Travel

Reflections on Israel

Four weeks on from my Israel trip and I’m still missing Tel Aviv. I’ve been replaying parts of the holiday in my mind since I got back, and I feel lucky that I got the chance to visit such an interesting and beautiful place.

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With hindsight I can process some of the facts I knew about Israel and the occupation before I went in the context of actually having been and seen the country for myself. Although it’s a thorny issue, it’s one that I feel it would be wrong not to address whilst talking about the country. Especially when I see articles like this one and compare it with my experiences.

First and foremost, I must stress that at no point during my week in Tel Aviv did I feel in any way unsafe or under threat. Given the nature of the region, however, there were a number of things that made me hyper-aware that I was in a country living in constant readiness to defend itself. On the day we arrived, we passed through passport control and were given visas relatively quickly (after a few basic questions were asked – “This is your first visit to Israel?” “Where are you staying?” “What are your plans for your visit? Are you visiting Jerusalem?”), then collected our bags and headed for the train station underneath Ben Gurion Airport. My very first observation upon leaving the terminal was that there are soldiers everywhere, and armed ones at that. Coming from the UK, that’s quite a difference – but something I expected having done some reading in the months leading up to the holiday so as to arrive as informed as I could be. It struck me immediately, observing the soldiers wandering about outside the terminal wielding machine guns to the conscripts on the train heading into the city, that this is a highly militarised society.

I’d attempted to get my head around the Israeli conscription situation when doing pre-trip research. From what I understand, the majority of citizens, male and female, are obliged to do military service upon reaching the age of 18 (with some notable exceptions – religious reasons for example), and a large number are required to be reservists afterward, meaning they can be called up should events require it. Even taking into account those who are exempt, that’s a huge swathe of the population with experience of military life. In essence, this is a country where almost everyone is (or has been) a soldier. We noticed conscripts all the time, on the trains and buses we used as well as milling about the centre of Tel Aviv, presumably travelling to and from their bases as it was coming up to Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

As I mentioned in my last post, public bomb shelters and baggage scanners are everywhere, to be expected in a country where suicide bombings were, sadly, a relatively frequent occurrence until fairly recently. Walking from the station to our hotel along Dizengoff Street, the first thing we commented on whilst passing the shops at the front of the Dizengoff Center was the icy breeze of the air conditioning on us; the second was that the main entrance to the shopping centre, as well as a number of the smaller shops, were manned by security guards with hand-held metal detectors. A few days later when we went into the Dizengoff Center in search of McDonalds, I noticed that the guard passed the detector around my waist and nowhere else, presumably because the bombers were known to wear explosive belts around their stomachs.

Another thing that struck me hard about Israel is how patriotic and nationalistic everyone appeared to be, if not in word then in appearance. The Israeli flag, blue and white and with the Star of David firmly in the centre, adorned every second shop or bar; it hung over the railings of apartment balconies, it was on flagpoles mounted at regular intervals along the beach and the promenade. I’m not a believer in nationalism by and large, and I considered my feelings on this overt aura of national pride throughout my holiday. I grew up in Northern Ireland, where aggressive flag-waving and religious and sectarian division abounded throughout the time I lived there in the early 1990s. I came to the conclusion that in many ways, ostentatious Israeli national pride can be understood in the context of Israel’s birth and continued survival. When the country is only 66 years old, has fought outright for its existence on three occasions since 1948, and has for much of that time been surrounded by countries wanting to utterly destroy it, this flag-waving can rightly or wrongly be seen as an attempt to assert continued Israeli survival against the odds.

