I met a group of young Danes on the waterfront on Monday. They were enjoying the weather, drinking beer, playing music. One of them lingered behind, shy and awkward, as the rest stripped off to their swim trunks and jogged around the dock before taking the plunge into the cold, cold water. “It’s a little like a–how do you say? A test of manhood,” they told me.
“A lot of Germans don’t know exactly what a cupcake is,” Kay tells me. Kay is the owner of Vanilla, a cupcake/bakery located in the neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. Vanilla opened a few months ago; currently, it is just Berlin’s second cupcake store. It’s hard to believe a city as big as Berlin boasts only two cupcake stores, while here in the States the tiny city of Washington, D.C. is home to over 10 unique “cupcakeries.” Yet cupcakes are as much a distinctly cultural food as any. In Germany, Kay explains, introducing a cupcake is harder than it seems. German cakes tend to be less dense and more like a shortcake. Cake batter itself is a lot less flavorful, as cakes are filled and topped with various creams, custards, and fruits. Oftentimes, the cake found in German desserts is dry. Kay is originally from England, where cupcakes are a familiar dessert. Currently, she works at Vanilla on her own, waking up early to be at Vanilla by 6 or 7 AM to start baking.
When we arrived in Berlin, my friends and I immediately sought out the oldest and most well-known cupcake place, Cupcake Berlin, located in the hip neighborhood of Friedrichshain. Cupcake Berlin’s cupcakes were certainly the largest cupcakes I’ve ever had, but I was disappointed to find that the cake part of my mint chocolate and raspberry cupcakes was dry, and the frosting overwhelmingly sugary. Figuring a visit right at opening time might merit fresher cupcakes, I ended up being disappointed, as a second trip yielded the same results.
Not so with Vanilla. Kay’s treats are not a heaping hunk of cake, but smaller, delicate, moist, and flavorful. Vanilla boasts a variety of flavors, based on season, produce availability, and weather. Utilizing seasonal fruits is especially smart, as they add a freshness to the desserts that doesn’t require excess sugar. Monthly flavors provide for a more exciting experience, and make it worthwhile to visit the shop during different times of the year. On our last visit, Kay had premiered a batch of rhubarb cupcakes, deciding to accent the cake with a custard frosting.
I tried Vanilla’s rhubarb cupcake as well as the “Snickers” cupcake, consisting of chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, chocolate drizzle, and topped with a caramel candy. (Peanut butter was a welcome taste to this home-sick American.) Both were cupcakes at their finest, but I have to say that Vanilla’s strength lies in the fruit cupcakes, which aren’t merely flavored so but actually include generous amounts of ripe fruit in the cake. As an added bonus, fruit also ensures the cakes don’t have the consistency of the dreaded “German dryness.” I was also tempted to try peaches and cream, strawberry, and lemon. The cupcake shop is well worth a visit (or three or four) for its unique, inspired flavors!
Vanilla Berlin is located at:
Hufelandstrasse 10, Berlin // M4 Hufelandstrasse
My ever-roving photography program arrived in Berlin on April 28th. It’s my second time in the city and I’ve really fallen in love. Berlin is a city steeped in history and wrestling with memory in various ways. The once decimated part of East Berlin, cheap and eccentric, has become the center of art and creativity. Cafes, trendy young couples pushing strollers, graffiti, street art, galleries, thrift stores–it has definitely left many of us wishing we could move here.
Mauer Park (“Wall Park”) is a large park and flea market situated along part of the former Wall and subsequent death strip. Every Sunday it is filled with hundreds of vendors, ranging from the regulars, to young couples selling furniture before a move, to girls doing a once-a-year closet cleaning. It’s a treasure trove of objects, and worth a visit every weekend because the stands and items always change. Later in the afternoon, brave souls take to an impromptu stage to sing karaoke in front of a crowd dubbed the “bear pit.”
There is nothing better to complement an afternoon of thrifting and music than a cold beer and a vegan burger from Sun Day Burgers, an all-vegan burger stand located within Mauer Park. The long lines attest to the deliciousness of the food, which is cooked by some of the happiest, friendliest people. I ordered my burger with everything: soy-ginger tofu, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, beets, caramelized onions, sprouts, and chili, all on a whole-wheat pumpkin seed bun. Delicious.