Berlin is crawling with lebenskünstlers – so-called “life artists” who put their talent into their work and their genius into their lives. A man who calls himself TaxiBerlin drives among them, writing “Autofiktion,” taking photos, and reading all the European literature he can get his hands on while he’s waiting for fares.
No, I didn’t meet TaxiBerlin on a random hail. About a week ago, he sent me this email:
“I’m a Berlin cab driver since fifteen years and I’m also a little gourmet. Maybe I can help You with some informations for Your blog. By the way I have a Berlin Taxi blog: taxiberlin.blogspot.com
Right now I’m still in Bulgaria in my holiday. But I will go back to Berlin just today. Tomorrow I’m already “On The Road”!
A few days later, Uncornered Market creators Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott and I hopped into TaxiBerlin’s cab. I think we all had a feeling he was being modest when he said he was “a little gourmet.” Here’s a preview of one of our first tastes:
“Dead grandma” turned out to be blood sausage mixed with liverwurst, boiled potatoes and sauerkraut from Kaese Koenig (Panoramastrasse 1), a German cafeteria in the shadow of the TV tower on Alexanderplatz. TaxiBerlin ordered a single portion (4.50 euros) for the three of us and fled back to his cab to stave off the meter maids while we ate.
Despite its terrifying appearance – the dish’s other nickname, TaxiBerlin told us, is “catastrophe” – it wasn’t bad. We could taste paprika and nutmeg in the blood sausage – Daniel said it reminded him of the filling in a banh mi (which the liverwurst would explain). We liked the sausage mixture even better when we scooped it up with sauerkraut loaded with caraway seeds (which we could smell when we walked into the place) and potatoes. Between the three of us, we finished off the catastrophe.
Though he’s justifiably proud of his city’s German food, TaxiBerlin confessed that when he wants it he usually goes home and has mom make it for him. When he’s eating out in Berlin, he loves Thai and Vietnamese. Here, he shows us one of his favorites: Sala Thai (Frankfurter Allee 73, Tel. 030-428-120-20).
Across the street from an Asian market where Audrey found kaffir lime leaves for her Thai curry and inside an office complex on Frankfurter Allee, it looks posh, but their midday lunch specials run around 5-7 euros:
We didn’t have time to try the food at Sala Thai, but TaxiBerlin urged us to go back another day. Instead, he wanted eat at his favorite Vietnamese place in Kruezberg: Hamy.
At Hamy (Hasenheide 10, Tel 030 616 259 59), TaxiBerlin sat down to eat with us, and we ended up face to face with ho-hum pho and beautiful bowls of red Vietnamese curry (4.90 euros). It was even better than the delicious version I’d tasted the day before.
Fresh basil, kaffir lime, spunky chili peppers – they were all there, along with shredded cabbage, fennel, big chunks of chicken, red curry and TaxiBerlin’s beloved coconut milk. If dead grandma was a beast, this dish was a beauty.
We were just as taken by the cabbie himself – from his outrage at the yuppification of Prenzlauer Berg (and its takeover by the “Bionade Bourgeoisie”) to his insistence on the greatness of Zorba the Greek and his surprise at our ignorance about literary celebrities like Michel Houellebecq.
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Here are some other spots TaxiBerlin recommended on our circuit from east to west:
Berliner Marcus Braeu (Muenzstrasse 1-3, Mitte, Tel 030 247 6985) – good beer brewed in-house.
Prager Hopfenstube (Karl-Marx-Allee 127, Friedrichshain, Tel 030 4267367) – he hasn’t tasted the food at this Czech restaurant, but it’s a nice place to sit and have a beer on what used to be Stalin Allee.
Amar (Schlesische Straße 9, Kreuzberg, Tel 030 69566673) – decent Indian food. The 4 euro lunch special is a good deal.
Want to see more TaxiBerlin footage? I’ll be posting video with his thoughts about the changing nature of Berlin on the Taxi Gourmet Facebook page later this week. You can also see some video of the beginning of our journey here.
In the meantime, stay tuned for the next Berlin dispatch, when a Taekwondo master turned taxi driver leads me to a plate of otherworldly kuzu pirzola (lamb chops) at a Turkish grill in Kreuzberg.