Monday, December 05, 2005

Guide: Berlin - Mitte

(Photo: The TV Tower)

I started writing about 'Berlin Places' for anyone that stumbled across this blog looking for info on Berlin, and have decided to write some general posts about the Berlin districts to highlight my favourite spots in the city. Starting in the middle, here's Mitte...

I always think of Mitte as having three distinct areas, all very different, highlighting the variety that can be found in the city in general. On the Mitte side of the Brandenburg Gate is the historic centre, around Unter den Linden, with it's grand buildings designed to fit with the city's status of a capital city. North, towards Prenzlauer Berg is the Scheunenviertel, the former Jewish neighbourhood, whilst to the east of Unter den Linden is Alexanderplatz, the concrete centre of East Berlin, capital of the DDR.


Unter den Linden; This is the Berlin of tourist guides, and there are some fascinating little spots on and around this grand boulevard. The Brandenburg Gate and the newly developed Pariser Platz sit at one end, the Berliner Dom and the Museumsinsel sit at the other. In between there is the Bebelplatz, otherwise known as the 'book-burning square' - there is a wonderful memorial to the event laid into the cobble stones, and underground square of empty book shelves, which thankfully seems to have been undisturbed by the building of a new car park around it.

There are some great buildings around here as well, if you are into that sort of thing, such as the Opera and the Humboldt University, as well as the twin cathedrals on Gendarmenmarkt and the fantastically overblown Russian Embassy - some say the 'real' seat of power in the DDR.

Cutting through Unter den Linden is Friedrichstrasse, which since the fall of the wall has become the site of various new, chic boutiques and shopping arcades. Down on the border with Kreuzberg, where the wall used to be is the Checkpoint Charlie museum, a really interesting place (although I have been far too many times with various visitors), and a fine range of "authentic" Communist apparel being hawked outside.

North of Unter den Linden, between Hackescher Markt and Friedrichstrasse is the Scheuenviertel, the former Jewish district. The Hackesche Höfe, a collection of courtyards right on Hackescher Markt includes a cinema, a cabaret, bookshops, a pool hall and the Ampelmännchen shop, where you can get everything they can think of with the little green and red crossing guys on them. On Oranienburger Strasse there is the Neue Synagogue, which includes an exhibition on its history, and that of Jewish life in Berlin.

Along Auguststrasse and Linienstrasse a gallery quarter has grown up over the last 15 years - it is great just to walk around and see what exhibitions they have on at any given time. Probably my favourite is the C/O Berlin, on Linienstrasse, which often has some stunning photography exhibitions from international artists. Back on Oranienburger Strasse, the Kunsthaus Tacheles is a work of art in itself, as well as being home to a cinema and art exhibitions of vaying quality (I wrote about Tacheles before, and there is a link at the bottom of this post).

Around Alexanderplatz there is of course the TV Tower, for your views over towards Poland (on a clear day), as well as the World Clock, some abstract fountains, and in general the wonderful sense of having arrived in another city despite only walking a short hop along Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse from Unter den Linden. My favourite building on Alex is the 'House of the Teachers', an otherwise boring sixties block that has a great socialist-era mural about a third of the way up. Just north of Alex is the Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse, which houses the avant-garde Volksbühne theatre, the art house cinema Kino Babylon, and the former headquarters of the Communist Party, which now houses offices of 'Die Linke.PDS' (the German Left Party).

Behind the big housing block on Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse (by the Institute Cervantes) you can also find one of my favourite memorials in Berlin, on the site of the Old Synagogue. It features a huddle of women, whose husbands had been sent to the Concentration Camps, whilst across the small patch of grass since another figure in an armchair, symbolising the German people watching on as crimes were committed around them. Powerful stuff.


Some cool hang out spots in Mitte include:

The Jazz clubs. There are two good ones, the b-flat on Rosenthaler Strasse, and the Schlott on Chauseestrasse. The second is especially good on Monday's when it is the open jam night. Admission is free, and they manage to attract a very high standard of musicians to come and take part.

Attached to the Volksbühne on Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse is the Rote Salon, an (unsurprisingly) red affair, with some great events including salsa and latin nights, as well as periodic visits from the kings of Berlin Britpop, the Karrera Klub. Around the corner on Torstrasse is Kaffee Burger, a great late night drinking den with an eclectic programme that includes the legendary Russendisko.

On Oranienburger Strasse, in amongst the tourist-trap restaurants are a couple of cool place; the Cafe Zapata in Tacheles, which often has live gigs, as well as the Aufsturz, a cafe with beers from around the world with a club in the basement that has free gigs most weeks of young, up and coming Berlin bands.


Favourite Restaurant: The traditional and cosy Sophie'nEck on Sophienstrasse, close to Oranienburger Strasse

Favourite Kebab: The Imbiss International on Rosenthaler Platz. Good cheap pizzas too.

Other Berlin Review posts on Mitte:
Guide to: Große Hamburger Strasse
Guide to: Kunsthaus Tacheles


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