Berlin. The city where modern meets history, life meets style and East meets West. Where foreign nationalities are a common resident and you could literally survive speaking English the entire time. Berlin is nothing like you would expect from a German country and I think the locals would say the same. It's unique and its own breed.
For an EU country and the amount of people that live there, I was surprised by how reasonable the rent was. ~ €500/month for a room in the greater Berlin area? Yes please. I doubt it'll stay like that for long though... Judging by the entrepreneurial culture that is slowly emerging, it'll be like San Francisco rent in no time. Move while you can! Or - just visit like we did. You won't regret it and may even want to move there afterwards. (Ahem... me).
Check out our trip summary below. If anything scroll all the way to the bottom for random tips and facts. Thanks to the locals for dropping the knowledge during our trip.
Cafes, asian restaurants and doner kebabs. All plentiful in Berlin. The eateries were not a disappointment. I honestly wish I had more time to try more places and even repeat some. The one thing we always ran into during our trip was seeing a delicious place to eat, then forgetting the place when we were actually hungry. We'd end up just trying to find something convenient and not being impressed. Don't cut yourself short and remember the good spots! There's too many not to miss out on.
Here's a decent list of places we enjoyed:
Tommi's Burger Joint, Invalidenstraße 160, 10115 Berlin, Germany - Delicious burgers and friendly help. What more could you ask for when you're starving? Well, you can ask for tommi sauce! I had originally ordered it thinking it would be used as a spread, but surprisingly it's meant for your fries. (Go ahead and spread it in the burger yourself.)
Transit, Rosenthaler Straße 68 Berlin, Germany - Asian tapas around ~ €3 each. Yes you read it right. This place solves your urge to try a little bit of everything - the curry, the chicken, the summer rolls... you name it. Can someone open up a place like this in San Francisco please? I think it'd be a hit. Oh ya, and the food was amazing.
Royals and Rice, Torstraße 164, 10115 Berlin, Germany - Vietnamese food, reclaimed wood and cool lights. Trendy, I know.
La Pausa, Torstraße 125, 10119 Berlin, Germany - You're 3 favorite words, one after the other. Cheap. Delicious. Pizza. Enough said.
Santa Maria, Oranienstraße 170, 10999 Berlin, Germany - It was a tuesday when we went to this spot. More specifically Taco Tuesday! Their specials are €1 tacos and tequila shots. It was a slightly similar vibe to Zeitgeist (a bar in SF) with the angsty, punk rock staff giving zero f*cks. There are definitely crowds so get there early or right before the kitchen closes (~11:45pm).
Schwarzwaldstuben, Tucholskystraße 48, 10117 Berlin, Germany - A cute humble spot with German cuisine. We had our Easter brunch here and it felt pretty "kinfolk" to be honest. Overall, the dishes we ordered were lovely and just what we had hoped for.
Pontecarlo, Brückenstraße 4, 10179 Berlin, Germany - Talk about amazing home cooked Italian cafe style food. Literally on the same block as our second Airbnb listing, this small cafe/restaurant was so good. My mouth is watering thinking about it... Also the guy (maybe owner) who served us was just a delight. There's another cafe right next door which is pretty delicious as well. Sadly can't remember the name or find it online.
Katie's Blue Cat, Friedelstraße 31, 12047 Berlin, Germany - An adorable spot for a quick bite or drink. Stellar homemade jam, baked goods and coffee. The cherry on top was the sweetest staff.
Sankt Oberholz, Rosenthaler Straße 72A, 10119 Berlin, Germany - A cafe and co-working space in one. For a good cup of cappuccino, quick snack and start up folks with laptops, this is the spot. It happened to be steps away from our first Airbnb listing and every single time we passed it, it was packed. Well you know, people gotta work!
The Barn, Schönhauser Allee 8, 10119 Berlin, Germany - A roastery and coffee shop that much resembled the classic and iconic San Franciscan coffee shop. Unfinished wood, simple decor and hipster staff. Oh and one more thing, pretty decent coffee and pastries.
Shopping. My one vice that I can honestly say - "I got it from my mama." I literally save and save in San Francisco for these moments and trips to places like Berlin in order to find some quality key pieces to take home. Because of course, less is more, and I wasn't going to waste space and money on just shit. (Also helps that I only travel with one carry-on for 3 week trips.)
