Berlin Supermarkets: A User’s Guide

by Guest Blogger

Words and infographic by Federico Prandi.

Four years after claiming independence and moving to Berlin, the supermarket still feels like the most iconic place of my adulthood and one of the most fascinating Berlin places to write about. While other bloggers document colourful night scenes and vivid cultural environments, I find myself in a complicated love triangle with Lidl and Rewe, and am now ready to disclose the dynamics of these relationships. My user guide to Berlin supermarkets will lead you through a correct, satisfying and 100% German grocery shopping experience.


First: Enter your supermarket of choice.

Second: Head towards the Pfand machine.

Any respectable trip to a German supermarket includes a mandatory stop at the Pfand machine, which is usually located before the actual shopping area. Not stopping there would be like going to IKEA without eating meatballs.

Glance at the 75-year-old lady who just beat you to the line by one fraction of a second. Using her last remaining life force, she’s carrying seven plastic bags full of bottles and is now feeding them into the machine.

Very. Slowly.

Consider leaving the line but then change your mind: it would be a drag to go through the whole shopping process with a bag dripping a mix of Club Mate and beer (probably a real cocktail recipe somewhere in Berlin). Also, you could do with freeing up an extra three square metres in your room before your flatmate calls the crew of Hoarding: Buried Alive.

Years pass. The lady lets you know she’s done by smiling at you and saying something incomprehensible, which is probably German for “I’m a rich bitch now. So long, suckers!” Watch her pink-haired body floating away with what was probably hundreds of Euros and a smile of victory on her face.

It’s your turn now.

You only have five bottles, so this shouldn’t take long. Unfortunately for you, after the first bottle has been sucked in, the machine notifies you that the containers placed on the other side of the wall are full. “You need to press the red button”, says the Pfand-bot.

The red button is the last trace of a Germany that wants you to feel in control. Clearly, its only purpose is to give you a false sense of safety, just like the numbers on Lost. Don’t even mind the button and do the only rational thing: cry out for help.

Don’t lose hope: someone will come.


You’re now inside the shopping area and you’re looking for the items you need, maybe even following a list.

There is only one rule concerning where to find them: forget logic.

In a perfect world, those small Bahlsen cakes you like to dip in your morning coffee would be placed next to cookies, because that would make sense.

Not here. Not in Germany. You’ll only find them if God wants you to – and only after wandering for hours among shelves overloaded with sausages and far too many kinds of Quark, taking care not to make eye contact with your fellow grocery shoppers. Remember to treat them like ghosts from a parallel dimension, and even if you bump into them try to convince yourself it was an ESP experience.

Once the desired item has been retrieved, shove it into your tote bag and try to avoid feeling like the Winona Ryder of Marzahn. It’s fine: the evergreen excuse “I meant to pay for it” is – unsurprisingly – taken literally in this country; no special police unit will barge in and attack you with trained dogs while you whisper through tears the words, “Ich bin nicht shuldig”.

Just remember to pay for everything you grabbed when the moment comes. That’s it.

Infographic: German supermarket checkouts


You’re at the Kasse now. It’s almost over, but you can’t let your guard down.

Among all the spots inside the supermarket, the Kasse is where your morals are ambushed and your diet is tested. Just as Orpheus had to refrain from turning back on his way out of the underworld, you should resist the temptation to buy small bottles of Jägermeister, because everyone knows you’re gonna keep them in your pockets and sneak a sip whenever your boss isn’t looking.

Also, chocolate bars made of 20% caramel and 80% peanut butter are not a good idea unless you’re OK with never being able to find your teeth again.

Also, 3 Euro reading glasses can’t possibly be good for your sight.

Also, Hello Kitty partnering with Kinder Surprise is indeed exciting news, but the answer is no.

Also, there be cigarettes.

If you were strong enough (and I want you to be) you are now out of the temptation zone, placing your groceries onto the conveyor belt. Here comes a crucial part, which you should carefully execute if you wish to live your Berlin supermarket experience to its fullest.

Start eyeing the Kassentoblerone (yes! that’s its real name!) from afar, when it’s still out of reach. Focus on it impatiently as if it’s been the object of your desire for years and start tapping with your fingers in excitement. Picture in your mind all the terrible things that would happen if your groceries actually brushed against those of the person standing in front of  you.

Grocery confusion, food STDs, maybe some kind of explosion.

When you’re close enough, grab that divider and place it on the belt in a triumphant manner, as if it was the coronation of a life lived in struggle.

Can you feel the joy?

The clerk has been scanning each and every item you purchased and now presents you with the bill. While you look for money in your wallet, he will take advantage of your distraction to slide in an unsettling question that will make you freeze in fear.  “Haben Sie noch ein Wunsch?” – “Möchten sie Geld abheben?” – “Brauchen Sie ‘ne Tüte?”.

And my favourite: “Sammeln Sie Herzen?”

Which literally translates into: “Do you collect hearts?”

