Ottorink is the oldest Weinbar in Berlin, in a city where wine-considered-for-itself made a recent entry : Just a mere three years ago according to several wine-wise Berliners we met, if you wanted to indulge in some well-chosen wines you had to walk into high-end restaurants like the one at the Hotel Adlon, and you had to order a regular meal to go with, because wine was not something you would order alone. In Germany beer (and they're so good here) can be had for itself while for the wine there's a whole culture to build, something Ottorink and several others have already managed to do.
The wine bar is located in the now-sought-after Kreuzberg neighborhood, an area which during the Berlin-wall years was somehow cornered and remote, facing the DDR south of the Spree river and west of the canal at Görlitzer Ufer. This area where you could also find factory buildings was favored by Turkish immigrants and also bohemians and artists who settled there in cheap rentals and developped an alternative lifestyle, turning Kreuzberg along the years into a magnet for the youth around the world. It's what the German call a Multikulti Bezirk, but from close it's a much softer area than many no-go zones around Paris (called euphemistically zones de non-droit or quartiers sensibles there), plus there's a growing gentrification going on in Kreuzberg, as was testified by an artist we visited on Maybachufer along the canal and who settled 35 years ago in a former factory workshop on what was then a dead end street running into the wall. This German artist saw appartment buildings along the canal being renovated and purchased to wealthy investors or Berliners, and same for some former factories although the building structures were very spartan. Although I'm fond of other Berlin neighborhoods like Friedrichshain or Prenzlauer Berg (both situated in the former DDR) because they have more a feel of the old Berlin, Kreuzberg remains an area to visit, beginning for its artist and small venues, and there is a wide choice of Turkish or Asian restaurants. The Dresdener Straße on which the wine bar is located is a quiet street between the Spree and the canal, near Oranien Platz (by the way, a tip : the easiest way to reach this street is to enter it from Oranien Platz rather than from its Kottbusser-Tor end).
At first, I thought Otto Rink was the name of the owner of the Weinbar, but his first name is actually Andreas, Otto being his second first name from what I understood (I made this interview in German). But Otto Rink whose portrait adorns the wall in a prominent place in the background of the counter is the grandfather of Andreas Rink, and his spirit kind of hovers over the place because he was originally a Berliner. His story was utmost interesting for me because it somehow mirrors the one on one of my own ancestors in Alsace at the end of the 19th century :
Otto Rink, Andreas' grandfather was born in Berlin in 1878 and at the age of two (1880) he moved with his parents to Strasbourg (Straßburg) where he lived for many years studied and so on, he never went back to Berlin and then the train of history hit with the defeat of Germany at the end of WW1. Alsace which had been under the rule of the second Reich between 1871 and 1918 fell into the French rule and German natives fled the area for a relocation further east or north. Otto Rink then settled in the Pfalz region which happens to be a lively region regarding wine, and Andreas owes part of his love for wine to his grandfather and to the Pfalz where he was raised.
In my own family history I have a grand-grand-grand mother on my mother side who happened to live in an Alsace village named Betschdorf in the remote corner near the German border. Her maiden name was Postina, an old family name in Alsace, she didn't speak French at all, she was a typical deep-roots Alsatian who spoke only the local dialect which is very close to German. My mother told me that the family farm was the nicest in Betschdorf, but when the region fell under the German rule in 1871, she and her family left everything, all their possessions, and moved to the French part of the Lorraine further west. She, like Otto Rink, lived in some way similar ordeals, just that it was on the other side of the frontline...
As I looked to this portrait I couldn't but think to the fate of these thousands (millions maybe) of Aussiedler like they're named in German, these refugees who were ethnic-cleansed from regions where they had lived for ages, the Sudetes, Poland, Russia and other outpost-towns of the Empire.
When you walk in, the first thing you notice is the patina feel of the place, the cozy interior makes you feel at ease, the ligthing is dim like often in the German venues, candles on the tables dot the room. Actually even the street lights are dim in Berlin in the evening, it's very different from the French towns and you need to get used to it. When we walked in shortly after the place opened at 6 pm, there was already some visitors, some seated at a table in the front and others in the back, up a few stairs on the left of the bar. There was a man in charge and at first I thought he was the owner of the place, we looked at the large blackboard on the wall to make an order, looking primarily for the German wines of course.
The wines, you will understand, are mostly German, and the owner has a soft spot for the Mosel wines, all the while loving also the wines of Rheinhesse, Baden, Pfalz and Nahe. Read this ode to these wines in german :
Wer sich mit Schiefer auskennt, könnte schon beim Betreten der Weinbar ottorink erraten, woher die Weine stammen, die wir unseren Gästen servieren. Denn die Tresenverkleidung stammt aus der Region, in der unsere Weine u.a. wachsen und reifen – der Mosel. Für uns ist dieser Weißwein einer der besten überhaupt. Gewachsen und gereift auf den bunten Schieferterrassen entlang des Flusses erhält er eine minerale Geschmacksnote, die ihn so unverwechselbar macht. Wir sind über das deutsche Weinangebot sehr stolz und beziehen unsere Weine (Rot & Weiß) deshalb u.a. auch aus Baden, Rheinhessen, der Pfalz und der Naheregion.
