Here are some of the best restaurants, bars, art galleries and boutiques the locals really would rather you didn’t know about in Neukölln, the most happening of fringe districts in the German city.
When you’re planning a trip to Neukölln – the latest Berlin borough to be hailed as the centre of all things hip – Google Street View is of no use. Where we’re told we’ll find an organic cafe, it shows us a battered-old launderette. The address of an art gallery returns an uninspiring image of a miniature supermarket, its rusty, graffiti-stained shutters clinging stubbornly to the pavement.
As it turns out, Neukölln’s transformation is very much a reality. It’s just happening so quickly that even the internet can’t keep up. As our guide explains, it’s all thanks to an airport. Or rather, the lack of one. ‘The area is basically unrecognisable from when I lived here seven years ago,’ she tells us over coffee. ‘Not long ago, Neukölln had more social problems than anywhere in Berlin. It’s become a completely different place since the airport closed.’
Stretching across the borough’s western border, Tempelhof Airport was one of the world’s busiest transport hubs. When it closed for good in 2008, property prices in the surrounding area duly went through the roof and those who weren’t priced out were left with a multi-purpose community park between the twin runways. But that’s not all. On Friday September 5-7, it hosts the Berlin Festival (www.berlinfestival.de).
This renewal is slowly enticing artsy-minded Berliners away from Kreuzberg – the city’s established bohemian district – and into the scuzzier, immigrant-ruled Neukölln. The result is a patchwork of Turkish kebab stands and African cosmetics stores sandwiched between stylish bars and vintage boutiques.
Time for a bite
Located right next to Tempelhof, the residential grid of Schillerkiez is where you’ll find Neukölln’s best cafes. Most don’t open for breakfast, which means that the neatly presented cafe/gallery Pappelreihe (Kienitzerstrasse 109, +49 176 3419 6020) is the only one left to look after the early morning trade. Head here for exquisite coffees, pastries and a soundtrack of low-energy reggae. For more substantial sustenance, Schiller Bar (Herrfurthstrase 7, +49 152 0580 8490), located just around the corner, serves its hearty breakfasts well into the afternoon.
The epicentre of Neukölln’s dining scene, meanwhile, lies to the north-east. Apart from many decent but samey Turkish spots, Karl Marx Strasse is also where you’ll find some excellent sushi at Steel Shark (Karl Marx-Strasse 13, +49 30 6298 3503). Continue up to Hermannplatz U-Bahn station for Berlin Burger International (Pannierstrasse 5, +49 178 5407 409), a word-of-mouth phenomenon that’s wooed the taste buds of every food blogger in the city. Across the street is Ber (Panierstraße 56), a bar that’s slowly becoming the local favourite. Head around the corner onto Weserstrasse where you’ll find the delightfully basic-looking Sahara (Reuterstrasse 56, +49 30 4738 4090) – one of Berlin’s oddly numerous Sudanese restaurants. Meanwhile, Sauvage (Pflügerstrasse 25, +49 30 5316 7547) is Berlin’s sole pioneer of ‘paleolithic cuisine’. Based on the eating habits of our knuckle-dragging, cave-dwelling ancestors, which means meat, fish and veggies are all 100 percent organic and sustainably sourced, while grains, sugars and processed ingredients are
Party like a rock star
For a well-paced night out in Neukölln, start off in the quieter, more contemplative spots in Schillerkiez, before moving on to the rowdier venues of Weserstrasse – the area’s liveliest strip. Art und Weise (Leinestrasse 48) takes a good stab at the up-cycled aesthetic, with mismatched furniture complementing the purposefully dingy, candlelit vibe. The bar still hosts a deluge of film screenings, jam sessions and live art demonstrations. Around the corner, Engels (Herrfurthstrasse 21) and Sowieso (Weisestrasse 24, +49 157 7287 9965) both sport a similarly home-made look, with the latter playing host to an eclectic range of musicians, from jazz trombonists to classical violinists – often in the same set. Tier (Weserstrasse 42, +49 178 2339 513) is a more polished affair, with punters to match.
Shop like you mean it
Vintage fashion, cupcakes and floppy-haired boys with guitars: art and project space Let Them Eat Cake (Weserstrasse 164, +49 30 6096 5095) is an Instagrammer’s heaven. A prettily presented vintage clothing store, pieces are hand-picked by the discerning Swedish owner, then tastefully customised (or simply repaired) and displayed on the shop floor. Those with an eye for bespoke fashion should also check out Himo (Weserstrasse 53, +49 176 7813 5709) where the emphasis is on hats. One-off pieces range from the avant-garde to the just-plain bonkers.
Neukölln’s art galleries tend to operate on a somewhat clandestine basis, putting on exhibitions with just a couple of hours’ notice. Holz Kohlen Koks (Reuterstrasse 82, +49 176 7849 0695) is the workspace of Hungarian-German artist Ivan Kiss who, as well as displaying his own illuminated installations, also opens up his modest space to fellow artists. Cell 63 (Allerstrasse 38, +49 30 2197 3329), is a cross between a space for creative people, an illustration studio and an unconventional art gallery. And lastly, LoopHole (Boddinstrasse 60) is a tombola of artsy things from gigs to installations.
Need to know
Air Berlin flies direct to Berlin (from Abu Dhabi) from Dhs2,955 return.