Even pre-corona, bread was becoming a fetish object in Berlin. The beloved Kiez bakery, with its good-enough Vollkornbrot and prefab frozen Schrippen, was dying out, replaced by gleaming white walls, rolls and pastries presented like miniature works of art, and open kitchens where you could watch bakers kneading away. From forerunners Zeit für Brot and Soluna to food-scene darlings Albatross and Brodstätte, premium dough had never been easier to find.
Then the virus hit, and those of us who weren’t permanently converted to Reddit-scouring sourdough nerds became acutely aware of just how difficult good bread is to master. Add to that a quarantine-induced “fuck-it” attitude towards gluten-free diets, and fancy baked goods being one of the few affordable luxuries left to us, and it’s no wonder artisan bakeries have been sprouting up – and thriving – even in the depths of winter lockdown.
Gorilla Bäckerei: Upper-crust bakery in Berlin Schillerkiez
It’s hard to enter this new arrival on the bread scene without thinking of its namesake, the hulking metal ape sculpture that once marked the entrance of Batman Elektronik. Neukölln’s favourite electronics store/outsider art gallery was forced from its Hermannstraße home last year. Now the space that was once jam-packed with used PCs, steampunk circuit-board sculptures and unidentifiable spare parts is forbiddingly minimalist, with a vast open baking area and tidy wooden shelves displaying the day’s wares.
Gentrifier though it may be, Schillerkiez residents have welcomed Frithjof Wodarg and Matteo Pettia’s organic bakery with open arms – the chewy, thin-crusted baguettes have already found a home on nearby it-restaurant Barra’s to-go menus. They’re sourdough, of course, as are the moist loaves that are fortified with rye flour or studded with hazelnuts.
Other offerings are split between French and Italian, including a nicely caramelized kouign-amann (€2.50), the Breton croissant-muffin hybrid that’s become the prom queen of pastries lately. There’s also a fall-apart-flaky croissant filled with a creamy almond paste that will haunt your dreams (€3), and, for lunch, crisp-bottomed Roman-style pizza (€2.80-3.50/ slice) topped with marinara, mozzarella or a mix of potatoes and nduja sausage.
Hermannstr. 211, Neukölln, Wed-Sun 8-17
Gragger Brot: Sunday bread on Potse
The pandemic giveth, and the pandemic taketh away. TV personality, cookbook author and Berlin restaurateur Sarah Wiener may have declared corona-induced bankruptcy last year, but one of her key staffers emerged unscathed: Austrian master baker Helmut Gragger, cofounder of still-operational bakery Wiener Brot, now striking out on his own. His unimaginatively named Gragger Brot is baked on the city outskirts, in huge wood-burning ovens he himself designed, and distributed to what will eventually be multiple Berlin outlets. At the moment there’s just one, opened in August right at the spot where Potsdamer Straße starts going from messy to dressy.
The bread, like Wiener Brot’s, is all-organic German sourdough, rugged and tangy, its colour ranging from medium-brown to brown- brown. Actually, the Sonntagsbrot from Gragger (€2.75/quarter loaf) isn’t appreciably different from the Wiener Brot equivalent you can find at any BioCompany, or at least, not enough to merit an extra 75 cents and a trip to Potse. There are a few nice surprises here, though, like the Kardamomboller (€2.90) a sort of Norwegian-style cardamom bun crossed with a less-buttery kouign-amann. If you’re a fan of the divisive Scandi spice, it’s divine. There are no croissants, but a pretty good Franzbrötchen with a crunchy cinnamon-sugar crust, and yeasty Buchteln (€1.80), Austrian rolls filled with apricot or plum jam and ideally consumed with coffee.
Potsdamer Str. 107, Mitte, Mon-Fri 7-19, Sat 8-16
Sofi: A great Danish Berlin bakery
Speaking of star chefs hit hard by corona, remember the Mitte deli shuttered by US baker Cynthia Barcomi? It’s been taken over by a moneyed Dane, and the result is, I hate to say it, fucking delicious. Much ink has already been spilled about Sofi. This second Danish incursion onto Berlin’s premium bread market is run by Copenhagen entrepreneur Frederik Bille Brahe with help from some ringers (including alumni of San Francisco sourdough mecca Tartine). It’s hard to say whether their much-publicised use of “ancient grains”, obscure wheat and rye varieties untouched by selective breeding, makes a difference, but the sourdough, baked on the premises after a long overnight rise, has a depth of flavour and a toothsome yet airy texture that’s hard to beat.
The pastries tend toward Instagram-friendly maximalism – does their delicate, petite croissant really need to be filled with both blackberry jam and almond paste, then coated with another, thicker layer of almond paste and baked again? – but the simple-sounding poppy seed “morning roll” with whipped butter, Bergkäse and crunchy sea salt crushes any other bakery cheese sandwich you’ve ever had. Overall, a luxurious enough experience to merit the Danish prices (€3.40 for that snack-sized roll, €7 for a “Berlin Loaf”)… as long as you get there early. As with fellow newcomer Gorilla, demand is outstripping supply, and afternoon visitors are left with slim pickings.
Sophienstr. 21, Mitte, Wed-Fri 7:30-18:30, Sat-Sun 8:30-17:30.