In May 2012, I spent four weeks in Berlin. I had been there several times before, but had never spent more than a few days at a time in the city. With each visit it pulled me in more and more and I always left those short stints claiming that one day I’d go back for a longer stay. I wanted to get to know this fascinating place on a deeper level, rent an apartment, learn the city streets by bike, and allow myself the time to just “be.” And so, in the midst of my travels between the UK and the States, this is exactly what I did.
Eat (these happen to be just about all in Kreuzberg, which is where I lived):
Avril – typical German lunch/brunch platters (cheeses, fruits, hard boiled egg), sandwiches, salads, tons of outside seating.
Fuchsbau – same as above, along the canal, but unfortunately does not get a ton of sun on it’s many outdoor tables.
Little Otik – owners are from Brooklyn (probably the only English menu I’ve ever seen posted outside a place). More expensive than most but very very good, with a charming interior. Great spot to bring friends too if they’re visiting (which I did!). Menu is a few meats, a fish, a risotto, veggie sides, and some starters which include sugar glazed nuts or something like that! Make a reservation.
Feinste Chinesische Kuche – “fine Chinese cuisine” (does that exist?!). Get the miso glazed eggplant, its sweet and beyond delicious.
Zitrone – German food, good for staple items like weinerschnitzel, perogies, breakfast platters (of course), and the infamous spatzle (pan-fried stringy pasta of sorts, with cheese and sauteed onions!). Lots of outdoor seating here too.
Salon Sucre – well known French bakery with stuffed croissants, breads, fresh quiches and other cakes and desserts, that doubles as a Brazilian hair salon (hence the name)! Open Thursdays – Sundays when sunny, only! (the things they can get away with in Berlin…)
Chez Gino (Wrangelstrasse) – flat bread square pizza with tons of different sorts of toppings (only open for dinner). Favorite is pizza with trout, horseradish, beets and scallions (that’s correct).
Jolesh – Austrian, bit more formal feeling but also authentic, great fish dishes (waiters can be scary!)
Ice cream – long line here at all hours of the day. located in the middle of Falckenstrasse, next to big unmissable ice cream statue thing. Delicious.
Take out pizza across the street from above, literally is in a window on the street. You point to the slices you want, and eat on the ground or back at home. Crispy, fresh and excellent!
Goldener Hahn – Italian food and staff, complete with candlelit red and white checked tables on the inside, and a few places to sit along the bar if you’re just interested in grabbing a quiet drink.
Aki Tatsu Sushi – hole in the wall sushi that absolutely does the job
Nest – great go-to spot for german breakfast platters (“fruhstuck!”), large salads (with ingredients such as chick peas, and other veggies, trout), a few basic egg dishes and good coffees. Picnic tables in the front or a huge, never-ending interior to sit in for hours.
Manouche – 20 kinds of crepes! cozy, candlelit and quirky underground setting when cold and of course, tables outside when warmer
Rissani – my go-to falafel joint, I literally ate here 1-2x per week. My favorite was the huge platters complete with multiple spreads and salads, grilled to perfection halloumi and hot falafel piled high on top. Get the food to go or enjoy it at the rickety picnic tables out front.
Bars / Clubs:
Biggest and most famous club in Berlin is Berghain/Panorama (same place) – it’s been around for years and years, notoriously difficult to get into, most people wait for 2+ hours (I did!), and those same people sometimes get denied right at the door by the judging bouncers. 6am and on, on a Sunday morning (post being out Sat night) through that next day and evening is the time to go. Expect intensity and expect to be impressed.
Club der Visionaere – filled with some nutty, out of their mind characters, understated, located on the canal in Kreuzberg. An experience.
Watergate – on the water, venue is highly impressive, gets busy late
Luzia – newer on the scene, packed and large bar with a good vibe and energy, hidden room on the side with a DJ
Bateau Ivre – coffees by day, drinks by night, local and French
Cookies – large venue, cool DJs, nothing too overwhelming to handle (relatively speaking to the rest of Berlin club life!), but very fun
Dresdener Strasse – two cool chill bars on this street (kind of hidden), good for a Sunday night where you don’t want to go too crazy
Bellmans – back in time feeling bar, fireplaces, candles, simple, really cool
More well known spots – NeuOdessa, Katerholzig, Golden Gate, August 11, Kim, the list goes on and on and on, Berlin has NO shortage of bars and clubs!
Random sites & unique things to do:
Markets – markets are huge in Berlin, there are different ones every day. Turkish market along the canal (Maybachufer) on Fridays and Tuesday is well worth taking a trip or two to (great coffee here when you first walk in on the right and tons of stands with every sort of turkish type dip you can possibly think of, fresh spinach and feta filo pastries, plus antipasta ingredients and breads galore). Mauerpark Flea Market on Sunday is also pretty great, has everything from records to clothes to sunglasses to old prints, etc – it’s absolutely gigantic too.
