Peter’s was the first cab in line at the taxi stand next to the Baritone Bar on Weserstraße in Friedrichshain* in what used to be East Berlin.
Before I poked my head through his passenger side window, I’d already decided to abandon my strategy of asking him straight away to take me to his favorite restaurant. Instead, I asked him if he could bring me to Kottbusser Tor, in Kreuzberg, and if it would be okay to ask him some questions during the ride. (This was the strategy I used in New York, too, after I figured out that cabbies there need to understand your agenda before they can divulge secrets about their food.)
Not only did Peter say ‘yes,’ but after hearing my horrendous German, he switched to English and told me that he started driving a cab four and half years ago so he would have more time to make his music.
Peter plays piano and guitar and writes songs and records them in-studio with his partner. In true Berlin art-for-art’s-sake form, they don’t have a name, they don’t perform live, and they don’t have a website. (Although ten years ago he was a member of a pop band called ‘Knuckle Sandwich,’ which no longer exists.)
Before the cabbie decided to organize his life around his music, he worked a lot of jobs – everything from laying pipe in a power plant to waiting tables – and lived all over the city.
After moving from Kreuzberg to Charlottenburg to Friedrichshain, he’d finally returned to Karlshorst-Lichtenberg, the quiet East Berlin district where he grew up, where he can live cheaply (“l only pay 350 Euro a month for my flat, and I don’t have a car, I ride my bike.”) and eat at India Haus, the only Indian restaurant in the neighborhood (If you’re in Berlin and you get there before I do, let us know what you think.)
Even though he grew up in East Berlin, Peter loves southern German food, especially rich, heavy dishes from Bavaria and Swabia. His favorite place to eat them, he told me, is Spätzle & Knödel, a southern German restaurant in Friedrichshain that he found “by accident, while I was driving the taxi.”
Schweinekrustenbraten was the dish the cabbie recommended, and Schweinekrustenbraten (pork roast with a thick fat crust) was what we ordered when I backtracked to Spätzle & Knödel the next day with a German friend.
My friend, who is not from Bavaria but whose stomach is always ready for the solidity of German food, approved of the dish, especially the dark beer sauce, which balanced out the fatty richness of the pork, soaked into the knödel (bread dumplings crusted with pork fat) and combined perfectly with the caraway seeds in the Bavarian sauerkraut.
Käsespätzle, noodles with cheese and a sprinkle of gorgeously caramelized onions, couldn’t compare to Schweinekrustenbraten. The noodles are made in-house but taste too dry without sauce or a unifying herb. (If you’re serious about spätzle, you’re better off eating it at Die Feinbäckerei in Schoeneberg.)
I might also skip the pretzel here, which the menu claims is house-made, too, but that our server confessed is only ‘house-baked.’ (Although the raw milk ‘fassbutter’ you can order on the side is so good it’s worth probably ordering the pretzel anyway, just so you have a vehicle for the butter).
Bavarian beers on tap here are good, especially the ‘clear, light, herbacious’ Oberelchinger Prälät, but if you want to experience how truly glorious a Bavarian microbrew can be, check out Hops & Barley, a few doors west of Spätzle & Knödel, where you can also find some of the best schmaltz in Berlin.
Spätzle & Knödel – Map it
10245 Berlin – Friedrichshain
Tel. 030 27571151
Open: 7 days a week, 5pm-midnight
Recommended: Anything with Fassbutter; Schweinekrustenbraten mit Schwarzbiersosse und Bayerisch Kraut (9.40 Euros)
Hops & Barley – Map it
10245 Berlin – Friedrichshain
Tel. 030 29367534
Open: 7 days, 5pm-3am
Recommended: House-brewed pilsner; schmaltz
* Note: If you ever decide you want to try a taxi adventure in Berlin, I highly recommend starting your quest from the taxi stand on Weserstraße, next to the Baritone Bar across from Wismarplatz, in Friedrichshain. Every taxi stand in Berlin has its own culture, and the cabbies on Weserstraße are relaxed and open compared to many of their colleagues (especially on Alexanderplatz, where drivers can be grouchy sometimes.)