Operation Protective Edge finished just shy of four weeks before we arrived in Israel. Very late one night, we were in a dreadful gay bar finishing up the evening’s last pints of Goldstar when a drunk woman came over and started talking to us in order to steal a cigarette. In relatively good (but intoxicated) English, she asked us why we were in Tel Aviv, if we were enjoying Israel, and if we’d been worried about coming to visit given recent events. We explained that whilst of course this had worried us whilst it was on-going, since its resolution we’d been watching the situation closely and checking the FCO travel advice on Israel daily, and had (correctly) believed we could come on our trip without worrying that Gazan rockets might mean we’d spend a week running in and out of public bomb shelters. She seemed pleased that we’d come to visit her country, and rambled about Sia and other music for a minute. Then she said “It’s been only one month since the war, and already everyone forgets. They forget that people died.” Due to her grasp of English as well as all of our inebriated states, I couldn’t discern the meaning of her words; was she referring to the Israelis killed, or the Palestinians? “Next it’ll be Da’esh, you know Da’esh?” (the Arabic term for Islamic State.) “There are Da’esh flags in Jaffa and Gaza, you know? I don’t know…” With that she left us and got into a waiting car with a group of lesbians. We weren’t able to establish the meaning of her words from that brief, drunken exchange. Was she reflecting Israeli fears of invasion or attack when she mentioned Islamic State? Was she lamenting the actions of her countrymen, or the Qassam rocket attacks by Gaza? Either way, that was all we heard anyone mention of the conflict that had happened a month previously during our week in Israel.

The infamously stringent security procedures upon leaving Ben Gurion Airport were something me and my partner had talked about jokingly and slightly nervously before and during the holiday. I had read that queues could be horrendous, that it was recommended to arrive at the airport three hours ahead of departure so as to allow time for intensive security processing. I’d read that in a worst-case scenario, we could be selected for special checking and questioning and even miss our flight. In the event, it turned out that everything went almost perfectly for us. The queue was indeed long – one hour spent waiting to be interviewed by the border guards before I could even check my bag in. Once we reached the front of the queue, and we walked forward to answer the guard’s questions, we were checked in and on our way through to Burger Ranch within five minutes. After the initial questioning, everyone receives a barcoded sticker on the back of their passports and on any baggage they’re checking in. It’s rumoured, though not officially confirmed, that the first number in this sequence reflects the guards’ opinions of you. 1 – native Israeli, 2 – friendly foreigner etc, with a sequence beginning with a 6 meaning you’re a high-risk passenger, most often given to Arab-looking passengers. If this method of assessment is true, then the guards thought very highly of us after asking us a few questions on the nature of our trip and our relationship to each other, and looking intently at our passport photos in comparison to our current appearances – we received stickers with sequences beginning with 2. Once we had checked bags in, eaten and gone through security comparable to any other airport, we reached passport control, where a brief scan of our barcodes and a friendly smile was all that occurred before we were given a pink exit visa slip, and headed through the impressive central terminal building to our gate.

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It appears to me that it must be easy for people living in Tel Aviv and cities on the Israeli coast to live in relative peace, far removed, perhaps self-removed, from the Palestinian situation. Although the West Bank wasn’t that far east of us, and Gaza a relatively short distance south, they could have been thousands of miles away for all we knew. The beauty, affluence and calm of Tel Aviv was exactly how I expected it to be – an almost perfect, idyllic place. It was obvious that everyone around us had a good and happy life – the vast majority of people were tanned, athletic, impossibly healthy-looking. Those few days we spent on the beach, we saw many runners, people cycling, using the outdoor gym equipment. Our evenings were spent in bars filled with young people enjoying life. Everyone we spoke to was welcoming, happy and friendly. As soon as people knew we were British, they engaged with us and seemed appreciative that we had come to visit their country. If everyday life in the beautiful coastal cities of Israel is as good as the week I spent in Tel Aviv, then it must be hard for the common Israeli to see things from the Palestinian point of view.

