What’s this? Dr Döner has been back to Berlin again? Is he not burnt-out by this high-octane lifestyle? Well, Döner Fans, the fast lane is where Dr Döner can be found, and so it was that with nary a care I boarded the Deutsche Bahn Intercity on a wet morning in Amsterdam and shot over to Berlin in a matter of stress-free hours. Or at least, that was the plan. Life, as you may know, is nothing if not consistent, and the so-called direct train turned into four trains, and a two-hour delay. What! This isn’t the glamorous jet-setting life of Europe’s most in-demand kebab reviewer! Perhaps not. But all things have an upside if you look really hard at them, and I suppose these detours gave me a chance to hang out for a bit in the transport hub that is Bad Bentheim, and use the high-tech toilets at Deventer train station, which I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to enjoy. Never heard of these places? Neither had I! And so, with furious strokes of my pen, I filled out another Deutsche Bahn Fahrgastrechte-Formular to claim my measly compensation.
But enough of my petty grumbling! That, surely, is not what you tuned in for. Let me begin my tale on the evening of Saturday 25th April, when I finally disembarked in the warm evening glow of Berlin Hauptbahnhof station. My ultimate destination? U-Bhf Leinestraße, in the vicinity of which lay a housewarming party with my name on it. For who, Döner Fans, who would not wish for their humble home to be festively broken in by none other than Dr Döner himself? It is a rare honour indeed. In any case, the way there was long, and while changing trains at Alexanderplatz, I stopped for twenty minutes in the underpass to visit an old friend. Yes, you may remember the inaugural kebab of this very blog, almost three years ago. From that same vendor I purchased a splendid döner, and munched it with gusto at one of the high tables nearby, watching the flow of human traffic as the Berliners went about their Saturday evening business. It was a fine kebab, a delightful kebab. A definite 5/5 for taste on this occasion. However, that is not the kebab I wish to tell you about, Döner Fans. No, let us move on…
I shall skip the details of the housewarming party. Suffice to say, the flat was well and truly ‘eingeweiht’. Anyway, once the fumes had cleared the next day, myself and one of the other survivors felt in need of sustenance, and so we took ourselves out into the mean streets of Neukölln in search of kebab. The owner of the newly-christened flat (in whose company I found myself) suggested trying Balli, the döner snack place right next to Leinestraße U-Bahn station, so there the two of us went. It was a grey, muggy day as we approached the counter, and the two gentlemen inside the hut seemed vaguely annoyed at having been disturbed. They slapped closed their magazines and leant out over the counter to take our orders.
I placed my classic order, namely a döner with garlic and chilli sauce, and all the salad apart from the red cabbage. It was duly slapped up and handed over. There was no banter, no cheery wink. It was a business transaction, pure and simple. The two of us then went back to the flat and ate our kebabs on the balcony overlooking the street, where the lingering odours of the party were less pungent. All in all, it was quite a pleasant kebab, and the fresh air and leafy surroundings made it all the better. The meat was not the juiciest, but it was a solid standard döner, such as one might demand and expect from a place like Balli. The veg was fresh, and the bread was soft on the inside, and crusty on the outside. It was a marked improvement on Amsterdam’s Eetsalon De Mol.
The rest of my visit proceeded in a similarly pleasant vein. Over the following two evenings I took the time to revisit some old classics in my favourite Berlin hotspots, making sure to eat the Mercimek soup at Wedding’s Dedecan restaurant. I was pleased to see the same grumpy gent working there as before, casting his cynical gaze over the bustle of Luxemburger Straße from behind his döner-hatch. He had the grim, set jaw of a man who had seen the troubles of the world, who would never smile in your face, but who would volunteer tirelessly and uncomplainingly at a soup-kitchen by night, while working overtime at the kebab shop to support his family. His look of contempt as he made me my Mercimek Çorbası belied his heart of gold.
Results for Balli
Service: 3/5 (unenthused)
Atmosphere: 3/5 (standard)
Price: 3/5 (standard)
Taste: 4/5 (tasty)
Post Scriptum. Alas, all good things come to an end. As I mooched around at Hauptbahnhof two days later, waiting for my train home to Amsterdam, I was to be the victim of a final parting shot from Deutsche Bahn. I will refrain from too much detail, but I went to visit the facilities at the grand-sounding ‘WC-Center’, where I was charged a 1 EURO fee for the privilege. A whole Euro! But all was not as it seemed. Upon ramming my filthiest Euro with bad grace into the machine, I was rewarded with a 50 cent coupon, redeemable upon my next visit. Thank you, Deutsche Bahn! Now I have a reason to come back and visit the WC-Center again. Rest assured, I will make it worth my while.
Photographs courtesy of Dr Döner and Mr B. Lawson.