BERLIN — Dirk Waldeck is a man of a dying breed practicing a dying art in a place that’s in the process of selling its soul.
“I could climb up the TV tower or go on a hunger strike,” said Dirk, when I asked him what he thought about his changing city. “But in the end I’d just make myself sad.”
Though he doesn’t like the way Berlin is being built up, the way developers are transforming empty spaces and improvised spaces into so-called ghettos of affluence, Dirk, who has been driving a cab for a decade, who composes techno music when he’s off duty, makes a point of trying not to judge everything. Live and let live, he said. But he didn’t always feel that way. Taxi driving has changed him.
“Taxi driving is like a psychological education,” he told me. “If you have an open mind, you begin to reflect, become familiar with certain things, and out of this whole big potpourri you develop a picture of society. It’s a different picture than I had before I started driving the taxi.”
Now he sees people as normal that he didn’t perceive as normal before. What he saw as negative before he sees as positive now, and vice versa. “You get cooler from contact with so many different people, so many other lives. You can’t judge things before you experience them,” said Dirk, who grew up in East Germany, about 30 kilometers outside Berlin and was a teenager when the Wall came down. “With people it’s the same.”
Dirk doesn’t consider himself a gourmet (“I have a friend who’s an excellent cook and a bigger gourmet than I am”), but he has six favorite restaurants (“alle sehr sehr geil!!!!”), only one of which, W-Der Imbiss, I’d heard of before (thanks to another music-loving cabby named Heiko).
“Coincidence and hunger” is how Dirk found all of these places, which I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks. Five of them are around the corner from where he lives in Prenzlauer Berg. The sixth, Ergun’s Fisch-Bude, a.k.a. Balkçi Ergun, is a seafood store cum restaurant cum soccer fan club under the S-Bahn tracks in Moabit.
“The whole world is at home in Berlin,” I remembered Dirk telling me, when I walked into Ergun’s, where love notes from customers cover the tabletops and dangle from fish nets on the ceiling, and a portrait of Ataturk hangs next to the pass-through window by the kitchen. “That’s why I want to stay.”
“Cult” was the word Dirk used to describe this place, which smelled and looked, down to the picture menu next to the entrance, like the restaurants at the fish bazaar in Kadikoy, Istanbul. I learned later that chef-owner Ergun Çetinbas gets all his fish from his brother in Istanbul, who airlifts up to a ton of seafood to Berlin per week.
Ergun opened this shop about thirty years ago, and all he did was sell fish, mostly to the weekly markets in Berlin. Our waiter, a stocky man in a white dress shirt with a low center of gravity, told us Ergun, who played semi-professional soccer in Turkey before he emigrated to Germany, used to cook lunch for family and friends who stopped by the shop from time to time. Eventually they pestered him into hiring a waiter, putting out tables and chairs and nailing a sign over the door.
To sit in Ergun’s dining room today feels like you’re in on the family secret. To taste his flash-fried sardines or grilled dorado or lobster soup is to be teleported to the Bosporus, where the quality of the seafood is so good that the preparations can afford to be simple. To eat his salad – which is as unpretentious as it is carefully composed, which we almost made the mistake of not ordering – is to be reawakened by fresh basil and mint and dill and pomegranate seeds and feta while the S-Bahn rumbles overhead and a Fenerbahçe soccer game plays out on the flatscreen.
Lüneburger Str. 382
10557 Berlin (Moabit)
Open: Tuesday-Friday, 3pm-midnight; Saturdays, 15.30-midnight; Mondays, 5pm-midnight