When I travel alone, I can’t fully settle down in peaceful content until I’ve bought chocolates. It’s not that I desire so terribly to eat chocolates (they’re high on my long list of loves, but still come in below oysters, figs, and things flavored with aniseed); I just can’t deny myself the pleasure of buying them. A chocolate shop has all the allure of a giant jewel box, and the greatest joy for me is the fabulous luxury of choosing bonbons one by one like gems for an elaborate setting.
You may already think I’m overwrought after that panegyric to my schnitzel. Now I’ll tell you that I almost–almost–cried as I ascended to the 6th-floor gourmet food halls at KaDeWe, the landmark Berlin department store currently celebrating its 100th birthday.
The venerable stink of 1,300 fine cheeses is enough to move a person to tears. But there’s much more to see, smell, and nibble: 1,200 types of sausage and cured meats (I didn’t count, but that’s what they told me), over 3,000 wines, hundreds of pastries, dozens of chocolatiers. There is beautiful and exotic seafood–scorpion fish, anyone?–and gorgeous produce, including some unfamiliar beauties and a few rare treasures, like mangosteens. There are aisles of international delicacies, coffees, a fragrant island of teas, and there are many, many gourmet bars to which you can pull up a stool and taste the treats on offer. People-watching here is part of the visual feast: at one of my favorite spots, the glamorous Moët & Chandon champagne bar, I spied two bubbly-sipping fashionistas sporting magnificent beribboned corsets, Madonna-style, on the outside of their tailored suits.
At Café Leysieffer, a branch of the famous German chocolate shop, I chose a seat with a view of the city’s rooftops and contemplated all these gustatory riches over a big milky coffee flecked with chocolate shavings. Then I headed to their adjacent boutique and agonized over which bars of chocolate to take home with me. I settled on the Mohn (poppy seed), Holunder-blüten (elderflower), and Meersalz (sea salt) bars, all of which come in milk and dark versions. On a return visit, I might try the lavender, honey, and jalapeño varieties.
The poppy bar has a subtle nutty flavor and, most importantly, whole seeds mixed in; the truth is I love poppy seeds not at all for their flavor–because I find there’s not much to it–and entirely for the grainy texture of a mouthful of them. The dark elderflower bar is potent and complex, with notes of spiced blueberry (I swear) and anise. The sea salt bar incorporates large, mightily crunchy flakes and is, to this lover of sweet-salty pairings, thoroughly addictive.
Fortunately, or maybe not, Leysieffer delivers worldwide from their website.