Saturday, October 10, 2015

Stories Over Yerba Mate

It was pretty clear from the start that my trip to Germany was what was getting me closest to my latest fixation — Yerba Mate.

Yerba Mate, to the uninitiated is a very popular South American tea. It is drank from a gourd (which is a cup; traditionally wood) using a metal straw called Bombilla. Considering how infatuated we (Mallus) are with anything South American, there was no way I was going to pass out on what is a habit of most famous footballers from Maradona to Messi to Suarez and Neymar.

But the problem was, no one in Germany knew what Yerba Mate was.

The only bit of information I got was that this was the latest fad amongst the hipsters in Kreuzberg, Berlin. And that wasn’t really a confidence boost.

After scouring the internet for Yerba Mate in Berlin, I found a very simple website ( that was entirely in German. Turns out, it is not a shop, but actually a house.

Guillermo Frei is a lively, energetic 74 year-old Argentinian who had been in Berlin from the 60s. He hardly spoke any English, so all the information I have is second-hand and is probably strewn with errors. Or a product of my own imagination.

This wasn’t going to be a pay-and-leave arrangement. In South America, drinking Yerba Mate is a social exercise. The server makes the drink, takes the first sip and passes it to the lady in the circle. From there it goes from one person to the next. Every person has to drink the mate until you hear the slurp through the Bombilla which means it’s out of water. The server (Guillermo in this case) then refreshes the mate. It is a wonderful drink and the conversation was splendid.

Guillermo had many fascinating stories about Germany. Especially about the division. Being Argentinian, he was the holder of a foreign passport. This let him travel between West Germany and GDR (German Democratic Republic) countless times. And occasionally he would take certain supplies with him (he insisted it wasn’t smuggling). The funniest of these stories were when his landlord wanted Cuban Cigars. West Germany was in the hands of the Americans, and the Americans were against Cuba. So no cigar for West Germany. Guillermo got cigars for his landlord from East Berlin, and he still has the same landlord. That’s about 40 years. How many of us can say that.

But his recollection of the day the wall came down was even more fascinating. You have read about this watershed moment in world history. And then you hear it in an anecdotal manner from someone who was running a business in Berlin. Guillermo was in the store and didn’t even know what was happening until he saw a large number of people all moving towards the wall. The way he narrated the sheer joy and excitement of the city gives you goosebumps. There is so much emotion behind it. A city that was divided into two by an actual physical wall. And then it coming back together again. Shivers.

The Yerba Mate purchase was easily the best decision I made during the trip. And not just for the tea. The tea itself is magic. But just meeting such people, and to hear the history of a new place from them, these are the experiences that make travelling well worth it.

I am going to end this with a small plug for Guillermo. I don’t think he needs it much as he is pretty popular with the ‘hipsters of Kreuzberg’. Thank you, Guillermo. From an Indischen Yerba Mate fan.

Guillermo Frei
Planufer 96
10967 Berlin
0049 / 306933939 (He insists that you call him before coming over)

No comments:

Post a Comment