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By Alexandre Schuck, French-German Berlin local who has been exploring the secrets of Germany’s diverse capital for the past two years.
Edited by Elodi Troskie
Berlin is an incredibly diverse capital. What I love most about this city is how quickly it can go from classy and sophisticated to alternative and even trashy in just a few streets – the contract is fascinating! Amid all the historical sites and beautiful old buildings, there is so much to discover off the beaten path in Berlin. If you’re planning a trip to Germany’s capital and want to explore the non-touristy parts of Berlin, this guide is the perfect place to start. Here are 10 hidden gems in Berlin you can’t miss.
The best place to start exploring alternative Berlin is at the East Side Gallery, the largest open-air gallery in the world. This nationally protected memorial forms a part of the Berlin Wall Foundation to preserve the history of the border strip that divided Berlin until 1989. East Side Gallery is one of the coolest places in Berlin. The largest single remaining part of the former Berlin Wall, this 1.3 kilometre stretch of wall has been covered with more than 100 paintings by artists from all over the world. Some of these paintings have become world-famous and you’ll often see them printed on postcards in Germany, like Dmitri Vrubel’s “The Mortal Kiss” and Birgit Kinder’s “Trabi”. A must visit attraction in Berlin.
Not too far from East Side Gallery, you’ll find Mauerpark, the best public park in Berlin. Although the park is open throughout the week, the best time to visit is on Sundays, when it lights up with karaoke, street food stalls and the massive flea market selling vintage gems of all sorts. Mauerpark is a popular place for families to hang out since there’s so much open space for children to play around. Keep an eye on their Facebook page to stay updated with events happening in the park. If you’re lucky, you can catch a live music concert or might even encounter some local artists playing their music in the park. A top pick for fun things to do in Berlin over the weekend!
Neukölln used to be one of the city’s poorer areas, but nowadays it’s one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Berlin, especially popular amongst the younger generation and expats. This area is really diverse because there are so many foreigners living here. Even if you don’t stay in this area during your time Berlin, it’s worth a visit to explore the multitude of bars, trendy cafes, art galleries and vintage stores. If the overflow of coffee shop frequenting hipsters is too much for you, head over to Schillerpromenade, a formerly abandoned airport that has been remodelled into a community space and public garden – a peaceful hidden gem amid Berlin’s busy urban life.
Berlin used to have many markets, but sadly most of them have closed. Today there are only three remaining historical markets in Berlin, of which Markthalle Neun is the best. Originally established in 1891, the market was revived as a local’s farmers’ market in 2011. The market is open from 12:00 until 18:00 every day of the week except on Sundays. But the best day to visit is on Thursdays, when vendors set up shop to sell street food dishes from countries all over the world. Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese… You name it! Special markets are also held on certain occasions, like the Breakfast Market that takes place every third Sunday of the month, or the dreamy Naschmarkt that takes place once every quarter. Depending on when you visit Berlin, you might even catch one of the festivals hosted by Markthalle. There’s a Berlin Coffee Festival, a Cheese Festival and a typically German Wurst & Beer Festival. A visit to this charming food market is one of the coolest unique things to do in Berlin!
The Berlin Cathedral, known to the locals as the Dom, is one of Berlin’s most famous attractions. The cathedral was built in the early 1900’s and has undergone drastic renovations to repair bomb damage from the war. Although the Dom is hardly a site you can overlook, not all visitors take full advantage of the Dom itself – the temple’s dome from where you’ll have an incredible view of Berlin once you’ve made your way up the almost 300 steps to the top. The cathedral’s opening hours are from 09:00 until 20:00 during the week and from midday until 20:00 on Sundays. Admission is 7€ for adults and 5€ for students.
You can’t leave Berlin without have a pint or three of German beer. Although there’s definitely no shortage of beer on tap in Berlin, the best bars are often hidden away. If you want to avoid tourists, the locals’ watering hole Eschenbräu is a great option. Located in a quieter part of the popular Mitte district, Eschenbräu is a small brewery offering a selection of 20 home-brewed beers. This is also one of the best places to eat flammkuchen in Berlin – the Germans’ wood-fired, ultra-thin take on pizza. If you’re in Berlin during summer, Eschenbräu’s courtyard is the perfect place to enjoy locally brewed beers and classic German cuisine while making the most of the sunny days. Eschenbräu is open every day from 17:00 until late.
If you’re looking for cool things to do in Berlin at night that doesn’t involve beer and currywurst, a bar I’d recommend is Fahimi – a dark and cosy speakeasy located in Skalitzer Street. A trend that’s been picking up in Berlin lately is the unique bunker bars, typically established in unusual locations like old industrial buildings that have been renovated. Relatively new, Fahimi is still a bit of a secret spot in Berlin. The bar looks out over the train tracks of the U-Bahn, adding to the rustic urban feel. The menu includes light food and bar snacks, but Fahimi’s speciality is their amazing cocktails. This is the perfect place if you’re in the mood for something a laid-back yet classy! Fahimi is open from 19:00 until late.
The Dong Xuan Centre, also known as Berlin’s Vietnamese Mall, is a massive market where you’ll find anything from food and drinks to tattoo parlours and nail salons. Most of the vendors at Dong Xuan are Vietnamese and the market is a significant hub for the Vietnamese community in Berlin. Dong Xuan is one of the most interesting locations off the beaten path in Berlin. You can spend the entire day at the market trying traditional Vietnamese food, buying souvenirs or even getting a cheap tattoo. Keep in mind that many of the stalls only accept cash. The market is open from 10:00 to 20:00 every day except Tuesdays.
One of the best kept secrets in Berlin is the weekly open mic poetry sessions in the basement of Du Beast. This charming bar located in the alternative Neukölln neighbourhood is home to Thursdays’ poetry performances hosted by Berlin Spoken Word. Germany is considered the spoken word capital of Europe, so it’s no surprise that these poetry nights are so popular. Drop by for an evening of poetry and storytelling while sipping on cold drinks from the bar. If you’re feeling brave, you can even get up there yourself to share your humble art with fellow poetry lovers!
If you just have one day in Berlin, make sure you put Urban Spree on your itinerary. This multi-purpose artistic space situated in the Friedrichshain area is a melting pot of everything art: art exhibitions, live music, tattoo artists and workshops. Start your tour of Urban Spree during the day so that you don’t miss out on the outdoor graffiti and street art installations surrounding the gallery’s warehouses. At night, you can watch street music performances, attend a live music concert in the Concert Room or hang out at the beer garden. Keep an eye out for events like outdoor movie screenings and music festivals.
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