Mariannenkiez / Kollwitzkiez / Akazienkiez / Ackerkiez / Reuterkiez
Raised in Edmonton and Calgary, June Chua fell in love with her neighbourhood after a visit in 2014, when she screened two of her documentaries in Berlin. Six months later, the filmmaker moved here – a pocket of the city that was once against the Berlin Wall, in the West. “It was a nexus for anarchists, artists and such. That spirit lives on in Mariannenkiez. I can’t help but be inspired by my Kiez’s outsider reputation in a city that’s always been a haven for outsiders.”
Housed in a renovated workshop, the “Museum of Things” is an intriguing collection of 20th-century mass-produced objects, like TVs from the 1950s, organized in surprising ways – by colour, for example, or by usefulness. Unlike the many Cold War and art museums in Berlin, this one is about everyday objects imbued with an out-of-the-ordinary lustre.
Oranienstrasse 25, museumderdinge.de
This shop shows how the neighbourhood is changing. It’s a luxury fashion store located on a street legendary for its left-wing demonstrations. The store is done up in refurbished industrial concrete and is full of upscale wares, like Monokel sunglasses and Helmut Lang clothes. Grab a cappuccino at Companion Coffee, right inside, and drink it in the lovely courtyard of cream-and-green bricks.
Oranienstrasse 24, vooberlin.com
This modern German restaurant is hidden inside the Bethanien Building, once a nun-operated hospital, hence the name (“Three Sisters”). It serves delicious locally sourced food for lunch, dinner and brunch. I can still taste the roast pork with red cabbage and buttermilk dumplings. If the weather’s right, check out the sunny Biergarten in the enclosed yard out back.
Mariannenplatz 2, 3schwestern.com
With mismatched puffy fauteuils, Vögelchen has the look and feel of a living room. It’s a young-artists’ hangout, with great cocktails like the coconut- and pineapple-flavoured Cocoloco. Vögelchen hosts movie screenings (mostly in English or with English subtitles) and live podcast recordings featuring local musicians. Try to figure out how to access the basement bar. Hint: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Eisenbahnstrasse 6, birdstoldme.blogspot.com
As a global expert in social entrepreneurship, Ryan Grant Little is in a different city most weeks. But the cobblestone streets of Kollwitzkiez – a lushly green and stately district in eastern Berlin – are home. “In the morning, when you’re heading to work, there are moms and dads taking their kids to kindergarten on the back of their bicycles,” the Thornhill, Ontario, native says. “It feels so grounded and beautiful.”
“A Sunday in August” is a perfect representation of the Berlin esthetic: Candles, chandeliers and soft neon lamps light up the intricate art sketched on the walls and ceilings, as well as the second-hand couches and marble tables. It’s one of those places where you are equally at home refuelling with a latte in the morning or sipping a cocktail after midnight. It’s situated at the end of Kastanienallee, or “Casting Alley” as it’s known, thanks to the plethora of modelling agencies down the street – great for people-watching.
The setting is an experience unto itself, as much for the brash service by Italian punks as for the tree-shaded patio and massive, buzzing dining room. But this is rustic Italian food at its best: fresh pastas, and pizzas as big as the moon. There are plenty of options for my fellow vegetarians here, like the Patatona — a pizza with a perfectly blistered crust, piled with potatoes and fresh rosemary.
Schönhauser Allee 12
A public pool opened here in 1902. It survived shelling at the end of World War II, but closed in 1986 due to cracks in its floor. New owners restored the space this past October, reopening the swim hall with its vaulted ceilings and adding a bar, restaurant and hotel. The hotel has comfy, reasonably priced rooms, but you don’t have to be a guest there to use the pool, sauna and spa. Afterwards, sit by the fireplace with a glass of riesling from the thorough list of German wines.
Oderberger Str. 57, hotel-oderberger.berlin
Photo: TLG Immobilien Ag
The Kulturbrauerei is a cultural centre in a 19th-century brewery. Its 12 buildings are made of spectacular red and yellow brick, and they contain everything from cinemas and concert halls to festivals and NYU’s Berlin campus. Kids can take advantage of the drop-in capoeira classes while parents learn some Cuban salsa. Sunday afternoons are a great time to come in the spring and summer, when the interior courtyard is packed with food trucks.
Schönhauser Allee 36, kulturbrauerei.de
Good to know: Berlin’s public transit operates on the honour system, but make sure you have a valid ticket on you: Undercover inspectors routinely demand to see it.
Originally from Quispamsis, New Brunswick, RM Vaughan, author of 10 books, arrived five years ago via Toronto to expand his work in short film and performance. “I’ve lived in a few places in Berlin, but Akazienkiez is where I’m most at home. It’s in the southwest, slightly removed from the touristy parts of the city. There is a fine line between lived-in and trampled-upon, and Akazienkiez trips along that line with casual grace.”
This market is where the neighbourhood comes to life. Grab some imported cheese, fresh bread and Moroccan coffee – there’s often a man in a red vest and fez who brews perfect little cups of it – and make a picnic on the benches at St. Matthias church, at the south end of the square. Flower lovers should look for the woman with a giant blond beehive and horn-rimmed glasses. She does flawless, generous arrangements for only five euros.
Every beer on tap is worth a taste, and the Northern German food complements it perfectly. Order the potatoes – served in a traditional cream sauce – or the soup, which is made before your eyes in the open kitchen. The women who serve here are sweet as pie. They’ve worked at the bar for years, and they’ve seen the neighbourhood evolve from a shaggy West Berlin enclave to the worldly Kiez it is today.