Taking all of that into account, I have to consider how I feel about my trip. Have I taken, in the words of John Lydon, a cheap holiday in other people’s misery? Am I as reprehensible as those people who continued to visit apartheid South Africa despite the sanctions? Did my trip to Israel mean that I’m indirectly supporting the morally grey actions of the current Israeli government? As mentioned previously, I’d done a lot of reading about Israel in the years leading up to my holiday, the Middle East being a subject of personal interest. Whilst I feel that I’ve read a lot about the situation, I don’t pretend in any way that I know the full story. Regrettably due to finances I wasn’t able to visit Jerusalem or the West Bank as I would have liked to, and thus was not able to see the grubbier side of Israel – the side that isn’t the beautiful beaches, easygoing café culture and amazing street food. Three weeks down the line, my general feeling is that my position on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the ongoing Palestinian situation is in flux, and as much as I’d love to visit Israel again, I feel it’d be necessary to ensure I saw more of the country on a second visit. Perhaps I would come away from that trip feeling differently than I do now.

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I ❤️ TLV

IMG_3604-0.JPG The beautiful city of Tel Aviv, viewed from the equally stunning adjoining town of Jaffa. Friday 19th September 2014.

As expected, I absolutely adored Tel Aviv. I had been avidly looking forward to the trip since we booked flights six months prior, and I’d had a deep yearning to visit Israel for many years, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. I’d flirted with the idea of becoming a kibbutznik right after leaving university, but being offered a graduate job knocked that idea into the recesses of my mind, and my ensuing career erased any chance of it becoming feasible. As someone interested in modern history as well as having a passion for travel, and adventurous travel at that, Israel had long been on my must-visit list. The pictures I’d seen, the things I’d read on the rich culture and the fascinating, sad and complicated history, as well as its relative omnipresence in the news, meant that the country had attained an almost mythical status in my “places I must visit” list. Compounding that were the fascinating and unpredictable issues with Israeli stamps in your passport. I knew I had to go.

Easyjet flights from London Luton to Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion were around £200 return when I booked them. Sadly this was cheaper than El Al, with whom I would have much preferred to fly with in order to have a truly Israeli experience from start to finish. Easyjet are the quintessence of ordinary in my eyes, having flown with them from Glasgow to Bristol and back every week for a year in a previous job. Nevertheless, they got us from Luton to TLV in just shy of five hours.

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I had read something of the security procedures at Ben Gurion Airport, and was anticipating some light questioning upon arrival. However, presenting my passport at the immigration booth, the friendly young woman merely asked me if it was my first visit to Israel, where I was planning on visiting and if I knew anyone in the country. Those few questions answered, she scanned my passport and quickly returned it with a slip of paper poking out of the top.

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This is the new B2 tourist entry visa, as opposed to getting a stamp in your passport. It’s great for travellers like me who appreciate stamps and visas in their passport, and it means you’re free to visit any of the countries that regard Israel as an enemy without issue in future (this one isn’t mine of course, merely an example I found online).

We hopped on the train to the Tel Aviv HaShalom station, located close to the city centre. One of the first things I noticed immediately upon leaving the station was that armed soldiers in uniform are everywhere, both on duty and seemingly travelling to and from their bases. Also of note is that the entrances and exits of each railway station in central Tel Aviv have airport-style metal detectors and baggage scanners, and in the HaShalom station there was a bomb shelter on platform level.

Our hotel was located on the famous Dizengoff Street, conveniently. Lined with shops, bars, restaurants, falafel and shawarma vendors and cafés, the street was considered “the Champs-Élysées of Tel Aviv” until its decline in the 1970s. I loved it, and I loved staying right on it. As well as being alive with Tel Avivim eating, drinking and shopping, everything felt so close; falafel, bars, the beach a short walk away up Gordon or Frishman Street.

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Frishman Street needs a special mention here for being the location of the best falafel I’ve ever tasted: Frishman Falafel. Delicious freshly deep fried balls of chickpeas and fava beans, in a soft pita alongside delicious humous, salad, tahini, pickles and a crunchy potato croquette on top. Amazing and highly recommended. Adjacent to Frishman Falafel is Frishman Sabich, which I regret we didn’t try on this trip. Next time for sure though.

