Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Guide: Berlin - Prenzlauer Berg

Prenzlauer Berg, north of Mitte, was one of the Berlin districts that was in the Soviet sector following the Second World War, and therefore was part of East Berlin in the DDR. Traditionally a working class neighbourhood, it has been heavily gentrified, especially in the west of the district, over the last decade. Popular with students, and young parents, its attractions lie in it's cafe and street culture rather than any 'sights' as such.

On Kastanienallee, strip of cafes, expensive second hand stores and killer trams, are the best Naan pizzas in Berlin at the W Imbiss - maybe they are the only Naan pizzas in Berlin but they are great, cooked in a tandoori oven with great veggie toppings and optional tandoori fish. In the summer it gets insanely busy, but if you don't mind the wait it is completely worth it. Actually, I'm not sure if the W Imbiss is actually in Mitte, in which case I'm going to add the Zionskirchplatz to the list of favourite spots (just around the corner). Not only is this a great, quiet spot, with a number of cosy cafes, but the Zionskirche (unfortunately the link is only in German) is interesting in its own right. During the DDR times it housed a printing press where dissidents produced various critical pamphlets, and now, alongside regular church services, it is also the location of a number of cultural events, as well as the Bio-markt every Thursday.

Further up Kastanienallee, into Prenzlauerberg proper is the Prater (again, only German), one of my favourite beergardens in Berlin (as well as being the oldest), and also the location for a restaurant, venue for performances, and the home of the Bastard club. Under the railway arches at Eberswalder Strasse is another legendary culinary landmark, the Konopkes Imbiss, that has been selling sausages since 1930, as well as the funkiest news-stand in the city - selling copies of the Guardian, the IHT and other German and international press to a jazzy beat. Another of my favourite hangout spots is just north of here on Pappelallee - the Klub der Republik - a fantastic retro-styled bar with cheap drinks, seventies d-d-r-decor, and an extra 50c on each drink for the DJ (this is a good thing BTW;-). Very popular, it fills up especially fast on Fridays and Saturdays.

If you head back down Schönhauser Allee towards Mitte from this intersection, you will come to the Kulturbrauerei. The former Schultheiss Brewery has been converted into an arts and entertainment centre, with bars, clubs, a cinema, and a cool pool hall. The courtyard on summer evenings serves as a beergarden, and in the winter is the location for a small, Scandinavian themed Christmas Market.

The area around Kollwitzplatz, named for the artist Käthe Kollwitz, are numerous cafes and bars. Most of them are a little too 'trendy' for my tastes, but the Cafe November on Husemannstrasse gets a mention simply for having a great Sunday buffet. Kollwitzplatz itself hosts one of the best Bio markets for organic produce every Saturday, although often super crowded and quite expensive. A better deal price-wise in the neighbourhood comes on books; the Saint George's English bookshop just down the road has some great deals to keep you in reading material.

What else do I like about Prenzlauerberg? I like the flea market at Mauer Park, formally a stretch of the Berlin Wall with the death-zone separating East and West, now turned into a public space alongside the stadium and the Max Schmeling Halle. The park itself is a bit grotty, although the Falkplatz at the northern end (by the arena) is one of the best spots in Prenzlauer Berg for a summer barbecue. Then there is the Pfefferberg over on Schönhauser Allee, another converted factory, that houses all kinds of events - and, further east where the district is less gentrified - there is the Planetarium on Prenzlauer Allee, where you can see stars in the city.

Some people dismiss Prenzlauer Berg as being too 'yuppified', but it was the first neighbourhood I fell in love with when I came to Berlin - it was like nothing I'd seen in England, and it gave me that first intoxicating taste of that 'anything goes' attitude when I found myself in Bastard at four in the morning with a load of new friends. Of course, I would have probably had the same experience (and maybe even 'more so') in Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain...but first impressions are often the deepest, and I have loved this part of town ever since.

Here's where Prenzlauer Berg is on the map: Via Michelin

You can also find some other peopls's tips for Prenzlauer Berg on Wikitravel

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