But, make no mistake, there's beauty here, and lots of it, along with creativity and passion. The boundless imagination of Berlin's inhabitants means they are forever bucking against the uniformity of the old guard to create fresh odes to the offbeat. They seem to live the very definition of "hipster." We adore Berlin, from its off-the-wall hostels to open-air karaoke sessions to wallet-friendly flea markets. Ahead, discover 20 of the city's best hot spots. Just don't tell the locals we spilled their secrets.
Berliners love their bars with a twist and there’s few places as unexpected as Deck 5, the drinks spot with a beachy, Café del Mar vibe situated on the seventh floor of a shopping mall. Lounge furniture is liberally scattered among sandy dunes, and a giant Buddha benignly watches over the festivities. Go for the pizza and sangria, stay for the views and the sunset. Who needs Ibiza, anyway?
Deck 5, Schönhauser Allee 79, Parkdeck Allee Arcaden, 10439, Berlin; 00 49 163 792 2026.
White Trash serves up some of the city’s greatest burgers (sloppy and dirty, but in the best possible way) with a side of rock ‘n’ roll cabaret thrown in for good measure. The spot has a rockabilly-Americana vibe and even boasts an in-house tattoo parlour, No Pain No Brain. What’s more rock than that?
White Trash, Schönhauser Allee 6-7, 10119 Berlin; 00 49 30 5034 8668.
On the first floor of the famous Café Einstein, you’ll find the Lebensstern bar — packed to the rafters with the great and the good of Berlin’s glossy party scene. The bar is oak-paneled, flatteringly low-lit, and has a gentlemen’s-club air (it was an illegal casino in the '20s). The glamorous setting even attracted Quentin Tarantino, who filmed Inglorious Basterds there. The cocktails are lethal, the staff aficionados, and there are 800 different kinds of rum and 200 kinds of gin stocked at the bar. Cheers!
Lebensstern Bar, Kurfürstenstraße 58, 10785 Berlin; 00 49 30 2639 1917.
There’s much to love about Berlin’s Z Bar, not the least is its generous opening hours: “From dusk 'til drunk.” Touted as good taste cocktails, bad taste cinema, Z Bar screens budget B-movies aplenty in its tiny cinema. Best of all? You can hire the cinema, invite your friends, and throw your own party. Now that sounds like our idea of a good time!
Z Bar, Bergstrasse 2, 10115, Berlin; 00 49 30 2838 9121.
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The brunch phenomenon shows no signs of slowing — and when places like this exist, it’s easy to see why. The California Breakfast Slam is charmingly rough round the edges: Cali-cool infused with inimitable Berlin edge. Our only problem with this place? How do you decide between Rocky Road pancakes, French toast made with huge chunks of German bread and an abundance of chorizo, or a bacon, avocado, and caramelized apple salad? Wash it all down with blood orange mimosas.
The California Breakfast Slam, Pflügerstrasse 19, 12047, Berlin; No number available.
Schneeweiss means "snow white" in German, and this bar is (spoiler alert) decked out entirely in white décor. Minimal yet opulent, this bar is so beautiful that it’s won a number of design awards since its 2005 opening. The menu embraces the colourless setting, offering a modern mash-up of Alpine cuisine and new European fare. Think Wiener Schnitzel and strawberry soup dessert. Oh, and there’s a hidden fireplace room where you can smoke cigars and generally take refuge from the outside world.
Schneeweiss, Simplonstraße 16, 10245, Berlin; 00 49 30 2904 9704.
With over 1000 board games (no, really), a mean grilled cheese sandwich, and an ultra-welcoming environment, this cosy café a real hidden gem in the capital. A coffee is just €1.50, and will afford you a full day of game playing. Stop by at 7 p.m. on Mondays to see Berlin’s game designers meet to test their new prototypes.
Spielwiese, Kopernikusstraße 24, 10245, Berlin; 00 49 30 2803 4088.
If you’re after an authentic experience, look no further than West Berlin’s "wall park," named because it was once part of the Berlin Wall. The weekly flea market — where you can pick up everything from '50s record players to antique jewellery — attracts a bohemian crowd of musicians, graffiti artists, and hipsters. But, its number one selling point has to be the famed Bearpit karaoke — head to the amphitheatre, grab the mic and belt out a tune (we’d try our hand at Nena’s "99 Luftballons" in case you were wondering).
Mauerpark, Bernauer Strasse 63-64, 13355, Berlin; 00 49 176 2925 0021.