(more to follow…)

Naked, Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed

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Festivals are hard work. This is as true for the hardened regular attendee as it is for the archetypal Glasto Girl (patterned wellies, straw hat and/or flowery headband, running about braying “Oh my God, I am sooooo WAYYYYSTED!” whilst watching Ellie Goulding and taking selfies). This year was my first Glastonbury, but I’ve done the majority of the big ones (Leeds, Download, T in the Park, Radio 1’s Big Weekend) at least once, a number of smaller events (Fynefest, Evolution, Bingley Music Live) as well as one of the increasingly popular large European ones (Sziget). The period after it all ends is almost always the same in my experience – a feeling of extreme tiredness and general melancholy washes over you – but it’s usually been almost completely worth it.

I’ve always assumed it a particularly misanthropic sort of person who doesn’t enjoy standing outdoors for long periods in preposterously inconsistent weather, drinking overexpensive cider and swaying nonchalantly to bands they may or may not know, retiring to an uncomfortable and often rambunctious campsite, and then repeating the experience multiple times over several days. At this precise moment, almost one week after Glastonbury, and two days after The Libertines at BST Hyde Park, my shoulders are clenched and stiff, my calves are throbbing and still have a bald patch from the near-continuous wearing of wellies in the mud, and my left buttock is an interesting shade of yellow, purple and red from slipping in the mud after Bryan Ferry and falling arse-first onto my camera (which then shattered). I’ve a general sense of fatigue and I keep having to violently clear my throat to loosen some of the 100 Marlboro Lights’ worth of phlegm I accumulated over the past ten days. Of course, I would do it all over again in an instant.

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My first festival was something of an eye-opener for me, both to festivals and the states of extreme inebriation I would come to enjoy finding myself in over the next ten years. I’d had no real inkling to go to one before a friend asked me if I fancied going to Leeds (then branded the rather irritating “Carling Weekend: Leeds”), but the chance to see Green Day (at the time, my favourite band) swayed me. Thus at the end of August 2004, two weeks before I was scheduled to leave home for university, off we went. Upon arrival mid-morning I felt disgustingly hungover, having gone on a works night out the previous evening without packing anything beforehand; by the afternoon I had perked up, these being the days when it took more than a night of heavy drinking and little sleep to fell me for any real length of time. My recollection, such as it is, of Thursday afternoon until the following Monday morning is a heady blur of dancing, watching bands, wandering around the campsite talking to strangers in fancy dress, heavy drinking and smoking, and seemingly avoiding anything resembling food or nutrition.

This first orgiastic experience of festival life was concluded late on Sunday night by myself and a number of other gents of similar disposition and inebriation deciding it would be highly amusing to have a mud wrestling match, wearing nothing but our shoes and socks, in front of a small cheering crowd. From photographs I saw some time later online, the “small crowd” was probably in the region of a thousand people. Finding this amusing, it apparently became a pattern I repeated at other festivals as soon as I was drunk enough for it to seem like a really good idea. A notable example was at Sziget five years later. One night around 4am, after having slept for around an hour, I got talking to some Irish lads whilst wandering blearily to the toilet who suggested it would be a great laugh to strip off and dance on the tables at one of the nearby bars (bars are open around the clock at Sziget). And so we did, and got drenched in beer thrown by amused partygoers, and were led back to our tents by angry security guards, still laughing, forced to cover our modesty with our hands.

