In Search of Chinatown in Berlin
Most people have heard of Berlin’s mini-Istanbul, situated around Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg, but what of the city’s Chinatown? Is there one and if so, where is it? This week, my search took me down Kantstraße in Charlottenburg, a street which runs parallel to the more famous Kurfürstendamm shopping boulevard. Did I find the mythical Berlin Chinatown? Well, dear reader, I’ll let you decide. One thing’s for sure: I now know where to find 1kg bags of frozen chicken feet for €2.95.
My internet search results for “Berlin Chinatown” had been fairly fruitless, but I knew from friends that the approximately one-kilometre-stretch of the Kantstraße, between Savignyplatz and Wilmersdorfer Straße U-Bahn station, has an unusually high concentration of great Chinese (and Vietnamese, Thai etc.) restaurants. So Savignyplatz was my starting point. Within about 20 seconds of walking west towards Wilmersdorfer Straße U-Bahn I had already come across my first Chinese restaurant, the Shanghai, advertising 2 for 1 Peking duck on the right and my first Vietnamese establishment, the Pho Nguyen 68 on the left. This is going to be a doddle, I thought.
A few paces further along on the left, at number 35, I come across Asienhandel DA; two floors of Chinese home furnishings, piled high from ceiling to floor and spilling out onto the pavement. The owner, originally from Peking, greets me from behind the till. He has lived in Berlin for some 18 years and is happy to talk to me about the store – in German, of course. The company was set up just eight years ago, but has since expanded to three other locations in Berlin, one of which is located opposite, at number 23.
I could have stayed exploring the weird and wonderful objects on display in the two stores all day, but before long I was starting to feel rather peckish. Since Berlin’s oldest Chinese restaurant, Tai-Tung, situated opposite the Gedächtniskirche, is, according to their website, shut for renovation works, I decide to just carry on wandering and let my nose choose for me. I walk past various Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese restaurants, with a couple of Döner shops thrown in for good measure – we’re in Berlin, after all. One restaurant I pass, Good Friends, has Peking ducks peeking out over the frosted glass window pane.
I get to number 35, a restaurant named Aroma, and the smell is too delicious to ignore. As I am escorted past the mandatory aquarium to a table facing a red and gold dragon wall hanging, my first thought is “I am the only white caucasian here.” I take it as a good sign. The waiter hands me a menu containing over 400 dishes; the range of dishes is staggering, with everything from stewed duck “claws” to jellyfish with eggs of a thousand years. I soon admit defeat and ask my waiter for a recommendation. I am told, in no uncertain terms, to order the prawn dim sum and before long, I am chasing the tender prawns in their slippery white blankets around the plate with my chopsticks. The verdict? It was absolutely delicious!
I want to order more, but time is against me so I settle the bill (4.80€) and carry on down the Kantstraße. I continue walking until I get to Wilmersdorfer Straße U-Bahn station, by which time I have come across many more Asian restaurants, furniture shops, apothecaries specialising in Chinese medicine and even a shop dedicated to Japanese Bonsai trees. But only one, small, Asian foodstore, which is closed. I had been told that Kantstraße possesses a fantastic Asian supermarket, surely that wasn’t it? I decide to carry on walking past the Wilmersdorfer Straße U-Bahn station. The concentration of Asian businesses dwindles, and I am just about to turn back when I spot it: the vast green facade of Go Asia, Kantstraße 101.
Frozen duck tongues, fresh bamboo, industrial quantities of soy sauce, green tea sorbet, tofu every which way, coconut milk for just €0,99… keep scrolling to get a better picture of what Go Asia has to offer, but first: What do you think? Is the area around the Kantstraße this city’s Chinatown? Well, if Berlin has one, this is undoubtedly it, but it is much smaller than its international counterparts, and certainly not yet a tourist attraction like London or New York’s Chinatown. But that also means that the prices are low and the shops and restaurants are not overcrowded. I will definitely come back here the next time I fancy some authentic Asian cuisine, or I want to buy bags of fresh pak choi, kai choi, am choi etc.