Photo by Steve Herud
It’s around noon, and I’m sitting at the countertop with my first coffee of the day, eyeing a fresh (and massive) Philly cheesecake on the windowsill. Customers breeze through the door, and businessmen and art kids alike sidle up to the modernist picnic tables. From behind the counter, the kitchen starts sending out classic deli fare: matzo ball soup, fresh bagels, coleslaw and pastrami, Reuben and salt-beef sandwiches. Appearances aside, this isn’t New York; I’m in Berlin, at Mogg & Melzer, a new delicatessen in Mitte, the old Jewish quarter.
Oskar Melzer was 13 when he got the idea to open a pastrami deli. “I walked into Katz’s Delicatessen in New York, and I couldn’t believe it – the tenderness of the pastrami, the Russian dressing and the challah bread. There was nothing like this in Germany.” Twenty-five years later, with a few clubs under his old DJ belt (Pogo and the perennial favourite Weekend, both in Berlin, and Lido in Frankfurt), Melzer, along with fellow smoked-meat enthusiast Paul Mogg, has opened a New York-style deli in Mitte inside what was formerly the Jüdische Mädchenschule, a school for Jewish girls.
A group of architects, gallerists and restaurateurs came together in 2010 to renew the space and preserve its past; the Bauhaus building’s classroom ceilings, tiles and school hallways are still intact. Melzer was asked to open a deli in what 70 years ago was the school’s headmaster’s office. Outside, near the old recess doors, the history of the school is (literally) written on the walls. A plaque reads, “At a time when restrictions were increasingly affecting Jewish lives, in October, 1938, many Jewish families and children in Mitte were taken from their homes, driven to the Polish border and left there with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and little money. Without explanation many of the chairs in the classrooms of Auguststrasse 11 became empty.”
Today, the seats are full again. No wonder: Every two weeks, Melzer brines 120 kilos of meat that’s rubbed and smoked in a Bradley Smoker for over six hours, then vacuum-packed and poached at 80°C. When it comes to the bread, he says, “I wanted to do something similar to Schwartz’s. I even had friends shipping me bread from Montreal!”
Now that Melzer wakes up at 6 a.m. to head to the deli instead of coming home at 6 a.m. from the clubs, his parents couldn’t be prouder. “Unlike the club business, this is real. It’s something you can actually sink your teeth into.”Auguststrasse 11-13, 49-30-330-060-770
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