14 November 2014
A Stroll in Berlin, twenty-five years after the fall of the wall…
As the Berlin has recently celebrates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the iron curtain, Plume Voyage magazine offers you A Stroll in Berlin for you to (re)discover this capital city with a guided tour through the legendary districts of Berlin, which make up the city’s underground and alternative reputation.
What ever happened to Mitte, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain?
And where do you need to hang out to meet cool Berliners?
And if it used to be located in West Berlin, where is it now?
Come and explore a post-wall Berlin…
A quarter of a century, a whole generation, has past. On 9th November 1989, the Berlin wall came down, having divided the city that symbolized the Cold War for several decades. To celebrate this anniversary, the capital organized a series of inspiring ceremonies over the course of the 7th-9th November weekend. Besides a magnificent concert on the Potsdamer Platz, 8000 illuminated balloons were arranged in the place where the wall once stood. Over almost 15km, they took the shape of a symbolic white line. On Sunday night, the balloons were released and lifted into the Berlin night, a flight that symbolized the historic fall. But besides all of these celebrations, it is still possible to envisage the wall before and after its dismantlement, by visiting two emblematic locations.
The Berlin Wall Memorial, in Bernauer Strass, offers a realistic vision of the wall in 1989. Whole sections of greyness and sadness transport you back to an austere and controlling East Berlin. At the foot of the Wall, you can physically sense the feeling of despair and captivity experiences by thousands of Germans fleeing the GDR. At the other end of the spectrum, on the banks of the Spree River, the East Side Gallery provides a much more colourful version of the Wall. Over a kilometer long, 118 street artists from 21 different countries have covered what remains of the longest section of the Wall that remains intact. A festive and joyful sight, although equally intense and political. Strolling through this open-air gallery, visitors can understand the impacts of reunification that transformed Berlin from the city that split the world, to an international capital that continues to attract more and more tourists…
When the Berlin Wall fell, it was the residents of its immediate vicinity that were the most affected. The iron barrier separated the Kreuzberg area in the West and Friedrichshain in the East. The last trace of this historical scar is visible from the East Side Gallery, which still marks the border between the two ‘villages’, which were populated by the most anti-establishment and marginalised fringes of the two Germanys. In Friedrichshainm like in Kreuzberg, the post-fall squatters are displaced by a race of bohemians. In a former brasserie, Kulturbrauerei, is now filled with restaurants and theatres. This Brooklyn atmosphere is a far cry from the alternative Friedrichshain district of the 1990s. In this era, illicit bars and electro clubs partied throughout the night. Now, hip families have invaded the beautiful restored buildings who hunt down the noisiest clubs.
The RAW Tempel still exists, this former railway depot housing countless clubs, bars and restaurants, giving you a genuine taste of the alternative Friedrichshain of the 90s. Still frequented by many, many tourists…
In comparison, Kreuzberg continues to preserve a little of its marginal character. Of course, bohos have also flocked to the area in their masses. While Oranien Strasse was the wildest street in the area, regulars are surprised today to find a nail-varnish beauty institute and cool clothes stores!
A great restaurant, called Kantine Kohlmann, has just opened, serving German tapas and traditional cuisine, revisited in a chic bohemian salon that perfectly reflects the gentrification of Kreuzberg.
But old punks and drag-queens organise sparkling sequined parties, reassuring themselves that SO36 is still standing. This legendary club, opened since 1978, has witnessed the ever-changing the Berlin music scene including groups of emerging, eager and restless talent. And it is here that one can be sure to listen to what makes up the alternative beat of Berlin.
Mitte is to Berlin as Soho is to New York. This area packs in the underground and festive life of Berlin. Ten years ago, this is where people came to dance and drink. We rally against the enamel facades and lament the departure of its underground soul. And yet, we always return, tempted by the charm that this area exudes. The Mitte district has done a lot for Berlin’s international reputation. Oranienburger Strasse used to be a strip of bars and clubs. Mitte was the underground party hub of Berlin. Clearly, the area has been unable to escape the general ‘embourgeoisement’ of the city. Even the legendary squat of artists, Tacheles, closed its doors for the last time in 2012. And still, Mitte remains the neuralgic centre of the city, knowing exactly how to reinvent itself. Art is everywhere, in galleries and edgy museums such as the Me Collectors Room. The August Strasse Jewish School for girls plays host to the Kennedy collection, which relives the famous speech ‘Ich Bin Eni Berliner’. Here, you can also find a Brooklyn style deli, with its sumptuous pastrami sandwiches (Mogg&Mekzer) and a gourmet, Michelin starred restaurant (Pauly Saal), a concept incomprehensible to Mitte until a few years ago!
The most fashionable of Berliners reside just a few streets north of Oranienburger Strasse. Their new stomping ground in avenue Tor Strasse, which doesn’t seem like much, but in fact unites the most prominent addresses.
