The trendy triangle of Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Neukölln are the triumvirate of names most likely to come up in any conversation discussing the best bar hopping trails in Berlin.
With a long list of indie bars to check out, you won't be at a loss to fill your evenings. Here's a list of a few spots I hit on my recent trip to the city:
The former East Berlin borough's heavily tagged and graffitied streets are lined with some of the liveliest bars, pubs and cafes in the city and is a good place to start discovering Berlin's electric energy.
I'd heard of Berlin's famous "Beach Bars" before heading to the city (and no you aren't mistaken, Berlin is indeed landlocked). And while they may be a bit of a misnomer, ocean-view aside you will find the other beach club essentials at YAAM Beach - sand, booze, music and even a volleyball court with the river Spree providing the essential waterfront location. This institution in Friedrichshain comes with a vibrant dose of Caribbean cool complete with reggae beats, barefooted Rastafarians, authentic Jerk Chicken and eye-popping street art, all congregating in a laid-back open air chill out zone. Definitely a place to grab a cold one on a balmy summer's evening.
This former West Berlin quarter bordered the Berlin Wall and continues to retain much of its alternative vibe despite the onward march of gentrification. It's where most people looking to get a taste of the German capital's legendary nightlife will inevitably be directed and for good reason - Kreuzberg has an eclectic collection of bars, cafes and party spots that offer something for everyone.
Not Only Reisling
For a mellow start to the evening the elegant wine shop and bar Not Only Reisling or NOR for short is a good spot to try some local vino and perhaps pick up a bottle or two of your favourite finds. When we popped in, there were a couple of bottles on the go up for tasting including a well rounded Josef Rosch Reisling (I know I probably should have tried another grape) from the Mosel region that had a sweet, lingering finish. I happily would have nursed a couple more glasses had we not been keen to explore the area's other gems.
Die Legende von Paula und Ben
Named after a 1973 East Berlin film whose tagline was "A Controversial Romance from Behind the Iron Curtain", this intimate little bar is just round the corner from NOR and serves up a well-mixed list of classic cocktails. Die Legende Von Paula Und Ben's high chairs, comfy leather armchairs and a few outdoor seats offer a fair number of perching spots and gave me that same cosy vibe of sipping a drink in my favourite bar street in the world, Gemmayze in Beirut.
Highly popular within Berlin's active LGBT scene, this bar is meant to host some raucous nights although its kitsch pink-hued space was pretty quiet the evening we paid it a visit. Run by one of the city's most famous celebrity drag queens, Barbie Deinhoff's has an impressive cocktail list and although we failed to witness any of it, a legendary reputation that makes it a regular on pretty much every must-visit Berlin bar list.
This bohemian quarter of south-east Berlin is known for its artsy and diverse crowd, with its typically ausländer (immigrant) demographic makeup credited for its uniquely eclectic vibe. While the area is also facing more vocal complaints of the conformist ills of gentrification, it's quirky bars and cafes continue to be among the coolest in town.
Geist Im Glas
We ducked into the candlelit and cosy Geist Im Glas (Ghost in a Glass) - a bare-brick , weathered wood-countered bar that specialises in infused spirits - all of which are lined along the back of the bar in vintage potion bottles that would seem more at home in a perfumerie or apothecary. Tell the bar staff your preferences and await the result - I was recommended an Earl Grey infused gin and lemon sour and walked away pretty pleased.
When in Berlin's Hippest Hood
See: The 1.3 km East Side Gallery - a visual paean to freedom painted onto the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall - is a must-see as much for the realisation of what this man-made structure once stood for as for the powerful art now adorning its face .
Do: There's no doubt the Germans love their saunas and if you want to go native, the Liquidrom is a great place to start. The architecturally-striking building houses a number of different saunas, plunge pools and a strangely peaceful domed saltwater pool in which you can float suspended surrounded by a play of sound and light - and the sauna rooms let you hold onto your towels and modesty! (Not standard for all saunas in Germany from what I understand!)
Stay: The funky nHow Berlin is the perfect spot to rest your head after a night on the town in Berlin's coolest quarters. The musically-inspired hotel (all the elevators even play a different genre of tunes) has all the crazy, curvy, colourful forms best associated with its interior designer Karim Rashim, and the rooms are a Barbie-doll fantasy of pinkness (right down to the bathroom amenities.)
The swirly, psychedelic floors and organically rounded forms bound across the entire hotel - from the bold gold, black and pink Envy Bar with its lovely river-front terrace that is the perfect spot for a sundowner, to its neon pink and green Fabrics restaurant whose glass-walled dining room offers a wonderful vista of the shimmering Spree.
While the high-ceilinged openness of the restaurant gives it a bit of a canteen-esque air, Fabrics offers some deceptively delicious fare - the menu is infused with the same sense of fun and freshness as the rest of the hotel. I dined on a juicy prawn in herb sauce amuse bouche, followed by a colourfully appetising pickled herring salad served with slices of Granny Smith apples and a hearty calf liver main served with elderberry jus and parsnip puree.
Service was friendly and confident, with great wine recommendations including a delicate German pinot blanc or Weissburgunder as it is locally known, and a characteristically minerally Spätburgunder (German Pinot Noir) from the Ahr Valley - among Germany's most favoured red wines - offered as a well-matched accompaniment to the strongly flavoured liver.
A silky mascarpone parfait brought the meal to a satisfying end and I was pretty pleased to see that the quality of the dinner menu extended to the generous breakfast spread the next morning, with a tasty selection of hams, cured meats, fish and cheeses accompanying the hearty breads, spreads, cereal and fruit one usually expects from a breakfast buffet. There were even bubbles available for those wanting a rock star-worthy start to the day.
True music fans can find two recording studios on site (in case you get inspired to lay some tracks). The rest of us can make do with ordering an electric guitar through room service. (Actually a possibility!) I decided to spare my neighbours' ears! ;)
Disclaimer: I received a media B&B rate and a complimentary meal at nHow Berlin. Having stayed in both parts of the city I would highly recommend splitting your time between the leafy green Tiergarten area and this youthful riverside strip to get a better grasp of Berlin's vastly different faces.
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