We are unapologetically fond of German cafeteria food. When visiting the German capital, we always stop for a sampling of local cuisine at one of the state-run (and subsidized) Mensa cafeterias, where a nourishing lunch may be enjoyed for just a few euros.
Mensa cafeterias dish up a good value
Although Mensa cafeterias are commonly found on campus at German universities and packed with healthy, athletically-inclined students, the dining halls are open to the public, and you'll often find yourself dining alongside local businessmen and women. For the adventurous tourist, the cafeterias offer a unique and budget-friendly opportunity to get a taste of the real Deutschland.
Cafeteria food is, mildly put, not everyone's culinary preference. But we enjoy it and embrace it for all of its qualities—healthy portions, light seasonings, regimented serving procedure, and unwavering value.
How the Mensa works
Most Mensa cafeterias require that you purchase a "MensaCard" onto which you can load (and reload) cash. These cards are for sale in the checkout lines for €1.55. Once you have procured a card, take it to the loading machine, where you insert money and load it up. At some cafeterias, you may also pay with cash, but you shouldn't count on this.
Please note: Do not continue with your Mensa adventure until after you have fully loaded your card. The cashier can't load up your card for you. Bad and embarrassing things could happen.
Your card activated, head into the cafeteria. Look for a big sign listing the day's options (sometimes with illustrations), and note that most cafeterias offer daily options that are vegetarian, vegan, and "bio-essen" (organic). If you don't speak or read German, it's a pretty safe bet that you can ask any student around you for translation help. ("Schwein," by the way, is "pork." You'll be seeing that.)
We usually head for the longest line, as it gives us a chance to survey the choices being dished up, and to overhear the ordering and practice our vocabulary. (English will probably not work on the women working behind the serving counter - but a smile and pointed finger usually does the trick.) Once your main entrée and side have been handed to you, slide down to the salad cabinet, and then head to the beverage dispenser. So many wholesome beverages are yours—milk, apple juice, orange juice, vitamin punch... (Note: We're still not quite sure what's in the vitamin punch, but it does pack one!)
Now that your tray is filled with nourishing vittles, head to a checkout lane and be prepared to hand over your new Mensa card. If you're a student, show your student ID before the clerk rings you up, as your prices will be markedly lower.
Our favorite Mensa cafeterias in central Berlin
Mensa HU Nord
Editors pick for dining in Mitte, north of Unter den Linden.
Hannoversche Strasse 7
Monday - Friday,10 a.m. - 6 p.m.'
Mensa Spandauer Strasse
Spandauer Str. 1
Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Pop into this one when heading south of Unter den Linden or shopping on Friedrichstrasse.
Monday - Friday, 8:30 AM - 3 PM
Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.