Anyways, needless to say - there is plenty of shopping that could be done in Berlin. From your classic European chain shops to smaller lifestyle boutiques. They have it all. Don't even bother with the large malls. I personally enjoyed the individuals shops much better.
Here's a short list of shops (womenswear and menswear) to check out:
Soto Store, Torstraße 72, 10119 Berlin, Germany, Menswear - I actually followed this shop on Instagram before realizing it was Berlin. Amazing selection of brands and super cool staff. Highly recommend checking this shop out, girl or guy.
Civilist, Brunnenstraße 13, 10119 Berlin, Germany, Menswear - Another super cool shop similar to the Soto Store. A total skate culture vibe with the selections and staff. When we came to check out the store, they were actually closed and having beers outside the shop. They were nice enough to let us browse. Lucky for them we bought some stuff.
No74, Torstraße 74, 10119 Berlin, Germany - This is pretty much an adidas boutique focused on their extensive collaborations. Don't think you can get away with not going into an adidas shop while you're in Germany.
Wood Wood, Rochstrasse 4 10178 Berlin Germany - Yes you can find this shop in other countries and cities, but this one had a French designer I discovered on Instagram, Jacquemus. I was surprised and excited to see some of his recent collection in the shop. Not sure if it's there all the time, but I can only imagine Wood Wood carrying great designers besides their own collection.
Voo Store, Oranienstraße 24, 10999 Berlin, Germany - My favorite shop in Berlin. A mix of designer, sportswear and lifestyle all together. There's even a small coffee shop connected. This entire shop is well worth a visit. You'll thank me later, that is - if we have the same taste.
There are obviously other shops that are worth a visit but wanted to keep this list unique to Berlin.
Oh the scenery in Berlin. From squatter buildings, to abandoned Airports to historic landmarks. There is so much to see and actual history to be explored. What really made a difference for this part of the trip was the fact that we had locals walking around with us, which provided a lot of insight on certain spots.
Here is a list of some cool sceneries:
"The House in the Wall" - I can't find anything about it online for some reason and I don't know exactly where it's at but there's a house that was built in the Berlin wall at time where there were no regulations on doing so. It still stands today. We learned this on a walking tour. Hopefully you can find it!
Kunstquartier Bethanien, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, 10997 Berlin, Germany - An art quarter and cultural center with cool exhibitions, colorful paintings on the walls, an outdoor cinema area during the summer and rooms you can rent for projects - music or other creative outlets.
Görlitzer Park, Görlitzer Str., 10997 Berlin, Germany - From the outside it looks like a park you'll never really hang out at, but it does get really popular during the summer with people drinking, BBQing and hanging out. You'll notice a lot of "refugees" hanging out selling weed and drugs around the park. It used to be an even worst problem where they would compete for business, but recently there's been a lot of regulation. It can be a fun place, but not a pretty one.
Tempelhofer Feld, Tempelhof, 12101 Berlin, Germany - Previously an airport, but now a "park." Runways and an open field - flat like the rest of Germany. Skate, ride your bike, run or just lounge in the grassy areas with music. Play sports, read a book or have a picnic. Whatever your heart desires. Definitely come with some wheels to be able to go around the entire park - it's quite big!
Abandoned buildings around Berlin - Check out this site which is basically about buildings around Berlin that are abandoned. Explore at your own risk.
Arena Berlin - This could technically be under the nightlife section, but exploring during the day time is actually quite interesting. It is basically an area with multiple buildings made of red brick and weird statutes peering at the tops of the building. These buildings host a lot of larger special events and parties during the summer. I'm sure it looks quite different at night.
Note: There are plenty more "spots" you probably already plan to visit. Tourist spots to be exact. Go to those too - all worth it.
Where restrooms are underground by spiral staircases, second hand smoke becomes second nature and nightlife starts at midnight or later. We didn't even scratch the surface of what Berlin had to offer as far as nightlife goes. Many parties are actually seasonal (mostly in the summer), but don't be fooled. You can probably find a great night scene any day of the year.
