Berlin’s Renegade Wine Bars

Eat, drink, and donate at the city’s Weinerei chain.
Berlin wine bar

A small chain of Berlin wine bars, the so-called Weinerein, offers what is arguably one of the city’s most enjoyable culinary experiences. It is also one of Berlin’s best-kept secrets. These renegade bars promote oenophilia in a casual, unpretentious atmosphere that subverts traditional notions of dining and connoisseurship. Located in the fashionable neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg in the former East, the three Weinerein—called Forum, Perlin, and Fra Rosa—operate with an unorthodox business model. They function entirely on the honor system.

Night after night, swarms of customers pile into the moderately sized establishments. An initial deposit of one euro—casually tossed into a small fountain—is required to “rent” a wine glass. Thereafter, patrons sample an impressive assortment of wines (and whatever happens to be cooking that evening). During the summer months, the crowd spills out onto the sidewalks. On leaving, customers feed a tip jar, thus deciding for themselves how much the experience was worth.

Surprisingly, this simple concept actually works. There seems to be a genuine desire among residents to keep the Weinerein in business; Berliners apparently know a good thing when they see one. Another key to understanding the success of the Weinerein is to view it as an attempt in the former East to create a trusting atmosphere that breaks with established capitalist models. Perhaps long-time residents are feeling the necessity of places like the Weinerein now more than ever as rent prices in Prenzlauer Berg continue their steady rise.

The owners of the Weinerein also run a wine store on nearby Veteranenstrasse that stocks the varied selections served at the wine bars—mostly European wines, many of them imported by the proprietors. Asked about the selection process for the three Weinerein, employee Philippe Gross answered casually. “We choose the wines based on our whim and fancy, as the mood takes us.”

On a recent Saturday night, Forum was bustling with the usual mix of locals, expatriates, students, and a few well-informed tourists. The selection of half a dozen reds that night included a medium-bodied 2006 Côtes de Rousillon and an intense, fruity 2005 Porta dos Cavaleiros. German vineyards were well represented in the selection of whites.

At Fra Rosa, equal emphasis is placed on the wine and the food. The restaurant is open every night of the week, and reservations are essential—but the evening’s menu is only revealed at dinnertime. Co-chiefs Hugo and Antonio prepare a lavish seven-course menu, with an eye to the evening’s wine selection.

Asked what he felt a fair donation was for a full meal with wine pairings, Antonio stuck to the company line: “Each guest needs to figure it out for himself. It would be wrong of me to try and tell them how much to give.”

Forum Fehrbelliner Strasse 57, Berlin (030-60053072)
Perlin Griebenowstrasse 5, Berlin (030-40690951)
Fra Rosa Zionskirchstrasse 40, Berlin (030-65706756)

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