When Eating Became The New Clubbing

Dancefloors make way for tables and cutlery, street food parties take over vacant lots: The foodie revolution has turned Berlin upside down in a matter of years. And it's slowly taking over the club scene.

Claire Danes made quite a splash on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” show a few weeks ago, when she sung the praises of Berghain to millions of American television viewers. “It's the best place on earth”, she said. The actress raved about Berlin's infamous techno club and described scenes of debauchery including naked dancers and ice cream to the show's daytime audience. Danes had just spent several months in the German capital filming the latest season of „Homeland“ and apparently going to Berghain (with a little help from a friend “who knows the owners”) was one of her favourite Sunday afternoon pastimes.

While the star of “Homeland” got her introduction to Berlin's club scene, Berghain and Panorama Bar don't appear in the show itself - which is hardly surprising, given the club's prohibitive stance towards anyone carrying a camera. The show's location scouts still go to great lengths to portray the city as the epicenter of everything hip and edgy. Backyards full of graffiti, a hacker's den in an industrial loft - you name it, the fifth season of “Homeland” has it. In the second episode, the CIA's German liaison (Nina Hoss) meets the agency's undercover hitman Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) in a restaurant/bar called Crackers. This is the closest the show gets to the city's real nightlife, and as outlandish as some parts of “Homeland” might be, it's absolutely bang on the money here.

"The dancefloor has literally made way for tables, cutlery and comfy couches"

Crackers is not a fictional venue, but the latest venture of Heinz "Cookie" Gindullis, a Berlin nightlife veteran of almost 20 years. It's a perfect example for a trend that increasingly permeates the city: Eating is becoming the new clubbing. In the case of Crackers the dancefloor has literally made way for tables, cutlery and comfy couches. The restaurant occupies the same room that used to be home to Cookies, a club that had existed in various locations in Berlin-Mitte from 1996 until a year ago. Instead of sweaty clubbers it now hosts stylish diners feasting on grilled Iceberg lettuce and vegetarian brioche burgers. Sometimes there still is dancing though: From Thursday through Saturday DJs start playing while desserts are served.

Crackers owner Gindullis is widely recognized as a pioneer when it comes to joining the dots between the food and party cultures in Berlin. In 2007 he opened Cookies Cream, which was one of the first club restaurants in town alongside Bar25's cuisine-in-a-hut effort. His head chef Stephan Hentschel subsequently shot to fame with strictly vegetarian menus and an emphasis on regionally sourced ingredients. Cookies Cream still operates on the floor above from what is now Crackers, where Hentschel also calls the shots with a slightly different style of cooking (including meat and fish dishes).

But why would someone like Gidullis turn his well-established clubbing venue into an upmarket eatery (with occasional dancing)? He gave a few hints in an interview for the local newspaper Berliner Morgenpost. The club didn't draw as many regulars as it did during its heyday. Those who frequented Cookies during the nineties and noughties have grown older and are less inclined to dance their Tuesday and Thursday nights away like they used to. But they sure have come to like a decent three-course meal in a setting that still is somehow connected to the club scene.

“The street food revolution has turned the city upside down in a matter of years”

The real change is happening outside of restaurants, though, and it doesn't only affect the grown-up raver generation. While not so long ago Döner Kebap and Currywurst used to be Berlin's seemingly unchallenged fast food staples and favourite after-hours choices, the street food revolution has turned the city upside down in a matter of years. The event that arguably kickstarted the hype is Street Food Thursday, a weekly food market in Kreuzberg's Markthalle Neun which was founded by the British ex-pat Kavita Meelu in early 2013 and features stalls selling everything from pulled pork sandwiches to Peruvian ceviche. Thousands attend every week and turn the historic market hall into the venue of an impromptu food party.

It didn't take long before someone else took up on the concept and brought it closer to the city's house and techno scene. Bite Club also founded by ex-pats, takes place every second Friday during the summer months on an empty lot right beside the River Spree and directly in front of the Arena complex with its various clubbing and concert venues. The food choices and quality are quite similar to Street Food Thursdays (some food trucks even feature at both events), but the addition of a sound system and a DJ line-up makes for more of an open-air party vibe.

Since then the street food party scene has diversified: Burgers & Hip Hop at Prince Charles (Kreuzberg) regularly stages a grill-down for the crown of Berlin's best hamburger joint before ending in a knees-up inside the club. Pojangmancha at Platoon Kunsthalle (Prenzlauer Berg) is an all-night Korean food market that also features karaoke booths and DJs playing K-pop and electronic music. The Vinyl & Breakfast Market at Markthalle Neun, a brainchild of Heiko Hoffmann, the editor of Germany's longest running techno magazine Groove, works as an alternative Sunday morning after-hour combining breakfast stalls and booths run by a selection of record shops and labels.

The wave reached its pinnacle this year with the establishment of Neue Heimat, a vast complex of warehouses in Friedrichshain's clubbing district, which primarily functioned as a food and makers market with occasional club nights. Its Facebook page made the priorities clear by claiming: “We are food, art and music”. Ten years ago a place like this would have definitely had only one purpose – raving. (Footnote: Neue Heimat had to close in September due to not meeting official safety requirements.)

It has come so far that one could easily spend “Thursday through Sunday partying non-stop at food events” in Berlin, as the online magazine “Das Filter” already noted last year. The impact of the new wave of foodie parties can also be measured on social media: My online friends increasingly seem to be more occupied with sharing their latest food adventures than with discussing the line-ups of upcoming club nights. Eating has definitely become a means of hedonistic self-expression. To keep your shape, just make sure to throw in the odd night of dancing between all those hefty gourmet burgers and kimchi fries.

Burgers & Hip Hop celebrates its second birthday on December 5, 2015 at Prince Charles (Prinzenstrasse 85F, 10969 Berlin)

The 3rd edition of The Vinyl & Breakfast Market takes places on December 20, 2015 at Markthalle Neun (Eisenbahnstraße 42-43, 10997 Berlin)