LOTTERLEBEN IS NOW CLOSED
I'd heard that Berlin had recently had a big snowfall so I wasn't altogether surprised to see the entire city blanketed in white as my plane came in to land at Tegel Airport last week. But what did come as something of a shock was the eight inches of thick ice - still containing the residue of New Year's Eve fireworks - covering every pavement. Winters are always hard in Berlin but this was something else. Ice upon grit upon snow upon ice - well you get the picture. Undeterred Coffee Boy and I headed to the Mauerpark Flohmarkt the morning after we arrived. It's an enormous flea market held in a park where part of the wall used to run and sells everything from handcrafted baby clothes to bits of old electrical cable. In truth we were more interested in browsing than actually buying anything (sorry freezing stall holders) but did purchase some delicious caramel & mint licorice. After we'd had our fill of shuffling past the eclectic offerings we stopped to watch the intrepid sledgers on the steep hill in the park alongside - some of whom were reaching speeds that wouldn't look out of place in the Winter Olympics. By this stage we were thoroughly cold and decided that the best thing to warm us up would be a hot drink and perhaps a slice of cake.
Luckily, just across the road from the flea market is Oderberger Strasse, a street chock-full of restaurants, bars and cafes. Whilst pondering which one to visit I suddenly remembered a nice place I had been to a couple of years ago. As the streets were thronging with Sunday moochers we crossed our fingers and hoped we could find a table. And we were in luck: as we peeked behind the heavy door curtain, protecting the customers inside from the biting cold, we spotted one table for two which looked made just for us.
Lotterleben is a gem of a little cake spot. Decorated in muted beige, with a few walls papered in beautiful gold cherry blossom wallpaper it exudes an understated elegance yet manages to feel cosy at the same time. That probably comes from the fact that this is a family-run business, with the cakes being made by the cafe owner along with her mother and grandmother. And as you enter, the vitrine greets you loaded with a delicious-looking array of those cakes. After some debate we settled on Chocolate Espresso Tart and a Gooseberry Meringue Tart (Stachelbeer-Baiser-Torte). These Baiser Torte are really popular in Germany and I can see why. Usually I would have no interest in a meringue cake, but the Germans really get it just right: soft pillows of sweet air coupled with a crunchy top. Nearly every time I've tried one I've found them to be delicious. And Lotterleben didn't disappoint with either of our choices.
The Chocolate Espresso Tart was a dense sponge infused with both rich chocolate and a fairly decisive hit of coffee, topped off with a velvety chocolate sauce. The taste was really intense, not like an over-sweet mocha, but a proper grown up combination reminiscent of the flavour of a good chocolate covered coffee bean. But as if that wasn't enough pleasure for one afternoon, the Gooseberry Meringue Tart was amazing: a firm base topped with the perfect combination of sweet, crumbly and then soft meringue and there in the middle was the sharp bite of the gooseberries. I love the way Germans embrace fruit like gooseberries and rhubarb in their cakes - it seems to be very much out of fashion to use these kind of old-fashion fruits in Britain - but personally I think the sharp/sweet combo is hard to beat.
We washed our cakes down with a latte (for Coffee Boy, obviously) and a cup of Russian Tea for me; incidentally I'm enjoying the fact that I'm increasingly finding various Russian blends on tea menus both in London & Berlin - long may it continue. The tea was of the good loose-leaf kind served in one of those large open tea bags, and it even came accompanied by a pot of cold milk rather than the usual warm frothy stuff. It tasted great and Coffee Boy confirmed that his latte was pretty good too. All round, this is a lovely little cafe and I found myself wondering why it took me so long to go back. It has a really nice atmosphere, somehow quite different from most of the other Berlin cake spots I frequent and that coupled with quality cakes, and a nice selection of teas make Lotterleben well worth a visit. But when you've eaten your fill and decide to totter off an hour or two later, don't let the extra pounds you've inevitably put on knock you off balance - you might have to negotiate eight inches of ice on your way home. Obviously I'm not suggesting you avoid eating cake, I'm just saying, be careful out there people!