Berlin may have been built on barren, windswept flatlands, but turns out the conditions in the East are ripe for artists, bon vivants, and 24-hour party people.
East Berlin is edgy and artsy — and less Americanized than West. (It’s a hangover from the Wall.) The young, vibrant, creative class lives, works, and experiments in what used to be off-the-map neighborhoods. You’ll spend most of your time in Mitte (established artocracy), Prenzlauer Berg (stroller mafia), and Kreuzberg (hipsters). When getting around, tell taxi drivers you want a short trip fare to avoid pricier metering.
Bygone-era splendor awaits at Karl Lagerfeld-designed Schlosshotel (Brahmsstrasse 10; +49-30-895-840), while centrally located, high-concept, and surprisingly affordable Lux 11 (+49-30-9362-800) apartments include a full kitchen, washing machine/dryer, and attentive staff. Or blow your mind at Propeller Island (Albrecht Achilles Strasse 58; +49-30-8919-016), where floating beds, hidden bathrooms, and padded walls aren’t in your dreams.
Keep your eyes wide open at Hamburger Bahnhof museum (Invalidenstrasse 50-51; +49-30-3978-3411) in an old railroad station, then take in contemporary art at KW Institute for Contemporary Art (Auguststrasse 69; +49-30-2434-590). Stop at nearby Leo Bettini (Mulackstrasse 33; +49-30-6050-7449) for twists on German knödel (dumplings) served in a charmingly modern cafe.
For great views over the river Spree, head to floating pool and sauna Badeschiff (Eichenstrasse 4; +49-178-9500-163). Make new friends at Spirit Yoga (Rosenthaler Strasse 36; +49-30-2790-8503) and spend the evening wrapping your head around performances at Volksbühne (Linienstrasse 227; +49-30-240-655) and Ballhaus Ost (Pappelallee 15; +49-30-4404-9250).
Alpenstueck (Gartenstrasse 9; +49-30-2175-1646) serves ambitious, artsy German plates without pretension, while Pappa e Ciccia (Schwedterstrasse 18; +49-30-6162-0801) offers the Berliner take on Italian lunch.
Your German friends will direct you to Clärchens Ballhaus (Augustrasse 24; +49-30-282-9295) to get a feel for the old dance hall of the GDR. Remarkably, it’s still packed with tuxedoed waiters serving schnitzel, wonderfully chintzy decorations, and locals of all ages dancing and dining — without an ounce of irony.
Chocolate is an art form at In’t Veld Schokoladen (Raumerstrasse 36; +49-30-4862-3423), where artisanal delights like cocoa nougat almond roll “salami” make tasty gifts. Generally speaking, you should drink as many lattes as you can, preferably at Cafe Wohnzimmer (Lettestrasse 6; +49-30-4455-458). Relax like a local while freakishly checking your e-mail at cafe Sankt Oberholz (Rosenthaler Strasse 72a; +49 30 2408-5586).
Fashion is in fine shape at Bless (Mulackstrasse 38; +49-30-2759-6566) where the collections are serious and severe. Andreas Murkudis (Münzstrasse 21, 1 und 2; +49-30-3088-1945) has side-by-side shops (one for guys, one for gals) tucked into a courtyard. Stock up on Schiesser underwear and goods from former Helmut Lang designer Kostas Murkudis.
Comme des Garçons Guerilla Store Lil Shop is worth a gander, too (Brunnenstrasse 184; +49-30-2804-5338), as is renegade local designer shop Redspective (Rosa-Luxemburg Strasse 18; +49-30-2759-5409). Absinth Depot Berlin (Weinmeisterstrasse 4; +49-30-2816-789) has a very creaky collection of the drink, plus an old man to school you on it.
You’ve heard about The Broken Hearts Club every third Thursday at Balhaus Berlin; now see/dance/drink there for yourself. Tausend (Schiffbauerdamm 11), a secret bar with a tiny dance floor and no signage, is the latest from the crew behind 103 Bar (Kastanienallee 49; +49-30-4434-01103). The fashionables hang out at Kim (Brunnenstrasse 10) in Mitte.
It’s young, fun, and crowded as hell at Picknick (Dorotheenstrasse 90), where the air is filled with new rave, ’90s revival, and electro and everyone at the bar orders a disco schorle (try for yourself). Fit in a visit to Tape (Heidestrasse 14), which has a big sound system and monthly parties like The Loveroom and Ghetto Blaster.
Rodeo Club (Oranienburger Strasse 36) is gorgeously gritty in an old bank, where the candelabra-lit dinner party turns into a dance fest at the stroke of midnight — and carries through till sunrise. For wildlife, the dance party at Scala (Friedrichstrasse 112a) provides what one local described as “the wall just come down feeling.”
Gleefully recount the details to your friends back at home in your smug voice. Watch their lips quiver in envy. Schadenfreude is your own souvenir.