Berlin’s vegan bad boy cum celebrity cookbook author has started selling his meatless burgers on Kottbusser Tor’s fast food strip.
It’s hard to know where to start with a place like Attila Hildmann. The fact that something new has set up shop in the never quiet yet seemingly financially cursed southern-most end of Kotti’s Adalbertstraße or that it’s a restaurant opened by the vegan chef known as controversial to your German friends. Yes, a vegan chef is controversial, even among Berliners. In 2017, tip named him its most embarrassing Berliner for taking the challenge to eat a steak if the journalists present at his tasting weren’t convinced of the superiority of his meatless burgers. When some preferred real meat, instead of eating the steak, he presented a live calf that the journalists were supposed to slaughter themselves (none of them decided to draw blood). That same year, the born and bred Berliner caused a scandal for banning the entire staff of Tagesspiegel newspaper after receiving negative press (he has since retracted that). And in March, he was arrested in Charlottenburg after a parking citation escalated with the police. Parking rules don’t seem to concern him much: in May his Porsche was spotted on the sidewalk underneath the Kreuzberg Zentrum, about 50 metres away from his burger joint.
Everything about Attila seems like the stuff of fiction. This adopted Turkish child of very German parents (his middle name is Klaus-Peter) once studied physics at Freie Universität. It was watching the sudden death of his dad by heart-attack on a ski vacation in 2000 that put him on a different, meat-free trajectory. He slowly took on a vegan diet and doing sport, losing 35 kilos in the process. He published his first vegan cookbook in 2009 and an award-winning follow-up, Vegan for Fun, in 2011. But it was Hildmann’s tough-guy persona-meets-trendy diet promoter that catapulted him to YouTube and soon German TV stardom (including RTL show Let’s Dance), all the way stirring controversy, like with questionable comments about the refugee crisis in 2015 (something about “integration” and “self-mutilation of German values and culture”). That was about the time he launched his Attila matcha-tea!
But what’s not controversial? Organic vegan food in Kreuzberg – following up his Imbiss in Charlottenburg and ironically taking over the spot that was shortly before known as Chickenberg (and a thousand other businesses). The try-hard design of “Snackbar II” with “Vegan Food Porn” scrawled in fake graffiti outside isn’t exactly doing itself any favours (or drawing in the Instagram crowd) but who cares? Once drawn in, it’s easy to drop your concerns and call it a guilty pleasure. The staff are friendly young lads and ladies in black and the menu is the right amount of simple, with only eight burgers on offer, and of course sides like their perfectly crispy Bio Pommes (regular or sweet) and drinks. Most interesting is undoubtedly the Daisho burger (€6.90), a sushi-inspired concoction of fried eggplant, bean sprouts, pineapple, mushrooms, fresh coriander, wasabi mayo, Thai ketchup and a chickpea patty between two sushi rice-formed buns and some seaweed. We can’t deny: it was delicious. The right mix of sweet and savoury, it went down in mere minutes, but did leave us less than full. For a less fun but more filling option, we recommend the signature (vegan) cheeseburger (€6.50): with the dense chickpea patty standing alone with vegan cheese and the standard mustard/mayo/ketchup/lettuce/tomato combo, it’s the perfect cure for a hungover. The real winner though was as American as it comes: the chili cheese burger (mild or spicy; €7.50). Perfectly sloppy, the black beans, guacamole, mayo, cilantro, creamy melted cheese and chickpea patty on a standard bun actually wasn’t as sloppy as its state-side counterpart, but still left us totally satisfied. Here, the wait time can be described as negligible, perfect for guilt-free junk food on the fly that fills the stomach while not weighing on the soul. We’re not certain if the moderate number of customers is due to its aforementioned cursed location or that your German friends are staying away because of the man’s reputation. Either way, it’s hard to deny that fast and easy vegan food without pretense is hard to beat. Sober or sozzled, we’ll come back.