22 NOV 2010: I expected my return to Berlin after thirty years had passed by to be exciting. The Wall’s down, the city reunited and the art life booming. I knew also the German capital boasted great restaurants. I didn’t know I’d be in awe of a department store’s food floor. I felt like Alice in Wonderland when I entered it.

KeDeWe’s sixth floor is a horn of plenty spilling out every type of wonderful edible and potable imaginable. KeDeWe is the short form for Kaufhaus Des Westens (Department Store of the West) located on the Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s most famous tourist shopping street in the western part of the city.

It’s the biggest department store on the European mainland with floors of ladies’ and gentlemen’s fashions, cosmetics, jewellery, books, crockery, lifestyle accessories and everything else for the material gal or guy.

The food floor however is the knock out. It’s the biggest and best I’ve ever experienced anywhere and I’ve visited a lot of food outlets in my decades of travel.

When Adolf Jandorf built the KeDeWe in 1907, it boasted 24,000 square meters of sales area. In 1956 the entire sixth floor was converted to food products and in the mid 1990's, the whole store was expanded again and remodelled.

They call the sixth floor the delicatessen department but I think that’s an understatement of gross magnitude. Let’s start with the statistics.

It’s 7,000 square metres, the largest delicatessen in Europe. There are some 33,000 different foods, drinks and other gourmet articles to buy. For example on any given day there are approximately 1,300 types of cheese, about 1,200 different sausages and cold cut specialties from all over Europe and elsewhere, around 400 types of bread and 2,400 different wines.

Staff numbers about 500, of which no less than 150 are chefs and patissiers cooking on location. At the fresh fish station where they were selling not only indigenous fish but also exotic specialties such as parrot fish from the Seychelles, fresh sea urchins, sea spiders, soft shell crabs and crawfish, you are able to order a special of the day and eat it on the spot. Depending upon the season you might have pike, sturgeon, catfish, perch, carp or trout expertly cooked up and served with a cool glass of Sancerre.

At the Butcher department I saw cuts from young marshland oxen bulls, Argentinean Angus, Kobe beef, Ammerland ham and fresh lamb from New Zealand. I also saw more types of tongue than I ever knew existed and oddities such as cow’s throat and some animal parts I couldn’t begin to identify. In the poultry area, I counted at least six types of chicken including the famous poulet de Bresse.

Best of all each of the various departments had an eating area where chefs cooked the produce on the spot and appropriate drinks were served. For example if I felt like wurst (Berliners eat millions a year of these) I could have it with a nice Pilsner. Fresh Brittany oysters and Chablis – mine to order. Sushi with sake? Coming right up. There were more than 30 gourmet “stalls” some under international names including Paul Bocuse Bistro, Patisserie Lenôtre (the famed Parisian baker) and Leyseiffer Café serving their famous chocolates as well as hot and cold dishes. At the Valrhona Bar, I could enjoy hot or chilled chocolate speciality drinks with rum, mint, or vanilla.

Patrons on a budget or with an adventurous palate can find plenty of free samples. I tried complimentary pours of various wines, cocktails and digestives.

Some of their patrons have a taste for luxury, consuming more than 6,100 pounds of the finest Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga-Malossol caviar and 540,000 "Fines des Claires" oysters annually. Each year they sip a total of about 120,000 glasses of champagne and 200,000 glasses of sparkling wine.

I went for the Champagne Bar myself which was packed with locals refreshing their palate after a hard day of working or perhaps just shopping. Hanna, an attractive Russian born lady who has been serving behind the bar for 26 years, poured me a lovely cool rosé Champagne. I felt really at home as I sipped and chatted. In fact I wanted to move in and stay. Everything I could want was at my finger tips.

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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