One interesting thing: It is pretty common for those who move here to literally party to a point of burn out. No one stops you, clubs never close and you're amongst others doing the same thing. But of course, even with this side of things, Berlin's nightlife is well known around the world for hosting some of the best music talents in the world.
So dance on my friends.
Here's a short list of suggestions:
Gretchen, Obentrautstraße 19-21, 10963 Berlin, Germany - We flew in on a thursday and that night we kicked it off seeing RL Grime. Best decision ever. It is basically a mix between a club and a live music venue. Depending on the music, you'll get a different crowd, but generally it's a place to get down. That same week on Saturday Snakehips was playing - and although we didn't go, I could only imagine it being just as epic.
Prince Charles, Prinzenstraße 85f, 10969 Berlin, Germany - A nightclub/bar that also hosts different themed events. We went for their Burgers and Hip Hop event which is basically an all day burger festival with hip hop jams. What an epic mixture right? Sadly we got there later than earlier so didn't get to experience this place at its peak for this particular night BUT I've only heard great things about this place so I'm looking forward to going again.
Farbfernseher, Skalitzerstr. 114, 10999 Berlin, Germany - Farbfernseher basically translates to "Color TV" since it was a former TV shop. You'll go down a short, narrow hallway and through a door where you'll find an intimate spot with a small dance floor and it's bar overlooking it from a tiny second story. It was easy to chill or get your groove on to some house music - whatever you feel like for the night.
Club der Visionaere, Am Flutgraben 1, 12435 Berlin, Germany - We didn't get to go, but they host open air events which are basically outdoor parties mainly during the summer. A post night-out spot for some day time vibes. We were told some DJs who are now "famous" started out playing music at this spot back in the day and now sometimes come back to play free shows. Sadly I can't remember which aritists, but keep an eye out on their site and Facebook for upcoming events.
Trust, Neue Promenade 10, 10178 Berlin, Germany - A bar/club that honestly looked like it would've been a blast. Sadly they were closed while we were visiting. They've reopened though so lucky you - check it out and let me know what you think.
Katerbalu, Holzmarktstraße 25, 10243 Berlin, Germany - Straight up nightclub. Their website says it all.
Kitty Cheng, Torstraße 99, 10119 Berlin, Germany - Right in Mitte, a bar that plays hip hop. Definitely a different, yet cool vibe from the others but grab a fun group to go and it could lead into a night of good times.
Würgeengel, Dresdener Str. 122, 10999 Berlin, Germany - A small Kreuzberg bar with great cocktails and a real old-time charm to it. A tiny spot for a couple of friends to just hang and chat into the night or even for a date (if you're lucky).
Closing tips and facts...
If you've read to the bottom, now you just need the quick random tips to seal the deal on your next visit to Berlin. Hope everything serves you well.
- Club Mate: A popular mate drink you can get at any corner store. It has enough caffeine to keep you up longer than you think. A hipster's coffee into the night. Please try it.
- Photoautomat: Find the photobooths around the city! The first one we ran into happened to be a color one which was pretty cool since there is supposedly only one in the city. The second time around, we did the traditional B&W. Photobooths are and will always be a must.
- May 1st is their "Labor Day" which is a huge holiday. Lots of demonstrations as Berlin loves exercising their rights, and street parties with many businesses participating.
- OU, Original Unverpackt: A supermarket in Berlin with no packaging. Talk about showing up San Francisco with this one. Would think we would have one of these by now.
- Don't say I told you this, but locals mentioned that no one really checks for metro tickets past 9pm SO at your own risk you can maybe skip buying a ticket or two if you're out and about in the wee hours of the night.
- Most older buildings don't have elevators! Hence why, in some apartment buildings - the higher the floor the cheaper the rent.
- Keep an eye out for abandoned bikes. People end up moving cities or just abandoning their bikes around the city. It is an unspoken rule that you can take it after some time. Normally you can remember the bike's location and check up on it for a couple of weeks to determine if it is fair game. Rusted locks are also a key indicator.
- Keep an eye out for street lights and their "walking signs." They're different on different sides of the town depending on when they were built.
- The squatter movement in Berlin is extremely fascinating. Actual buildings would host hundreds of squatters at a time within buildings. There are still some buildings that have active squatters around Berlin. Check out this cool article on Medium for some history.