Gorlitzer Park – in the middle of Kreuzberg, tons of graffiti, gets really packed, locals with bbq’s and guitars around every corner. Some crazies here, for sure!
Old Airport Tempelhof – airport in the middle of the city that hasn’t been in use since 2008 and now is a huge open space used for sports, festivals, art exhibits and concerts. Take your bike there and ride and ride and ride, pretty unreal …
Krumme Lanke (lake) – stunning lake on the outskirts of Berlin, worth a trip if you have the time, for sure
Fat Tire Bike Tours – I highly highly highly recommend doing a bike tour here – yes, it’s “touristy” but it’s the best possible way to see the city and see all of the sites when you don’t know your way around. It’s 5 and a 1/2 hours long, great and well worth it (ends in a beer garden). You’ll see Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust Memorial, Museum Island, the universities, and more.
Berlin Wall – the part where 1.5 miles are still standing. This entire strip has been turned into art, painted by various different contributors, each with a different theme. Amazing.
Eat along the canal – two seconds from where my apartment was, on the water, there is a section with lots of open seating. You can go here, have a drink, get a platter of food and watch the world go by. This area would be right off of Schlesischestrasse around the intersection of Gorlitzerufer / Heckmannstrasse.
Badeschiff – behind the above is where the outdoor pool is (and also where Club der Visionaere can be found). If you wander back off of the street, you’ll find it. Amazing place to go when warm, complete with a bar and DJs on some days. Weekends get completely packed and if you don’t get there by mid-afternoon, you’ll wait for hours. If you walk further along the water from here for a bit you’ll along stumble across some huge statues and permanent art exhibits, pretty cool.
Soviet War Memorial – If you keep on following Schlesischestrasse towards the area of Treptow (on Am Treptower Park Strasse) after about 5-7 mins (by bike) you will come to a gigantic memorial site that depicts the time of Stalin. Striking and worth seeing.
Areas (short summary only, there are tons more but these are the ones you here the most about):
Kreuzberg – definitely has the most chilled out and relaxed atmosphere by far, tons of cafes, cobblestone streets, low key bars, etc. Grittier / grungier feel than the other neighborhoods, much less touristy too. Love.
Neukolln – “up and coming,” started exploring this more as I was nearing the end of my stay in Berlin, wish I got to spend more time here. Might not be so up and coming anymore though.
Mitte – really great area to walk around in during the day, filled with restaurants and galleries, some nicer stores. Two main streets are Auguststrasse and Linienstrasse, they are parallel to one another and are good to wander around on for a few hours.
Prenzlaeur Berg – A lot of visitors I found stay in this area. It can be more touristy and more “Americanized” than other areas, but also holds a handful of really beautiful streets.
Also Friedrichshain (more open spaces, clubs, less developed) and Charlottenburg (more affluent, didn’t spend as much time here!).
A day in Kreuzberg:
As I mentioned, when I lived in Berlin for a month I based myself in Kreuzberg, in an AirBnB. My exact location was Heckmannufer between Schlesische and Gorlitzer, allowing me a great location for full exploration of this eclectic and very cool area. Below is what I would suggest if you’re there on holiday and want to get a good sense of this neighborhood. If you are able to try to do this on a Tuesday or Friday when the Turkish Market is open.
Start your day off at Zitrone on Dieffenbachstrase and Graefestrase (they have the traditional breakfast, plus spatzel and other German staples) and wander ideally via bike along these cobble stone streets. Graefestrase is a great street, very Berlin-esque. Cafe Avril is another good choice. Both are very casual, but good and very local Berlin feeling I think. They are right near each other.
After eating and taking in these streets, head north towards the canal towards this place called Ankerklause as a reference point. Here you will find the incredible Turkish Market, all along Paul-Linke-Ufer canal (my cousins live on Lausitzer Strase, near here). My suggestion would be to walk the market, pick up snacks and dips and then sit on the street or along the water and enjoy. This food is awesome.
After this either cut up Lausitzer Strase or Ohlauer and then go into Gorlitzer park. It’s a funky, crazy, graffiti covered park that is worth seeing. Try to work your way towards and then up Falkenstrasse, a street with a lot of energy as well as a great icecream spot and cool, hole-in-the-wall pizza joint too, should you need it.
From there keep cruising the streets but make your way further up towards Badeschiff, the outdoor pool. Go around there and along the canal there are all these bizarre sculptures in the water- and then keep riding until you hit Treptow and the monument.