What I love most about living in a country not your own, is that daily routine has the possibility of feeling like an adventure. If you are seeking a thrill, whether tourist or expatriate, there is none so mundane and simultaneously dare-devilish activity than grocery shopping in Berlin.
I estimate that I have shopped in two of my neighborhood grocery stores approximately 150 times, which while by no means makes me an expert, does categorize me as an entertained participant and observer, and now writer of The Berlin (No) Hunger Games, a series of articles on how to pass the different levels needed to grocery shop in Berlin mentally, physically, and/or emotionally unscathed. Should you choose to undertake the challenge, this series will highlight the obstacles and tasks that you should be prepared to face while shopping at any grocery store in Berlin.
Tourists, consider yourselves warned. Expatriates, amiright or am I right? Germans, tips on navigating and completing Level 1 would be very welcome.
Level 1: The Bread Slicer (The Entire Bread Section)
The bread section in any Berlin grocery store is a sight to behold, and maybe you’ve heard it before, but Germans take their bread very seriously. They should, as it has one of the best reputations in the world. I know that some of the more seasoned Berliners are saying, “Stop right there! WHY are you buying bread in the grocery store in the first place?”
I know, I know. I should go to the bakery. But there is still the American in me that wants a one-stop-shop for all my grocery needs. Especially if I find bread that tastes absolutely delicious! Most of them have in-house bakeries anyway. You just can’t see them because they are in the back– I promise, I took a peek through the bread boxes to make sure it wasn’t run by oompa-loompas and I give you the go ahead to grab yourself a pumpernickel loaf and be satiated.
If you are like me in this and you do go to the bread section of the grocery store (cue Germans holding their faces and screaming in horror), prepare to be amazed:
It is a beacon of sterile, speedy, and perfected efficiency. I was so impressed by it the first time I saw it that I walked back and forth and watched several other customers use it before I too, selected, sliced, and bagged my own loaf. Follow my directions closely, and you will also be able to undertake this every day adventure:
Step 1: Select your loaf via eyesight from behind the pristine plexi-glass boxes. DO NOT search for a door to extricate your loaf. There isn’t one and you will look like a rookie-idiot-American.
Step 2: Take the handle of what I will now call The Silver Bread-Extricator and handle it somewhat like the claw-hand in one of those impossible toy machines that are often in American gas stations. Don’t worry if you can’t extricate your loaf on the first shot: It takes a couple of tries.
Wedge The Silver Bread-Extricator under the loaf and lever it through the slats at the side of the plexi-glass bread box so that your bread slides into the chute outside its sterile compartment. It is now your bread. No, you cannot put it back. No, you cannot change your mind because the sourdough suddenly looks more delicious than the pumpernickel. No, you cannot touch it with your grubby little fingers and then throw it back into the box while no one is looking. Such things have been dealt with in Germany.
Step 3: If the bread slicer looks too intimidating, I would recommend you just take it day by day. Nobody’s trying to be a hero here, we all just want some reasonably well-priced and tasty bread. Slice this loaf in the comfort of your own home with a bread knife and skip to step 4. Next time you come back, you will be ready for the bread slicer.
If you have moved through the other steps seamlessly, are feeling confident, and are OCD about the consistent width of your bread slices, then stick with me. You will see to your left, a machine that looks like it shouldn’t be at the perfect height for a child to climb into and be chopped to bits.
This is it, you are looking at the correct contraption. Take your bread and carefully place it into this pit of retractable blades. Make sure that no one is near you who can push the button at the wrong moment. You will see three directional numbers and a bit of German written on each one. If you don’t read German, this is where things (hopefully not your fingers) get dicey. Not to fear too much though–The Germans have thought ahead once again! You will see that to start the blades, you will first have to slide down the glass door to activate the machine. My best advice is to make sure all appendages are well out of the way before you start punching buttons, with or without the door in place. If it all goes well, the machine should come to life and slice your bread to perfection, and you will be ready for step 4.
Step 4: The last thing you need to do is transfer your loaf to The Special Loaf-Bagging Tray. After you have convinced yourself the bread slicer has completely stopped and will not suddenly start chopping again when you reach in to get your bread, place the bread on the tray, pick out a bag and put it around the bottom of the tray, over the bread, and slide your loaf in. You will know you are an expert when you can do this flawlessly without dumping the perfect slices into a pile inside the bag.
**Pro-tip: Remember to do all this as quickly and silently as possible because you will soon have a line of Germans behind you waiting to select and slice their loaves as well. Not that many, because like I said before, they mostly get their bread at the bakeries. But there will be enough to strike fear into your heart. Keep calm though. You are about to pass on to Level 2.
If you enjoyed playing Level 1 and are grateful to me for helping you to conquer your fear of The Berlin (No) Hunger Games, come back soon for tips and tricks on completing Level 2.
Thanks for playing!