Andreas Rink organizes sometimes special events like the one reported on this story, where a winegrower from the Saar, Jürgen Hofmann, presents his wines along some good food to go with. The highlight of the evening was when three Rieslings (two from the Saar und one from Rheinhessen) were served with a pâté and three cheeses.
There's this large blackboard on the side of the room with all these wines, I thought first that just a tiny minority were by the glass but after a closer look I realized that much of this list is indeed wines by the glass. Considering these German wines are wisely chosen, and given the affordability of these wines, Ottorink is a good place to get familiar with the best artisan wines of the country. Here are a few wines I noted there listed with producer/region (you might not be able to read from this picture) :
Becker - Pfalz 2013 Riesling Gutswein 4,8 € -- 2011 spätburgunder 5,5 €
Benzinger - Pfalz 2013 Riesling Kalkmergel 4,2 € -- 2013 Sauvignon Blanc 4 € -- 2013 Auxerrois 3,8 € -- 2013 Weisser Burgunder 3,8 € -- 2012 Kirchheim Cabernet und Merlot 4,1 € -- 2012 Kirchheim Cuvée J 4 € -- 2011 Pinot Noir Non Filtré [no added sulfites] 5,8 €
Zimmerlin -- Baden 2013 Grauburgunder 4,4 € -- 2013 Auxerrois 4 €
Huber -- Baden 2011 Bienenberg Spätburgunder GG 0,75 l 78 €
Stodden -- Ahr 2011 Spätburgunder Js 0,75 l 52 €
Chat Sauvage 2011 Pinot Noir 0,75 l 54 €
Wittmann -- Rheinhessen 2011 Spätburgunder 0,75 l 42 €
Jung -- Rheingau 2013 Riesling 4,2 e
Winzergenossenschaft Mayschoß -- Ahr : 2008 Spätburgunder 6 € -- 2008 Frühburgunder 5,8 €
Abril -- Baden 2013 Weißer Burgunder 4 € -- 2013 Grauer Burgunder 4,2 € -- 2013 Auxerrois 4 €
Von Racknitz -- Nahe 2009 Riesling Schieferboden 5,8 €
Honrath -- Nahe 2012 Hipperich Grauer Burgunder 4,6 € -- 2013 Riesling Kieselstein 4,2 € --2012 Halbstück Spätburgunder 5 €
Zorn -- Baden 2013 Auxerrois Barrique 5 €
Knewitz -- Rheinhessen 2013 Grüner Silvaner 3,8 € -- 2013 Sauvignon Blanc 4,5 € -- 2012 Eselspfad Weißer Burgunder 0,75 l 48 € -- 2012 Appenheimer Riesling Kalkstein 0,75 l 42 €
Hofmann -- Rheinhessen 2013 Scheurebe 3,8 € -- 2013 Grüner Silvaner 5,5 € -- 2013 Riesling 4,2 €
Willems -- Saar 2013 Riesling Schiefer 5,2 € -- Spätburgunder S 6 €
Dr Koehler -- Rheinhessen 2012 Riesling TR 3,8 € -- 2013 Chardonnay & Weissburgunder Tr 4,2 € -- 2011 Bechtheimer Grauburgünder Barrique Tr 5,8 €
Müllen -- Mosel 2013 Riesling Revival 5,2 €
Hofgut Falkenstein -- Mosel 2010 Riesling Spätlese Feinherb 4,6 €
Blees-Ferber -- Mosel 2013 Riesling Hochgewachs 4,6 € -- 2012 Riesling Feinherb Piesporter Gartchen 5,2 €
Staatsweingut Weinsberg -- Württemberg 2013 Riesling 4,2 €
Ellermann-Spiegel -- Pfalz 2013 Chardonnay 3,8 € -- 2013 Sauvignon Blanc 4 € -- 2013 Riesling 4,4 € -- 2013 Auxerrois 3,8 €
Plus a few more bottles listed there. The wines change probably regularly.
There were a few French reds too, as you can see on the right, priced from 3,8 € to 5 € a glass.
