Exploring new cities alone is no longer considered taboo – follow Zofia Filipowicz as she makes her solo way through the coolest sites of Berlin you will not find in a regular guide.
Writing travel guides for people who despise ‘mainstream’ big fat city attractions has now become my journalistic field of expertise. It all began after, having spent two weeks wandering the secluded parts of Prague, far from Starbucks and the multitude of selfie sticks invading the royal castle, I realised I’ve seen far more exciting things than what information centre booklets valued as ‘must see.’
The burning need to witness the alternative has left me alone in most of my abroad escapades, the latest one to Berlin included, but I feel there’s more of you out there who don’t particularly enjoy the company of angry iPad owners and would prefer to see/eat/do/photograph what they actually understand.
This mutation of a city guide is your secret key to unlock your very own hipster paths of Berlin. I’ve also added some useful transport tips in case you’re not cute and old school enough to read a paper map.
FROM A TO B AND IN-BETWEEN
If you’re stationed in the heart of Berlin during your stay, you will be able to get to most popular and unpopular locations either on foot, or with a small help of the public transport; it divides into intertwined lines of S-bahn (overground trains), U –bahn (underground), trams and buses. Although I recommend experiencing especially the scruffy vibes of the underground at least for a few rides, renting a bike is something you might want to consider, if the weather delivers. It is no revolutionary discovery, but a city that bursts with street art, vibrant communities and traces of incredible history behind every corner is best consumed on two wheels. Plus, you’re much safer on a bike than as a pedestrian, as they tend to dominate the streets of Berlin.
For a hipster eater, especially if your diet of choice is meatless (but fear not, Berlin is not all vegan, Germans like their schnitzel way too much), there are only two names of eating out districts to remember. Prenzlauer Berg, the new destination for bloggers and bored youth, as well as the good old Kreuzberg, where punks, squatters and artists have left their visual legacy in what is considered a hub for all that’s hip and cool in Berlin. If you head to the first location mentioned (U Senefelderplatz), you will be bombarded with bars, pubs and restaurants. Seemingly smaller streets like Oderberger or Schwedter Straβe are filled with various multicultural eateries and plenty of juice bars or cafés if you’re only after a shorter rest. I personally opted for a Korean café Gong Gan serving authentic bibimbap, but there’s so much to choose from you may get a headache. For those extremely indecisive types, I’d advise a pre-made pick via Google.
If you’re heading to the latter area, Kreuzberg (and I recommend it not just for food, but all the vintage shops and b&w photobooths), among cute oriental diners you’ll find a place worth eating standing up. Curry 36 (U Mehringdamm) has been named the best place specialising in Currywürst in all of Berlin, serving about ten different types of curry sausage, including a vegan one. You can’t sit there, but definitely eat there – for a true saucy taste of the famous German dish.
TO DO’S AND OTHER ENTS
Germany’s megalomania shines through the vastness of tourist attractions, yet the arrogant travel rebel in me says: ‘skip the princess castle, ditch art galleries.’ What to do instead? The 1,5 km of the East Side Gallery (S+U Warschuauer Straβe) provides the answer to all artsy types with a penchant for an unconventional history lesson. Walk down the longest preserved section of the Berlin Wall and admire the graffiti that covers the gloomy, concrete memory of the West-East division. It’s terrifyingly eye-opening to see how applicable the slogans sprayed there are to the current affairs.
Next on your indie itinerary are the pride and joy of Berlin – markets. If exploring the otherness of the German culture is not enough, then the renowned Maybachufer Turkish Market (U Kottbusser Tor, on Tuesdays and Fridays) is for you. Its oriental feels might be even more genuine then if you were to actually visit Turkey. It’s a perfect opportunity for a cultural trip, nibbles and vibrant photos. If however you are a traveller with a wrinkled soul and affection for the old, the fleamarket at Mauerpark (U Bernauer Straβe, open on Sundays only) can steal you away for the entire day. There’s nothing better than rummaging through memories; after all, they make for the wickest souvenirs.
As at least one actual museum should make it onto your travel plan, I’d recommend the Story of Berlin (U Kurfürstendamm). The gripping multimedia exhibition unveils the history of the city from when it was found and ends with a guided trip down to a nuclear bomb shelter from the Cold War period. I tend to think about food when in museums, but this one had me hooked. Lastly, finish your day off with a subtitled film at an (of course) independent cinema located inside the magnificent Art Noveau style complex of Hackescher Höfe courtyards (S Hackescher Markt). It’s a truly remarkable place to suck in that last bit of culture, rest your feet and realise you did not actually feel alone all day. Not even one bit.