Take a weekend in . . . Berlin

Now the tech firms are in town, Berlin is cooler than ever – but everyone can have fun here, not just 20-something hipsters

Fri, Nov 1, 2013, 01:00

Berlin, which has been Germany’s modern capital for only 23 years, has reached a coming-of-age moment. As it attempts to evolve from a city that relies heavily on government support to one with sustainable industries, such companies as Google and Etsy have opened offices, joining technology start-ups SoundCloud and ResearchGate, giving credit to the hype that Berlin is becoming a contender for Europe’s Silicon Valley.

The city’s Wild West energy and landscape is also changing. Certain areas, such as Mitte and pockets of Kreuzberg and Neukölln, are transforming faster than it takes to say “fair-trade organic coffee bar”.

Berlin still boasts a legendary nightclub and art scene, but now it seems that every two weeks, a grown-up cocktail bar or restaurant opens up in Mitte, the neighbourhood of choice for Berlin’s global professionals.

Not long ago even the gentrifying parts of Neukölln were too gritty for most tourists, but these days, even less adventuresome travellers will be charmed by the shops and cafes popping up along its streets. Nowadays everyone can have fun in Berlin, not just 20-something hipsters.

1 Old school is new school
In the early 1990s, soon after the Berlin Wall came down Auguststrasse, in the fashionable neighbourhood of Mitte, was the street where pioneering art gallerists set up shop. Over the years, the lane of cafes and galleries became a bit stale. Last year, gallery owner Michael Fuchs brought fresh life to the street with the reinvention of the Ehemalige Jüdische Mädchenschule, a former Jewish girls’ school, now a complex of cafes and galleries.

It includes Eigen+Art Lab on the third floor and Fuchs’s own space, which will be showing works from Johannes Albers and Douglas Gordon. After taking in the art, grab a glass of crémant at Mogg & Melzer, an intimate modern deli on the ground floor, or a bourbon sour at the Pauly Saal Bar, a stylish space with emerald green walls and a glossy wood bar.

With the Mitte crowd
Katz Orange, which opened last year on a courtyard that’s part of a historic brick brewery building, serves a mix of vegan and organic meat dishes such as lemon potato mash served with porcini mushrooms and artichokes (€19) and short ribs glazed with soy sauce and ginger (€22). The Pantry, an intimate living room of a space on the far north end of Friedrichstrasse, manages to tick almost all of the boxes, from chic but cozy design (giant caramel-toned leather sofa seats, a wall of gold tiles and natural wood floors and tables) to tasty upscale Iberico-Asian dishes such as beef tataki (small portion, €12).

Watering holes
By day, the Monbijoupark is a small green oasis in the hectic heart of Mitte. Recently, the surrounding area became the place to go at night, thanks to three new watering holes. Those looking for gold, glamour and the perfect cocktail should head to TheLiberate, which might as well be called The Liberace, with its interiors of quilted bronze banquettes, black-and-gold wallpaper and crystal chandeliers.

A more relaxed spot can be found in the clublike cocktail bar of the newly opened Monbijou Hotel. The bar that everyone is talking about, however, is Trust, a two-story lounge behind an unmarked door under railway arches, which has just the right mix of international DJ’s and gritty glamour: some surfaces are painted gold; others are of exposed concrete.

Coffee at the Barn
The Barn is a tiny cultish cafe on the corner of Auguststrasse where local style setters will wait 10 minutes for what they consider the perfectly brewed cup of coffee. The beans are bought from small farmers, the espresso machines are made in Seattle, filter coffees are single origin and adding sugar is frowned upon. (A cappuccino costs €2.40.)

If it’s too crowded, head to Barcomi’s Deli, one of the first cafes in Berlin to roast its own coffee beans. (A small cappuccino is €2.50.)

