The city of Berlin captured my heart when I first visited in 2002. On each return visit I have discovered more reasons to love it. There is a certain magic that takes place when you surrender yourself to Berlin’s charms and let chance meetings and synchronicity take you on a series of strange and wonderful adventures…
Kreuzberg still rocks!
I have to confess to never having visited the East-Side Gallery, that remaining stretch of wall at Warschaeur Strasse where the tourist buses set down throngs to view the 1990s artwork left celebrating peace after the fall of the wall. The place I like to go is on the other side of the canal along the back of the wall, where you can view more recent graffiti and enjoy a take-away coffee from one of the nearby shops while sitting under the willow trees, accompanied by fishermen and escapees from the Berlin disco scene.
The strangely satisfying redbrick ramparts of the Oberbaumbrücke provide a nice backdrop (with a recent sighting of actor Martin Donovan walking across, probably visiting Hal Hartley, whom I hear hangs out in Berlin these days). The first café you come to directly under the bridge towards Schlesische Str. will top up your caffeine levels with cool Berlin music and local ambiance. Or walk on down Falckenstein Str. to the best pizza and ice cream bars in the city, two euro a slice freshly made thin crust delicacies, mouth-watering sorbets and gelato. Continue on to Görlitzer Park to burn off some of the indulgence, and enjoy the family mix in the park.
The Görlitzer Bahnhof area is not as trendy as it used to be, that scene has moved deeper into Kreuzberg around Schönleinstrasse. After your walk in the park, there is some excellent food opposite the pool on nearby Spreewaldplatz. The Assam Indische Specialization on the corner is cheap and tasty, while the Morrokonisch Rissoni does a huge fresh Haloumi Teller or couscous with vegetables for around four euro.
Across the road from the U-Bahn the best breakfast buffet you will find in Berlin is at Morgenland. If you end up in this area at night, take a moment to discover the World’s Smallest Cinema, a few blocks farther down Manteuffel Str., which could be playing cult westerns or schlock horror, the fake rain in the doorway is worth the visit, and make sure you go all the way to the basement. Crossing over to Oranienstrasse is NGKB New Society for Fine Arts, a democratic contemporary art gallery with an excellent art bookshop.
Berlinische Galerie, the state museum of modern art, photography, and architecture, shows work related to Berlin, with a current exhibition: HANNAH HÖCH–ALL BEGINNING IS DADA! It’s worth the extra walk if you go to the Jewish Museum. Ankerklause in summer is one of the best places to imbibe caffeine while sitting over the canal, watching swans and tourists float by. During the week, also check out the Turkish market on Kotbusser Damm along the canal. Take the U8 back to the city purely for the space-travel effect as the train bends and twists around the curving subway route, giving a sense of the wormhole in the movie Contact.
Discover Bohemian Neukölln
Körnerpark is a magnificent Baroque garden, laid out with precision along pathways of relaxing green, reached by a walk down the stairs into this sumptuous sanctuary. The elegant terrace café serves an excellent campari and orange, with a summer program of jazz on Sundays and art in the gallery. A short walk across Karl Marx Str. towards Bohemische Str. brings you to the village settled by Protestant Bohemians fleeing their Moravian hometown in the early 1700s. Stroll through the quiet streets, past a blacksmith’s cottage to one of the beer houses and enjoy the rustic atmosphere.
Rathaus Neukölln is the local town hall. You may never have to register your address with the Berlin authorities, so could miss out on this spectacular piece of German bureaucratic architecture. There is an intricate mosaic of the local area just inside the entrance hall, and a sunny courtyard café by the fountain. Thoben Bakery, across the road, has delicious fruit Kuchen at only seventy-five cents apiece—take it in to sustain yourself during the following. Step inside the cool green halls and wander around looking for information to get the authentic experience. If you really want to mess with the system, enact your own conceptual art performance in a contemporary Beckett piece. First find the Bezirksamt, realize the strange opening times mean you have to come back again tomorrow, take a number and while away a few hours’ people watching in the waiting room. Once your number is called, go to the German official and tell them you’re having existential angst and don’t know what you want, or who you need to speak to, but maybe they can help?
