Inhaling Egyptian Culture at Berlin's Largest Shisha Lounge

Jan 18, 2012
Originally published on January 18, 2012 8:03 am

Google tells me that there are approximately 150 shisha bars in Berlin.

However, considering my favorite one isn't listed or on the map, I have to assume that there's a lot more. In fact, the wandering pedestrian can't spend five minutes in the heart of Turkish Ne√ľkolln without smelling one.... or two or three.

For those not familiar with the practice, shisha, hookah, or Wasserpfeife (water pipe), is used to smoke flavored tobacco.

A decorated glass vase is filled with water, a pipe or two come out the middle (from which one inhales), and a ceramic bowl placed on top is stuffed with tobacco. Fiery coals on the bowl ignite the tasty experience.

It's generally accepted, although commonly debated, that shisha originates from India during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (1542-1605 A.D.). After tobacco was introduced to India by Europeans, smoking took off amongst the higher classes.

Physician Hakim Abul Fath became concerned with the growing trend, and, so they say, invented the hookah, touting that tobacco smoke which passed through a water filter was healthier.

Of course it's important to say this is not true. Studies have shown that smoking shisha is quite unhealthy.

But Shisha's popularity grew and spread throughout the Middle East before being imported to just about everywhere.

Today, much like it was hundreds of years ago, smoking shisha is a social event. Take a couple puffs of the pipe and pass it on to the next person. Nowadays, small plastic mouthpieces are given out to individual smokers so as to prevent the spread of germs.

Unlike many of the shisha hangouts in Berlin, Sehraya, Berlin's biggest shisha lounge is Egyptian, not Turkish, and the owners are obviously very proud of its heritage. It opened in Berlin six years ago, and according to its staff, it's quite similar to shisha spots that one would find in Egypt.

The decorations and atmosphere of Sehraya are exotic and enchanting. The front door is guarded by a shiny gold statue of a pharaoh, and, once inside, visitors cross over a small bridge surrounded on either side by Egyptian paintings, statues, and ornamental water pipes.

Sehraya, in Egyptian, means "comfortable evening with a few friends" and the plush embroidered couch seating spread out over the two story indoor courtyard and carved wooden room separators to section off groups certainly promotes such an expression.

The menu boasts over 40 different types of shisha tobacco, from banana to cappuccino to bubblegum. Alcohol is not served. Instead, the menu bursts with an array of teas, shakes, and traditional homemade food such as besara (pureed beans with garlic and onions), kushari (a famous Egyptian dish consisting of rice, lentils and noodles), and baskets and baskets of pita bread.

With such a selection and a cozy ambiance, it's hard to pull oneself up off the couch and leave. That is until later on in the night when the air gets too thick to see, the music turned up too loud to hear normal conversation, and the inevitable smoke induced headache sets in.

But until that happens, it's pure magic.

Sehraya is located near U-Bahnhof Mehringdamm.

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