Berlin's Jewish Comeback

Culinary Treats in Germany's Creative Capital

Nouveau Deli: Disc jockeys Paul Mogg, left, and Steve Melzer are the owners of Berlin’s Mogg & Melzer.
Steve Herud
Nouveau Deli: Disc jockeys Paul Mogg, left, and Steve Melzer are the owners of Berlin’s Mogg & Melzer.

By Leah Koenig

Published November 14, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
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These new Jewish eateries are not the first to emerge in the city post-Wall; they join a handful of established places like Beth Café, a cozy kosher restaurant that is outfitted with mismatched furniture and antique teapots and serves Jewish standards like gefilte fish and deliciously dense noodle kugel. Founded by a local synagogue in 1991, the café also stocks a variety of kosher-certified products like wine, marble cake and soup mix — imported pantry items that remain difficult to find in Berlin. And yet this emerging crop of restaurants has begun to breathe new life into Berlin’s Jewish cuisine, offering creative and updated interpretations on tradition. “We do not want to copy what came before,” Melzer said. “We would rather reinvent it.” To that point, the pastrami they serve reflects German food traditions, but is actually an updated import of American (and particularly New York) Jewish cuisine.

This urge to innovate is fueled, in part, by the significant influx of new Jewish residents who have moved to Berlin over the past decade. By the end of the Cold War, only 4,000 Jews lived there, primarily to the west of the Berlin Wall. After the Wall came down, a wave of Russian Jews arrived. Their presence swelled the overall Jewish population and fostered the creation of new institutions. Kaedtler, a traditional German bakery, opened in 1935 by a Christian family, responded to the growing Jewish community by getting kosher certification in 2002. Today its breads (including the chal¬lah it now makes on Fridays), as well its flaky apple strudel, cherry-studded cake and several other pastries, are baked under rabbinic supervision.

Most recently, thousands of Israelis have moved to Berlin, including painters, filmmakers and musicians attracted to the city’s thriving arts community, and young people whose grandparents were deprived of citizenship by the Nazis can now apply for a retroactive German passport. According to a recent article in the Jewish Museum of Berlin’s publication, JMB Journal, an estimated “20,000 [Israelis] now live on a permanent basis in Berlin” — more than the Soviet Jews who came in the 1990s.

Like Cohen, many of these new arrivals have opened restaurants, celebrating what the journal called “Israelis’ love affair with eating.” The range includes Middle Eastern-eateries like Sababa and Zula, which serve hummus and shakshuka, eggs poached in tomato sauce. (They join sever¬al hummus and falafel restaurants owned by Berlin’s established Turkish community.) On the other end of the spectrum, there is MANI, an upscale hotel restaurant that focuses on French cuisine containing Israeli and Middle Eastern ingredients, thanks to hotel owner Ariel Schiff’s Israeli background.

Berlin’s residents, both Jewish and not, seem to be excited by the cultural and culinary developments in their midst. While visiting Mogg & Melzer this past October, I observed a table of stylishly dressed Germans chatting with excitement about getting to try “real New York cheesecake” while I snapped photos of their plates. And MANI’s head chef and general manager, both non-Jewish Germans, recently returned from a culinary scouting trip to Israel. “It was incredibly inspiring, and we came back with many new ideas,” manager Ralf Swinley said.


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