November 30, 2011

Teutonic Pizza: A Guide to German Cultural References

Rocco und seine Brüder - Kreuzberg

Who owns a city? I’m not talking about rich people who own the land (who may not even live there) or the municipality that provides the services. What I’m aiming for is to get to the bottom of deep philosophical issues. I can see you are frowning at the screen and thinking of closing this window. Be my guest if you want to, but this is serious stuff! I stumbled over this question yesterday after the 4th G&T at a new, cooler-than-thou expat venue in Kreuzkölln. It was packed with trendy people. Yet it was the first time I felt a pang of superiority beside the usual feeling of pure, green envy.

I think the superiority bit came after listening to a girl from North London with a butterfly pinned on her beautifully coiffed head explaining why Berlin was HER city after mere 1.5 months. And why she was here to stay. She was giving tips and recommendations, talking about areas that are cool and others that are “so passé”. There was a lot of sneering involved. And the only thing I could think was: “Really? Your city?” So I just smiled back as if you’d smile to a slightly retarded child who had just done something resembling a failed imitation of a snotty Pug.

This girl actually made me feel superior. Not because I’m any better. All I can say for myself is that I’ve been here long enough to speak the language and get a feeling for the culture. It’s merely about time. And yet. Her sheer chutzpah, ignoring the time factor and the hard-earned lessons it brings, made me think: what makes a person own a city? Is it enough to know your geography and know the cool safe-havens in town? I believe it takes more than just that.

Because at the end of the day, even though Berlin may seem so un-German to the untrained eye, it is still in Germany (as the saying goes). And immersing oneself into the folds of Teutonic culture requires a deeper understanding of local codes, local aesthetics and local references. Unfortunately for the newcomer, local references are not always pleasant or easy to learn. Being exposed to deep-end Germany often requires developing a 6th sense for repellent schlager singers (I still wouldn’t be able to distinguish Roland Kaiser from Udo Jürgens even if my life depended on it), commenting the latest Bauer-sucht-Frau developments, and moreover, recognising Inka Bause (Bauer-sucht-Frau presenter) if you saw her walking down the street in lederhosen. These are things locals know automatically. But for us expats, learning all these references is a long, excruciating process.

The ever-elusive game of German references was the defining experience of this week’s dinner at Rocco und seine Brüder – a popular pizza restaurant behind the church on Lausitzer Platz in Kreuzberg. A couple of VIVA presenters had taken control of the next table and as the conversation drifted to commenting old German TV-presenters, I found myself at a loss. To make things worse, Rocco und seine Brüder is one of these themed restaurants, based on an Italian film from the 1960’s that used to be extremely popular in Germany. Most Germans around me seemed to have regarded the film as an integral part of West-German culture (even though it was about the Mezzogiorno. Oh, the intricacies of European culture), which made the photos on the walls and a few of the pizza-names accessibly witty for them. I, however, could only nod and smile as my table companions commented different aspects of the ambiance.

And yet, the place is pleasingly alive and nicely unpretentious. The tables are crammed on top of each other and the service is jovially accommodating. The menu is fairly simple, with starters and pizzas making out the two only categories available. We began with the anti-pasti platter (for two, 12.80 €), which I found to be fairly disappointing. It contained all the right things: a bit of cheese, a bit of sausage, a few oily vegetables and fresh ingredients. But the quality was not quite there yet. The cheese was very simple (the taleggio was alright, the mozzarella was the cheapest version available and the bland slices of the Gouda-looking rubbery cheese were completely unnecessary). The meat was alright, but nothing more. The other ingredients were not bad, but on the other hand, they were not refined or pleasing enough to justify those 12.80 €. 

Mario Adorf
And then came the pizza. The menu contains two whole pages of different pizzas, for prices starting at 7 € and ending with 11.90 €. We chose the more luxurious ones: the Mario Adorf (mozzarella, taleggio, cèpes, 9.50 €) and the Tartufo (truffle, rocket salad, 11.90 €). They were both quite good, but far from perfect. The biggest problem was the dough: it was a bit too thick and dry in all cases. In that same vein, slicing through the Tartufo was quite an ordeal. The toppings, however, were fairly generous and pleasing. The Mario Adorf (a German speaking actor from South-Tyrol in Italy) was more wholesome than the Tartufo, which came hidden under a mountain of salad, which was as dry as it was green. There would be other details which were not perfect, but at the end of the day, the pizzas were quite enjoyable.

Rocco und seine Brüder is a thoroughly enjoyable place. The food would not be the first and foremost reason to go there – it’s not bad, but it’s not exciting either. However, the ambiance makes it a perfect location for a friendly evening with a few friends, a hearty pizza and a gargantuan carafe of wine. Before you go there, be sure to google the Luchino Visconti’s film Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco und seine Brüder). This way, you’ll always have a  knowledgeable remark available for any witty exchange. 

Overall Mark: 

Rocco und seine Brüder
Lausitzer Platz 13, 10997 Berlin

Größere Kartenansicht


  1. I moved to Berlin in 1987 for studies.
    I love the city and often walked all sorts of neighbourhoods to get to know this vast city. Even after 24 years I wouldn't say that I know Berlin thoroughly well. It's always changing and one seems to be avoiding places 'less fun'.
    But the variety, old villas, Plattenbauten and freaky Hinterhöfe, serious business folks and artists, tons of exppats and immigrants make this the colorful place it is today.
    I hope, we'll get more people trying to understand, respect and contribute to the way of life over here and less of the shallow fun-seeking kind.

    Thanks for your honest words. Appreciate them!
    Forget about Schlagersänger and 'Bauer sucht Frau' though. I couldn't tell...
    I don't think I ever saw Rocco und seine Brüder, either. Never mind! (I grew up on the other side of the wall)

  2. your own fault.
    no.1 pizzeria in kreuzberg is on the other side of lausitzer Platz named "Trattoria Maria"