Join Berlin’s artsy types for brunch, then check out the galleries, parks and nightlife in creative Kreuzberg with insider tips from a local
Few neighbourhoods illustrate Berlin’s transformation with such vividness as Kreuzberg. Once enclosed on three sides by the Berlin Wall, this former West Berlin neighbourhood, immediately south of the river Spree, drew immigrants, hippies, artists and squatters while the city was divided. It feels more gentrified and upscale these days but still has a revolutionary streak, and is now the hub of Germany’s digital currency boom, with the world’s highest density of businesses accepting Bitcoin. If you come, rent a bike: it’s by far the best way to get around.
11am If Berlin were a country, brunch would be its national sport. Allow a couple of hours to really get into the languid approach taken by locals.
“Holy shit, I hit jackpot!” a new-in-town Turkish friend texted me. He had just discovered the fragrant sesame-studded simit rolls and searing pans of menemen (scrambled egg with peppers and tomatoes) at down-to-earth La Femme 1, a stalwart of Kreuzberg’s Turkish community, which is among the world’s largest outside of Turkey itself. Or try Nest 2, on the edge of Görlitzer Park, which describes its cuisine as German-Mediterranean: traditional breakfasts – cured meats, scrambled eggs and jams, all scooped up on dark bread and chewy, seeded rolls – are served to a young crowd at communal tables in deliberately stripped-down surroundings. There’s always Birchermuesli if you’re feeling noble. In fine weather, go for a quick post-brunch constitutional in the park: it’s charming in its scruffiness and one of the best places to kick back in the sun with a bottle of beer or a Club-Mate – iced maté tea that is the Berlin hipster’s fizzy drink of choice.
1pm On the south-west border of Kreuzberg, is the vast Tempelhofer Freiheit 3, park. Berlin is good at urban renewal and the repurposing of the old Tempelhof Airfield, which closed in 2008, may be the best example, with plenty of space to barbecue, picnic, create and play. You can trade in your bike for a little electric scooter from the stand near to the train station, and enjoy the tailwind as you zoom up the old runway (Segways are also an option, but you can’t rent one without booking in a training ride beforehand).
Rainy day? No problem: take a tour of the disused airport terminal: it’s fascinating both from an architectural perspective and as a snapshot of Berlin history. Decades of change are evident throughout the building, from the burnt-out secret bunker where the Nazis stored celluloid film, to a ticket hall branded with now-defunct airlines and the top-floor gymnasium where American GIs spent their free time until the fall of the wall, playing basketball and taking each other on at 10-pin bowling.
2:30pm Following the fall of the wall in 1989, dozens of artists crossed over to the east and used the blank concrete as a canvas. Together, the images they created form a stunning memorial to freedom. The East Side Gallery 4, is still standing in spite of pressure from property developers, with 100 paintings on display. And though many of them are faded and have been damaged with grafitti, the Gallery remains an essential snapshot of the elation and anxieties of the reunification era unlike any other spot in the city.
3.30pm Berlin takes its coffee seriously, and there are plenty of contenders for the crown of the city’s best cup. Five Elephant 5, may be Kreuzberg’s strongest example. Away from the main tourist drags, it is a tucked-away neighbourhood roastery, offering a wide selection of coffees accompanied by freshly baked cakes. A bag or two of their special beans make a perfect souvenir.
5pm Visit the Aufbau Haus 6, at Moritzplatz: it’s a former factory reimagined and reopened in 2011 as a centre for culture. The building houses creative businesses, artists’ workshops, galleries, cafes and more. On any given Saturday you can see exhibitions and performances, shop in the excellent bookstore or graze in the complex’s foodie haven, Coledampf’s & Companie .
8pm If it’s chilly, book ahead for a cosy Breton-style evening of crepes, galettes and cider at Manouche 7. Summer evenings are better spent over burgers oozing cheese and other toppings at Kreuzburger 8, which has good choices for vegetarians, too. Or head to Hasir, a Kreuzberg institution, for a sumptuous spread of Mediterranean-style grilled meats, fish and small meze plates. There are two branches on Adalbertstrasse: go to Hasir Ocakbasi 9, at number 12 and you can watch your meal being prepared on the vast open grill.
11pm Stroll to buzzy Dresdenerstrasse, a side street whose bars and restaurants often spill out on to the pavement. Wuergeengel 10, serves ginger gimlets to a sophisticated but totally unstuffy pre-club crowd, or sit at the bar at Ottorink 11, where a kind sommelier will teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about weisswein from German vineyards. If you feel like kicking up your heels, Das Hotel 12, is a cocktail bar that evolves into a dancefloor as the night wears on, with DJs spinning a mix of indie, soul, electro and a bit of house – this is Berlin, after all. There’s a proper club downstairs if you want to pick it up a notch.