That has to be the most horrifying and inappropriate question I’ve since the time I ordered sushi for myself and the delivery guy asked if I needed three sets of chopsticks.

But relax: Kaiser’s is not investigating your emotional life nor conducting a survey to determine the percentage of serial killers among their customer base. They simply have a loyalty system where the points are called  “hearts”.

Just answer “Nein, danke” to whatever they ask and hand over the money.

Now it gets tricky. Once payment is completed, the space at the end of the Kasse where half of your groceries are still lying doesn’t belong to you anymore. In fact, the clerk is already throwing new items down there at supersonic speed. Suddenly overwhelmed with pressure, you now need to pick up your stuff and carry it to the nearby table-for-slow-people, quickly and dramatically as if you were rescuing a baby from a fire.

When you’re ready to go, head to the Ausgang while taking a skeptical look at the receipt and making sure that the very cheap bananas you bought (genetically engineered in Steglitz) haven’t been priced as if they were the BIO ones from Colombia.

If everything looks fine toss the receipt in the trash can just outside the door, where millions of others are nested. In the background the ghostly, naïve voices of future generations are asking their elementary school teachers what a tree is.

Ignore them blissfully.

Follow Federico on @amorequietplace and read more on his blog, A More Quiet Place.

Big Stu’s Big Guide to Berlin’s Supermarkets by the legendary Big Stu.

Big Stu feat. Will Smith: MY KOTTI

by James Glazebrook

Video: Big Stu’s Big Guide to Berlin’s Supermarkets

by James Glazebrook

Big Stu's Big Guide to the Supermarkets of Berlin

I know it’s not Music Montag, but we couldn’t wait to post this one! Comedy hip hop star Big Stu, having already released rap tributes to Kottbusser Tor, Hühnerhaus and the Turkish Market on Maybachufer, now turns his pen and his, um, lips/hips towards Berlin’s supermarkets. Big Stu’s Big Guide to the Supermarkets of Berlin is both informative – explaining where to pick up fresh veg and whose beer tastes like piss – and entertaining, including nuff footage of the Irishman dancing and crotch-grabbing in the aisles of Penny et al. All over the top of Prince’s dirt-funk classic “Erotic City”!  Enjoy 🙂

Big Stu’s Big Guide to Berlin’s Supermarkets from Big Stu on Vimeo.

Another Year in Berlin: überlin’s Highlights of 2012

by James and Zoe

Wow, what a year! It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Berlin two years – because it feels like we’ve lived here forever, yet sometimes it’s like we’ve just stepped off the plane. That’s the enduring freshness of love, I guess. Too sappy? Then maybe we’ll just skip to our highlights of 2012: our favourite moments and places, most awesome blog posts, and all the other (furry) little things that made the year our best yet.

überlin's highlights of 2012: January

The Loxx Miniature Railway version of Berlin is probably the city’s best-kept secret, or at least it was until our photos ended up on the front page of The Guardian website. Small world(!) – on our second visit to the mini-Berlin on top of Alexa mall, we ran into Dave from the blog Andberlin – who also named Loxx as one of his highlights of the year. This is the perfect place to go on a rainy winter’s day.

überlin's highlights of 2012: February

To celebrate Zoë’s birthday we went to Stockholm and Copenhagen and while we were there, visited the most beautiful and inspiring place we’ve ever been. Looking back at our post about the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, I feel like my words fail to live up to Zo’s stunning photos, and even those can’t capture the breathtaking beauty of the museum and its coastal environment. We thoroughly enjoyed our short time in Scandinavia, but the Louisiana was the hands-down highlight.

überlin's highlights of 2012: March

The first of our articles to appear on The Guardian, 5 Apps Berlin Really Needs, was a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the buzzy, bubbly startup capital of Europe. Our iProtest app concept gamified civil disobedience, while Angry Berliners turned German bureaucracy into an addictive platform game. Our Buskamatic app aside, March was a great month for music – Modeselektor released the iconic video for their “Berlin” anthem, and we discovered Big Stu’s comedy rap tributes to Hühnerhaus and Kottbusser Tor.

überlin's highlights of 2012: April

Our personal highlight of the year has to be getting our hands on this little ball of cute. In fact, Olive is probably many readers’ main reason for visiting the blog – we might be better off training her to work a camera and a laptop and leaving her to it! The unofficial überlin mascot, Big Ö is recognised way more frequently than we are, and has turned up in the unlikeliest of places – including an Instagram tutorial video and a conversation with a Bully-obsessed stranger at my cousin’s wedding (“you own Olive the dog?!!!”). Apart from welcoming our fuzzy daughter to the fold, we also ate the meal of the year (with matched cocktails!) at Rollin Restaurant.

überlin's highlights of 2012: May

If our May pick was a movie it would be the überlin prequel, Escape from Newcastle. While our home toon stands for everything we hate (or is that the other way around?), we still have a soft spot for the football-loving Stella-downing lads and lasses we grew up with – something we hope came across in our “origin story”, From Geordie Shore to Germany. Back in Berlin, visiting friends introduced us to the Ramones Museum, the only such institute devoted to the Detroit proto-punks in the whole world, the personal collection of a Berliner who must be their greatest fan.

