Berlin resident Gisela Williams explores the proud new zeitgeist taking hold in her adopted homeland.
Like so many German words, Heimat is impossible to translate. Some describe it as a “homeland” or sense of belonging—your roots, so to speak. The French might liken it to terroir. But after the Nazis hijacked it, Heimat became a loaded term—all but erased from the German lexicon. Until a few years ago, I’d barely heard it uttered. Today, however, the concept is making a comeback, thanks to a cadre of artists, chefs, and thinkers who are trying to rescue Heimat from its nationalistic undertones and bring it up-to-date.
With East Berlin certifiably yuppified, locals are moving back to the old West. The epicenter? This former hotbed of counterculture.
Gallerist Johann König has resurrected St. Agnes, a Brutalist-style Catholic church and an adjacent community center, transforming them into dramatic art spaces (a café will open next year). Now on view: interactive sculptures by Berlin-based artist Jeppe Hein. 118-121 Alexandrinenstrasse.
You’ll sooner find Berliners dancing all night than eating a proper meal—which is why see-and-be-seen restaurants are popping up inside the hottest nightclubs. One of the pioneers of the latest is Cookies Cream, which serves upscale vegetarian under the glow of enormous peacock lamps at the 1920’s-inspired club Drayton. And at the Grand, a bi-level, supper-club-style spot in Mitte where a posh crowd samples beef tartare and truffle-spiked risotto. Katerschmaus, on the third floor of the graffiti-covered KaterHolzig, is known for modern takes on German dishes like turnip ragôut with crisp herb dumplings.
An expanding population of Jewish expats from the U.S. and Israel has helped spur the recent boom of Bubbe-style cuisine. The recently renovated Jewish Girls School in Mitte—four floors of contemporary art galleries and restaurants—includes everyone’s favorite deli, Mogg & Melzer, which specializes in house-made pastrami. The Kosher Classroom hosts a four-course Shabbat dinner (with traditional favorites such as smoked salmon and kreplach soup) and a Sunday brunch of Mediterranean meze. On Torstrasse, Israeli-inspired dishes are found at Hotel Mani’s intimate Restaurant Mani, where guests sample upscale street food (think saffron-spiced cauliflower, falafel with prawns).
The locavore movement came late to Berlin, but chefs are finally embracing the farm-to-table ethos. Michael Hoffmann of Restaurant Margaux uses produce from his nearby farmland, while restaurants like Little Otik, Lokal, and Katz Orange are sourced from local hunters and gatherers. The trend’s hub is the revived 19th-century Markthalle 9, in Kreuzberg, where you’ll find artisanal bakery Soluna Brot und Öl, Big Stuff Smoked BBQ, and the city’s first microbrewery.