Hack the Hidden City: Explore the neat and sexy sides of Berlin

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There’s more to Berlin than parties and remnants of the Wall. It’s home to hedonists, creatives, and people seeking refuge

Over 12 million tourists visit Berlin every year. On their itineraries are Brandenburger Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, and East Side Gallery. Only a few actually venture outside to explore the real Berlin. And those who do, travel back home with stories of non-stop parties and drugs. 

But there is much more to Berlin than what meets the eye. Berlin is a melting pot of cultures. It’s home to hedonists, creatives, and people seeking refuge. It’s ingrained with German history that’s impossible to shake off. 

The city itself is huge. Picking out what to do in one day is not only hard but logistically challenging. It takes you 50 minutes by public transport to get from Mauerpark to Tempelhofer Feld. This is why I decided to create two itineraries for Berlin and let you choose which one you’re in the mood for. Let’s start.

Prenzlauer Berg: The neat and tidy itinerary for Berlin

Haussmann style apartment buildings in Prenzlauer Berg District, Berlin, GermanyHaussmann style apartment buildings in Prenzlauer Berg District, Berlin, Germany — Shutterstock

Prenzlauer Berg is both loved and hated by locals. It rose from a slightly ailing working-class district divided by the Wall, to a feel-good paradise for academic families. If you walk through the neighborhood you’ll see some curiosities. Streets that used to be split down the middle by the Wall, have different names on the left and right sides.

Start your day at Kastanienallee

The almost one-kilometer-long Kastanienallee owes its name to the chestnut trees (German: Kastanienbäume) lining both sides of the street. Restaurants, little boutiques, cafes, and small shops give the street a calm small-town feeling in the middle of busy Berlin. Popular among tourists, and controversial with locals, the Kastanienallee is also known as “Castingallee” for attracting famous German actors, models, and pop stars. 

Brunch with history

Kollwitz Square in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany Kollwitz Square in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany — Shutterstock

After the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a lot of young West-Berliners started setting up shops here. The unshakable quaint corner pub culture slowly gave way to more trendy establishments like the cafe Schwarzsauer. Wedged between old gray buildings, the Schwarzsauer has become a neighborhood institution. You can still have breakfast in the morning and party through the night there. 

Another neighborhood favorite is the cafe and bar “An einem Sonntag im August” (English: On a Sunday in August). A hotspot for Sunday brunch or after-work cocktails, the look and feel of this place is casual, cozy, and welcoming for all ages. Because of its family spirit, people thought it was a kindergarten or playgroup for kids when it first opened in the late 1990s.

Deep dive into literature and German culture

Further up the street, you get to write your own love story. The cute little bookshop Love Story of Berlin is home to a handpicked selection of books across all genres. Its bookish employees even leave little heart-shaped love notes with personal reviews all over the shop.

Sunday afternoons are for music at Mauerpark

Summer at Mauerpark, Berlin, Germany Kollwitz Square in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany Kollwitz Square in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany Summer at Mauerpark, Berlin, Germany Kollwitz Square in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany Kollwitz Square in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany — Shutterstock

The name is self-explanatory: Mauer means wall in German. When the Wall was built in 1961, the green area of ​​the old freight station served as a border strip between East and West Berlin . Since the fall of the Wall, the strip is now known as Mauerpark — a popular hotspot, especially on weekends, with a flea market, barbecue, and karaoke. At the back of the far end of the park, there is still a 300-meter-long remnant of the Wall.

There is an amphitheater for the popular Sunday karaoke, which is hosted by Joe, a bicycle courier.  In the summer of 2009, while performing at Mauerpark, he decided to stay until his speaker’s batteries died. More and more people watched and joined in. Since then, karaoke is a staple on Sundays. But Mauerpark doesn’t just offer karaoke. It has become the breeding ground for many young artists and musicians and is definitely worth a visit.

End the day in Kollwitzkiez

 

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In the middle of Prenzlauer Berg is the so-called Kollwitzplatz. From here the streets go in all directions with many restaurants, shops, and bars. Life in Prenzlauer Berg never really gets boring.

The “Kiez” (English: neighborhood) has a lot to offer in culinary and cultural terms. The old “Kulturbrauerei”, for example. This former brewery hosts cultural events, open-air concerts, Christmas markets, and good street food. 

Enjoy sunset views from the water tower

Old water tower in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, GermanyOld water tower in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany — Shutterstock

The water tower between Knaackstraße and Belforter Straße is the oldest tower of its kind in Berlin. It no longer contributes to the city’s water supply, but instead serves as a residential apartment building. On the small hill behind the water tower is a meadow that offers an excellent view of the city. You can linger there and enjoy the sunset.

Kreuzberg and Neukölln: Delicious and sexy itinerary for Berlin

Sunset at Oberbaum Bridge in Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany Sunset at Oberbaum Bridge in Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany — Shutterstock

In the public perception, Kreuzberg has always been some sort of myth. It’s a very political place — the left-wing scene has left its marks over the years.