A bustling confectionery shop with exquisite chocolate, Winterfeldt Schokoladen also has a café with a large variety of hot chocolates served in traditional vase-like ceramic flasks – try the one spiked with chilli. The store has been here since 2009, and kept the carved, dark wooden shelving and design of the 1892 apothecary that predated it. There’s a trend in retail for minimalism. I hate that, so I love this place: It feels worked in. I’m a maximalist, and this is a maximalist space.
Goltzstrasse 23, winterfeldt-schokoladen.de
Walking through this park feels limitless, even though you’re in the city. Start at the Schöneberg Town Hall, where JFK did his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963, and walk past Laax, a pastoral café among the trees. Keep going to the fountain with the golden stag atop a plinth and stop for a game of bocce, then on to the pond, which is full of storks and ducks. Berliners cherish and use their public spaces daily. Here, you can watch everything from a wedding reception to a yoga lesson.
Good to know: Berlin has no last call (bars decide when they close) which makes nightlife particularly indulgent.
Journalist Sabine Devins and her husband set off from Vancouver for an 18-month working holiday in Berlin in 2008 and never left. Now, Devins writes dispatches about Germany for The Wall Street Journal and other publications from a charming residential pocket in Mitte. “Berlin is big, but the Kieze are small. Our little neighbourhood is very central, but it feels like a village.”
My family calls this Israeli joint Hummus und Pommes (which rhymes in German), because that’s what we eat there: hummus and fries. The adults get delicious Middle Eastern food – I love the roasted eggplant – and the kids order the fried stuff. We all share a pitcher of lemonade with mint. It’s a family-friendly restaurant without being a family restaurant. Go for lunch or dinner, but always order the fries.
Invalidenstrasse 159, djimalaya.de
I love the way Berliners use their public parks. On warm evenings, the big lawn around the pond is filled with friends enjoying after-work beers. If the weather’s not cooperating, Nola’s Restaurant is right there for an afternoon cake and coffee. And there’s a playground for kids, with a homemade ice-cream shop across the street called Kauf Dich Glücklich.
This church has kept the spare, rough-walled feel from its days under the East German regime, when anti-government demonstrators gathered here to organize their protests. Now, St. Elisabeth-Kirche is an event space that hosts installations, orchestras and choirs, who use it for practices. Grab a bench in the breezy front courtyard and listen for free.
Invalidenstrasse 3, elisabeth.berlin
Berlin had a long history of buildings taken over by squatters. The Schokoladen is part of that tradition, colonized by artists and creators in the hazy days of reunification. Other squats have been cleared out since then, but this one has managed to rally the neighbourhood community behind it and survive as a house for non-commercial projects. For the public, it hosts rock concerts, readings, screenings and parties.
Ackerstrasse 169, schokoladen-mitte.de
“My favourite thing about Reuterkiez is that it’s packed with beautiful inconsistencies, like haute-couture shops next to burger joints,” says Sheraz Khan. The Etobicoke, Ontario, native fell in love with a German and moved to the city in 2014 to be close to him. He now marries two of his passions – urban planning and visual design – creating data-driven maps with an artistic bent. “The whole city attends exhibitions in this Kiez, and yet the pace of life is very chill.”
Weichselstrasse is becoming one of Berlin’s best dining destinations, and this pizza parlour makes some of the best pies in town. My favourite, the Pizza Tropea, is topped with sweet red onions, arugula and pecorino – it could easily feed two! It’s fun to sit here with glasses of housemade lemonade and watch the cooks throw the dough into the restaurant’s disco-ball oven – a cave of fire covered in mirrored squares.
Weichselstrasse 17, monella.berlin
“Cinnamon and Flour” is a bakery-restaurant hybrid with a generous breakfast. Omelettes come with mountains of fresh fruit and cheese, and the croissants are fluffy and buttery. If there’s no space to sit inside, grab a Kartoffelbrötchen (potato bun) and walk across the street to Wildenbruchplatz. In the spring, you can sit on the banks of Neuköllner Schiffahrtskanal or play Tischtennis on one of the public Ping-Pong tables.
Weigandufer 16, zimtundmehl.de
Photo: Julian Nelken
Berlin is not a tall city, so this bar at the top of a parking garage gives you a good clear view of the whole capital, from the Fernsehturm TV tower to Potsdamer Platz. The tables and benches are set in a large urban garden. The planters and seats are built out of shipping pallets and bathtubs – even boots. It’s a great place to watch the sunset.
Karl-Marx-Strasse 66, klunkerkranich.de
Situated in an unassuming stucco building, this art venue used to be a bakery, so it has unusual kitchen-like spaces inside for displays. The institution connects designers and artists with scientists. For instance, the Sonic Code Sessions meet here to show off new ways to create sound using digital tech. My group is called the Smell Lab. We once put on an exhibition where we collected smells from the neighbourhood, like flower buds and fried falafel from one of the many Turkish restaurants. We distilled the smells, sprayed them onto sheets of fabric, then invited people to have a sniff. I thought only a few people might be curious, but there was a line around the block!
Bürknerstrasse 12, spektrumberlin.de
Good to know: Berlin is a cash city. Except in hotels and the more touristy destinations, most places do not accept credit cards.
Illustrations: Henriette Damsa and Poli Lovi