Berlin: Prenzlauer Berg's Village Vibe


Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
 and Erich Honecker, head of the former Communist
 German Democratic Republic

Most people don't realize it, but most of Berlin's famous monuments, museums and war memorials are in the former Communist-controlled Eastern part of the German capital. The photo above hangs in the DDR Museuma museum on the Spree River dedicated to depicting life in the German Democratic Republic when the East was controlled by the Soviets until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The East is also where you'll find some of Berlin's most interesting neighborhoods. Prenzlauer Berg is one of my favorites. A working-class neighborhood popular with dissidents, it was largely neglected by the GDR which never got around to replacing its elegant, 19th century buildings with concrete block structures. I first discovered Prenzlauer Berg on a trip to Berlin with a group of journalists in 1999, then rediscovered it again last April for a story in the current issue of Virtuoso Life Magazine.  

GO FOR

A sophisticated village vibe in a neglected part of the former Communist East, now a gentrified neighborhood of tree-lined streets and restored 19th century buildings, most of which survived bombing during World War II. 

"After the wall fell, a lot of people from West Berlin came to Prenzlauer Berg for cheap rent and artistic scene," a local travel guide author told me.  So many young couples sought out the neighborhood that it earned the nickname "Pregnant Hill." Today it houses some of the city's most expensive residential real estate. About 15 percent of residents are foreigners, the majority French. 

I recommend spending a day here. Come for brunch and combine a a walk around the neighborhood with a trip to the Thursday and Saturday organic farmers' market, or a visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial. Find local designers at the Mauerpark Sunday market, and learn about life under the Soviets at the Museum in the Kulturbrauerei, a free museum inside a brewery turned cultural center. Best are the streets fanning out from pretty Kollwitzplatz square. Follow the couples pushing strollers along wide sidewalks to cafes and restaurants, many with outdoor terraces facing traffic-free streets.


The Wasserturm Prenzlauer Berg is Berlin's
 oldest water tower, completed in 1877.
It now houses apartments

EAT:  

Berliners love a leisurely breakfast. Order it anytime on the terrace (blankets provided) at Cafe Anna Blume (Kollwitzstraße 83). Share the three-tier platter piled with fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, smoked salmon and veggies.  Anna Blume was named after a poem by Kurt Schwitters, and doubles as a flower shop.

Patissier Guido Fuhrmann creates edible works of art at  Werkstatt der Süße (Husemannstraße 25). Choose from 20 types of tarts made with seasonal ingredients such as lavender and wild blueberries. 

The refined Gugelhof (Knaackstraße 37) was President Clinton's choice for a traditional meal when he visited Berlin in 2000. Candles and roses decorate rustic wooden tables. Classical Alsatian specialities include asparagus cream soup and fresh trout braised in Riesling wine. The neighborhood has lots of ethnic options - Tibetan, Thai, Indian etc. - as well, along with a few vegan and vegetarian restaurants. 



Afternoon in the PraterGarten

DRINK:

Chestnut trees shade long, yellow tables at PraterGarten, (Kastanienallee 7 – 9), Berlin's oldest beer garden. Tourists mix with families and local workers relaxing with their Prater Pils. 

More intimate is Bryk Bar (Rykestraße 18; 49 -30 381-00-165). Ring the bell and enter a dark and cozy bar with a few tables looking out onto a street lined with pastel buildings and restored facades. Parsley-flecked popcorn accompanies cocktails spiked with fruit vinegars and fresh herbs. 



Bryk Bar 

Candles flicker atop marble tables at cozy Kaffeehaus SowohlAlsAuch  (Kollwitzstraße 88). Warm up with hot chocolate laced with rum or tea infused with whiskey and whipped cream.  Twelve types of espresso are on the menu along. It's not unusual to see reserved signs on the window tables. Locals meet friends here in the morning, or linger over a newspaper and glass of wine in the late evening. 



Kaffeehaus SowohlAlsAuch

SHOP

Find silver and gold pendants, rings and bracelets hand-crafted by Matthias Frank at his Schmucklabor gallery and workshop (Husemannstraße 4). Sven Peter sells photos of more than 100 city scenes at his DulceMedia stall at the Sunday Mauerpark flea market (Bernauer Str. 6). Shop for limited edition dresses made by an in-house seamstress at Kleid and Schuh (Dress and Shoe), Sredzkistraße 34.


STAY: 

Two of Berlin's best hotels are in the former East. Overlooking the Brandenburg Gate,, the Hotel Adlon Kempinski first opened in 1907 as a luxury hotel. It was rebuilt in 1997 with 382 rooms and suites. Book a yoga lesson, borrow a bike for a ride in nearby Tiergarten park, or sample currywurst and champagne on the terrace facing the U.S. embassy rebuilt at its original location after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For more on what it's like to stay here, see my earlier blogpost


Adlon lobby 

With 195 rooms and suites, the 20-year-old Regent Berlin faces the domes of two historic churches and the Berlin concert hall on Gendarmenmarkt Square. In-room information includes suggestions by hotel doormen, chefs and housekeepers  on how to spend a perfect day in Berlin. Don't miss afternoon tea served fireside in the lounge.


The restored Gendarmenmarkt Square

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