B. chose this Weingut Zorn Goldrand Auxerrois 2013 Barrique Trocken from Baden. Tastes well.
We chatted a bit with Andreas Rink, I discovered he is a trained winemaker, he learnt the trade in the Pfalz, his home region. This narrow-stripe region north of Alsace is a rare region in Germany where wine comes first, instead beer like in the rest of Germany, and wine has always been for him something he would drink routinely. He insists he is no beer drinker, it's not his thing, he has always been a wine drinker. In Berlin he wanted to help people discover than wine is not only something to drink along a meal, and in this bar you can have a glass of wine or two or more, without been obliged to eat with that. He says that's the reason he has so many opened bottles, you can have routinely 60 to 80 different opened bottles here and thus have a glass of very different wines. He says it is not a problem to have many opened bottles, he and the staff can guide the visitors who haven't a clear choice toward the bottles that need to be finished. His staff knows these wines very well and can help the German wine amateur know better about the wines. Actually they open whatever bottle you want a glass of, counting on the following customers to also ask for a glass of it. I think that's a good way to feel free and really go straight to the wine you want, and when you haven't a fixed choice you naturally just try what is open.
Andreas Rink is also a trained Winzer, he got the diploma back then in the Pfalz, from 1980 to 1983, and thus he knows both sides of the trade. The 1980s was kind of schlimm (bad) on the wine quality side, this was a high-production era with uninteresting wines with lots of sugar. Now he adds you can have great wines with some sugar if the selection of grapes is well done, from older vines and with good acidity to balance the sugar, but not these mass-production wines with added sugar. Andreas told me about QbA which is a Qualitätswein category, also the Kabinett, I'm not sure I fullly understood what this all means but I felt that like in France you have to learn all these appellation words to understand how wines are labelled here. Andreas says that for quality you can't have excessive yields, Man muss erkennen dass man nicht aus einem Hektar 10 000 Kilo raus kann (I'm sure you read German now) while with 600 kg you get a much better wine regarding the taste, and he adds you have not to spray these chemicals on the vines (pritzen Chemikalien) and all these combines factors yield a much better wine at the end.
When he planned this Weinbar he saw that in Berlin when you'd want to drink a glass of wine somewhere you'd find only French wine or Italian wine, he thought that it was weird that German wines, that were so diverse, were not available for the demanding wine amateurs here. Since he opened this place he also saw lots of foreign visitors, from France, Scandinavia and elsewhere, because if you come to Germany you don't want to drink French or Italian wines but rather the local product. Here he still has a short list of French wines, but he chose only reds because there are so many quality whites in Germany, this way, if someone wants a red he has a few wines to choose from. He has also a few French whites but somehow they're not picked very often compared with the German ones.
I chose this Blees Ferber 2013 Riesling Hochgewächs Leiwener Klostergarten, apparently from a clos. The wine temperature was a bit too cold for this bottle, the wine had a slight residual-sugar feel although it was Trocken. Mole minerality than in the other wine, B. says (we tasted both wines).
I ask Andras about the other wine bars in Berlin, he agrees that there are not many, and this one was the first venue with a wine bar concept (where you could drink wine without having to order dinner) to open in Berlin three years ago. I learn (but I had heard about in the other wine bars too) that there's another interesting Weinbar in Berlin (we missed it), Rutz, it's managed by a guy named Billy Wagner. You can browse their impressive wine list (Pdf), what I like is that it's apparently also a caviste,as they have a price to go (kaufen) and to drink there (trinken), meaning if you want to indulge in a wine orgy outside you can pick a couple of bottles and drink them outside. Note that drinking in public space is admitted in Germany, we saw routinely young people in the subway or in the streets walking with a 50cl beer bottle, and most of the time they looked like perfectly mainstream guys. Given the quality of their beers over here (and their affordability), I understand so well.
Andreas says also like Maxime that there is lots of ground work to do in Germany because the Germans themselves don't know their own wines and wine regions. From what I understood, he said that along these three years he had in this Weinbar more than 3000 different wines coming from more than 1000 wineries (Weingüter). To make his choice he probiert (tries) regularly the wines from different wineries and he orders he ones he feels as being interesting. Asked if there are wine fairs around here, he says that unlike Pfalz, Baden, or Rheinessen, there is a whole Weinkultur to build here. He says he likes to see young people come in and discover the many facets of Riesling or other wines like silvaner or Weissburgunder.
After we left the Weinbar, we ate at a lovely Vietnamese restaurant nearby in Kreuzberg (on Oranienstraße just round the corner from Dresdener Straße) : the Kim-Qui, with copious dishes priced at 7,2 €. I love Berlin...
You'll notice that the building above the bar is blurred on the street view image, illustrating the ferocious anti-Google ways of Germany, possibly incited by bureaucrats like Johannes Caspar and the Greens. Similarly, I had myself a few youtube videos (like this one I shot in Russia) banned from viewing in Germany (at least for some time) because you could (barely) hear in the background some music with property rights, I had to defend myself at Youtube not to have my account nixed.