German design is often characterised by its minimalism. Germans are known for their efficiency, attention to detail, and belief that whatever is optimal in function is optimal in use – regardless of how it looks. But when it comes to other aspects of modern cultural life, they tend to fall a little short.
While travelling through Europe, you’ll most likely find the cafe culture to be an underwhelming experience, pale in comparison to what we offer in Australia (especially Melbourne). Most of the coffees we take for granted aren’t even available abroad – chai lattes are a strange witches’ brew, while mochas are a conspiracy concocted by the chocolate companies, and Americanos (whatever they are) remain the apparently ubiquitous choice for foreigners. (I was offered them on multiple occasions.) To be honest, many European black shots of coffee can be acidic and harsh. Apparently “cappuccino” translates to “I’ll take the tar-like blend with a thin lace of cream on top, thanks.” Tasty. Many travellers resort to chain-store coffee like Starbucks, not necessarily for the taste but for the familiarity of their catalogue alone (and to “milk” the free Wi-Fi too, of course).
But if you look beyond the busy street-corners (and accept some insider tips), you’ll notice the new breed of Australian-style cafes popping up in tucked away Berlin corners. The influx of Australians to the bustling city of all-night clubs, cutting edge architecture and wartime relics is slowly transforming Berlin’s cafe culture into something a little more palatable. Now, like back home, you can savour your cafe latte in the comfort of wood-panelled stylishly-furnished magazine-laden digs.
Here are some of the sweet coffee choices to greet you Berlin-side.
#1 Melbourne Canteen
Where: Pannierstrabe 57, 12047 Neukolln, Berlin
As the name suggests, Melbourne Canteen is all about bringing Australian café culture to the austere urban sprawl of Berlin. What’s really exciting about Melbourne Canteen is its double life. As well as serving as a café with excellent breakfast and brunch menus, it remains open well into the evening doubling as a restaurant and cocktail bar. European venues are normally a cafe or a restaurant or a bar – they’re rarely all three. Melbourne Canteen brings it all together, and also manages to let its substantial Australian influence shine while maintaining a local touch. There’s a long list of Australian coffees to choose from, an extensive cocktail menu, a relaxing atmosphere, free Wi-Fi, reasonable prices and an unassuming decor with natural timbre and stone platter arrangements. Their (mostly) Australian staff are incredibly friendly – it will almost make you miss the homeland.
#2 The Barn
Where: Auguststrabe 58, 10119, Berlin
The Barn Café is nestled in the “gallery district” of Berlin, surrounded by a number of historical sites like a famous Jewish Synagogue and Alexanderplatz (Berlin’s main retail hub). In this sense, there’s a real mix of old and new Berlin in the area. If you’re visiting in the colder months, the Barn is the perfect place to escape the often harsh, chilling wind outside. It’s a welcome relief to enter the earthy warm shed of The Barn, with the smell of freshly-brewed organic coffee beans scenting the air. Most of the coffee is served black – in fact, adding cold milk or spoonfuls of sugar is discouraged. Despite the often complex approaches to preparing the bean, the lumberjack uniforms donned by the baristas gives the cafe a relaxed and welcoming vibe.
#3 No Fire No Glory
Where: Rykestr 45, 10405, Berlin
No Fire No Glory, like a number of these burgeoning coffee houses, are passionate about the quality of what goes into their brews. There’s a focus on the quality of both the beans and milk here. No Fire No Glory offers a wealth of insight into the history of coffee culture and why we have become so dependent on those brewed black beans. Its prices are above the average Starbucks mug but it’s worth it. They have a truly diverse array of drinks on offer and the baristas are also willing to experiment with sizes – we suggested a larger Melbourne-style cup for a “caffe mocha” and they happily obliged. No Fire No Glory tailor their cafe to a “third wave” movement that exists in the coffee industry, whereby coffee has become a sophisticated and niche area of artisan expertise. The atmosphere is nice and intimate and their selection of cakes and desserts is incredible, in case you’re feeling peckish.
Where: Seelower Strasse 2, 10439, Berlin
Sgaminegg is by far one of the most satisfying cafe experiences in Berlin. Like Australian gourmet delis that double as cafes, restaurants and food stores, the deli-cum-cafe set-up at Sgaminegg is authentic with a great family-owned vibe. The food here is rustic and Spartan – the emphasis is on simple dishes and ungarnished sides – so there’s plenty of basic sandwiches and uncomplicated salads on offer. The coffees are strong but they taste like they’ve been home-made with love. On weekends the café offers a small selection of local and organic foods via a co-op market, while its range of cakes, desserts, and wines mean Sgaminegg maintains an unpretentious, old-school feel that would make it seem at home in Melbourne’s Fitzroy or any other city in Australia.
(Lead image: Melbourne Canteen/Facebook)