Our microguides series is inspired by the slow travel movement, encouraging travellers to relax their pace and take a deep dive into one particular neighbourhood in a well-loved city. Rather than a whirlwind itinerary which aims to hit up every must-see attraction, these compact, close-up guides encourage you to zone in, take your time and truly explore like a local.
Being on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall wasn’t all bad news for Prenzlauer Berg. After Germany’s reunification, this dynamic, neglected neighbourhood of historic buildings and leafy squares was ripe for evolution, drawing followers of every youth culture from punk and rave to hipster. Today, along with the adjacent districts of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, this central-east part of the city is Berlin’s counterculture hub.
Though recent years have seen it become somewhat gentrified, Prenzlauer Berg is still the most exciting base for a Berlin city break. Bohemian, laidback and very international, this isn’t somewhere you visit for landmark museums and attractions: it’s more about being than seeing, with stacks of places to eat, drink and hang. It’s packed with cool urban experiences, but the real buzz lies in its “kieze”, or micro-neighbourhoods. The one around Oderberger Strasse is particularly worth exploring, for its upbeat bars and restaurants tinged with traces of Berlin Wall history.
Delve into Berlin Wall history
Oderberger Strasse gives way to the Mauerpark (Wall Park), a lively green space where people picnic and play on what was once the “Death Strip” between sections of wall, patrolled by dogs and raked by searchlights. Markers show where the structure stood, while memorials on nearby streets recall the fall of the Wall.
Catch a cultural explosion
At the other end of Odeberger Strasse is Kulturbrauerei, a former brewery reborn as a busy cultural hub. Whatever you’re into, you’ll find it among its nightclubs, cinema, concert halls and Sunday street food market, with seasonal flair from a beer garden or Nordic Christmas market.
Take a dip
When the colder months call time on wild swimming in Berlin’s lakes, historic swimming pool Stadtbad Oderberger comes into its own. This 20m pool fills a historic, cathedral-like, triple-height space originally built in 1899 and recently restored; the water is flanked by high arches and galleries, making for a memorable dip. You’ll need to reserve a time slot; admission from €9pp.
Explore on two wheels
The neighbourhoods of Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg are each full of hidden-away bars and surprises you’re unlikely to find on your own. Discover the secrets of all three districts (plus the famous Eastside Gallery) on an Alternative Berlin tour with Berlin on Bike (from €32pp).
With options spanning pizzas and burgers to Georgian, Korean, Levantine and Persian, there’s scope to try all sorts of world cuisines. Israeli/Palestinian Kanaan is a favourite for its veggie and vegan sharing plates such as “hummushuka” (shakshuka with hummus) and family-recipe falafel.
It’s well worth joining the queue that seems a permanent feature outside Hokey Pokey. This high-end ice cream parlour offers up scoops of smooth, rich, frozen goodness in blueberry meringue, carrot cake, Very Cherry and other interesting flavours.
Eating out comes with feel-good factor at Japanese-inspired November. As well as a raw bar, sushi menu and fusion dishes such as schnitzel with kombu butter, it’s all manned by refugee restaurateurs who are making a fresh start in Germany.
For a deep dive into local flavours, pay a visit to the Ökomarkt (“ecomarket”) held on Kollwitzplatz every Thursday for organic, farm-fresh produce from rural Brandenburg, plus street food, souvenirs and handicrafts. Not here midweek? Another market (though not exclusively organic) sets up on Saturdays.
Berlin has some catching up to do in terms of coffee culture, but leading the charge are cafes of the calibre of Barista, which serves some of the city’s best flat whites and lattes (not to mention pastries and blondies).
Balmy days in Berlin are best celebrated in a beer garden. Prater, tucked away behind Kastanienallee, is the city’s oldest, and opens seasonally each spring until late summer. With its outdoor benches and fairy lights, it’s a great spot for sinking a couple of schwarzbiers or Berliner pilsners.
An Einem Sonntag im August
When winter temperatures shoo socialising indoors, cross Kastanienallee to An Einem Sonntag im August. Decked out in vintage furniture and dressed with sprays of dried flowers, this cosy neighbourhood bar has a homey vibe that’s uplifted by resident DJs.
Most shops are shut on Sundays, which is when the city’s flea markets come into their own. The one in Mauerpark draws crowds: come for the vintage clothes, handicrafts, homewares, art and accessories; then stick around for performances by talented buskers and an open-mic singalong.
There’s plenty more vintage shopping to be found around the kiez. Paul’s Boutique is particularly good for second-hand trainers, streetwear and collectable figurines from the likes of He-Man, Star Wars and The A-Team.
Prenzlauer Berg as a whole is great for independent boutiques and designers. One to look out for is Aurelia Paumelle, a French-born fashion brand whose seasonless sweaters, T-shirts and bomber jackets are sustainable, gender-neutral and locally made with fair-trade fabrics.
For a boutique stay with stacks of charm, Hotel Oderberger delivers. The building’s heritage (it was formerly a bathhouse serving residents of neighbouring tenement blocks) is preserved through original features such as stall doors and tiled walls, married with contemporary styling.
For a boutique stay with stacks of character, Linnen ticks every box. With six individually designed rooms, the vibe is more one of “home” than “hotel”, so staying here – in rooms with original features, reclaimed wood and upcycled furniture – makes you feel like a local.
For more in the way of budget digs, try Pfefferbett: a well-above-average hostel with private en-suite rooms in addition to dormitory beds.
Read more of our best Berlin hotel reviews
You can get to Berlin from the UK entirely by train. Take the Eurostar from London to Brussels; from there you can take one high-speed ICE train onward to Cologne, followed by another to Berlin.
Airlines including Ryanair, easyJet and British Airways fly from multiple UK airports to Berlin Brandenburg.
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