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And yet – no regrets. It’s not real life. Festivals are another world, gated mini-cities living off music, excitement, alcohol, anticipation and the knowledge that it’s all only temporary. Glastonbury, with its enormous and impenetrable perimeter fence, is West Berlin – beer, drugs, counterculture, a vague sense of being separate from the world outwith the barrier. Leeds Festival has a constant atmosphere of something, somewhere about to kick off, with packs of teenagers roaming the hills looking for something to amuse/antagonise them in between the bands. The campsite at Leeds used to be something akin to a warzone come the early hours of Monday morning, with hundreds of bleary-eyed refugees trudging through the withered remains of tents and mountains of rubbish, fires burning all around, the odd explosion as gas canisters discarded on the fires finally blow. T in the Park is pretty much just Lord of the Flies with very drunk, generally very young “non-educated delinquents”. Sziget, in Budapest, Hungary, is held in the middle of the Danube river on Óbuda Island (“sziget” being the Hungarian word for “island”) and the sense of isolation from reality is palpable. Accessible from the rest of the city by only one bridge, Sziget becomes a surreal township all of its own during the week in August it takes place, drawing a multinational crowd and a roster of acts from around the globe as well as myriad other smaller events and enclosures, including a circus. As the crowds depart on the final day, they’re met by swarms of local vagrants who slowly draw in and try to scavenge the festival remnants for anything of worth.

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There are, of course, obvious downsides to festivals. The weather can often make or break the experience. Download 2012 gave me a small taste of what people who live through hurricanes must feel like. The rain was utterly unrelenting and absolutely soaking, from the moment we arrived on Wednesday afternoon onward. We thought it would be a good idea to buy a gazebo, to have a communal area slightly shielded from the rain. The force of the accompanying wind was so fierce that it ripped the metal poles clean in half. We bought another slightly more expensive gazebo – it literally took off and landed some distance away from us. Everything was wet – every item of clothing I had on, everything in my tent, everything I had brought with me that was supposedly meant to be dry in my tent. The rain even soaked through the waterproof trousers and jacket I bought at the festival. As I am not a huge fan of metal music (I’d gone along to Download, as with the previous year, because the majority of my friends were going) the situation was hardly ideal. 2011 was intermittently sunny and rainy, and there were enough bands playing that I liked to keep me interested. In 2012 there was not. I like to consider myself as someone who just puts up and gets on with things in times of slight adversity. In particular I feel I’m someone who’s fairly resistent to bad weather – currently living in Scotland and having grown up in Northern Ireland and the North East of England, rain has pretty much always just been a fact of life – but the last straw came on Sunday morning when, having decided to go for a prison shower, I dried myself, got dressed in fresh dry clothes, walked outside and was immediately as soaked through as I had been twenty minutes earlier in my sodden clothes.

I bailed on the rest of the festival, ditched my tent, airbed, sleeping bag and anything else I could afford to leave behind rather than ram into a sopping wet bag, and went to stay with a friend in nearby Leicester for the evening. T in the Park 2005 was the exact opposite of the Download 2012 situation; I loved almost every band playing on the main stages, and the weather was actually really good. It was so unexpectedly good in fact that the low-factor sunscreen we’d brought with us was no match for the sun’s searing heat, and my friend ended up with liquid-filled blisters across her forehead requiring special lotion applied to them designed to treat third-degree burns.

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The most obvious downside to a festival is the people who attend it. If it’s not the aforementioned horsey southern girl who thinks she’s Kate Moss at Glastonbury, it’s the pilled-up chav in “hilarious” fancy dress who keeps knocking into you whilst dancing around, arms flailing wildly. In psychological terms, it’s fairly obvious that if you enclose thousands of drunk people in an unrealistic, seemingly consequence-free environment, some of them are going to go mental. In my younger days it was all I wanted to attend festivals for, truth be told – random acts of insanity, heavy drinking, nice weather and dancing to bands I like. I seem to have mellowed (comparatively) in my old age, however. At Glastonbury, I kept my clothes on, I didn’t drink much at all on the final day, and actually came home with alcohol rather than blitzing it all over the five days. I was at The Libertines reunion gig in Hyde Park over the weekend just gone, and from the moment we arrived mid-afternoon, I could sense it was going to be a Leeds/Reading/T in the Park-type crowd as opposed to a Glastonbury-type one. The Pogues had to stop their set to allow an unconscious reveller to be pulled from the crowd and given medical help; The Libertines halted the gig in the middle of their second song so that people could be dragged from the crush at the very front of the crowd. They seemed to have deliberately slowed the tempo of their set from then on, but the show was halted a second and a third time as people climbed the delay towers either side of the stage and were implored to climb back down. Great gig however.