Located in the rapidly-gentrifying district of Neukolln is the charming Nowkoelln flea market — a relative new kid to Berlin’s storied vintage scene. Expect piles of curated second-hand clothing, art, music, and a plethora of the kind of knick-knacks you never knew you always wanted. And, the people watching is second-to-none — plenty of ironic hipster ‘taches here. You may very well happen across some exceptional homemade chocolate brownies to nibble on as you peruse the stalls.
Nowkoelln Flowmarket, Maybachufer 31, 12047, Berlin; no number available.
Opened in Spring 2013, Recycling Deluxe is the capital’s inaugural upcycling concept store — and the shop is as cool as it is honourable. Owners Eric Pieper and Stanislaus Teichmann have made it their business to buck against society’s throwaway philosophy, crafting hats made from coffee sacks, handbags from license plates, and furniture from car tires. The merch is as refreshing as Berlin itself.
Recycling Deluxe, Görlitzerstrasse 36, 10997, Berlin; 00 49 163 739 2941.
The novelty of buying clothes by the kilo never wears off, and lucky for us it is a second-hand retail trend those cool kids of B-town have embraced wholeheartedly. Garage is at the forefront, with its unfathomably large selection of killer vintage pieces. They even offer a happy hour on Wednesdays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when everything is 30% off. Although, to be quite honest, for €17.99 per kilo, every hour is happy hour. No wonder Berliners are so well dressed.
Garage, Ahornstrasse 2, 10787, Berlin; 00 49 30 211 2760.
Forget everything you know about hostels. The newly opened Generator hostels are here to take the concept of hiring-by-the-bed right into the 21st century. Think slick, yet edgy interiors, warp-speed wifi, and power showers quite possibly better than what you have at home. This is to hostels what glamping is to staying in a tent from Asda.
Generator Hostel, Oranienburger Strasse 65, 10117, Berlin; 00 49 30 9210 37680.
Within spitting distance of Friedrichshain’s infamous party scene, the Michelberger is, like most things in the city, pleasingly offbeat, artfully undone, and radiating with a youthful vibe. Each room is individually designed (among other things you’ll find a chalet and a library) and its budget pricing belies its great location. Oh, and they play The Big Lebowski on every TV throughout the hotel. On. Repeat. If only all hotels were like this.
Michelberger Hotel, Warschauer Strasse 39-40, 10243, Berlin; 00 49 30 297 7859.
Eastern Comfort Ship
Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. This hostel-cum-boat is worth staying on for the river views alone. Eastern Comfort Ship's weird-and-wonderful existence sums up Berlin entirely. Stay in any one of its first- or second-class cabins, warm your extremities by the fireplace in the lounge, and then head onto the upper deck to take in the atmosphere of the River Spree. All aboard!
Eastern Comfort Ship, Mühlenstrasse 73, 10243, Berlin; 00 49 30 667 63806.
This former Nazi heavy-loading tower is a sobering monument to Hitler's plans for urban redevelopment in Berlin. Understandably, there were concerns about the towers sinking into the city's marshy ground, which they did. Quite a lot. Nowadays, they hold seminars in the pavilion, while the building remains a stark reminder of the city's not-so-distant past.
Schwerbelastungskörper, Hauptstrasse 40-42, 10827, Berlin; 00 49 30 90277 6163.
East Berlin’s only amusement park now lies abandoned, overgrown with trees and weeds and full of eerie splendour. Take a tour and marvel at the faded ferris wheel swaying in the wind. Rumour has it, it's even haunted.
Spreepark, Burgemeisterstrasse 56, 12103, Berlin; 00 49 176 831 43 138.
A former public swimming pool in the edgy Wedding district, this is now one of the hottest art hubs in the city. It hosts works by street artists and photographers, as well as the odd raucous club night in its basement, changing rooms, and pool itself. A mind-bending, suitably Berlin-esque experience.
Stattbad Wedding, Gerichtstrasse 65, 13347, Berlin; No number available.
The open-air cinema season runs from May to September in Berlin. This venue is intimate, with only 75 seats, and shows foreign films (of course). We love that you can bring your own snacks.
Freiluftkino Mitte, Rosenthalerstrase 39, 10178, Berlin; 00 49 30 2859 99 73.
A wonderfully grimy version of Alice in Wonderland awaits you at Peristal Singum, a labyrinthine nightclub built in the bowels of East Berlin's legendary Salon Zur Wilden Renate. However, entry to the maze is by invitation only. Hunker down in the salon with a drink and wait to be called. It's immersive clubbing with a twist!
Peristal Singum, Alt-Stralau 70, 10245, Berlin; 00 49 30 2504 1426.