If you really must go to Prenzlauer Berg …
Tisch-Tennis is fun. And the nightly round-robin at Dr Pong gets a little crazy! The best tables for playing ping-pong in the park are at Helmholtzplatz, opposite the wonderfully decadent Wohnzimmer café on Lette Str., where you can retire afterwards for a beverage with the Prenzlauer Berg hipsters. Bring your own bat and ball, but be prepared to wait in line as the tables are in high rotation during the summer months.
Don’t get stuck in one of those annoying soulless café’s on Kastanien Allee. Nip around the corner to Barista Coffee Shop at Oderbergerstrasse 54 and savor the delicious aroma and satisfying taste of their excellent coffee and freshly baked pastries. If the Stadtbad next door is open it’s a wonderful space, the only time I have been inside was for a sound art exhibition, with tiny speakers along the end wall of the empty pool, and the boiler room out the back amplified into a droning concerto.
A moment in Mitte
That’s all I need before the relentlessly cool vibe makes me run screaming from the asymmetric fashions and minimalist galleries. However, the Ballhaus on August Str. is very enticing, KW (Kunstwerke) on opening night can be fun, and Dolores does great burritos, don’t even try any other Mexican food here, this is the only place with any taste.
Take refuge in the Weinereicafé, on the corner of Veteranen Str and Fehrbelliner Str, where coffee and cake are one euro, the soup is two euro, but it’s damn fine and the dilapidated bohemian interior offers a welcome respite from that over-designed over-priced scene down the hill.
When too much Klangkunst is never enough.
Those among you who can’t get enough experimental sound art will be glad to worship at the Electronic Church at Greifswalder Str. 223. Almost impossible to find, with no sign, you may have to loiter outside until some uber-hipster shows you the way. It is in the first block after the corner of Greifswalder Str. and Konigs Tor in the building next to xyz club. The program varies from avant-garde to extremely avant-garde, and the couple who run it will be happy to discuss the music while serving drinks between sets. The high ceilings and intimate space make this pilgrimage worthwhile for devotees of strange sound art.
Craving more? Ausland is a darker more club-like space with a cavernous area dedicated to intense auditory experiences. This venue is not for the faint-hearted; expect to be assaulted by high-octane electronic noise. The cover charge is a little high for Berlin, around six euro. Salon Bruit hosts a semi-regular night for experimental sound art and improvised music, currently held in the Lichtblick Kino at 77 Kastanianallee, the performances take place on the tiny cinema stage. Chill out in the bar afterwards and chat with the regulars.
C-Base is a legendary geeky bar and workshop, home to a cult-like organization who truly believes that Berlin is built on the remains of an ancient spaceship, and the Fernsturm (Alexanderplatz TV Tower) is the ship’s antenna. Certain areas of the city allow access to parts of the old spaceship, and this is one of them. If you’re lucky, there may even be a password for entry, and your biometric data will be checked through their database. Go on a Thursday night for the bar with live performance and musical warp drives. Bootlab alternative media space offers a diverse series of film, music and a community radio platform. Radio Tesla is at Podewil Palais on a Wednesday night, with various music, art projects and a salon during the week.
Fun frolic in Friedrichshain
Sunday is perfect for lounging in the Intimes Cinema or Bulgarian Café across the road (both have free wi-fi) and then take a wander through the Boxhagener Platz flea market. True bargain-hunters will schlep all the way out to Treptower Park, but there are still fabulous finds to be made here. Retire for a drink afterwards to any number of cozy hip bars, Goldfisch (Grünberger Str. 67) and Stereo 33 are my favorites, and the two euro pizza next to the latter is fabulous, or 100Wasser for hearty serves and dark wood ambience. Schraub und Dreh has a great selection of cool analogue musical instruments, and is on Rigaer Str. where some of the last of Berlin’s squat culture is hanging on. Pick up a copy of the ex-berliner for the latest tips and listings in English.
By Jodi Rose
Photo courtesy of Viator.com
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