überlin's highlights of 2012: June

It might seem obvious, but our What I Know about Germans post is like David Hasslehoff’s “Looking For Freedom”: ubiquitous, infectious, and every German loves it ;). Credit for our “greatest hit” actually goes to writer Liv Hambrett, for her keen observations about her adopted countrymen, and illustrator Mischief Champion who’s busy bringing them to life for WIKAG – the book! Photo op of the month (year?) had to be Berlin Gay Pride 2012 – so many queers! So many colours!

überlin's highlights of 2012: July

It seems like a long time since Zoë spent a boiling Berlin Fashion Week maximising her time in the air-conditioned tent, and occasionally popping outside to photograph slebs like Fashionbloggerin Miggy. Lucky for us, she braved the heat long enough to get these impressions of Berlin Fashion Week SS13.

überlin's highlights of 2012: August

While Peaches was never exactly a reason for moving to Berlin, we’ve never been able to think about the city without picturing her merkin. Since we arrived, we’ve been lucky enough to see her twice: “doing herself” live on stage and orchestrating a protest/video shoot in support of Pussy Riot. We weren’t the only starstruck fans following this freak parade into Mauerpark, and it was impressive to see Ms Nisker whipping up a storm to publicise an important – and still ongoing – cause. Less colourful, but no less eye-opening, was guest blogger Russell Dornan’s look behind the closed doors of Berlin’s Natural History Museum.

überlin's highlights of 2012: September

You Know You’re a Berliner When… you pose for a photo pretending the TV Tower is your penis, which then becomes a lightning rod for critics of hipsters, expats and archisexts (I made this one up). Having regular “Berlinergasms” was just one of 11 sure-fire signs that you’ve become a Berliner, along with dancing in a U-Bahn station and witnessing at least one daily act of crazy. Zoë saw more craziness at London Fashion Week SS13 – here is just a taste.

überlin's highlights of 2012: October

October was a month of light and dark. The gloomy nights provided the perfect backdrop for the Festival of Lights and (we think) our animated GIFs were the perfect demonstration of the event’s kaleidoscopic displays. Far less joyful was Berlin Crawling: 10 Halloween Horror Films, a list of creepshows shot here in the Haupstadt, ranging from the slick (the neo-Giallo short Yellow) to the just plain sick (corpse love story Nekromantik).

überlin's highlights of 2012: November

We’re so glad Phia agreed to be the first subject in our series of Berlin portraits. We’d heard the Australian singer/songwriter/thumb-pianist at an intimate concert in a fellow musician’s house, and loved her stories and songs about her granddad, a Berliner, and what it meant to live in his hometown. We spent a beautiful, crisp day discovering her Berlin, and sharing our love for the creative, open city we now call home. Oh, and we celebrated two years of überlin/living in Berlin!

überlin's highlights of 2012: December

As we entered our third winter in Berlin, we thought we should share the survival skills we’ve picked up with expats who’ve recently arrived from warmer climes. With the help of Josh Bauman’s awesome caricatures of us (and Olive!), our more-or-less practical tips about How to Survive a Berlin Winter helped to restore calm among the panicky sun-botherers freaking out at the first sight of snow. I wonder if anyone’s quit their job or grown a beard on our advice? And giving away €250 of Berlin-themed swag was a great way to end another awesome year of überlin.

Join us in 2013 for more Berlin love and LOLs. Happy New Year!

Music Montag: Big Stu

by James Glazebrook

Big StuWe stumbled across Big Stu when @awesomedonald from The Bird posted this video to Twitter, a rap tribute to the legendary Hühnerhaus at Görlitzer Park. Hip Huhn Hooray!

I got in touch with Stu, currently waiting out winter in balmy… er, Dublin, and he was kind enough to share his inspiring rags-to-shellsuit story:

Having moved to Berlin in the summer of 2007 to pursue a career in finance (yes, finance), Stu quickly realised that this path was not for him and so after a year, he quit and started to pursue the bohemian Berlin dream. He was drifting along nicely, taking up whatever work he could find, when one day a friend took him to a roadside chicken shack called the Hühnerhaus. He got half a chicken. He fell in love with the chicken. He put this love into rhyme which became song, which became and award winning video and since then the newly christened ‘Big Stu’ has never looked back. Now he already has 30 videos to his name and 2012 he feels is the year he’s ready to step it up a gear. Thus, it is no lie or exaggeration to say that fried chicken gives life to dreams.

Having watched most of those 30 videos, I can recommend two more Berlin-themed bangers: The Turkish Market, about the twice-weekly veg market along the Landwehrkanal, and the even more self-explanatory Kottbusser Tor. For rhyming recipes like Ghetto Lasagne and Whitney’s Pesto, check out Stu’s Tumblr, The Rapping Cook. In the meantime, enjoy some more hilarious Berlin bombz!