Saturday, November 18, 2006


A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Happily Do Again: Last night I participated in something called the Black Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge, which is continuing tonight at the Hebbel Theater 1 (HAU). I'm not quite sure what this is supposed to be, but the setup was that the audience area of the theater was filled with tables, each of which had an electrical outlet and a light. "Experts," who had been recruited to prepare a half-hour talk on a topic, were seated at the tables, and attendees could buy a one-on-one session with them for three Euros.

I prepared a little talk called "American Music in Black and White: It's Not That Simple," which was intended to demonstrate that the division between "black music" and "white music" in America has always been a very porous membrane. I actually gave this as a 90-minute lecture at the University of Delaware some years back, and it went over well, with musical examples from John Work's field recordings of very old black dance music which sounds identical to "old timey" country music, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys playing "White Heat," and a discussion of how "Matchbox Blues" got from Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1927 to the Beatles in 1963 (via Carl Perkins, whose recording I discovered I don't have in my library anywhere). I also played some Jimmie Rodgers and would like to have had time to play a Charlie Pride (or, better yet, Stoney Edwards) tune. As it was, both of my clients (or whatever you'd call them) were flabbergasted by the photo I showed them of Charlie Pride and Dolly Parton together. (Wonder how they'd have reacted to the picture of Dolly with the Village People Chuck Krall sent me last week?)

With only 30 minutes, and music selections to play, it was quite a challenge, but both the clients really got into it and seemed to have picked up a lot of ideas. I'm just sorry they didn't ask me to do both nights -- after all, I'd gone and burned a CD and put together a photo gallery, and my second presentation was way better than the first, so I was just getting into the groove. Getting a 25-Euro honorarium didn't hurt, either; it bought me a couple of more days before things get bad again, and maybe in the interim some of the money I'm owed will finally make it to the bank.


Congratulations to Gordon W, of Imbiss W fame! In a strangely short article in the New York Times, he got not only the top mention, but a photo of people eating at his joint on a much warmer day than today. Not bad for a former roadie for the late Bismillah Khan!

I've known Gordon for a decade, first and foremost as the proprietor of the Scharfness Institut ("scharf" in German usually indicates heat, but can also mean there's garlic somewhere near), which devoted itself to hunting down chile pepper-infused cooking in a city dedicated to blandness. He found some wonderful places, although they rarely lasted very long, and he also became involved in a couple of restaurants where he didn't last very long. Finally, he opened his own place, based on the portable tandoori oven he used to take to parties and events, making naan bread and tandoori salmon. Now he's got the naan pizza down cold and a devoted clientele. It's meant that the Scharfness Institut is in abeyance, though, which is a shame, because we need it now more than ever.

That said, the rest of the article's sort of a bust: only two more places to buttress the contention that street food in Berlin is changing, and one of them is in a shoe store!

But street food is changing, at least on my street. I knew last night that I was going to be hungry after my gig, and I also knew I didn't have any money until I did the gig to buy anything with, so I decided it was time for the Döner for Dinner routine, since a Döner is good and cheap, if not exactly health food. With the Turkish guys in front of me having vanished suddenly and been replaced by this Toco Rouge Chinese place, that meant I had my choice of a place near Bergstr. that seemed to be a hangout for teenagers after school, or the place closer to Oranienburger Tor. I chose the former, because the latter was where, coming home at 4am after who knows what kind of debauchery, I'd witnessed a well-dressed Turkish guy with a briefcase in his hand kicking a younger Turkish guy who was on his hands and knees, pleading with him, in the ribs. Most of the time you want to discount the stories of kebap shops as fronts for crime as the usual racist clap-trap, but this was actually happening before my eyes, so I crossed the street to avoid walking past.

Then I went out and discovered that the Bergstr. place had vanished overnight, too, although there was a "for rent" sign in the window.

I'm sure the last remaining place has undergone a few changes of management -- the current bunch running it seem to be German -- but it smelled so bad when I walked past last night, even though I was hungry, that I passed it by and went to Toco Rouge. Couldn't really afford it, but it was top-notch, and they seemed to be doing good business.

Still, where am I going to go for a Döner when, every six weeks or so, the urge hits?


daggi said...

(Szene-Imbiss) "International" at Rosentaler Platz? But never, never, any place on the Danziger Strasse between the Kulturbrauerei and the Schönhauser Allee. Both have led me to vomit almost immediately after biting into the "food", but luckily (?), at the time, I lived opposite, so I could be violently sick in the comfort of my own air- and windowless WG-bathroom.

daggi said...

(Szene-Imbiss) "International" at Rosentaler Platz? But never, never, any place on the Danziger Strasse between the Kulturbrauerei and the Schönhauser Allee. Both have led me to vomit almost immediately after biting into the "food", but luckily (?), at the time, I lived opposite, so I could be violently sick in the comfort of my own air- and windowless WG-bathroom.

