It was while preparing a mushroom risotto that Edial and Floris Dekker, two brothers from Amsterdam living in Berlin, had a business idea that would make Facebook seem passé. ‘We went to the forest to pick wild mushrooms for our risotto, but realised we couldn’t tell the edible from the poisonous ones,’ Edial remembers laughingly. ‘Berliners are really good at this, and so we were trying to find a guide, but it was impossible to either team up with someone who spoke English or had time to meet us.’
This was the moment when the proverbial light bulb went on above their heads. ‘We were thinking: everybody is passionate and knowledgeable about something or has a hidden talent. Why not help them make a living with this and provide it as a service?’ With high-profile investors such as actor Ashton Kutcher (‘we knew him through a friend and he thought this was an awesome idea’), the Dekker brothers set up Gidsy, a network offering anything from Berlin street art tours to the chance to rub shoulders with FC Bayern’s football stars while exercising at their local park in Munich.
By matching locals (a notably rare breed to meet and socialise with unless you have the right contacts) with travellers looking for a personal experience off the beaten tracks, Gidsy tapped right into the zeitgeist. ‘Of course, there is Facebook,’ says Edial, ‘but through Gidsy people actually get to meet face to face; it’s more active.’
Clare Freeman, founder of Plus One Berlin knows ‘it can be quite overwhelming when you go to a different city and you don’t know anyone; the guides are often outdated and you have no idea where to start.’ The former PR manager for Design Hotels had travelled extensively, visiting many types of lodgings, until she decided to go solo with a concept offering trendy accommodation along with the opportunity to be the ‘plus one’ of a Berlin resident ‘because when you can meet someone who knows the city inside out, you get to discover what only locals see’.
And so she bought an apartment in Berlin’s Kreuzkölln district, dubbed by the Guardian ‘the epicentre of cool’, joined hands with a local architect and designer and remodelled the flat into a stylish place to spend the night. Guests are granted up to five hours with a well-connected local who will provide an authentic experience depicting the city in its true colours. This could be a pop-up film screening in a Jamaican bar or the best spot to enjoy the sunset with a bottle of local beer.
But ultimately, the all-commanding question when you travel is: where to eat? Supper clubs provide a rare opportunity to mix with locals, as you actually dine in their homes. Jan and Melanie, a biologist and a librarian in their mid 30s, have established Fisk & Gröönsaken in their living-room. As true Berliners, they fuse modern German cuisine with international inspirations based on fish and vegetables that grow in the region; expect zander fillet on a bed of beetroot followed by cherries with pumpernickel croutons and homemade honey-lavender ice-cream.
‘Supper clubs have become very popular,’ Melanie says. ‘When we started in 2010 there were only four of us, today we know of about 20.’ She says the reason why people respond so well to this form of dining is because it’s so much more personal. ‘Let’s be honest: you would not typically share a table with a complete stranger in a restaurant and then spend the evening with him engrossed in a lively conversation. Here, it’s part of the plan. In such a laid-back atmosphere you can even peek into our pots. And I think there is also a voyeuristic element to it – people just love looking into other people’s homes.’
Other guerrilla kitchens worth visiting are Thyme Supper Club, Phoebe in Berlin and Good Stuff Supper Club – each one offers something unique.
With eating out in Berlin having become about more than just restaurants, Pret a Diner is catching up with this new wave by providing a delicious melange of cuisine, music and art at the same time. Launched in Berlin, the dining experience (‘this is not a pop-up restaurant’) now happens in other cities as well. It’s been seen in an old cinema in Munich, on top of a skyscraper in Frankfurt, in a historical cellar in London and a seaside villa in Monaco. This is the very definition of a moveable feast.
‘Our biggest challenge is time,’ says KP Kofler, founder of Pret a Diner. ‘In order to work, the concept has to remain unforeseeable. Our guests expect to find themselves in a place where they normally wouldn’t be.’ This requires a great deal of planning and tricky problem solving, as the organisers’ main intention is to stay ambitious. ‘[Once] we heaved a Land Rover to the 25th floor of a tower. [On another occasion] we regulated the temperature [of a location two stories below ground] with dry ice.’
When it comes to Berlin’s vibrancy and unique culture, this new movement focused on experimental travel experiences is lending a new sense of excitement to an already enticing city.