Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sommerloch '06, Part 7

I've been hearing rumors that the summer is over, and certainly it's cooled down here over the past week, but I'm not giving up yet. I do, however, think that the heat-spell we've had is over, but there'll be a few more nice patches before the nasty weather-as-usual closes in on us again.

One thing that I've been wondering about is whether the hot weather did any good for this year's German fad: flavored beers. This thing just appeared out of nowhere; all of a sudden there's a whole refrigerator full of the stuff at the supermarket, and billboards everywhere. Becks led the way, with Becks Chilled Orange and Level Seven Energy Beer, flavored with lemon grass and guarana. It being Becks, the beer which can induce a headache just from my looking at it, I haven't tried either. Not to be outdone, Warsteiner, which, last I checked, was Germany's second-best-selling beer (at least it's drinkable), has a whole raft of horrible mixtures, from Alt-Cola (Altbier is a West German specialty), to Hi-Light (low-calorie beer) and regular Warsteiners in Cola, Lemon, and Orange flavors. Someone else introduced something called Green Lemon (incidentally, these names are all in English, which means they're being marketed to young folks), which was lime-flavored. (Technically, they're right, incidentally: unless you are lucky enough to live somewhere you can get "key" or "Mexican" limes, you're getting "Persian" limes, which are a species of lemon and don't really taste like real limes. They are, however, large, and much easier to squeeze and this should show you what I'm talking about.)

It's enough to make you want the Reinheitsgebot back. Well, almost.

With this sudden glut of products (some of which existed quietly in the past, mostly in the hands of small breweries) I now wonder if we're about to see the tabloid press worrying about the health of Germany's children. The so-called alcopops, sweet alcoholic fizzy drinks like Smirnoff Ice and the various Bacardi Breezers, have been available here for some time, yet I've never seen anything here comparable to the group of 13-year-olds I encountered once on the London Underground drinking some hideous blue alcopop and getting pretty obviously snockered. Maybe it's that, as with sex, the German educational system has a sane attitude towards alcohol and is actually able to deliver the message.

As for me, whenever I see one of these hideous things, I Just Say No.


Too good to pass up, yet the mass of sauerkraut which invades my brain every time I contemplate commenting on it prevents me from doing so: the BBC reports that the German birth-rate is the lowest in Europe. Insert your own sauerkraut about dating Germans here.


As for news of the neighborhood, we've suffered a loss these past few weeks. I'm sure I've made reference to Bistro Tor, the Döner Kebap place on Torstr. near my house, home of one of Berlin's best kebaps, and, for my money, the best because it's a half-stumble from my doorstep. I'm not crazy about Döner, which is the Turkish name for the ubiquitous meat-on-a-stick-served-in-bread dish that the Greeks know as gyros and the Lebanese and Palestinians call shawarma. (Incidentally, there's enough tension in that part of the world at the moment and I'd just like to emphasize that Döner, gyros, and shawarma are, indeed, separate items, not different names for the same item). It's too filling for a mid-day snack, but not enough for dinner, and too many of them are just soaked in MSG, to which I'm pretty reactive.

That said, the Bistro Tor guys do a good one (although there's MSG in the meat, and unless you dissuade them, they'll add additional "salt" to it which also contains MSG), and, in fact, one of the great meals I've had here was a take-out from them. I was working at JazzRadio, and it was some kind of holiday, perhaps New Year's Day, and I'd been unable to make dinner. I came back from my shift at 11, starving, and saw that the lights were on at Bistro Tor. Ah, I thought: Döner for dinner! But I got there and the place was jammed and there was a sign on the door: Private Party. At a Döner Kebap stand! Fortunately, one of the guys saw me and waved me inside. "This is a party to thank all the construction workers who've patronized us all during the year," he told me. "We made a special kebap for this, and I think you'll agree it's the best you've ever had. Would you like me to make one for you? To go?" I said yes, and he went to a foil-lined tray in the middle of the room which was laden with bits of meat. "Just meat. No sauce, no salad, just meat. But you don't need salad or meat with this!" He was right; I only regret that I was so hungry that I gobbled it down when I got home without taking any notes, mental or otherwise. All I can remember is how good it was. And that it cost over twice what their normal kebap did.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, a friend from Austin was visiting, and he was also hanging out with a childhood friend of his from San Antonio. They were at my house and said they were hungry, so I pointed them to Bistro Tor, where the Austin guy had already been once. (The other guy lives in Düsseldorf, so presumably he'd had a kebap once or twice himself). So they went over there, had lunch, and came back. We hung out and talked for a while, and then they left. Some hours later, I left the house and noticed something unusual: Bistro Tor was closed. Over the next couple of days, a dumpster appeared out front, and filled up several times with plaster and so on, as if the walls were being destroyed inside. Then the dumpster went away, and the little storefront next door sprouted a pizzeria. Late last week, a couple of young Turkish guys were messing around with the Bistro Tor sign, and then it vanished. The window, in which the guys wielded their long, razor-sharp knives, was coated with an opaque material. And it's been almost a month, and we are still without kebaps.

This, incidentally, is something in the nature of an emergency. From what I could tell, at least half the people in my building got their evening meal there -- every day! Not maybe the healthiest meal on earth, but it's gotta be better than the other staple of the evening, which I think maybe 50% of my neighbors consume, frozen pizza. There are two other Dönerias on Torstr., one of which is so sleazy I wouldn't think of going there. Well, actually, I did once many years ago and it was unspeakably vile, but what made me steer clear of it was one evening when I was coming home about 4am, and there were a couple of guys out front of it. One wore an expensive suit and was carrying an attache case and wearing sunglasses, the other was on his knees, babbling fast in Turkish, while the other guy kicked him in the mouth, and, when he fell over, in the ribs. I crossed the street. The other place is in the other direction, and seems to be a hangout for children. It also doesn't seem very clean.

I was hoping some day to document the construction of a Döner at Bistro Tor by one of the guys, taking photos every step of the way, and publish it here. I still hope I can. I just hope those two Texans didn't murder the business.

Although I have to wonder: what was the last kebap like?

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