Berlin’s long been known as the coolest city in Europe – a true cultural melting pot of creative cool. But does it live up to the hype? We headed there to find out if it’s still got what it takes.
Our last trip to Berlin was focused on uncovering the hottest galleries, museums and other arty spots. This time, we ditched the itinerary and just HUNG OUT. We immersed ourselves in Berlin’s most infamously hip and creative ‘hoods: Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain and Neukölln.
And, boy, did they not disappoint. Think: supper clubs hidden behind unmarked doors, dark underground clubs, and groundbreaking art by creative communes.
We began at Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain, an area referred to by many as Berlin’s bohemia. Friedrichshain manages to connect with its East German past, while harbouring the most forward-thinking, alternative youth scene, thanks to low rents. It’s where some the best bars, clubs and arty squats Berlin is famous for are found.
We found that old East Kreuzberg has retained some of its gritty street vibe – this is the birthplace of Berlin’s punk scene – now with a cosmopolitan mix of cool kids and Turkish immigrants. But signs of the gentrification that has changed West Kreuzberg are already evident.
Feeling pretty hungry, we headed to Big Stuff Smoked BBQ for lunch. Hip barbecue places have been taking Berlin by storm recently, and this is definitely one of the best. It’s actually a sort of indoor food shack camped inside an old market hall, which gives the whole set-up a fun festival vibe. It gets all of its meat from pedigree breeders in regions around Berlin and specialises in teasing the best out of low-cost cuts. We couldn’t get enough of the amazing pulled pork.
When we were done stuffing our faces, we ventured over to the iconic East Side Gallery, which is the world’s largest open-air art space. It’s not nearly as cool as you’d think it’d be, but head to the man-made beach bar here, Strandgut, to party Ibiza-style around a pool, or to the neighbouring Jamaican equivalent, Yaam, for jerk chicken and rum.
Post-art fix, we headed to the old Tempelhof Airport, which is now a thriving park. On this pretty warm Saturday afternoon, kite surfers were careering down the old runway’s asphalt, and the lawns were full of hipsters picnicking. This vast prairie is largely tourist-free and is hugely popular with locals, not least because it borders both Kreuzberg and the newly fashionable Neukölln district.
Now, any young Berliner will tell you that Neukölln is where it’s at. Neukölln has always felt multinational, but in the last few years the low rents of this gritty neighbourhood have attracted the hip creative classes, who have brought their bicycles, boho bars and attitude.
Chatting we locals, we soon found out, however, that they’re resisting the gentrification that will raise rents. The more tourists start venturing this far east, the more outside investment will come, which will push up prices. Signs with the call to arms – ‘Be creative and active against gentrification’ – are posted on the walls.
That being said, it’s still got some of the most low key and lovely bars, with none of the queues or chaos of Kreuzberg, as well as many great restaurants like the highly-lauded Lavanderia Vecchia and the tiny hole-in-the-wall, Berlin Burger International.
Hopping from bar-to-bar on Welchselstrasse, we couldn’t be happier that Berliners do not want their gritty derelict aesthetic to be made nice.
These creative ghettos have still go it.