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Time for Thai: An Exotic Treat in Wilmersdorf

Spring has been in the air in Berlin, and with it the promise of picnics and parties. Weekends wake up as the weather warms and the day’s stretch out, and places like Wilmersdorf in the West of the city take on a new life. There, in Preussen Park, you’ll find a seriously authentic street food scene, which has very little to do with the more artisanal offerings in the hipper parts of town. This Berlin park turns into a mini Bangkok, with dozens of stalls selling authentic Thai cooking for a few Euros per portion.

I last checked it out during what must have been one of the last such gatherings of the autumn, when the number of stalls was apparently much lower than the midsummer peak. As long as the sun comes out, many of the same vendors will be back there on upcoming Saturdays and Sundays.

It is a very uncontrived scene. The park somehow became a meeting point for members of Berlin’s sizeable Thai community about 20 years ago, despite there not being a lot of Thai residents in the immediate neighbourhood. Most of the people I asked seemed to have travelled from Berlin’s outlying districts. One lady had come from Leipzig, some 200km south of here.

They hawk their wares with shouts of ‘Lecker Lecker!’ and ‘Mango Lassi Bitteschön!’, their heavily accented German  dispelling any notion that the Turks and Vietnamese could have a monopoly on multiculturalism here. Middle-aged German men hang out behind many of the stalls, usually there to supporting their wives’ micro imbisses. I chatted to one, Peter, over a plate of delicious Green Curry, full of plump, round Thai Eggplants and their smaller namesakes, which are strikingly bitter. He said that the food his wife and her friends served there wasn’t adapted for Western tastes as it is in most Thai restaurants. Certainly, the Papaya Salad being mashed together in a wooden pestle and mortar nearby had doses of fish sauce and fresh crabs you tend not to find in the average Asian place. Elsewhere tiny shrimps were packed together into golden brown fritters, heads, tails, shells and all. Children giggled and gawked at plates of fried crickets at an otherwise lonely stall. But that is not to say that Preussen Park is only for the adventurous. More familiar dishes like Pad Thai, Phao Gad, Red and Green Curries, and spicy soups are all available, and often more intensely flavoured than you typically find in Europe.

Another German spouse, Alfred, told us that his wife had suffered two strokes in recent years, and had difficulty walking as a result. Here she could sit comfortably and fry up chicken skewers and battered prawns, and pour home-made sweet chili sauce over fish boulettes with Thai basil. It brings in a bit of extra cash, he said, and it is good for her recovery to keep busy.

Unlicensed, unofficial and unorganised, the park has been subject to predictable official consternation. A 2008 article mentions uniformed inspectors entering the park, and sanitation workers complaining about the mess left behind by customers. While some sort of legal wrangling appears to be ongoing, several traders said that the informal market-picnic does have the support of some local politicians. As a group, they tend to pay special attention to litter disposal and keep any disruption to neighbours at a minimum - not that anyone seemed to mind. But then, how could they?

By Michael Hornsby

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