Das Gift

Marcel Krüger visits Scottish pub Das Gift and finds fine craft beers and excellent grub…

Das Gift 5
Image by Paul Sullivan

Despite its unspectacular exterior, Das Gift in the Donaukiez is no newcomer to the Berlin bar scene. In operation since 2011, Rachel Burns and her husband Barry (of Mogwai fame) have made quite a few fans with their low-key amalgam of Scottish pub and Berlin kneipe. Their place is not about aggressive hipsterish arty-fartyness, but about laid-back hospitality – as is to be expected from a venue modelled on a classic neighbourhood boozer.

Inside the former ‘Donaueck’ there’s dimmed lighting, a large bar, a few flea market tables and chairs and about 30 seats more in the adjacent (indoor) smoking area. The remnants of the former Kneipe are still visible in the shape of some strangely Christmassy-looking stuffed animals clambering up a lampshade and the Eiche Rustikal (classic oak) wood-panelling that covers most walls.

There’s a wide selection of wines, Scottish ales, German brews and even homemade mulled cider. The drinks, of course, explain the curious name (Gift means poison in German as well as drink in English)…at least partly.

“Around the time we found the space I was reading an interview with Yoko Ono, who had just had a show in Berlin,” reveals Rachel. “I think the show or a piece in the show was called Das Gift, and she explained how the word means different things in different languages, making it a ‘false friend’. It was really intriguing. We like the idea of making things for, and giving things to people, sort of a nice exchange to make people feel happy, and then there’s the fact that alcohol is in reality a poison – hence “what’s your poison?”, a phrase often used in Scotland when buying somebody a drink.”

Das Gift has become a centrepiece for the local art and, naturally, music scenes, hosting regular exhibitions in their adjacent exhibition space (‘Giftraum’) as well as after-show parties and quiz nights. But at its core, Das Gift is a pub, as a closer look at their drinks menu and the fridge filled with Scottish and German craft beer will testify.

I order a Roisin, a blonde craft ale made with local tayberries (named after the Tay region) from the Williams Bros. Brewing Co. in Clackmannanshire, Scotland and sit down in one of the rickety wooden chairs that either came with the interior or were bought at a nearby flea market. Tempting as the idea is, I’m not here to get wasted or even succumb to a hair of the dog – I’m here to sample the venue’s latest offering: pub food.

The menu is fairly simple but well-balanced. There are vegetarian items (butternut squash soup, celeriac crumble) as well as options for carnivores, like sausage rolls with homemade baked beans or steak pie with potatoes and cabbage; the prices are very reasonable, ranging from €4 up to €8.50 for the steak pie.

Image by Selina Kearney
Image by Selina Kearney

I order the baked beans (also served on toast as a vegetarian dish) and, this being a Scottish pub, the mini haggis plate. For the uninitiated, haggis is the Scottish national dish – a savoury pudding containing sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, all minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt, and mixed with stock. It’s traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and you’ll perhaps be happy to know that it tastes much better than the description sounds.

I had expected a small portion of the traditional combination of haggis with ‘neaps and tatties’ (Scots for the traditional accompaniment of turnip and potato) for the mini plate, but instead the haggis came on a cushion of creamy mash doused with whisky cream sauce – an even nicer combination. The baked beans were also a pleasant surprise, more a thick, Italian-esque tomato and bean stew with hints of rosemary and garlic than the usual watery tinned variety. Hands down the best baked beans I’ve had in a long, long time.

I’m happy and full, so I decide to end my meal with dessert – there’s bread and butter pudding and Lemon Pincer vodka cupcakes (€3 and €2 respectively), but as I had the haggis I go for a traditional Scottish dessert: cranachan cupcakes, which are made with raspberries, honey toasted oats and Drambuie cream.

“We have just started with the food and we’re experimenting a bit,“ explains Rachel. “Our chef is planning on keeping some items on the menu permanently, such as the baked beans and the celeriac crumble, but she will also be adding daily specials. Our menu is in both English and German, since we do not want to give the impression that we’re exclusively for expats.“

Image by Paul Sullivan
Image by Paul Sullivan

Though Das Gift does have an inevitable reputation as an expat hang-out, the reality is a more mixed crowd of expats and Germans. I ask Rachel what made her and Barry open up the bar in the first place. “We’re not really sure other than a desire to leave our own country for a while, and that both of us had travelled quite a lot but never really lived anywhere different for a long period of time. Coming from Glasgow in Scotland, we always felt somehow disconnected from mainland Europe and we thought Berlin could be a good base to explore Europe from. Barry was always in the band and I was finding my feet after graduating art school.

“We had spoken about opening a bar as a potential option before moving here, since nightlife is something we both enjoy and that’s where most of my job experience is from, but it was really when we arrived and started going out to bars here that we knew it was something we wanted to do for real. Glasgow is a really fun place, and it felt as though we could offer something slightly different to what already existed, particularly in terms of music, good and affordable drinks and friendly service.”

Add the home-made pub grub to that mix, as well as regular weekly quiz nights, movie screenings, readings and even a jukebox that comes with ready-made mix-tapes, and you have a unique yet down-to-earth all-rounder. Cheers to that.

Das Gift

Donaustrasse 119

12043 Berlin

Open Daily: 17:00 – 02:00h

Food is served Tue-Sat 17:00 to 21:30