Photo by Riku Vejander
With specialty bakeries cropping up in Kreuzberg, P’Berg and even Wedding, Berlin’s cupcake mania shows no sign of winding down. So we say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
In 2000, during those pre-9/11, pre-crash days when Sex and the City was some kind of cultural touchstone, Carrie Bradshaw sat outside Greenwich Village’s Magnolia Bakery and took a giant bite of a delectable, not-so-dainty, pink-icing-topped cupcake. Within weeks of the episode being broadcast, the place was jam-packed with crowds of tourists and sweet-toothed New Yorkers craving these suddenly celebrity cakes.
In 2007, when bagels, brownies and other US-imported nibbles had already become passé in Deutschland, an American expat and her German boyfriend saw a gap in the market and opened the country’s first cupcake café in Berlin. This product of American ‘cupitalism’ seems to have accompanied the gentrification wave, creeping its way through the Hauptstadt’s trending corners.
The retro-cutesy cakes have even traversed unexpected frontiers. Köpi squatters serve them in their yuki-est vegan version at their Saturday pizza nights. German McDonalds offers three variations: choco, vanilla and strawberry. And whether you shop Netto or bio you’ll find cute cupcake moulds, stands and kits lurking among the aisles.
Clearly Berlin’s cupcake craze isn’t going anywhere, so maybe it’s time you bit into one of the city’s best. We took the cakewalk.
The hardcore original
“Anybody who thinks I’m not a punk because I sell little cute cakes can really fuck off,” says Daniel Bader, who opened Cupcake Berlin, Germany’s first cupcakery, with Florida native Dawn Nelson after the two met in the city’s punk scene.
“Selling cupcakes is actually the most punk rock thing I could do. I didn’t sell my soul; I didn’t start working at a bank or selling insurance. We did our own thing,” explains the heavily tattooed German in his mid-thirties.
These uncompromising cupcake fanatics also run a vinyl record label – Cupcake Records, which re-releases hardcore acts like Yuppicide on vinyl – and hawk a kick-ass line of bags and t-shirts with cupcake logos (think Black Flag).
But the main draw of course are the huge cupcakes (muffin-size, the largest on the market) in bright colours. Common in cupcake culture, the sweet treats bear cutesy names like “Fantasy Island” (vanilla cake, cream cheese frosting), “The King” (chocolate cake, peanut butter cream frosting), “Raspberry Beret” (vanilla cake, raspberry buttercream) and the classic “Red Velvet” (red cocoa cake, cream cheese frosting). The cakes are priced at €2.80 (€1.30 for a mini-cupcake), but their large size makes them a bargain. Both vegan and gluten-free cupcakes are available, as well as banana bread and brownies.
If you come on the weekend, you’ll likely have to jump in line with a motley mix of yuppies, mummies and rockers – sometimes as many as 700 cupcakes are sold in a weekend!
Cupcake Berlin, Krossener Str. 12, Friedrichshain, U+S-Bhf Warchauer Str., Mon-Tue 13-19, Wed-Sun 12-19
Yummy mummy heaven
Being a keen baker, Derbyshire native Kay Whiteley opened Vanilla in 2010. She had fond memories of the Brit variant, the fairy cake, and decided to give it a try: the results have been the prettiest treats in town, each one delicately topped and displaying a definite artistic sense of shape and colour.
Within the equally colourful café, Kinder are encouraged to paint on the windows – one even scrawled,“I ♥ Vanilla,” probably referring to the “Vanilla Vanilla” (vanilla cake, vanilla frosting), a popular choice among kids in the family-packed Bötzowviertel.
But the best selling cake – and Whiteley’s personal favourite of the moment – is the “Big Choc” (double chocolate), followed by the “Cherry Cheesecake” (vanilla cake with cherries, cream cheese frosting topped with crumble). Grownups often opt for the “Lemon Raspberry” and other fruit varieties baked according to market.
The cakes go for €2 (80 cents for a mini-cupcake) and although American recipes have been modified to include half the amount of sugar, don’t expect anything less than S.W.E.E.T!
Vanilla, Hufelandstr. 10, Prenzlauer Berg, M4 Hufelandstr., Wed-Sun 12-19
American Paul Meskunas thought he’d be the first to open a cupcake shop in Berlin, only to realise that Bader and Nelson had beaten him to the punch (by a few years, we might add).
So he started with a pirate cupcake venue in his apartment where he served different all-organic variants for friends to test out recipes and baking strategies.
Last November, he finally opened TassenKuchen (literally “cup cakes”), where he’s since been baking up all sorts of original concoctions such as “Campfire Madness” (chocolate cake filled with roasted marshmallow, chocolate malt buttercream), “Chocolate Coffee” (chocolate cake, espresso-buttercream frosting) and “Lime Ricky” (raspberry cake, lime buttercream), Meskunas’ personal favourite as well as ours.
On a mission to outdo New York’s famous Magnolia Bakery, which he calls “horrible”, Meskunas bakes his mini-cakes with only organic ingredients and granulated brown sugar, and there are always a few dairy-free options on offer.
The wholesome-looking treats have a denser base and less sugar than those of the other cupcakeries, but their toppings are surely sweet enough to catch up with the diabetic rush of your usual cupcake.
Priced at €2 (€2.20 with special ingredients and 80 cents for the mini-cupcake), TassenKuchen’s sweets are small but satisfying. The cosy, bright corner hangout is perfect to linger with a laptop or a book, especially on Sundays when the long, rustic table is topped with all-you-can-eat pancakes.
TassenKuchen, Malplaquetstr. 33, Wedding, U-Bhf Seestr., Wed-Fri 9-18, Sat-Sun 10:30-18