Although I love to travel to new places, there is one destination to which I keep on returning, year after year. I can’t seem to get enough of the gritty streets, candlelit bars and abandoned spaces of Berlin.
Back in 2011, on my first visit, I whipped around the city drinking in all of the tourist hotspots that my guide book delegated. After the first day, I was thirsty for more, yearning to discover the hidden Berlin of the locals. I barely touched the surface during that short trip, although I did venture out to wander the depths of Grunewald Forest and discovered the tranquility of daytime cocktails at Club der Visionaere.
The second time around, I delighted in the energy of Mauerpark’s bustling Sunday flea market and bear pit karaoke, discovered a whole host of tiny galleries and spent the majority of my time strolling around Friedrichshain. I still wanted more. I was reading up on life in Berlin in my spare time, and had a friend currently living over there. I knew there was more that I had yet to discover.
A third trip was much of the same, revisiting beloved spots and attempting Madame Claud’s iconic music quiz - although this was the trip that I dared to leap the fence at Spree Park. After much deliberating, a German couple nudged past us and easily skimmed the rickety old wooden fence, disappearing into the alluring woods. We glanced at each other before swiftly following into this forbidden oasis that I had longed to explore.
A long-abandoned land awaited us. Toppled dinosaurs, decaying swan boats, eerily swaying Ferris wheel carts, silent rollercoaster tracks, and ancient trains covered in peeling paint. The magic of this place lies in learning how quickly nature takes over when the humans vacate.
Last summer, on my most recent visit, a large group of us rented an apartment right by the canal in Kreuzkölln. I finally experienced life as a local; quickly immersing myself in my surroundings and whizzing around on a bike, discovering little nooks and crannies for the first time.
We ate pizza in tiny cafes, drank White Russians in dingy bars, and delighted at the jukebox in Das Gift. We walked up onto the roof of a supermarket carpark to discover a bar with views of the terracotta rooftops of Neukölln. The Thursday evening was spent sampling a variety of cuisines at Markthalle Neun. Friday morning was spent wandering amongst the Turkish market on the canal, picking ripe avocados and fresh bread for a picnic by the Spree. We spent as much time as possible cycling as fast as we could down the old runway at Tempelhofer Feld, racing the kite-surfers, before crashing out on the grass or amongst the ramshackle allotments with bottles of Cava and Club Mate. We hung out in the idyllic fairy-light-lit beer garden inside Chalet, a dilapidated old mansion that has been converted into a techno party den. We cycled everywhere, ate vegetarian burgers and late-night Vietnamese meals, and took in as much as we could.
There’s still more that I yearn to discover. The true city that never sleeps, Berlin has so much to offer in the form of creative art spaces, dilapidated yet charming bars, alluring abandoned spaces and a vibrant multi-cultural community. If you love to get off the beaten track and explore as a local, Berlin offers the perfect opportunities to do so. There’s nowhere else that I have visited where it is so easy to submerge yourself in the local neighbourhoods, and to catch a glimmer of what life would be like if you were to uproots and move there.
Visit Berlin once, and I guarantee you’ll be back.
Photos, all my own.