One of the things that makes Berlin so exciting is the high proportion of creative people who have decided to call this lively city home, and with the artists comes the inevitable process of gentrification. However, considering the city has been broke since reunification, the economic surge currently hitting Berlin can’t be all bad, providing the old school grit still has a place amidst the new-world glamor and the artists can still afford the rent. Things you can enjoy for free therefore offer some of that authentic ‘Berlin’ feeling, and you’ll be sure to rub shoulders with the locals.
1) Hang out at a park
Tempelhofer Park is the largest urban park in Europe, created on the site of Berlin’s iconic airport, where Frenchman Armand Zipfel made the first flight demonstration in 1909, followed by Orville Wright. Famous for the Berlin Airlift and the Candy Bomber, it’s now possibly the coolest park ever and the only place where you can cycle down the runway as fast as possible to see if you can take off! Check out one of the special events in the old terminal building, now host to everything from the DMY International Design Festival to dance parties and kite flying days. Tempelhofer Park http://www.tempelhofer-park.de/
Oberbaumbrücke is another free highlight next to the East Side gallery, where paintings adorn remnants of a section of the Wall in celebration of freedom – read the sobering stories of people who lost their lives trying to escape over the bridge. Stroll along Falkensteinstrasse for some of the best €2 slices of pizza and ice cream in the city. Head on to Görlitzer Park where swarms of Kreuzberg hipsters are to be found lounging, drinking and strumming their guitars into the evening on a warm summer’s day.
Go West to Wilmersdorf, and stroll around the lively Ludwigkirchplatz or discover the cultural history of the rose at Hertha-Müller-Haus in Steglitz, if you need a break from the overwhelming hipster lifestyle.
2) Saddle up and find a watering hole
Get on a bike! The best way to discover Berlin is to take to the streets on two wheels, and find your own adventures. I highly recommend the Fat Tire Bike Tour if you only have a day or two, otherwise hire a bicycle and explore on your own. Remember to give way to the right, and stay on the bike paths when possible, then map out an itinerary and go! Try making your destination one of these places with decent coffee and at least you’ll have a reason to keep pedaling, even if you get hopelessly lost.
Bonanza Coffee Heroes is home to gorgeous caffeine fiends near the Mauerpark on Oderberger Straße 35. Head for No Fire, No Glory on Rykestrasse in Prenzlauer Berg or The Barn on Augustrasse in Mitte for the best coffee in the city. A trip to Double Eye takes you all the way over to Schöneberg, if you’re cycling around Kreuzberg Passenger Cafe at Schlesisches Tor is run by hipster New Zealanders, where you’re bound to overhear young artists talking about their latest masterpieces. Across the Landwehrkanal in Xkölln (not actually a suburb, meeting of Kreuzberg and Neukölln) Katies Blue Cat on Friedelstrasse and Hudsons on Boppstrase create divine English style cakes.
3) Cultural Hotspots – freshly brewed and long established
The Prinzessinnengarten community garden at Moritzplatz, winner of the 2010 Utopia Awards provides a shady cafe and bar amongst the growing plants, letting you see the urban green space movement in action, with live music, weekend concerts and other activities. Across the platz, Planet Modulor is home to every material a designer or architect could possibly need. Around the corner, Betahaus co-working space is a hotbed of the latest new cultural start-ups, featuring a cozy cafe with creative working ambiance, music and other events. In the back, the community at the Open Design City are busy tinkering with innovative ways to build, design and upcycle in various materials.
Over in Wedding there is a new cultural space emerging at Brunnenstrasse 64. It was once a supermarket and is now opening up to the many creative businesses in the area, with a focus on alternative cultural economies and the ‘free culture incubator’ series of workshops. http://www.supermarkt-berlin.net/
Along the river, the gigantic oyster building, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Culture), is always a good bet for their program of international music, dance, theatre and Transmediale, one of Europe’s longest running media arts festivals. http://www.hkw.de/
On the way to Museum’s Island, drop by the Collegium Hungaricum Berlin, a multidisciplinary cultural center for art, science, technology and life, sponsored by the Hungarian state. The library has an extensive collection of Hungarian classics, history, art and politics. There is an exhibition space and Friday night is an open mic concert with music in the cafe. http://www.hungaricum.de/
Nearby, the Tajikistan Teahouse is an absolutely enchanting hidden treasure, if you can find it upstairs in the Palais am Festungsgraben, relax on the cushions and sip exotic tea while you gaze at the colorful murals. The Badeschiff is another highlight further along the Spree at Eichenstraße 4, Treptow. Swim in a floating cargo container on the river during live music concerts in the summer, or take a sauna in winter when it’s covered over like a spaceship. www.badeschiff.de
The Volksbuhne and Babylon Mitte offer an iconic and innovative theatre, cinema and music all on one corner. Look out for the rebirth of Neuköln’s Rollberg Brewery, featured as a hot location for music and arts in the 48 Hours Neuköln festival. www.volksbuehne-berlin.de
Where to dance if you don’t like techno? Forget Berghain and Watergate, try these venues from the Ballhaus Augustrasse in Mitte where you can swing and tango to Club Bassy for cool 50’s & 60’s dance music. http://www.bassy-club.de/
Across the Spree along Köpenicker Straße you can pick a club and dance on the riverbanks. Kater, the new Bar 25 has moved across to this side, nearby Kiki Blofeld with a beach bar, table tennis and kicker.
4) Singing in the rain
Ok, let’s get one thing straight: we didn’t come here for the weather. Even in summer the sun isn’t a given, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy the city during a deluge. Take your umbrella and showgirl attitude out for a walk in the park! First, visit the Mauer Park fleamarket to find a bargain or trash’n’treasure outfit then head over to the amphitheatre and join in the mass Karaoke to get all those people singing along. It’s a joyful way to spend a Sunday afternoon! If you’re missing the historic angle, head down the hill along Bernauer Strasse to perhaps the most interesting part of the Wall still standing – with a fascinating documentary exhibition along the church and the Berlin Wall Museum, this gives a real insight into what life must have been like when families, friends and lovers were separated overnight.
5) Hit a museum
Apparently there are more museums in Berlin than rainy days, and if you just can’t face getting wet, take refuge in one of these special collections. Museum der Ding (Museum of Things), located in the centre of Kreuzberg on Oranienstrasse 25, houses a fabulous archive of design and household objects from the the 20th Century. Downstairs, check out NGBK Bookshop and Gallery or explore this lively kiez (neighbourhood). Museum der Ding www.museumderdinge.de
Everyone can be a designer at the Bauhaus Archiv, the utilitarian art school that emerged from Weimar Germany celebrated in the elegant building designed by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius. The permanent exhibition presents furniture, sculptures, photographs and sketches created in the Bauhaus workshop between 1919 and 1933, when the school was closed down by the Nazis as a breeding ground for subversive ideas and ‘degenerate art.’ http://www.bauhaus.de/
The Museum of Communication offers everything from a collection of postcards to the fascinating permanent exhibition on the past, present and future of communication. The exhibition covers everything from reading, writing, radio and television to telecommunications exploring the media perception of space and time, acceleration of people and traffic, security of messages and the role of mass media. http://www.mfk-berlin.de/
The Computer Games Museum, is an electric heaven for any child and Pong enthusiast, dedicated purely to computer games and the digital interactive entertainment culture. http://www.computerspielemuseum.de/
Whatever the weather, you can be sure that inside the many bars and cafes is a warm and cozy spot with your name on it. The best way to explore Berlin is to follow your intuition and be sure that the synchronous magic of the city will guide you to the experiences that will bring you the most joy!