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A walk down the Sonnenallee

Along the Arab street, from Hermannplatz to Sonnenallee station Published on thought

Robin and I are back for a week in Berlin. Among many things, we went back to North Neukölln — one of our favorite neighborhoods in Berlin.

This time around, we slowly walked down the Sonnenallee, or the "Arab street" as some call it. In total: 38 minutes to walk from Hermannplatz to the Sonnenallee S-Bahn station.

As we leave Hermannplatz, we first stop at Al Faisal Grills and Restaurant, a Syrian joint that is always full. We grab a manousheh for two to share on the way.

With zaatar and olive oil dripping on our fingers, we get deeper and deeper into the street. Store signs transition from German to Arabic only, Halal butchers appear here and there, people around us are speaking Arabic first and foremost.

Our second stop is at Akroum Snack, a tiny restaurant that you might miss if you are not paying attention. We order a fatteh to share, and it is honestly the best fatteh I know of: creamy, generous, topped with thin and super crispy pieces of fried pita.

As we are waiting for our order, we get the usual Arabic tea served in these types of restaurants (self-service style):

  1. Take a glass.
  2. Pour a few centimeters of black tea from tap 1.
  3. Fill the rest of your glass with hot water from tap 2.
  4. Add a generous amount of sugar.
  5. Mix, taste and adjust ingredients if necessary.

Our order arrives, and we walk to a table to the back of the restaurant. From there, Robin has a good viewpoint on the rest of the restaurant. Thanks to that perfect viewpoint, we learn a new fatteh-eating technique!

When eating fatteh, we used to overfill our pita breads with it, always making a mess. Robin has now observed that some people take a small piece of pita, shape it like a cone, fill that cone with fatteh and eat it all in one single bite. Tested and immediately adopted.

At that point, our bellies already feel quite full (we had eaten breakfast not so long ago). We stop at supermarket stalls on the way, looking at the products displayed: grape leaves in jars, instant noodles with an Arabic branding, hummus sold in cartons, giant bags of dried coral lentils, trays of dried dates, all kinds of BBQ related products (coal, gas, grills).

Oh wait, we track back a few steps for a final sweet stop. We have never noticed this pastry shop before: Malek Al Konafeh. They specialize in kunafeh, a dessert made with spun pastry, soaked in sweet syrup, layered with cheese and pistachio. We take our sweet and cheesy dessert and savor it at a table right outside the shop. It fills whatever space was left in our bellies.

As we eat, we observe whatever is happening on the street. Cars honking, one small red car stopping in the middle of the street, the driver comes out and changes his license plate. We draw some more sweet cheesy strings from our aluminum plate to our mouths.

Some drivers get out of their cars and are now discussing in the middle of the street. A big white car comes out of a parking space, immediately replaced by the small red car. The red car driver replaces his license plate with a new one once again — it is put on upside down.

Almost bursting, we continue our walk down Sonnenallee: shops selling wedding dresses and hijabs, pastry shops selling giant colorful cakes and baklava, gold jewelry stores, Döner joints, shops displaying shiny home decor items.

As we get closer to Sonnenallee station, the street chaos seems to tame down, there are fewer people, more space, less noise. But the true end of the Arab street might be marked by the clothing store specialized in "techno rave outfits" — mostly skimpy black leather clothes that look like bikinis.

We do a final stop as we arrive at the Sonnenallee station. We order a filter coffee and a flat white in a familiar hipster coffee shop. Students and young professionals are sitting at various tables, some are wearing beanies, thick black leather boots, most are working on their laptops. From there, we see and hear the S-Bahn run by.

It feels like the last three kilometers could have happened in a dream. We are gently waking up. ENDCHAR

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