I have often seen pictures of Chancellor Angela Merkel holding a beer - but never an ice cream cone.
She has yet to share such intimate moments with the public, sticking her tongue out to lick the melting treat, even though she might benefit from a second in the spotlight ahead of federal elections in September. And even more so in ice-cream-crazed Berlin, which is self-confident enough to call itself the "ice cream capital."
Typical Berlin. But the city's 600 ice cream shops can't be wrong, can they? Many of them are new attempts by young ice cream hipsters to modernize the market.
On average, Germans devour a total of 7.9 kilograms (17.4 pounds) of ice cream per capita per year, which amounts to 113 scoops. And I'm sure that Berliners must consume twice as much.
Secret ice cream deliveries to Merkel
As I found out from well-informed circles, Merkel's reluctance to enjoy the sweet treat in public doesn't mean she doesn't like the stuff. Au contraire! Apparently, huge amounts of ice cream are regularly delivered to the chancellery.
Niko Robert, the owner of Berlin's trendy Hokey Pokey ice cream shop in Prenzlauer Berg, told DW that he provides Merkel's office with huge amounts of the cold dessert. Secret ice cream parties at the chancellery? Or does Merkel keep it all for herself?
Berlin is a very lucky place. In the countryside, you'd have to drive for miles to find a quality scoop, but here, it's waiting around practically every corner. Dolce vita in Berlino.
Mozart candies and Moscow Mule
Trying out all of Berlin's ice cream vendors for this column was an unsurmountable challenge, but I took in a few with particularly entertaining names, from Fräulein Frost and Woop Woop to Vanille & Marille (Vanilla & Apricot), Süsse Sünde (Seet Sin), and California Pop.
It used to be that chocolate, vanilla and strawberry were standard on the menu, and really daring ice cream eaters would opt for stracciatella. My goodness, what a bleak childhood we must have had.
Fortunately, things have changed. My parlor around the corner offers a bewildering choice of 20 varieties - and changes them all every day. I recently discovered Mozartkugel (those marzipan chocolates from Vienna) and Moscow Mule (yes, the cocktail). In terms of cultural history, this combination seems rather odd. But if it tastes good, anything goes.
The daily rush to the ice cream shops
Ice cream chaos begins each day when the pre-schools let out. That's when people stream into the parlors, especially in the district of Prenzlauer Berg, which is full of young children and parents block the sidewalks with their strollers. At my favorite parlor, Rosa Canina, customers are asked to not leave their strollers at the entrance, but that rule often gets overlooked amidst the ice cream hype.
Niko Robert from Hokey Pokey has an even worse problem. The long lines in front of his shop were bothering the neighboring restaurant diners and there were fights between them and his customers. So Robert raised his prices so fewer ice cream lovers would crowd the sidewalks - but that just had the opposite effect. It piqued curiosity and the lines grew even longer.
Gourmet ice cream
I've wondered what triggers Berlin's passion for ice cream, and there's a simple explanation. Ice cream is no longer just ice cream. Nowadays, it's organic and home-made with natural ingredients. Instead of chocolate powder, it contains real chocolate, the vanilla is real vanilla bean, and the caramel is freshly made. It's become a gourmet art - and that's what has persuaded even staunch ice cream grinches to enjoy the icy treat.
Though I look forward to enjoying Berlin's vast ice cream selection every summer, I must admit that I did a double-take when I first saw the prices. One scoop used to cost 30 cents. Now it costs up to 1.80 euros ($2.10). But the prices haven't instigated an ice cream revolt - quite the contrary.
Almost all Berliners love their beautiful new ice cream world - except for some Italians living in the city. Ice cream used to be their territory, and nearly all the parlors advertised Italian-style wares. After all, it was an Italian-German in Germany who in 1969 invented the once popular spaghetti ice cream dish - vanilla ice cream squeezed through a noodle press and topped with strawberry sauce.
Still, it's hard to discourage the legendary ice cream kings from South of the Alps. They've already been spotted in the line in front of Hokey Pokey - obviously a very serious case of ice cream espionage.
Gero Schliess (ad)