“Another neighborhood guide for Berlin?” you might be asking. A cursory internet search will provide you with hundreds of results. So why one more? The answer is twofold. First of all, Berlin is a vast and sprawling metropolis (mega-tropolis?), and no two persons will have the same experiences or recommendations for where to stay. The second and more important answer speaks to the beating heart of why this poor-but-sexy city has continued to set and break tourism records every year for the past decade without ever losing its soul: Berlin exists in a constant state of metamorphosis, moving and melding at equal speed with its residents, so even the most thorough guide will be out of date come next year. The year is 2016, and right now, here are the best neighborhoods to stay in Berlin:
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Where to Stay in Berlin
The most recent borough to begin the process of gentrification, cheap rent and a new younger population has attracted a plethora of new bars, restaurants and cafes to this traditionally poorer, immigrant neighborhood. Wesserstrasse is the most well-known strip for bars and nightlife, but travel further South to Schillerpromenade and you will find where all the cool kids of Neukölln hang out. Burger joints, street food, cafes and innovative bars have been flooding to the place. This is in no small part because of its proximity to Tempelhofer Park, the abandoned airport turned community park. Ever wondered what it would be to ride a bike or run down a tarmac? Here’s your chance! Once the Berlin Wall fell and the Unites States military left the airport, in true Berlin fashion the abandoned airstrip was taken over by the people and utilized for the people. In it you will find a community garden, a free bicycle repair shop, and artist created miniature golf course, and many, many performances throughout the summer. Whether you want to soak up the sun or indulge in the night, Neukölln has got you set.
If there is a single borough that embodies the spirit of Berlin, Kreuzberg is the undeniable choice. Kreuzbergers hold the leftist of left-wing politics. It has been home to some of Germany’s most infamous leftist political activists, with some buildings even named after them like the Georg von Rauch Haus. It has been a safe-haven for refugees. It is the heart of Berlin’s famous street art scene. Even more to the point, it is the place where thousands of locals will attend a rally to protest a single old lady being evicted from her apartment. Kreuzberg is the pulse of Berlin’s beating heart, always changing, but never changed. This is the borough where David Bowie and Iggy Pop used to come to go clubbing. They played the opening show of SO36, a venue that founded the punk scene in Berlin and has since become an institution. SO36 is on the Eastern end of Oranienstrasse, and down all the way to the other end you will find a thriving night life with great food and unique bars. It’s the perfect place to pre-funk before you head to Friedrichshain to hit the clubs, or stroll around during the day to soak up the vibe.
Still proudly wearing the crown for Berlin’s Capitol of Clubbing for this decade, Friedrichshain is where you go to party all night (or weekend) long. Most people are visiting Berlin from cities that have laws enforcing when you can and cannot drink. Bars and clubs actually have a closing time. Not so here. It’s entirely possible to leave your place to party on Friday evening and not make it home till Monday morning. In Freidrichshain you will find the infamous Berghain, and a 15 min walk away in the heart of F-shain is Reichsbahnausbesserungswerk (Don’t worry. Everyone here just calls it RAW). RAW was a Nazi train station that was completely bombed out in WWII. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that people moved in to reclaim it, so today you will find a plethora of the coolest, strangest places to keep you busy all day and all night long – some of Berlin’s best clubs, art galleries, a world-class skate park (featured in the first version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater), a rock wall built onto a WWII bomb shelter, a vegan strong-man gym, restaurants, cafés, and a weekend flea market, just to name a few. Right next to RAW is Simon-Dach Strasse, which could alternatively be called “Bars, Bars, and more bars”. If you want to party, party on in Friedrichshain.
Toted as the new up-and-coming Kietz (borough), Wedding is a bit out of the center of the city, but don’t let that discourage you. With Berlin’s world-class public transportation, it’s just a short train ride to the city center or anywhere else you’d like to lose yourself. Traditionally a mostly Turkish neighborhood, rising rents in Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln have pushed many struggling artists and creatives to Wedding, and the new hipster population has brought with it all the quirky weirdness we love/hate them for. Pop-up bars, art galleries & vegan restaurants, clubs in abandoned swimming pools, craft breweries and beer bars, garden parties, and impromptu dance performances on the street are in no short supply in Wedding today. But with all the new millennial madness that is giving Wedding so much hype, the local population has ensured that this is the best borough to get yourself some genuine Turkish and Lebanese cuisine at guilt-enducingly low prices.
Like Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg was once a part of East Germany, so after the fall of the wall it was filled with abandoned buildings, making it an ideal spot for underground parties, illegal bars and clubs, and a cultural center for artists looking for a place to squat rent-free. It was the first borough to become “alternative” and subsequently the first to gentrify. The streets, once filled with beer-toting punks, became over-crowded with baby-wielding parents. P-berg gets a lot of grief today, but true to form, she is making a comeback. Home to some of Berlin’s best cafes and burgeoning new gastronomy scene, P-berg has lots offer. A must-do is the Sunday flea market at Mauer Park. Pay a visit to the Green Fairy at Druide Absinth & Cocktailbar, or check out the Kulturbrauerei (literally “Culture Brewery”), a mid-19th century brewery turned entertainment complex with clubs, a restaurant, a cinema, a pool hall, and a half-dozen other spaces. Night life is on the rise in P-berg too. Arguably the center of Berlin’s newly exploding craft beer scene, dozens of new bars and clubs have opened up in just the past two years, and from the looks of it, things are just warming up.
Once the run down, grungy center for underground techno parties and art squats, Mitte (German for “Middle” or “Center”) is now Berlin’s clean, shiny, boutique shop littered center for all things picturesque. Berlin’s central most borough, it is your one-stop-shop for all the must-see tourist destinations, including Museum Island, the TV Tower, Brandenburg Gate, Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Reichstag, and Tiergarten. In addition to the typical tourist spots, Mitte has a newly growing nightlife. The most unique German of German bars/clubs, Hafenbar, was set to close in 2015, but 2016 breathed new life to the place, so it’s still the best place dance to get your dance on to the most heinous genre of music ever invented: Schlager music. A must-experience kind of place. Mitte is also home to some incredible new beer bars: The Pier and (soon to come) BrewDog Berlin.
This article was written by Benjamin Owen