Wayfaring restaurant creates enchanted garden in Berlin

Hidden in the wilds of a Berlin community garden, a vagabond ‘pop-up’ restaurant has risen from the urban greenery. Arsalan Mohammad ventured through “The Pale Blue Door” to find a fanciful culinary experience.

Wayfaring restaurant creates enchanted garden in Berlin
Photo: Prinzessinnengarten

A tall man dressed as a grotesque parody of Tina Turner – garish make-up, huge frightwig and monstrous plastic breasts – strides about the muddy ground, weaving amongst laughing diners, shrieking, “The Best! Better than all the rest!” He mimes, throwing frantic shapes, shouting, “Better than anyone else!”

The music speeds up while “Tina” jiggles and cavorts even faster. The audience giggles and shouts encouragement, plates full of roast beef and potatoes growing cold in the evening breeze.

“It’s like a cross between Popeye’s village – you know, in the Robin Williams movie – and Mad Max,” says one of my dinner-buddies, taking it all in.

“It’s more like a Peter Pan-style nightmare,” considers another.

We are perched on a tiny bed, balancing dinner plates on our laps, in a roughly-built tree house, above the muddy urban community garden the Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district.

The tape “Tina” sings along to speeds up and down haplessly, the performance quickening manically in response. Soon after this, “Tina” reappears sporting three pairs of gigantic comedy breasts to lead a post-dinner conga line through the tables, noisily exhorting guests to join in and dance. It’s probably not the best place to take staid parents, break up with a partner or for anyone who plans to get up early the next morning.

This is “The Pale Blue Door,” a touring “pop-up” restaurant and cabaret, and it’s a little like finding a magical secret garden deep inside Prinzessinnengarten’s dense foliage and boxes of herbs.

There visitors will find the eponymous blue door that opens to the ‘restaurant’ itself, a sprinkling of ramshackle tables, set into a small gypsy-style ground. All around, built into and under the trees are wonky wooden huts, constructed with locally-scavenged – and delightfully curated – scrap and junk. Some house tiny dining tables and beds (The Pale Blue Door team sleeps on-site), others serve as kitchen and utility spaces.

Every weekend until the end of September, the small team will prepare a three-course meal for over 50 diners, heroically cooking up the dishes (to avoid bothersome ordering, just a meal of salad, beef and dessert is served, though vegetarians will also be accommodated) in cramped wooden huts.

Between the trees, pulleys and cables convey dishes and drinks between the bar and kitchen, high above guests’ heads. Cheery coloured lights are strung about, glowing in the dusk.

Devised by German artist and set designer Tony Hornecker and a group of friends and professionals, “The Pale Blue Door” has travelled the world, setting up the pop-up establishments in Santiago, Buenos Aires, London, Glastonbury, and since last month, Berlin. The team ferrets out whatever local materials they can find to construct the whimsical structures – but each entrance is marked by the weathered door in robin egg blue.

The last location at the Glastonbury Festival was fashioned as a junk yard restaurant and hotel, with the ‘rooms’ available by the hour. As one of the project’s team members, our waiter (and night-time occupier of our tree house) Cristabel explained, couples seeking a little private time had to enter and exit via the downstairs restaurant, much to their embarrassment and the amusement of the team.

Nevertheless, it was a huge success.

“Now it’s Berlin’s turn,” Cristabel smiles. “It’s very busy here now for us, we’re full up nearly every night.”

The team initially planned a two-week stay in town – but the event’s popularity has seen this run extended until the last week in September. As one of the most bizarre – and enjoyable – dining experiences available in Berlin this month, it’s well worth a visit.

Meals cost about €25. For more information and reservations, contact Ralf at The Pale Blue Door: [email protected]

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.