Forget the industrial fumes and the sometimes grim aesthetic of Socialist East Germany – Prenzlauer Berg is cooler and funkier than ever, thanks to a mix of gentrified neighborhoods, squats, artists’ labs, street art shops and breweries-turned-cultural centers.
One of the most hidden but precious areas in the German capital is also a growing gay district, already playing host to flocks of LGBTI people from all over the world.
I had the chance to explore Prenzlauer Berg at the beginning of April; the trees were blossoming, guys and girls were starting to wear summer clothes, beers and cocktails were enjoyed outdoors among the leafy avenues and the small alleys, and the mood of Berliners was on the up.
For those who want to explore Prenzlauer Berg, a good starting point is the triangular open space of Kollwitz Platz. The atmosphere is gentle, especially in spring, and it’s just a short walk to the Kulturbrauerei, one of the most interesting venues in post-industrial Berlin.
Formerly a brewery, it’s now a melting pot of cultures, events and businesses – from dance schools to pubs, cinemas to art galleries, it’s the perfect place to raise a glass in honor to those who brewed beer for the decades and also to those who decided to transform this venue into an authentic German jewel.
According to different surveys, the locals of Prenzlauer Berg are the happiest in Berlin – wander around the square in Wasserturm, surrounding the water tower, and you’ll understand why. Simply look at the street art everywhere or at the pots of flowers and paintings hanging from people’s windows: a taste for decorations and colorful simplicity which has no rivals in town.
Once known solely as a punk and squatters’ area, the quarter is also a gentle nest for hipster families. A popular store here is Kochhaus, a concept food store where you can buy all the ingredients for your recipes, which are explained in full by brochures and panels. It’s something which would have been impossible to find 15 or 20 years ago, when Prenzlauer Berg was home to the most alternative people in Berlin. But now, business is business.
However, you still can find the subversive vibe. Having a beer in the Prater Garten, or visit the Tunten Haus, a gay squat house on the same street [above and below], to reconcile yourself with those wonderful, vintage years.
Kastanienallee, the avenue, is the road of the chestnut trees and it’s incredibly pleasant. If you are looking for something more contemporary, now design shops like Luxus International or the clothes shop Kauf dich Glücklich, fashion and food under the same roof, testify something very easy to understand: Prenzlauer Berg is the most hipster and cool area north of the central Alexanderplatz, the core of East Berlin.
For food, why not to try the W-Der Imbiss – a modern kind of fast food venue. This is the place of world food and happy moments, where you can enjoy Indian, Mexican, Californian and Italian delicacies.
Two more recommendations: don’t forget to buy your Berlin Welcome Card, which entitles you to free travel, loads of discounts and tours, plus a calm state of mind.
Then, your cheap and cheerful nest for your Berlin city break: St Christopher’s Inn Berlin Hostel, in Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse, next to several underground stations and Alexanderplatz. It’s is a funky stopover with a strict no smoking policy, where you can make new friends over beers and burgers in a multicultural environment.
Private apartments are available, and all are big, clean, comfortable with the softest of bedding – the perfect resting spot after a long walk in one of the best cities of the Old Continent.
Top photo Flickr/Oh-Berlin.com, all others Daniele Guido Gessa