Mr Vertigo — Tarek Al Hussein
“I’m from Berlin”
Proud Berliner Tarek Al Hussein was born in 1982 and raised in Kreuzberg.
He has witnessed immense change in his city, both in the past and ongoing; having recalled everything from the suburbian family-paradise of Kreuzberg, American army bases, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the DDR, the rise of the art squats and rave scene of the 90s, the emergence of gang-land battles between the Hell’s Angels and the Turks, and to the Now: the continued gentrification of Berlin — particularly in Mitte, where he is founder and proprietor of Mr Vertigo.
Kreuzberg it seems to him mirrors change the most.
“Berlin ain’t Germany!”
Even still, Berlin is and always has been a city of change and diversity -- “You can tell by the faces” those from Neukölln to those of Mitte. Yet despite all the change, for the past decade Tarek has been a constant, familiar, colourful fixture in his little slice of Mitte. “Wherever I go in Berlin, I always see people I know from here. I’ve been here a long time. Even if people move. Like a Kiez, ain’t it?Berlin depends on who you are. For me, it’s whatever. It just takes a certain Berlin Attitude.”
“I named this place ‘Mr Vertigo’ because at the time, for me it really was ‘the sky’s the limit, nothing is impossible.’”
At the age of 24, Tarek laughs he hadn’t read a single book in his life. And although it wasn’t the first proper book he’d read, — Mr Vertigo (written by Paul Auster in 1994) had a profound influence on Tarek, enough for it to not only be his restaurant’s namesake, but also for every item on the menu to be inspired by its message.
Even today testament to change, and although the menu (and its names) are refreshed daily, stanzas and quotes from the novel line the walls like scripture amongst the Levantine tiles.
“I’ll teach you how to levitate. I’ll teach you how to fly.”
For Tarek, opening Mr Vertigo wasn’t a romantic concept. For him: it was necessity. With a myriad of cultures, a lifetime of experience and gastronomic expertise, opening his own restaurant was honing and expressing his skill; seizing an opportunity that he knew he would not only succeed at, but be the best at. Perhaps the concept of Mr Vertigo — nothing is impossible — was a mantra which drove him to take that first leap: “Everybody’s got it inside. You don’t have to torture yourself or get tortured. You just have to find a way. You got something special inside.”
“I started off cooking with my father” says Tarek, “and we were always experimenting; we always had crazy experiments.” After obtaining a new deep fryer, the pair proceeded to fry absolutely everything for a month.
Once me and my father went for a walk. We found something in the woods, which as a child looked like a carrot, but like a brown carrot.. well something like that anyway. It… didn’t look tasty. But my father was sure he knew exactly what 'that' was from Jordan -- back then, Berlin wasn’t like now where you could get Arabic food everywhere -- so my father was adamant it was, in fact, 'that.'
I don’t even know what he thought really, but we cooked it. It didn’t taste good. He fried it. It still didn’t taste good. And I just said “leave it alone it’s, not ‘THAT’” you know? But he was so hard-headed, he ate the whole thing in front of me — it was a big thing — just to prove to me… that it was ‘THAT.’ But later… Later, YEARS Later we found out it’s just something that you would give to the pork, or to the animals, as feed — not even fit for humans you know? So, I’m just saying we made a lot of experiences with food!”
Since then, times have likely changed for the better! Today everything has Tarek’s signature: “It’s not from Berlin, Jordon OR Bavaria OR Turkey OR from Greece. It’s such fresh food”. With a lot of inspiration and influences “everything has my signature somehow.”