A Guide to Kreuzberg – Hip-hip Hooray!
My picks for the best fun in Kreuzberg, Berlin. For The National UAE, 20 August 2015. A Guide to Kreuzberg
South of the central hub Mitte, the borough of Kreuzberg, Berlin, or X-berg as locals know it, has maintained its razor-sharp edge over the years. Historically, a place of immigrants, specifically the Turkish who arrived in the Sixties to assist with the labour shortage, today the demographic ranges from artists and lawyers to students and diverse immigrant families.
Known for an alternative lifestyle, hipsters-a-plenty, and a fertile breeding ground for creativity and start-ups, Berlin’s Kreuzberg has a gritty-cool factor that stands out. Now joined to Friedrichshain, this former West Berlin neighbourhood was steeped in poverty well up until the Eighties. The existing tenement apartment blocks (most fully refurbished now, with rapidly rising rents, the locals complain) bear testament to that.
Connecting East and West Berlin, with the River Spree slicing between it and Friedrichshain, X-berg provides the visitor with ample opportunities to delve into the local culture. From music and comedy clubs, to museums, shopping, dining and enjoying the great outdoors at an abandoned airfield, the suburb has fused an urban brick-and-mortar existence with pockets of eco-friendly initiatives. Here, you can find urban gardening projects, protected green spaces, markets selling dirt-encrusted organic produce and enough alternatives for vegetarians and vegans.
Berlin cherishes being outdoors in the warmer months, and the parks, outdoor markets, faux-beaches and terraces in Kreuzberg are filled with happy locals relaxing in the sun.
It’s in Kreuzberg that an original stretch of the Berlin Wall, now adorned with iconic graffiti, can be viewed, and Check Point Charlie is a convenient hop away. While many first-time visitors base themselves around Alexanderplatz, those looking to enjoy an authentic, alternative experience would do well to spend a few days in Kreuzberg.
A comfortable bed
Traditional hotels in Kreuzberg are hard to come by. But neighbouring Friedrichshain has some good options, as do private apartment rentals.
For the height of hip in an affordable design hotel with some rooms housing quirky mezzanine sleeping areas and bunk beds partitioned by soccer goalpost netting, you can’t go wrong at the Michelberger (www.michelbergerhotel.com, +49 3029 77859-0). With names such as ‘cosy’, ‘loft’, ‘band’ and ‘luxury’, doubles start at €126 (Dh525) per room. The trendy, arty crowd linger in the eclectically designed lounge or out in the courtyard. Owned by the same people who manufacture the city’s favourite canned coconut water, Fountain of Youth.
The Almodovar (www.almodovarhotel.de, +49 3069 209708 – 0) is unique in that it’s a “bio-hotel”. Everything from the furniture and linen in the sparse rooms (doubles from €93 (Dh387) per room) – originally a yoga-retreat for the owners’ guests, to the soaps and the 100 percent vegetarian food served at the adjoining Bistrot Bardot, is organic. A small rooftop relaxation area, healing massage room and yoga mats in each room add to the zen.
Apartments are available for rent through Airbnb but do keep an eye on the fluctuating local laws relating to subletting and renting to tourists
Find your feet
The main drags of Oranienstrasse, Bergmanstrasse and Schlesische Strasse are teeming with cafés, shops and restaurants. Local Berlin lifestyle expert and trend scout Henrik Tidefjaerd (www.berlinagenten.com) recommends a bout of lazy people watching at any of the outdoor restaurants on these streets.
Take a boat cruise along the River Spree and gaze upon Kreuzberg’s architecture and passersby from a different vantage point. Try www.berlinliquide.com for a private boat tour, or https://www.berlin.de/en/tourism/rivercruises-boattrips with a group.
The area around the iconic East Side Gallery, that still features an original portion of the Berlin Wall is frequented by visitors who want to pose next to it, and locals relaxing on the river banks nearby.
Meet the locals
The indoor market at Markt Halle Neun (www.markthalleneun.de/markets) serves the best of very local, artisanal food and drinks and is loved by locals. You’ll find them sitting in groups at tables chatting the evening away.
Sit on the benches or enjoy a picnic in the area’s parks such as compact Görtlizter and rambling Viktoriapark with local families.
For a unique insider experience, connect with a local or expat like Brendan Power of My Plus One (www.myplusone.net), who will take you on a free tour of their favourite places in Kreuzberg or. Registration to the service costs a once-off €30 (Dh125).
Or hire Tidefjaerd and his team (www.berlinagenten.com) to create a bespoke Kreuzberg lifestyle experience where locals hang out, for you.
Book at table
For a high-end experience that adds shine to Kreuzberg, Spindler (www.spindler-berlin.net/, Paul Lincke-Ufer 42, +49 30 6959 888 0), is a daring move in the area, by veteran club and restaurant owner, Frank Spindler. It’s an elegant bistro without the fussiness, open most of the day, but bookings at dinner are essential. Try the delicate soups and the zander (pike-perch) and harissa. Average mains are from €25 (Dh104)
Kaffe A Horn
The Berlin favourite, the all-day breakfast, as well as hearty German classics like stuffed cabbage leaves with mashed potatoes and homemade pasta can be found at Kaffe A Horn (www.kaffee-ahorn.de/kaffee, Carl-Herz-Ufer 9 (corner Baerwaldstraße) ,+49 30 – 60 05 98 88) that spills outside onto a street-side terrace. Adjacent to a bicycle shop (Berliners tend to bike everywhere), it fulfils the hipster-sighting quota too. Get the bagels while they’re hot. Average mains around €18 (Dh75).
Berlin does great Asian food, and Kimchi Princess (www.kimchiprincess.com, +49 163 45 80 203, 36 Manteuffelstr.) is a fun Koren restaurant where you can enjoy snack plates to share, barbeque items and classics, as well as Korean coffee at affordable prices. Average mains €13 (Dh54)
Traversing Bergmanstrasse is sure to keep your arms full and your wallet light. Voo Berlin (www.vooberlin.com) is a lifestyle store with achingly trendy, on-point fashion for men and women, home ware items and stationery. Great stop for cute and quirky designer tid-bits for the loved ones back home.
Original Unverpackt (www.original-unverpackt.de) is worth a stop, even if you don’t buy any of the bulk produce or staples on offer. It’s an environmentally-forward grocery store that eliminates all packaging- you bring your own containers and bags and fill up as you need.
What to avoid
Despite the gritty appearance, and occasional circle of punks sitting around shooting the breeze, Berlin is fairly safe. It’s best to avoid poorly lit, desolate areas at night, particularly Görlitzer park.
The vibrant Friday Turkish market in Maybachufer for beautiful, affordable produce and freshly prepared food, and a leisurely stroll along Planufer to the Admiralbrücke, a romantic bridge that makes for perfect sunset photos.
Over the weekends, nab a spot at the Tempelhof (Templehof Feld), a disused airfield with ample space to barbeque, bike and rollerblade.
Local carrier Etihad (www.etihad.com) flies twice daily from Abu Dhabi non-stop to Berlin, from Dh2750 pp return.