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Food festival

“There was no quality 20 years ago”: How Berlin became a food city

tipBerlin is celebrating their third annual Food Festival. We sat down the event organiser, Clemens Niedenthal to get a look behind the scenes.

We are celebrating Berlin’s restaurant scene Photo: Clemens Niedenthal

This is the third tipBerlin Food Festival. What’s the theme this year? 

Our idea was to bring what we’ve been thinking about across the whole year together and make it into a festival. It’s about how Berlin became a food city, what makes Berlin a food city, and what it can learn from other cities and what they can learn from Berlin. 

What do you think are the most significant developments in Berlin’s food scene in recent years? 

It was always about cheap food, but not about good food… cheap, good food is a very new thing in Berlin

First of all, produce and quality. There was no quality 20 years ago, and there was less quality 10 years ago. People were used to big grocery deliveries. Now, for a proper restaurant, you don’t want a big truck delivering everything, you want a small delivery on a bicycle. The third thing is that 10 years ago, only the best restaurants had any atmosphere. Now you can go to a perfect place for €5. It’s not about the price any more, it’s about having a great concept. At all price-ranges you can have excellent food. 

That’s interesting. Berlin used to have a reputation for cheapness. Do you think there is still cheap, good food to be found? 

Yes. It was always about cheap food, but not about good food. Now I think cheap, good food is a very new thing in Berlin. You have Sarajevo, you have M47 selling steamed mussels on Kottbusser Damm… of course, it’s not that cheap everywhere. But, if you get a perfect döner for €7, it’s worth it. The new element is quality. When you had a crappy Italian or German restaurant selling a whole dish for €7, it meant the street food had to even cheaper than that. It was a vicious cycle.  

You mentioned some of the 2022 trends. What do you think we can expect in 2023? 

Reduced opening hours, I think. Restaurants have less people to work so they will focus on what works well. We may see more spaces where two different concepts share the same space. That’s already happening, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a good trend at the moment, but it might become one. Convenience will be big too. Preparing in advance, fermentation. If you work like this, you don’t have to cook these French sauces every evening, just put your pickles on the table. Restaurants will need to do less work because they have fewer people to do the work. For lunch, self-service restaurants might be the next thing. 

The tipBerlin food market at Clärchens: Something to try at every stand. Photo: F. Anthea Schaap

Inflation is obviously a big theme. How is that affecting the culinary world? 

…go on Sunday. That’s the more joyful and playful day, with people on from stage to feed you

Again, I think we’ll see the importance of good concepts. This weekend, I was getting takeaway from Sarajevo and saw their Burek had increased from €2.80 to €3.50. You can do this if the Burek is fucking good. This is bad news for people who don’t have much money but it might be good news for those who can handle the price changes with an excellent product. Even a menu which was €60 2 years ago is about €80, so there will be a new mid-price scene. It might be higher than mid-price used to be, but not as high as fine dining. 

What are the highlights of the festival for English speakers? 

The panel work from Aida. Some were young entrepreneurs. They find themselves in this discussion about how Berlin is compared to cities all over the world. The cooking on Saturday will be very interesting. We have some charming and joyful people on stage like Sabine Hueck, who has grown up in Brazil and has some of the most flamboyant cooking skills in Berlin. She will do a cooking experiment with the theme of catering and teach people how to use what is left of their fridge. And the market will be nice – there will be free beer. 

If I go to the food market at Clärchens Ballhaus next weekend and I see one thing — What should it be? 

Oh, that’s a good question. I would say go on Sunday. That’s the more joyful and playful day, with people on from stage to feed you, both with ideas and also with snacks. There are local producers doing things, from plant-based “eggs” to the old Berlin-brand beer that was around in the 80’s and disappeared. It’s more about trying products. 

We’ve also got a former sommelier starting his own restaurant in November. He’s got a talk: “How not to be afraid of wine”. Because the thing is that, the more you know about wine, the more you don’t know about wine. He is giving a talk about looking at wine with interest and the idea of learning more about it. He will also have some first bites from his restaurant for the first time. Overall, the whole thing is all about the joy of working with food.