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Soft white bliss

Remember old-school soft serve ice cream? We went on a mission to rediscover three mass-market favourites that for many – from Moscow to Stockholm to East Berlin – still bear the taste of childhood.

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Photo by Bernardo Ribeiro

Enough of artisan this and handcrafted that, those fussy bio concoctions made with love, fresh fruit and full cream with price tags to boot. What’s wrong with old-school soft serve? Remember those glory days when ice cream was a scoop of pure factory-made happiness? We went on a mission to rediscover three mass-market favourites that for many – from Moscow to Stockholm to East Berlin – still bear the taste of childhood.

Cheap, Swedish and DIY

If you’re looking for cheap and cheerful, IKEA’s bright blue and yellow branding is a shining beacon in the field. Aside from the meatballs and €1 hot dogs, all three of the furniture giant’s Berlin outlets have self-serve ice cream machines next to the ground-floor bistro, where you can get a small portion of vanilla Softeis in a waffle cone for a mere half-euro. The quality of the cone is surprisingly impressive and the ice cream is light and sweet, if slightly synthetic-tasting. It melts very quickly, so eat fast or prepare for sticky hands.

Price: 50 cents (free with a kids’ meal!) Ingredients: Skim milk, cream, glucose syrup, milk powder, thickeners and stabilisers. Verdict: Unbeatable value for money, and a refreshing pit-stop before schlepping that Knutstorp on the S-Bahn in 30-degree weather.

Capitalism’s sweet triumph

Walk into a Berlin McDonald’s and it’s not unusual to spot small groups of post-Soviet housewives chatting over plastic cups of vanilla soft-serve with caramel sauce. Yes, the “caramel sundae” at the ultimate beacon of Western capitalism is best-selling among Russians, who swear by this combination as the closest to the original Plombir of their Soviet youth, the “authentic Moscow ice cream”. (A tip from one insider: “Ask for double caramel.”) The ice cream has a nice texture, creamier than IKEA, but it is super-sweet with the addition of the sauce; not necessarily a bad thing, depending on the extent of your sweet tooth. The cup makes things a little easier to deal with, helping contain what can quickly become a messy situation.

Price: €1 Ingredients: Whole milk (“100 percent Bavarian”, following a relaunch this year) and milk powder, glucose syrup, various stabilisers and emulsifiers. Verdict: The ultimate Cold War re-cone-ciliation.

Ostalgie from a truck

One sure sign that Schönefeld Airport arrivals have landed in former East Berlin? A cute, vintage-style food truck operated by sales girls in bright-blue Young Pioneer scarves, offering Original DDR Softeis. Yes, like the Trabi and Ampelmännchen, GDR-style soft serve – made from powder and served clamshell-style between two wafers – has become a retro cult item. Twentysomething student Karolina Stich launched her ice cream truck in 2015, sparking a mini-scandal when Stasi prison memorial head Hubertus Knabe complained her uniforms were glamourising the repressive regime.

Politics aside, this is some tasty Eis. Delivered from an original GDR-era ice cream machine named “Elke”, it’s creamy but light, not too runny and just the right amount of sweet. It comes in chocolate and vanilla flavours, although we recommend the bright-green, herbal-tasting Waldmeister (available on special occasions only) if you want to truly assimilate. Aside from Schönefeld, you can find it at the East Side Gallery and at various markets and festivals throughout former East Berlin; check their Facebook page for locations.

Price: €2.50 Ingredients: The best-known Softeis powder in the GDR was Komet, but Stich and co. say they use “the market leader” from back in the day. We’re guessing Anona, in which case: sugar, powdered milk and “milk protein”, palm oil, and some thickeners and emulsifying agents. Verdict: Not cheap, but our favourite of the three, and a must for the 21st-century Volk!