Saturday 14 July 2001 01.42 BST
Marc and Anne make the best sandwiches in Berlin: crisp golden baguettes filled with jambon cru, pate, and Camembert.
Both are from Paris, although Anne was brought up in Germany. They met when he was working at Galeries Lafayette here and decided to found Marcann’s when « we were bemoaning the fact that you couldn’t get a breakfast like in Paris, with hot croissants and good coffee ».
They are heirs to a long tradition in Germany’s most Frenchified city. It began when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had given French Protestants a degree of religious tolerance.
Seizing an opportunity to repopulate Brandenburg, which had been stripped of almost half its inhabitants by the 30 years’ war, the Great Elector, Frederick William I, offered them refuge.
Earlier this month a commission urged Gerhard Schröder’s government to launch a programme of controlled immigration to offset the projected decline in population made inevitable by Germany’s low birth rate.
The proposals were greeted as revolutionary, but they are nothing new.
By 1700 about a quarter of the Berlin population was French and there is evidence that the share increased over the rest of the century.
Giles MacDonogh, in his profile of the city (Berlin, St Martin’s Press, 1998), quotes a late 18th-century warning to visitors that « almost always is it safer to address a stranger in French, rather than German ».
The Huguenots who, like Marc and Ann, often went into the catering business, popularised broccoli, artichokes and, above all, asparagus, which to this day is an obsession among Berliners.
Come springtime it is nigh impossible to find a restaurant which is not offering a menu packed with dishes of the thick white asparagus grown south of the city around the village of Beelitz.
French influence sheds light on many of Berlin’s peculiarities. It explains why this most apparently German of cities acquired a French cathedral and a French gymnasium, and why it has a district called Moabit: a former Huguenot quarter called after the land to which the Israelites fled from Egypt.
It may also explain that streak of rebelliousness, so uncharacteristic of the rest of Germany, which is at the core of the Berliners’ sense of identity.
In the 19th century the Huguenots integrated completely. But the traces of their presence are still very much alive in the local slang.
The other day I was in a hurry and struggling to get the right change out of my pocket for the newsagent.
« Dooz-e-mang, » she seemed to be saying. « Dooz-e-mang. » It was only when I saw it later in a glossary of slang that I realised she was saying « dusemang » – doucement .