Kapoor in Berlin
Berlin’s current blockbuster exhibition is at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, a grand 19th-century exhibition hall not far from Potsdamer Platz. British sculptor Anish Kapoor has orchestrated a circuslike show of enormous throbbing, bulging, exploding and deflated artworks that spread out over about 32,000sq ft. Admission is €11.
Late market lunch
Farmers, foodies and protesters all mix at the revived historic Markthalle Neun, where every Friday and Saturday farmers sell their organic vegetables and cheese. A work-in-progress, the market hall keeps growing. Heidenpeters brewery opened up in the cellar of the building and more recently so did Sironi, an Italian artisanal bread maker. Grab a beer – there are two pale ales and a Belgian-style beer – at a bar in the market and some smoked fish at Glut & Späne (glutundspaene.de) and take in the local scene.

A vintage stroll
In and around the edges of the bohemian Kreuzberg and Reuterkiez neighbourhoods, vintage treasures are to be found on almost every corner. Start at the cheerful secondhand shop Pony Hütchen, a few minutes from the Markthalle, for vintage furniture, shoes and clothing (a 1950s cocktail dress goes for €35 to €45). Then head south and cross the Landwehr canal and make a stop at the cosy Katie’s Blue Cat to refuel with a cappuccino and snack such as Earl Grey shortbread biscuits. Wander down nearby Sanderstrasse and stock up on affordable vintage clothing and objects at a charming group of shops: Sing Blackbird, Vintage Galore and Aura. At Polka, a sweet little atelier also on Sanderstrasse, the designer Teresa Albiez will design a dress for €60 to €100.

Gastro kneipe
In the same area where Kreuzberg meets Neukölln, sometimes called Kreuzkölln, graffiti-covered facades hide obscure 19th- and 20th-century buildings and the new life that is going on inside them. Several of the most interesting restaurants are in dilapidated-looking kneipes (pubs).

From the outside, the Gasthaus Figl looks as if it could belong in any German Alpine town, but in the kitchen they’re cooking up something new, for Berlin at least: pizzas with high-quality ingredients, including one topped with sardines, capers, garlic, thyme, rosemary, mozzarella, tomatoes and chilli oil (€8.90).

Or head to Nansen, where the small German menu changes frequently and the produce is local. The wild game dishes, such as the venison leg served with an onion tart and sides of yellow beets, are a good choice. (Mains cost €21 to €24). Take cash.

Bar crawl
Some call the phenomenon Deutschlyn; others Berlyn. Either way there are so many Brooklynites in Berlin that sometimes it feels like a borough of New York. In the smoky bars (yes, you can still smoke here) lining Weserstrasse, one of the liveliest streets in Neukölln, you’ll find hipster types who look as though they belong in Williamsburg.

The two major hot spots are the bohemian Ä, an eclectic scene that offers occasional live music, art installations and a storytelling night and Tier, a more upscale hangout across the street.

Party by the Spree
While the squats in Mitte await closure, other communal artist groups have figured out a way to pay their rent and keep the spirit alive.

Artist and director Ralf Schmerberg and the Mindpirates, Schmerberg’s merry band of artists and curators, have turned a complex of rooms along the River Spree in Kreuzberg into a compelling independent art and event space.

One week they might screen avant-garde films and another week they might host a dance party. Visit their Facebook page: facebook.com/mindpirates.ev.
Breakfast slam
Several American expats have rebelled against the typical German breakfast of cold cuts and rolls and are offering up huge servings of huevos rancheros (Mexican-style eggs) or pancakes and French toast. Patrick Blasa is founder of the California Breakfast Slam, a popular weekend event that has recently expanded to every day of the week.

Blasa takes over a faded old kneipe called Lagari with his friendly team. The menu offers 8 to 10 dishes, from an “Eggs of Pope Benedict,” with cured Kassler ham and asparagus, to black bean huevos rancheros, and three specials, which might be strawberry and mint pancakes. About €11.

The eight-year-old Berghain Panorama Bar (€14 cover), a famous club on the second floor of a former power plant, still reigns.

From the wee hours of Sunday morning until the beginning of Monday, the space, in the Friedrichshain neighbourhood, is one big party. The insider secret among those with real jobs is to hit Berghain on Sunday afternoon, avoid the wait and still get in more than 12 hours of dancing. But be warned, the bouncer is tough. so look the part: Wear black and shoes made for non-stop dancing.
– New York Times Syndication

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