Admittedly, if you’re the kind of person for whom a hot shower and a daily change of clothes are a must, you might not get on as well as I do at a festival. If I’m not covered in mud from diving in it, I’ve got neon face paints on. If I’ve got a t-shirt on at all, it’s probably been on at least one day already that festival. Normal rules of cleansing are generally discarded at these events, unless you’re camping in the VIP areas available (but really, what’s the point?). I did shower at Download, just because they were there and easily accessible from my campsite, but they were showers of the kind usually seen in war films and American History X, i.e. communal. Luckily I have no shame whatsoever (as you may have gathered from this post) and so this posed no problem whatosever to me, however I’ve been told that some people take issue with such a scenario.

Finally – toilets. Whether they be long drop, compost, portaloo or otherwise, it’s pretty much guaranteed that toilets at festivals are going to be pretty unpleasant. If it’s not because of the smell, it’s because of the the fact that the people using them before you always seem to have been feral creatures whose experiences with sanitation of any kind have been minimal. The long drops in particular are especially unpleasant, the odour of bodily waste only masked by the unbearable chemical smell of whatever it is they add to it to make the toilets seem marginally more sanitary. The only exception to this rule that I’ve experienced so far has been at Sziget, where due to the heat at the height of the Hungarian summer, the plentiful and already relatively clean portaloos are cleaned and emptied every few hours. This was very much appreciated the year I attended the festival, as I’d eaten something that disagreed with me from a street vendor in Budapest city centre immediately before going out to the island, resulting in my first few days there being a grimly regular pattern of beer, cigarette, toilet, repeat.

I ‘m tired, I’m tanned, my wallet and left buttock have taken a bruising, my stomach and liver hate me, and my lungs are seemingly trying to cough themselves out of my body. If I were offered a free ticket to an upcoming festival however, I’d take it without so much as a second thought. There may come a time when I feel too old for it all, when the thought of standing outdoors getting burned, barely eating, smearing luminous face paints across my face, dancing until the small hours and then passing out on hard ground in questionable weather for five nights sounds like a bad idea. I hope that day never comes.

 

Photos

Top: The author, drunkenly wrestling naked in his misspent youth, Leeds Festival 2005.

Second: Some metal band or other.

Third: My view from one of Glastonbury’s compost toilets, 2014.

Fourth: Unrelentingly bad weather. Download 2012.

Bottom: The Libertines, from afar. BST Hyde Park, 2014.

Israeli Roast Chicken & Salad

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In preparation for my upcoming trip to Israel this autumn, I’ve been reading up on everyday Israeli culture, including as much as I can find on Israeli food. Although nothing I could ever make would be anywhere close to the real thing of course, this afternoon I came across a simple and tasty-looking recipe for Israeli roast chicken.

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I’ve already adopted the traditional “Israeli salad” as my preferred accompaniment to humous, halloumi and other light dishes of late, and this recipe seems like an interesting way to liven up some roast chicken. It’s extremely simple – basically, I filled a roasting tin with chunks of red onion, cloves of garlic (unpeeled) and rosemary (I used basil as we have a plant growing in our kitchen).

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Then I rubbed salt, paprika and pepper into the chicken breasts and thighs, before lightly browning them in a frying pan. Finally, I placed the browned chicken atop the bed of onion and garlic, and placed it in the oven for about forty minutes at 180ºC.

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It emerged from the oven roasted to perfection, with the roasted onion and garlic giving off a wonderful aroma that filled the kitchen. It wasn’t the most complex or demanding meal to make, but served up with humous, Israeli salad and the roasted onions it was a delicious and easy evening meal. I can’t wait to taste authentic Israeli food in a couple of months!