Michael Scott Moore said...

Daggi's right, those places are terrible. A new joint on Danziger between Prenzlauer Allee and Senefelderstrasse is much better. There are pictures of "Babylon" on the wall. (The man wouldn't say "Iraq.")

Anonymous said...

It's a bit of a trek, but I was always happy with the döner up by Schonhauser Allee S-Bahn station. God, you've made me hungry now.

Anonymous said...

There's a place around Schlises Tor U-bahn.(spelling, awful, schuldig)- that's wonderful.

Ed Ward said...

I sure hope I can leave this comment; Blogger's been taking 20 minutes to load a page, and the word verification didn't load.

But bad Döner is a serious problem; there was an epidemic of food poisoning (Germany's #1 fear, incidentally) recently with over-aged Döner being sold, and a number of places had certificates of non-poisonousness in their windows.

But even good Döner is pretty bad. There are a couple of good places I remember from years ago; the big one at the Yorckstr. U/S-Bahn station, one called Kulinarisches Delikatessen near Schlesisches Tor on Oppelnerstr. which probably still has my original rave from the old Checkpoint magazine on the wall (I used to work over there and went there every day for lunch). But the Times called it; most of the snack food here is justd about salty and nothing else. Like most of the cuisine in this part of Germany, it's about brute sensation and little more.

Anyway, now I've made myself hungry. And I guess "International," being on an intersection with more Döner than anywhere else in Mitte (four or five places, including the horrid one that's half "Asia" food and half Döner, at one intersection, one corner of which does not feature Döner), will be where I go. Too bad they discontinued the ostrich kebap!

Anonymous said...

You want food poisoning? Riesen Currywurst! Avoid at all costs!

daggi said...

We have a pizza place next door, which was once a real restaurant around the corner, but the size/rent-to-customers ratio was obviously far too small, so it became a tenth of the size it used to be and planted itself on a main road surrounded by tram stops. Its fayre (is that a correct use of the 'y'? - without doesn't look quite right, with looks a bit too posh, like a Junior School's summer tombola and guess-the-weight-of-the-cake trying to sound a bit too upmarket considering what it actually is) is good enough for 2,50 € for a 12 inch pizza, but, my, how much salt can they put into the dough/tomato base?

I suspect the pizzas are only a way of getting people in to encourage them to drink the (funnily enough, not particuarly expensive, which makes my theory less convincing) beer in the fridge. I've woken up in the middle of the night desperate for 2 pints of water after one marguerita from there.

My what a lovely, cheap, pizza. But I'm so terribly thirsty. Better have 7 bottles of Sternburg to quench it.

I've never been disappointed with Imbiss International - they have a range of things that aren't Döner too, which is in most cases to be advised anyway. And there aren't that many Dönerläden that have been immortalised in song.

Ed Ward said...

Daggi hits it on the head: it's not about lunch, it's about stimulating thirst. It's the stuffing yourself with grease after a long night's drinking that maybe leaves you wanting one more beer. This, in its "curry after the pub" incarnation, is a British tradition, too, of course.

And anon, your comment would be more useful if we knew where this place was. Always good to know where to avoid, after all, but this is a big city.

Good -- nay, great currywursts can be had at Bier's, under the S-Bahn tracks on Friedrichstr. Don't forget to ask for some chili sauce to spice them up just right!

Olaf said...

I've been curious about something that you folks can answer. Has schaschlik disappeared from schnell imbiss stands? Years ago, those little skewers of meatlike substance were ubiquitously available and a nice alternative to currywurst, but in my last to trips to Berlin I haven't noticed them on the menu.

Or am I just terminally inobservant?

daggi said...

I've been in Berlin since 1999 and have never seen them once. A shish kebab is occasionally available (in the place next to Imbiss International), which is similar, I suppose.

Ed Ward said...

Shashlik is one of those Russian things, I think, which are disappearing here now that the Russian presence is also diminishing. Solyanka is another: you used to be able to get that at any Imbiss, but it's getting rarer. The new customers want other stuff. I haven't been to Konnopke's in ages, but I bet you'd find both there.

Anonymous said...

The Soljanka has merely moved upmarket: quite a few restaurants offer it.

Ed Ward said...

Oh, there's always been upmarket soljanka with, like, recognizable meat in it instead of the gristly hunks in Imbiss soljanka.

I've found a real good spot nearby (but not, alas, near enough to keep the food warm til I get home): there's a hut that sells Gyros in that cluster of huts at Rosenthaler Platz by the Beate Uhse. He takes meat, tzatziki, some sort of shredded carrot and cabbage stuff resembling coleslaw, onions, tomatoes and (really the touch of class) french fries, and wraps 'em all up in a white-bread sorta tortilla kind of thing with the distinct taste of grease. I love it: all major food-groups in one sandwich. And, seven hours later, I'm not nauseous.