Hamburger Situation: Prenzlauer Berg

Photo: White Trash Fast Food; centrally located below my office. Photo by cassiemc.

The first time I visited Berlin I was coming from the end of a vacation in Italy with my fingertips tingling in the throes of pasta and croisant-based diabetic shock. I arrived in Tegel airport and the first thing I saw upon leaving the gate was a Burger King. I could have wept with joy. Hamburgers!

The Germans know meat. Most traditional German foods are meaty concoctions like Schnitzel, Wurst, and Rouladen. The hamburger was not invented in Germany but it means person of Hamburg in German so there must be some European connection. Americans invented it but Americans settling in Berlin brought the food to Germany, and Germany’s meat-loving culture brought the hamburger into the population’s atherosclerotic hearts.

Berlin loves fast food but it dislikes chain franchises. While there are some Burger Kings and McDonalds around the city you’re more likely to find mystery-brand hamburgers of, often, much higher quality. This is a great thing for my adventurous palate, (though bad for my waistline).

Today I bring to you a hamburger survey of Prenzlauer Burg district, Berlin.

White Trash Fast Food

No tourist’s visit to Berlin is complete without a stop at White Trash. This bizarre place is a combination bar, live music venue, dance club, tattoo parlour, and hamburger restaurant rolled into one. The decor is a confusing mix of Chinese restaurant accoutrement (dragons &c) arranged in an Irish pub setting. Punk-but-cute waitresses are rude to you every language. The last time I was there the band was a bunch of German teenagers playing Mötörhead covers. It’s a refreshing shock of Berlin weirdness that manages to be tourist-friendly and not as psychically damaging as real Berlin weirdness.

The hamburgers are amusingly named with English swear words. I ordered the Marquis de Fuck burger which had raclette cheese and pickles, with a side of fries and a half-litre of the house beer. The food is definitely tasty and well made, but the price is much too high. Burger, beer, ‘n fries are about 12 EUR. This is clearly a tourist venue and while the rates are cheap by London standards (which is not hard) they are double the usual in Berlin.

If you visit Berlin you pretty much have to go to this place for the music, the drinking, and the cavernous dance club in the basement. The hamburgers, while good, are not the prime attraction.

Kreuzburger

Oddly enough Kreuzburger is not in Kreuzberg. I cannot explain why.

Kreuzburger is a dive. The paint on the walls is flaking off here and there. The chairs are second-hand dining room flea-market mish-mash turned brown from years of smoking. This is not so bad, though. A lot of Berlin bars are just as rough-and-tumble for furnishings.

I had a Münchenburger with sauerkraut and onion. The food was pretty good but not exceptional and the hamburger patty was pretty thin. The price was definitely the cheapest of all options, and they had a self-serve beer fridge (another Berlin wonder). Burger, fries, and beer cost about 6.50 EUR.I think this is the kind of place I’d visit at the end of a night of drinking for some stomach-settling grease, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek it out.

Marienburger

Marienburger is a tiny little restaurant on Marienstraße with seating for about a dozen people on uncomfortably tall stools. Other customers jostle about behind you. The stereo plays whatever the cooks on duty prefer, which is either Frank Sinatra or AC/DC turned up loud. This is not a place for lounging about. This is a place for fast food hamburgers done so, so right.

Marienburger burgers look mythically good. They look exactly like the pictures of hamburgers you see on fast food restaurant signs. The sesame bun is perfectly toasted, the patty and condiments are delicately layered. Nothing drips out. It’s… beautiful. Magically, though, within four bites the burger has turned into a glorious sloppy mess of melted processed cheese and hamburger grease.

The fries are pulled from the frier mere seconds before they hit your plate, and are served with Berliner special curry-ketchup or mayonnaise, as you prefer. Servings are large. A burger and fries is about the limit of what I can eat in a sitting. At first I wasn’t sure about the cost but in comparison with other places it’s excellent. Burger, beer, and fries come to about 7.50 EUR.

I feel confident in saying that Marienburger is probably the best hamburger in P-Burg, and maybe Berlin. I have not yet explored the hamburger vistas of Berlin’s other five or so districts, but I’ll be sure to embark on this mission (in moderation).