A Personal History of Oranienburger Tor

The crossroads of U-bahn Oranienburger Tor is becoming a strange one. I find myself landing there from two different trajectories. A place where tourists/ new residents and long established Berliners converge and always in a surprising manner.

In 1999, when the Goethe Institute had just moved to u-bahn Weinmeisterstrasse and the streets emanating from the language school’s nexus would just sputter out into a no man’s land after a falafel joint, life in the form of cafes and restaurants abruptly stopped for two Asian American girls at around the Postfuhramt, a building that looked as elaborate and interesting as the Neue Synagogue but was once a stable for postal wagons and horses.

In 2003, when I briefly landed on Oranienburgerstrasse (the main street leading up to Oranienburger Tor) and stumbled upon one of the best salads I’ve ever had in a small basement type bar, still probably in existence today.

In 2006, when I returned to Berlin to live, my experience crawled up a little closer to Oranienburger Tor by way of Tacheles which still authentically looked like a squat, QBA because no one had ever tried Cuban food and it seemed the least touristy on tourist row, and Amrit because even a decade ago, you just couldn’t escape going there at least once and that was the last time I ever ate there until last night.

Things started to change in 2007 when Picknick first opened its club in the area which I never made it to. Then in 2008 The Broken Hearts Club was located near the u-bahn station and then King Size bar showed up with its no space and pretentiousness. That same year I ended up at a Chinese restaurant called Lucky Star right across the street from King Size. My German flatmate was notorious for picking her restaurants by convenience in a strictly egalitarian manner, so I never expected much from the food. I remember my dumplings being a small, underwhelming affair and I never went back there again. I also visited the Boros Collection right around this time as my interest in Contemporary art started to seriously bloom.

From that Lucky Star dinner evening to about 2013, my Oranienburger Tor encounters depended on late night bio pizza cravings after work to Green ‘n’ Friends open 24 hours, something special in Berlin for a grocery store and the prices are not that inflated.

In 2014, I had a job interview near this u-bahn station in the offices of a publishing house and contemplated how pleasant my commute would be. That year, as I tried to renew my love for Berlin and applied to jobs, I realized Rocket Internet HQ (whose sidewalk consisted of groups of people smoking with faces saying I’m not getting paid enough to go gray) is located just a little down the street from the u-bahn and also this Japanese by way of Brooklyn aviary for older Hipster birds called the House of Small Wonder as the Matcha lattes are a little overpriced.

In 2015, a Hedge Fund / start-up friend came back to town for Easter and told me he had been invited to the opening of a new restaurant/ bar called Creme de la Creme to which he was not taking me but his new Swiss girlfriend. The idea coming from a guy (things become hazy as I was still thinking about the absurdity of the name) who was somehow related to the two guys on Torstrasse that somehow became successful Venture Capitalists. When I heard this name, I thought so there is a German living in a larger Berlin bubble than I am, a bubble that came complete with rooftop flats in Mitte. I was surprised to find Creme de la Creme at Oranienburger Tor.

This month I moved in with 2 girls around a decade younger than I am located back in Mitte. When I found this room in a flat, I was congratulated much like someone would be if they had found a new job. This is the state of the Berlin housing market. Our first flatmate activity was a plan to eat hot pot at Lucky Star and I was reminded of 2008.

This week but a little too late, I read about the Boulangerie Francois, a global pop-up bakery/ secret bar traveling the world introducing Grey Goose to an invite only crowd to the bar and the general public to the bread. Arriving at the hot pot dinner which had grown to include 5 other 25 year old girls excluding my 2 flatmates, Lucky Star was booked out but my eyes kept turning to the Grey Goose Boulangerie and I thought oh, you’re here too. Two of the Russian girls suggested an Indonesian place nearby and I thought I’ve never heard of an Indonesian place here… warning bells started to ring. As we headed toward the “Indonesian” place, me eyes again reverted to the Boulangerie.

The Indonesian place turned out to be the old Indian place that was now calling itself a Singaporean place called Amrit, a place known for gobbling up its neighbor restaurants to become like the Walmart of curry and happy hour cocktails. The Indonesian girl with us was like this is not Indonesian food. My Macau Won Ton soup recommended by the two Russian girls was good, made of cream, sweet chili spices and two deep fried won tons filled with carrots and sauerkraut, which led me to believe these won tons were handmade in Germany. The three of us flatmates being unsure which way the tourist barometer of the food would go decided to share a main dish which was also sweet, spicy and tasty. Even Walmart can have its advantages. They were able to seat 8 on the spur of the moment on a Friday night at prime dinnertime, service was prompt, friendly and on time and the food tasty. The price however reflected the changing times and had doubled since 2006 when it had been a cheap Indian option at around 6 euros.

As I sat there shocked at the energy and youth of the seven 25-year-old girls surrounding me, I couldn’t help but feel I had traveled back in time to 2006 instead of living an onward progression toward 2015, that the 2015 experience should have somehow included that secret cocktail bar behind the French bakery. The future was the obsolete in reverse. (via Cyprien Gaillard, Robert Smithson, and Nabokov).

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