by and I ended up meeting Hussein…
Hussein - Humbaba: Hi, my name is Hussein --, and at the moment I have here a restaurant Imbiss - Falafel Humbaba - here in moabit.
Samie: Hussein told me that he and his partner at first wanted to open up a typical but modern Lebanese bakery - a concept that he says runs very well in Lebanon, and could be brought to Berlin. But then he came across the Kiosk that would become Humbaba, and after considering the location and the food already being offered in the area, he thought, why not try out a more casual and unique falafel concept. But making a good falafel turned out to be quite a challenge...
Hussein - Humbaba: It is much more complicated than you think. You can just like, okay. Do some hummus, put some cumin on it. You're going to get something which, from texture, and somehow it tastes like a falafel, but if you... want to get the traditional taste, the real taste of it. This is something different and this needs another, uh, knowledge and know how, how to still get it at 10:00 PM fresh and knacky and still taste good”
Samie: We talked a lot about how to make the perfect Falafel - how every culture makes them uniquely, and how the recipe you get from your mom works well at home, but not in a restaurant, when you want to make hundreds of falafels that taste great, all day long. And I have to say, it was really cool to hear how invested Hussein was about the quality of the food he serves. When people talk about “gastronomy” they aren’t often, if ever, thinking of people like Hussein… but people that work at places that serve quick food like Humbaba often need just as much gastronomical knowledge as any other cook - and when they are doing it with love and intention, it should be valued.
Samie: And as far as where the food is coming from... I mean, as much as I would love to see more falafel and doner shops supplied with local produce as often as possible, their business concepts don’t really lend themselves to the uncertainty of locally produced, directly sourced agriculture. Not to say they never could… its something we would have to work together and negotiate towards… but, its really not the priority here…
Hussein - Humbaba: for the vegetables, I must be honest, I did not ask... because I already know… they are imported… from the south, you know, from Spain, Italy, uh, Turkey… And this is like… the side product, the thing that compliments the falafel, the sandwich or the halloumi… you know. m more interested to know where the chickpeas come from, where the chicken, for the shawarma, uh, where it comes from, these were questions that I asked the guys, but not the, the vegetables in this case.”
Samie: Understandable, I guess – but I mean, as someone who loves a good Makali sandwich, fresh veggies are still important… and this is due to an extensive system of people working to make sure fresh food is consistently available in the city. Hussein calls these people “facilitators” - they facilitate a restaurant’s job. And we talked a lot about how important those relationships, between distributors and kitchens, are.
Hussein - Humbaba: you've got two important things when you're talking… about your, uh, chain of supply. One is the quality, and not less important is … the reliability, that, uh, that they are serious. That you can you sleep today and don't have to be scared about it tomorrow… If you open that is going to deliver it or not. This is very important because this kind of trust, the last thing that you're going to need is unnecessary stress. It's also important to say I'm working also with successful people and they are small businesses too. Family business. These people know that their success is based on their quality.
Samie: Transitioning to a more regional, and ecological food system, will require new forms of micrologistics that will in some ways disrupt the old, but in many cases, including Hussein’s, the trust and understanding established between distributors and kitchens has been built over decades. It is a system and process like so many others in our societies that will be hard to simply change, even if that change would be beneficial to us in the long run.
Samie: So my curiosity led me to meet so many new people in my neighborhood, and hear their stories too. And this made me think of many questions that I hope to continue exploring throughout this season of Food in my Kiez… questions like, how can we better value the diversity of food and food cultures that are represented in the city? Can we somehow adjust logistics to better serve both food retailers on one side and local farmers on the other? Or how can we shift eating habits while also acknowledging the economic system many of us are bound by? And what collaborations do we need to be making in order to increase access to more local produce to the city?
Food systems are complex, but a bit of curiosity, I hope, will help us better connect with one another, and start to imagine new ways of doing things that have come to feel so commonplace. I hope I could inspire you at least a little bit, to get out there and explore your neighborhood, your neighbors, and the food you love to enjoy. And if you do, come back and tell me how it went! Until then, stay curious!
Samie: Hey ya’ll, thanks for listening to this episode of Food in my Kiez. If you enjoyed it, make sure to share it with a friend or two and subscribe now, on Spotify or Apple Podcasts to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes. You can connect with me on Instagram @FoodinmyKiez or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org - I’d love to hear from you.
Audio for this episode was produced by Gretchen Schadebrodt
Research by Jess Stenhouse
And narration by me, Samie Blasingame
Thanks again for listening. See you here again soon!