Mrs Local Hideaways must confess that, until recently, she had never been to Berlin. I am not sure what held me back, but for some reason, this city was not very high on my wish list. But gee, is this a classic case of unknown, unloved! This is one SPECTECULAR city!!!
I first got to know Berlin last December. I was fortunate that the weather gods were well inclined towards me then, for it is -15°Celsius with lots of snow there as I’m writing this blog! Before I took off, I considered what I was going to see during my three day stay in Berlin. People around me mainly pointed out the various historic highlights of the city. Of course, I wanted to see some of these as well, but I find it so much more exciting and fun to get to know the city from within and to move around like one of the locals. Therefore, I set out to discover three different neighbourhoods, by many insiders also named as their favourite districts.
I started my trip in a wonderful Local Hideaway in Prentzlauer Berg: Linnen. This area has been done up considerably over the past years and has therefore changed a lot. It has managed to lose some of its underground atmosphere and many yuppies moved into the monumental houses. However, this is not to say that it isn’t a nice neighbourhood. On the contrary! You can wander around for hours amidst the great vintage shops and restaurants in this area. Nearby, in the Bernauer Strasse, you will find the Berlin Wall memorial. Here, the difference between East and West is explained quite impressively by way of photographs, remnants of the Wall and indications for old escape routes. Another tip is to have dinner at Linnen’s Korean neighbour: Bini Lee. Not only does she prepare delicious Asian food, she is also a very gifted professional soprano. If you are lucky, she may sing some beautiful songs for you!
Time to move on to the next district: Friedrichshain, bordering Prenzlauer Berg. This area, situated in former East-Berlin, is somewhat more raw. This is one of the areas where the nightlife takes place. Very touristic but no less worth a visit is East Side Gallery: a remnant of the Wall on which various artists from all over the world have painted their artwork. And will you be around on a Sunday? In that case you should visit the flea market on Boxenhagener Platz (there is also an organic market on Saturdays, by the way). Mrs. Local Hideaways was able to get her perfect little red suitcase at a bargain price here! Near Boxenhager Platz, you will find all kinds of nice little bars and restaurants, this area is also very lively at night! Of course, you should not forget to book a night at the remarkable and innovative Almódovar Hotel, an oasis in this busy city where you can unwind and recharge your battery completely!
Last but not least: Neukölln. This is an up-and-coming, multi-cultural neighbourhood where students, hipsters and artists like to settle. As is often the case in big cities, things change continuously: as soon as prices go up and real estate developers catch onto the district, the trendsetters and artistic people leave for a new area to start again. In Neukölln, you are continuously misled: if you think you have ended up in some shabby street, you will find yourself in front of an ultra-hip shop or coffee bar. If you want to know exactly where to go, I recommend Clare Freeman’s initiative: the MyPlusOne concept. Through the MyPlusOne website you can book one of (in Berlin) over 35 carefully selected locals, all with specific profiles and hobbies. This personal guide will take you on a tour of Berlin and will show you the nicest shops, bars, galleries, etc., all of which you won’t find in the travel guides!
My time in Berlin was short…..but long enough to give it a special place in my heart. Berlin is so very different from many other European cities and you will therefore probably either “love it or hate it”. I found the combination of history and renewal, alternative and creative very exciting. And to think that insiders told me it is even more fun in the summer….!
Esther van Onna – Founder Local Hideaways. January 2014