“Rita, you have to serve them,” implored the Schlemmerecke patron, a forty-something man in a crisp button-down shirt. It was my brother’s first visit to Berlin, and I was determined that he experience nothing but the very best of the city. This naturally included lunch at Rogacki (pronounced “Rogatzki”), the West Berlin deli famed for its smoked and cured fish, potato salad and old-time vibe.
There was just one problem: we’d been standing at the Schlemmerecke, the rectangular island from which hot dishes and cold white wine were normally dispensed with brusque efficiency, for a full half hour, and its proprietor hadn’t so much as glanced in our direction. Or worse, she had, only to deliberately move on to the regulars who’d arrived after us, one of whom had decided to take pity on this pair of obvious Americans.
The matjes herring and potato Rösti with smoked eel came in minutes. They were delicious, of course, all the better for having been earned.
Rita, a chipper white-haired woman wearing one of Rogacki’s signature green aprons, considered his entreaty for about half a second. “I don’t have to do anything!” she gleefully replied, then turned her back on us.
Over the clatter of the deli and the rumbling of my own stomach, I explained to my brother that this was what the locals call Berliner Schnauze, and that it was actually a friendlier, gentler form of the harsh attitude one faces in the German capital on a regular basis, whether from club bouncers, potential landlords, Bürgerämter, supermarket cashiers or mothers whose children you’ve scarred for life by crossing the street on red in front of them.
It doesn’t end, either. Living here for a decade won’t automatically get you into Rita’s good graces, or those of Sven, the Berghain cerberus, or even those of ‘Latte-Macchiato-Muttis’. All you can do is be grateful for the small mercies, like when one of the other Schlemmerecke employees finally ambled over and jotted down our order. The matjes herring and potato Rösti with smoked eel came in minutes. They were delicious, of course, all the better for having been earned.
When I visited Rogacki for this photo shoot, it was almost closing time, but a few Schlemmerecke die-hards were still at the counter sipping Riesling. One of them, a Neuköllner who’d been a regular since the 1990s, told me that Rita retired a year and a half ago. The whole place had started going downhill long before that, he added, its convivial atmosphere fading as the old guard died or started shopping elsewhere, replaced by tourists gawking at the blood sausage and herring in aspic.
As with most places in Berlin worth going to, Rogacki operates according to the Heisenberg principle; you can’t observe it without changing it.
(As with most places in Berlin worth going to, Rogacki operates according to the Heisenberg principle; you can’t observe it without changing it.) He grimly prophesied that the deli wasn’t long for this world: its current lease is up in 2027, by which time owner Dietmar Rogacki, the original founder’s grandson, will be past retirement age. Meaning that this legendary institution might, like Betty White, expire just shy of its 100th birthday.
Lunching at Rogacki yearly, if that, doesn’t make me a regular, but I still feel connected to it as a food lover, as a descendent of German Jews for whom smoked fish was a way of life, as yet another adopted Berliner who arrived on the scene too late and had to sniff around town for vestiges of The Way Things Were.
Like Berlin, Rogacki couldn’t care less about my feelings towards it: it simply is, and the thought that one day it won’t be makes me sadder than any club closure. You’ll find me at the Schlemmerecke a lot more often in the next five years. No matter how long I have to wait to order.
- Rogacki Wilmersdorfer Str. 145/146, U-Bahn Bismarckstraße
Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, Rachel Glassberg came to Berlin in 2001. She worked as deputy editor of Exberliner from 2012-2018 and has remained a regular contributor since. She’s currently a freelance writer, editor and translator for various outlets when not fronting her band Glassberg & The Disasters, playing a variety of instruments in other local indie outfits, or teaching her Romanian rescue dog to assert herself in Neukölln.