Hip-hipster hooray in Berlin’s Kreuzberg
South of Berlin’s central hub Mitte, the borough of Kreuzberg, or X-berg as locals know it, has maintained its razor-sharp edge over the years. Historically, it’s a place of immigrants, specifically the Turkish, who arrived in the 1960s 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 as a fertile breeding ground for creativity and start-ups, Kreuzberg has a gritty-cool factor that stands out. Now joined to Friedrichshain, this former West Berlin neighbourhood was steeped in poverty up until the 1980s. 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 ample opportunities to delve into 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 bricks-and-mortar existence with pockets of eco-friendly initiatives. You can find urban gardening projects, protected green spaces and markets selling dirt-encrusted organic produce.
In the warmer months, parks, outdoor markets, faux-beaches and terraces are filled with happy locals relaxing in the sun.
An original stretch of the Berlin Wall, now adorned with iconic graffiti, can be viewed, and Checkpoint Charlie is a convenient hop away. While many first-time visitors base themselves around Alexanderplatz, for an authentic, alternative experience, 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.
For the height of hip in an affordable design hotel, you can’t go wrong at the Michelberger (www.michelbergerhotel.com; 0049 30 2977 8590). Some rooms house quirky mezzanine sleeping areas and bunk beds partitioned by football goal netting. The trendy, arty crowd lingers in the eclectically designed lounge or out in the courtyard. Double rooms cost from €126 (Dh515) per night.
The Almodóvar Hotel (www.almodovarhotel.de; 0049 30 6920 97080) is a “bio-hotel”. Everything is organic, from the furniture and linen in the sparse rooms – originally a yoga-retreat for the owners’ guests – to the soaps and 100 per cent vegetarian food served at the adjoining Bistrot Bardot. A small rooftop relaxation area, healing massage room and yoga mats in each room add to the Zen. Doubles cost from €93 (Dh380) per night.
Find your feet
Oranienstrasse, Schlesische Strasse and Bergmannstrasse are full of cafes, shops and restaurants, perfect for a bout of lazy people-watching.
Take a boat cruise along the River Spree (www.berlinliquide.com for a private tour; www.berlin.de/en/tourism/rivercruises-boattrips with a group) and gaze upon Kreuzberg’s architecture and passers-by from a different vantage point.
The area around the iconic East Side Gallery, which features an original portion of the Berlin Wall, is frequented by visitors who want to pose next to it, plus locals relaxing on the river banks nearby.
Meet the locals
The indoor market at Markt Halle Neun (www.markthalleneun.de/markets), which serves the best of local, artisanal food and drink, is loved by locals. You’ll find them in groups at tables, chatting the evening away.
Sit on the benches or enjoy a picnic in the area’s parks with local families, such as the compact Görtlizter and the rambling Viktoriapark.
Book a table
For a high-end experience, Spindler (www.spindler-berlin.net; 0049 30 6959 8880) is an elegant bistro without the fussiness, open most of the day (bookings at dinner are essential). Try the delicate soups and the zander (pike-perch) and harissa. On average, mains cost from €25 (Dh102).
The Berlin favourite, the all-day breakfast, as well as hearty German classics such stuffed cabbage leaves with mashed potatoes and homemade pasta can be found at Kaffe A Horn (www.kaffee-ahorn.de; 0049 30 6005 9888), which spills out onto a street-side terrace. Get the bagels while they’re hot. Mains cost about €18 (Dh74).
Kimchi Princess (www.kimchiprincess.com; 0049 16 3458 0203) is a fun Korean restaurant with snack plates to share, barbecue items and classics, as well as Korean coffee at affordable prices. On average, mains cost €13 (Dh54).
Traversing Bergmannstrasse will keep your arms full and wallet light. Voo Berlin (www.vooberlin.com) is a lifestyle store with achingly trendy fashion for men and women, homeware items and stationery.
Original Unverpackt (www.original-unverpackt.de) is an environmentally friendly grocery store that eliminates all packaging. Bring your own containers and bags.
What to avoid
Berlin is fairly safe, but 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, plus a leisurely stroll along Planufer to the Admiralbrücke, a romantic bridge perfect for sunset photos.
At weekends, nab a spot at the Tempelhof, a disused airfield with lots of space to barbecue, bike and rollerblade.
Etihad (www.etihad.com) flies twice daily from Abu Dhabi to Berlin, from Dh2,750 return, including taxes.
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Updated: August 20, 2015 04:00 AM