Recipe here: http://thewanderlustkitchen.com/2014/01/20/israeli-roast-chicken

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Burgermeister, Berlin

Alongside travel, food is one of life’s most wonderful pleasures in my opinion. One of the things I enjoy the most when travelling is the opportunity to try new foods, or variations of foods I already know and love. For example, I’m spending a week in Israel this coming September, and ever since I booked my flights I’ve been driving myself wild thinking about all the amazing food I’ll be able to savour.

Similarly, at the end of last year, after having arranged our four days in Berlin, we immediately set about trying to locate places to eat that we’d both overlooked on previous visits. One of the first that came to my partner’s attention thanks to TripAdvisor was Burgermeister. At the moment in the UK there’s an ongoing trend for “trendy” and “gourmet” burgers, which although delicious can often be financially ruinous and served by irritating staff who seem to believe they’re New York hipsters. Thankfully, Burgermeister’s utterly delectable burgers are both unpretentious and relatively cheap.

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Based on a quick browse of their website (http://www.burger-meister.de/), we knew we had to put Burgermeister as a priority on our list of things to do during the trip. As we were ravenous upon arrival in Germany it was the very first place we went, en route to our hotel. After landing at Schönefeld and taking the AirportExpress train to Ostbahnhof, we doubled back on ourselves to Warschauer Straße, changing to the U-Bahn to travel one stop across the Oberbaumbrücke. Located under the elevated tracks of U-Bahn line U1, just across the road from the steps up to Schlesisches Tor station, Burgermeister serves amazing food.

Burgermeister’s burgers are without a doubt one of the most delicious things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Additionally, the menu isn’t too big or too fancy, and the overall quality of the food is absolutely excellent. From the seven meat (and one veggie tofu) options available, I decided upon the Meisterburger – fried onions, mustard, bacon and barbecue sauce atop a plump, meaty burger, all sandwiched between two toasted halves of sesame-seeded burger bun. To accompany this flavourful feast of flesh and sauce, I ordered a side of perfectly cooked pommes (fries) and a bottle of Rothaus Tannenzäpfle beer. Juicy, saucy, meaty burger, crunchy bacon and onions… the Meisterburger had it all. I dipped my fries in creamy mayonnaise, and washed it all down with delicious pilsner.

It was almost a shame that it all filled me up just right (and I have a depraved appetite) and thus I had no room for another burger – the Hausmeista (mushrooms, cheese, bacon) sounded amazing. If I were going for the full blow-out, I would have gone for the Meister Aller Klassen – two burgers, double cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce and jalapenos. We considered returning for another go at a later point in the holiday, but with only three full days at our disposal and kebabs, currywurst and other exclusively Berliner treats ahead, we decided that our first mouth-watering visit would be the only one for that trip. Next time…

From a cost point of view, this place has it just right. For two Meisterburgers, two portions of fries and two bottles of Rothaus, I paid around €10. As with the majority of takeaway food available in the city, you can eat something that’s delicious, filling and authentically Berlin without spending a horrendous amount of much-needed Euros.

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Burgermeister has been going since 2006, and in the years since its inception has expanded slightly to include a covered standing bar area (see top photo) as well as the original picnic tables outside (which is still how it appears on Google Street View, from 2008). These true masters of burgers (a clever play on words; in a traditional sense, Bürgermeister means “master of the citizens” in German). Admittedly, it is rather small, can be cramped, and during busy periods it can be difficult to get anywhere to perch within, or anywhere to sit on the few picnic tables outside. HOWEVER, any and all minor tribulations are forgotten once you’ve placed your order and are sipping an ice-cold Rothaus within smelling distance of the food. The food, the food…

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Burgermeister, Oberbaumstraße, Kreuzberg. Closest station is Schlesisches Tor, or Warschauer Straße if you fancy a walk across the beautiful Oberbaumbrücke.