Neukölln, on the other hand, is a vast and sometimes incomprehensible district. It’s a true melting pot of cultures.

Go on a culinary world trip 


Kreuzberg 61 which includes the districts Bergmannstraße, Viktoriapark, and Graefekiez smells of spices and sizzling curry. The scent intensifies around Bergmannstraße — where you can eat your way through every continent in under 30 minutes. Italian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, and Mexican restaurants are huddled together in a little over a kilometer. Multiculturalism is loud and proud here. And that is due to the remnants of a strong sense of justice and left-wing politics, both of which have left their mark until today.

Along the roots of Bergmannstraße

Apartment buildings in Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany Apartment buildings in Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany — Shutterstock

Urban warfare raged in Kreuzberg from the late 70s until the mid 80s. Occupations and demonstrations were not uncommon. Around the Chamissoplatz, which is part of the Bergmannstraßenkiez, red flags hung from the windows. 

After the fall of the Wall, everything changed. Kreuzberg lost its cultural importance, and artists and clubs moved to the east part of the city. Kreuzberg 61 developed into a popular residential area for young academics.

Rise to food heaven at Markthalle Neun

From the Bergmanstraße, stroll north to Markthalle Neun. On the way, you can digest some of the deliciousness you have just devoured to make room for more.

The Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg was reopened as an indoor produce market in 2011. The weekly market and the themed markets are well attended with the most popular one being “Street Food Thursday.” The various stalls offer different types of delicacies from all over the world. You’ll get to eat your way through Thai tapioca dumplings, Mexican tacos, British pies, and of course cheese Spätzle from Southern Germany.

Cross the border to the East at Oberbaum Bridge

Yellow tram passing over Oberbaum Bridge in Berlin, Germany Yellow tram passing over Oberbaum Bridge in Berlin, Germany — Shutterstock

From Markthalle Neun, walk southeast in the direction of the Spree river to Oberbaum Bridge. This double-deck bridge links Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain today. But not too long ago it was the border between the East and West part of the city. After the collapse of the GDR, the whole bridge was rebuilt to its former glory before the Wall. 

Sit by the riverbank and wait until one of the yellow trams passes. The bridge’s orange-brown color and the yellow merge together beautifully. It’s a sight for sore eyes and one of Berlin’s many attractions — especially during sunset.

Hunt for vintage gems in Neukölln

Neukölln is a puzzling district. Well over 300,000 people live here, and almost half of them have foreign roots. Roots that show up in the cuisine and culture. However, when young people think of Neukölln, they usually think of Weserstraße — a breeding ground for creatives, and hipsters.

And it’s the perfect place to go sifting through some secondhand shops on the hunt for vintage gems. From Boddinstraße to Rollbergkiez down to the Spree canal, you will find plenty of secondhand and vintage shops to dig through. Some favorites you need to put on your list are Repeater, Neuzwei, and Let them eat cake.

Rave the afternoon away above the roofs of the city

This corner of Neukölln is the embodiment of the laissez-faire attitude towards life. Trendy bars and hip creatives coexist with quaint Berliners in a neighborly atmosphere.

Although the Klunkerkranich on the roof of the Neukölln Arcaden Mall might have already become too mainstream for the district’s hip residents, it’s still popular among the rest of the Berlin population. If only because it’s a great spot for breathtaking views, strong drinks, lively conversations, and good Berlin techno — and you shouldn’t miss it.  

Get sucked into Berlin’s magical Sunset Strip

Sunset at Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin, Germany Sunset at Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin, Germany — Shutterstock

Sunsets at Klunkerkranich are beautiful, but even more beautiful are the ones at Tempelhofer Feld. This old plane field turned promenade, biking track, lawn for sunbathing, and communal garden is Germany’s most dazzling Sunset Strip.

The history of Tempelhofer Feld goes as far back as to the 13th century. Knight Templars, Nazis, and Allies — all of them have passed through here. The field has unequivocally been used by the military for early flight tests and flight experiments.

End your night by looking into the future

Club der Visionäre at the banks of the Spree river in Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany Club der Visionäre at the banks of the Spree river in Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany — Shutterstock

Berghain, a mysterious club in an old GDR prison-like building in Friedrichshain, is a nice experience — at least most of the time. But it can be daunting for the not so well-versed party people. First of all, it’s hard to get in. If you want to practice your coolness and apathy, try your chances of getting inside with the online Berghain trainer. Second, it’s so huge and dark, it’s easy to get lost.

A great party spot, especially in summer, is Club der Visionäre. Perched on the banks of the Spree and enveloped in weeping willows hanging down into the water, it could be straight out of a fairytale. Little would you know that it’s one of the best places to rave the night away in Berlin?

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