Berlin is vast, so to help make sure you don’t end up stranded in some urban wasteland an hours travel from anywhere, get In the Know with our neighbourhood guides.
The Brandenburg gate, the Reichstag*, Checkpoint Charlie*, and the Holocaust memorial are just some of the sights marking the tumult of Berlin’s past in this, the historic centre. These places should all be seen (ideally on an Espresso Tour ;)) – but when you tire of the segway tours and touts don’t dismay, another side to Mitte awaits.
Centred on the historic Scheunenviertel, the area north of the Spree and west of Alexanderplatz provides a more chilled and authentic vibe. Having been through the car wash of gentrification, the area is more polished (and pricey) than other parts of Berlin, yet it is far from sterile.
At one time nestled against the Berlin wall, marooned Kreuzberg with its cheap rent and pioneer atmosphere became a haven for those wanting to escape the hamster wheel of West Germany. Creatives, rebels and freaks of all flavours flocked here bringing with them a non conformist streak which still defines the area today.
A long established Turkish community adds some eastern Mediterranean flair to the sights, smells and sounds of the area (not to mention some of the best Kofta and Kebab you will find on the planet).
Despite local resistance, an advanced stage gentrification means things aren’t as gritty (or as affordable) as they used to be, yet X’berg still packs a punch. Try not being impressed by the mix of humanity at Wrangelkiez, Heinrichplatz or Görlitzer Park. Colourful, rebellious and edgy, Kreuzberg is a quintessential cog of the cities counter culture, without which Berlin wouldn’t be half the city it is.
Over the Spree from Kreuzberg this former industrial neighbourhood caught much of the squat-seeking spillover when the wall came down in ’89. In the mean time, the border between the two districts has blurred, and the restored and often crossed Oberbaumbrücke connecting the two has become one of the many unofficial symbols of reunification.
If Friedrichshain is known for one thing these days though, it is the nightlife, with many of the more notorious clubs thumping away to the wee hours. Including the near mythical temple of debauchery – Berghain.
Like its neighbour, Friedrichshain is home to an an established community of artists, students and free thinkers but don’t be fooled – F’hain and X’berg are entirely different beasts. They spent 40 years divided after all, and the communist years have quite literally left their mark. Look at the grandiose architecture on Karl Marx Allee or, the border wall turned art gallery, the East Side Gallery to see what the communists left behind.
A traditionally working class community quickly becoming hipster heaven Neukölln is a prime example of gentrification in action. The closing of the Tempelhof air field in 2008 saw an increase in interest in the area, and the first wave has arrived in all its fixed-geared, bearded and skinny-jeaned glory.
Don’t let our sarcasm put you off though, there’s more to the area than craft beer and bowl cuts. A large Arab population adds some middle eastern flair with minarets, sheesha bars and tea houses a common sight. Diverse, creative, edgy (but with good coffee) Neukölln is an exciting and enigmatic district which embodies much of what many love about this city. Weserstrasse, Schillerkiez and Reuterkiez all attest to the vibrancy of the area.
Although a little out of the way, spend some time in Neukölln and you may just discover why many Berliners never leave their Kiez.
Prenzlberg is often written off as gentrified beyond all hope. And it’s true that the once rebellious wild child seems to have shaven the mohawk, slipped on some Hausschuhe and had babies – lots and lots of babies. But even for the infant adverse “Pregnancy hill” should not be cast out with the bath water.
During cold war division the area became a haven for rebellious East Germans and many resistance movements were born here. The non conformist streak continued after the wall crumbled when disillusioned west Berliners joined the party and many squats were established in the area.
The punks and freaks have since become outnumbered by machiatto-muttis and the stroller pushing “walking dad”. But look past the teeming playgrounds and Kinderwagen clogged footpaths, head for Kastanien Allee, Kollwitzkiez or Mauerpark and you’ll find a rich undercurrent of creativity and joi de vivre unparalleled in Berlin.