Fresh off celebrating the 25-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (in 2014), the German capital remains a place whose past and present are tightly intertwined. It’s a massive city — both geographically (the urban sprawl is about eight times the size of Paris) and emotionally — to take in.
Many first-time visitors stick closely to Mitte, the district located in the former East where a lot of the new development post-1989 happened. Today, this neighborhood, which comprises Museum Island and the Berlin Wall Memorial, is bursting with galleries, restaurants and shops, making it an easy one-stop place for a taste of the old and the new Berlin. Return visitors, however (or travelers staying longer than a few days), should explore beyond Mitte’s well-trodden paths to get a feel for the city’s beautifully diverse neighborhoods.
Here are five districts — from a classic in the former West to a hipster family neighborhood — that impress with their unique representations of present-day Berlin.
Getting There: Air Berlin offers direct flights to the German capital from New York City, which take under eight hours. Flights depart JFK and arrive at Berlin’s Tegel airport. Air Berlin (which operates in partnership with Etihad Airways) has a very comfortable Business Class, with seats that fold down to lie flat.
For help with a custom Berlin itinerary, Indagare members can contact our Bookings Team.
Classic Berlin: Charlottenburg
What: Berlin’s chicest residential district
Where: Former West
Street to Know: Kurfürstendamm & Savignyplatz
Eat: Paris Bar or Café Einstein
Know: Charlottenburg served as a cultural and intellectual center in the roaring ‘20s, when Otto Dix and other artists and intellectuals would gather in coffeehouses in this area.
Indagare Tip: Skip the upper Kurfürstendamm and Tauntzienstrasse with their chain stores and Zoo Station with its fast-food joints, and head directly to Savignyplatz for charming cafés and restaurants.
Alternative Melting Pot: Kreuzberg
What: One of East Berlin’s most multicultural neighborhoods, thanks to its many Turkish and Greek residents.
Where: Straddling former East-West
Street to Know: Paul-Lincke-Ufer
Eat: Volt and Horváth
Shop: Turkish Market (Türkischer Markt)
Know: Near so-called K’berg is the interesting Tempelhof airfield. During the blockade of West Germany during WWII, this served as the medium through which Allied Forces delivered food and supplies to a population of over 2 million Berliners. The massive airport building and surrounding green fields now serve as a public space even larger than NYC’s Central Park. Berliners can be found there biking, jogging and picnicking on sunny days.
Indagare Tip: The environs change quickly, becoming less upscale the further one walks into Kreuzberg, showcasing gentrification still occurring.
Most Eclectic: Friedrichshain
What: Edgy area home to dive bars, alternative stores and the ateliers of aspiring artists.
Where: Former East
Street to Know: Look out for iconic Communist-era architecture along the Karl-Marx-Allee, which is lined with huge Socialist apartment buildings.
Eat: CSA Bar, Schneeweiss
Shop: Temper boutique for handmade and affordable women’s clothing.
Know: If visiting on a Saturday, check out Flohmarkt, an outdoor flea market comprised of varied food and artisan stalls.
Indagare Tip: Those looking to experience Berlin’s nightlife can do so at Berghain (Am Wriezener Bahnhof; 49 30 29360210; www.berghain.de), the city’s most (in)famous club and a mecca for Berlin youths.
Brooklyn in Berlin: Prenzlauer Berg
What: Residential but with hipster families and myriad cafés and shops
Where: Former East
Eat: Café Anna Blume, Gugelhof
Shop: Friedrichs Lust, Schreiber + Mozedlani
See: Kollwitzplatz, a lovely park, and the landmark Wasserturn (Water Tower), both surrounded by funky restaurants and cool, little stores.
Know: After the fall of the Wall, this area was considered quite gritty. It was full of abandoned buildings, that squatters appropriated for underground raves
Indagare Tip: The repurposed Kulturbrauerei (“culture brewery”), a former brewery with well-preserved architecture from the 19th-century, now functions as a multipurpose complex that hosts concerts and gastronomic events.
Off the Beaten Path: Dahlem
What: Affluent residential area
Where: Deep in the former West
Know: The leafy suburb of Dahlem feels almost like a small village onto itself. Part of the American Sector of West Berlin during the Cold War, it is about a 30-minute drive from the Hotel de Rome. It has, however, long figured on some art lovers’ Berlin itineraries, thanks to it being the location of the Brücke Museum (Bussardsteig 9; 49 30 8312029; www.bruecke-museum.de). Opened in 1967, the institution houses the largest collection of this famous expressionist movement. In 2015, Dahlem saw the opening of yet another gallery space that made headlines: the Kunsthaus Dahlem. Like most everything in Berlin the building that houses this newcomer has a fascinating history (read a review here).
Street to Know: Lansstrasse, where the three Dahlem Museums are located: The Ethnological Museum; The Museum of Asian Art; Museum of European Cultures
Eat: Alter Krug Dahlem (Königin-Luise-Str. 52; 49 30 8327000)
Indagare Tip: Dahlem is one of the greenest areas in Berlin; those traveling with kids should stop by the Botanischer Garten (Königin-Luise-Straße 6-8, 49 30 83850100; www.bgbm.org), which has over 100 acres of land and fifteen greenhouses.