Le Mani is a boutique hotel and, just opposite, the Hotel Ultra is a brand new designer boutique presented in the false hall…of a hotel! Rock label ‘The Dudes’ has its flagship on this street. Asian cuisine of Dudu or Toca Rouge throws trendy gastronomes into frenzy. Much like Shiso Burger, below Mitte, which serves mouth-watering Japanese style burgers. If you’re looking for a drink, don’t be shy; push open the door of this pretend art gallery, which conceals a hidden bar, Buck & Breck. In short, Mitte is a safe bet for an evening on the town, albeit in artist dens!
What has happened to Berlin’s famous underground spirit? This is the question that entices visitors to this city that built its pop image with its graffiti and illegal bars. And so, where is the underground punk and electro scene today? Nowhere. And everywhere, all at the same time.
Neukolln, a district south of Kreuzberg, puts the wind in its sails for the young, because of its cheap rent. But so many bars have sprung from the ground that we can no longer talk about the obvious nightlife. That being said, don’t miss out of the open-air Turkish market that takes place twice a week on the banks of the Urbanhafen. And make the most of it, by tasting succulent ramen in the authentic Japanese setting of Cocolo Ramen. In Wedding, north of Mitte, there are several up-and-coming places that are worthy of their alternative etiquette. The Stattbad is one. This is a former swimming pool in which electro nights are held. Here, you can dance through the night in an empty pool or in the engine room. In this building, despite being situated far from the centre of the capital, you are sure to meet a large band of Berliners. In the same area, hidden in the backyard of a building yet to be renovated, you will find Panke. This bar and club was opened three years ago by Justas Rudzianskas, a Lithuanian with a taste for techno music, playing host to hip-hop and R’n’B groups. The portrait of Notorious BIG dominates one room, as a reminder that here, amongst the hard core music are Blues roots. Panke is one of the rare places in Berlin where electronic music has no entrance fee. In fact, this address is very much off the beaten track! And finally, Volta brings something new to the table for Stephan Hentschel, former chef of the famous Cookies Cream, which really is the flavour of the month. A popular snack in this area that has become ‘the place to be’ for any food addict, offering a ludic and sumptuous cuisine.
Go west, young boy! Head for West Berlin, to discover the new Berlin, which is all-happening and up-and-coming. It is hard to image that until a few years ago, this bourgeois area was still and lifeless. But today, the Kurfurstendamm, main boulevard of the Charlottenburg district, which is often referred to as the Champs-Elysées of Berlin, has a new sense of charm. This is where you will find the legendary Schwarzes Café, open 24/7. Have a copious breakfast or snack at 5am, set against a most colourful nightlife. As for the Delphi, this is an old yet charming 1920s art-house cinema, the only one in the city whose film posters are painted by hand, like in the good old days…Do a quick tour of the mythical Kadewe, a sort of local Galeries Lafayette with an unmatchable food-court. But linger a little while at Bikini Berlin, the cooler, funkier younger sibling, which opened its doors this year. This is a shopping centre for urbanites, uniting designer boutiques in an elegant building that trumps the Berlin Zoo. Have a cup of coffee in front of the great bay windows and coo over the baboons playing outside. Then, head off an explore the 19 “boxes” rented by young designers. These little cubes are rented from three months up to a year, giving these creators the chance to establish themselves without paying extortionate rent on a boutique…as for the larger retailers, Gestalten is a must-visit for smart and cool objects. And in Supermarket, the super cool concept store founded a few years back in Belgrade, treat yourself to a feast in the middle of a type of new look Conran Shop. And don’t forget to check out the 25 Hours hotel, a cavern of German coolness, which has settled itself next to Bikini. In the ‘urban jungle’ atmosphere of the Monkey Bar, this spot offers up a superb view over the area and the zoo…In a word, Kurfurstendamm just grows more and more appealing. How do we know? The CO Berlin, the local contemporary photography centre has just established itself here, a stone’s throw from the Bikini Centre. Co Berlin has leaves Mitte behind for the West side. It is this that convinces the remaining sceptics that this really is the area to watch…
Located between Kreuzberg and Kriedrichshain, the Michael Berger hotel occupies a highly strategic position. This hotel is not dedicated to the work of the eponymous singer but is situated nextdoor to the Universal Music headquarters and many artists make this their second home. A laid-back atmosphere, duplex suites and live concerts…the Michael Berger is a highly enticing place where you can mingle with a crowd of cool, trendy travellers. This local Mama Shelter immitation allows you to immerse yourself in Berlin’s young and creative bohemian atmosphere. With a great quality/price balance, this is a hard rock spot!
Turning to Charlottenburg in the West, the Sofitel Berlin Kurfurstendamm has just been beautifully renovated since the Sofitel group took over at the start of 2014. This seventeen-storey glass façade building consists of 311 bedrooms, each one enormous and overlooking the city. The Le Faubourg restaurant mixes inspired French cuisine with local culinary traditions in a cosy and intimate setting. All the Sofitel expertise can be found in this hotel, which subtly pays tribute to major figures of the city, with a kinetic-art portrait of Marlène Dietrich, which can be found hanging in the hall. In short, during the resurgence of West Berlin, naturally this Sofitel offers a comfortable stay…