This past May, a Jewish delicatessen opened in Mitte, Berlin’s central (and rather trendy) district. Founded by two disc jockeys in their 30s, Oskar Melzer (who is Jewish) and Paul Mogg (who is not), and serving up house-cured pastrami, chicken liver brulée, challah and matzo ball soup in a sleekly designed space, Mogg & Melzer Delicatessen is the most recent example of the nouveau deli movement. And, even more so than at its North American contemporaries — like Mile End in New York City and Caplansky’s in Toronto — sampling the half-sours and creamy coleslaw at Mogg & Melzer feels distinctly historic.
Before World War II, Mitte was home to many of the city’s 160,000 Jews. It had several synagogues, community centers and day schools. Mogg & Melzer itself is located in a building that housed a Jewish girls’ school until 1942, when it was shuttered under Hitler’s regime. The building was returned to Berlin’s Jewish community in 2009 and has since been transformed into a multistory space dedicated to art and food both Jewish and otherwise. Thanks to Melzer, who grew up in Munich but discovered pastrami while visiting New York on his bar mitzvah trip, the homey scents of brine and spice now fill the hallways. “My favorite customers are people who come to see where their grandmothers went to school,” he said.
Mogg & Melzer is part of a larger resurgence of Jewish culture and cuisine that has emerged in Berlin in the past half-decade. In the same building, caterer and hotelier Michael Zehden serves elegant, kosher Sabbath dinners in a converted classroom. And the fragrant rye bread sandwiching Mogg & Melzer’s Reuben is baked at Barcomi’s — a bakery founded by Seattle native Cynthia Barcomi, who moved to Berlin in 1985 after graduating from New York City’s Columbia University. First opened in the mid-1990s, Barcomi’s is also credited with helping to introduce New York-style bagels and cheesecake to Berlin via two airy cafe locations. Slathered with cream cheese and draped with delicate smoked salmon, the chewy sesame bagels are particularly convincing. A few blocks away from the Jewish girls’ school, Ehud “Udi” Cohen, an Israeli who once lived next to Katz’s Deli in New York City, runs Ruben Carla, a meat-centric restaurant that opened early in 2012 and serves pastrami sandwiches during the day and tagliata, Italian-style roast beef, at night. “Many of my customers are artists and world travelers who have experienced the New York pastrami fetish,” Cohen said. His second eatery, Luigi Zuckermann, which opened in 2009, similarly combines Italian cold cuts (“I spent a lot of time in Italy, and fell in love with the food,” he explained) with Jewish deli meats like roast beef and pastrami.