From the Berlin Wall to Hedonistic Nightlife: Tips for East Berlin
Berlin makes for a great city trip destination. It offers a great variety of culture, impressive architecture, international cuisine, various shopping districts and a great sense of freedom. This last aspect probably is a direct response to the rather grim history of the country in general and Berlin in particular. There are various memorials in the city that remind visitors of the tragic deaths during the Holocaust, followed by the Berlin Wall some decades later. Nowadays Berlin is a refuge for artists and due to the vast artist community, not a day goes by without at least a few art events, concerts or rave parties, whether legal or not, taking place. On my latest trip I explored bohemian East Berlin. Here are my tips for a perfect weekend in East Berlin!
While on my first city trip to Berlin, I visited the main sights, attractions and museums in the West, this time I took more time to explore the east part of the city. The reason for this was mainly practical: hubby and I were invited to Berlin by Music Tech Fest which took place at Funkhaus, an architectural gem located in south-east Berlin. It was initially used for broadcasting, but after having stood empty for years, it’s now rented out for cool (mostly) music events. Here are some photos of the amazing spaces inside and outside of Funkhaus Berlin.
Friedrichshain: industrial past meets the bohemian
Berlin consists of several different boroughs, each with its own distinctive atmosphere and attractions. We lucked out with our über trendy hotel (see further below) as it was located in the area of Friedrichshain, the most alternative, gritty, yet also bohemian burough of Berlin. This post mainly focusses on this area as I spent most of my trip here. In a way it reminded me of East London and recognised the same process of gentrification taking place here: the transformation of old derelict warehouses and factories into cultural centres, the arty atmoshere and abundance of stunning street art, yet also the emergence of swanky apartment blocks.
At the end of our street stood the iconic landmark Oberbaumbrücke, the most beautiful bridge in Berlin. For a city that holds twice as many bridges as Venice, that says a lot! You can see its elegance and grandeur in the photo at the top of this post. The Gothic-style bridge was opened in 1896 and formed an important gateway between the East and the West over the river Spree. During the Cold War it was the border between the two city parts and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Oberbaumbrücke became the symbol for unified Berlin. The bridge now allows free crossing between the boroughs Kreuzberg in the West and Friedrichshain in the East.
If you follow the main road Warschauer Straße from the bridge further East, you pass the massive former industrial estate of RAW-Gelände (an old train repair station) on Revaler Straße 99, which has been made into an arts centre. It now houses galleries, pubs, markets, loads of graffiti and many quirky things like a climbing wall.
> East Side Gallery: remnants of the Berlin Wall
The East Side Gallery is the longest open air gallery in the world. It is in fact the longest remaining part of the Berlin Wall and is completely covered in graffiti and street art. It runs all along Mühlenstraße from Oberbaumbrücke to Ostbahnhof, a stretch of 1.316 metres. It’s rather surreal to walk along the wall and realise that this existed during my lifetime. Sadly part of the original wall here was destroyed a few years ago to make place for luxury apartments (just like in London, money wins over history). Not many of the original artworks have survived over time and although the new murals are still impressive, having commissioned works on the wall didn’t have the same impact on me. Despite all of this, the East Side Gallery is still an important attraction in East Berlin and is worth the visit.
Shop, eat, sleep, rave, repeat
Friedrichshain is great place for exploring independent stores and vibrant markets. Dutchie Marjolein lives in Berlin and wrote a great blog about the best 13 shops in Friedrichshain, from HHV Store record & urban fashion store to Buchbox bookshop and Hausen for all your interior design needs. Have a look at the complete list of recommendations here (in Dutch). You’ll find bigger shopping areas in the borough of Mitte, which is, as the name suggests, the heart of the city. Shopping centre Alexa at Alexanderplatz is a handy destination if you want to do all your shopping in one place or prefer visiting the more known high street shops. Hackescher Markt is a bustling area filled with shops, pubs and restaurants and on Saturdays you can do your groceries at the food market. Hackesche Höfe is a huge courtyard complex built in Jugendstil style. Here you find all sorts of shops, from craft and jewellery stores to independent fashion boutiques and the flagstore shops for Jost bags and Trippen shoes. If you are into the great German shoe brand Trippen, then I have a golden tip for you! The Trippen Factory Outlet is located just across Oberbaumbrücke in Kreuzberg. (Okay, bit of a cheat as this is West Berlin!) After you’ve crossed the bridge it’s a 8-minute walk to Köpenicker Straße 187-188. If you’re after original designer clothing by Berlin designers, then Mulackstraße in Mitte is your place to be.
There are dozens of options for dining out in Friedrichshain, from Asian to vegetarian, but it was Vietnamese restaurant New Day on Niederbarnimstraße 25 that caught our eye. Most of the restaurants on this street all have tables outside so you can enjoy an al fresco meal if weather permits. After recommending this restaurant to friends visiting Berlin, they loved it so much they returned the following day.
The nhow hotel Berlin is a perfect place to stay if you’re a (wannabe) musician or would like to know what it feels like to play Barbie in a Wes Anderson movie. ‘Europe’s first music hotel’ must be one of the hippest hotels I have ever been! It’s located right onto the river Spree so do make sure to ask for a riverside room! Everything at this hotel is about music and rock and roll: if you want to perfect your guitar picking skills or have a go at DJing, you can order the guitar or DJ set room service. In the comfortable lounge area all the seats are facing the stage where a drum kit, guitar and mic are all set up. In the photo below you can see me during band practice for our new all-star super band with hubby Scanner on guitar and Graham Massey (of 808 State) on drums.
After a long music-making session and an invigorating night rest in your overwhelmingly pink room you can refuel on a sumptuous breakfast from the excellent breakfast buffet in the morning. If you don’t fall in a food coma, you’re now ready for more Berlin adventures!
The ultimate rave destination in East Berlin must be Berghain. This nightclub is located in a former power plant a mere minutes away from Ostbanhof train station. The best words to describe this club are hedonistic and eccentric. Here anything goes, especially on the gay-only Snax events that are held twice a year.
Other famous nightclubs are Suicide Circus, RAW Temple and Cassiopeia.
If you’re quite happy with a less hardcore night out, then Simon-Dach Straße is your ultimate destination. Soak in the bohemian atmosphere and watch the crowds go by while you sip your cocktail sitting comfortably on the outdoor terrace.
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