A patchwork of village-like communities makes up modern Berlin, and even as a resident you’re always discovering new and less known areas as the fun moves on in the wake of the gentrification sweeping across the city like a tidal wave.
Recently, following a move from East to West, I’ve been getting to know Wedding, a marriage of Berlin’s working classes and its Turkish immigrant community just north of Mitte. Wedding is a place that has been predicted gentrification for years now: more than a little rough around the edges with its urban landscape, brutalist architecture and disused factories, Wedding nevertheless has all the ingredients for being the next big thing. Rent is still cheap, there’s a vibrant arts and cultural scene, and it’s still far from peak beard and obligatory organic store on each street corner. Wedding even has its own river (the Panke), which wends its way discreetly through the neighbourhood creating little pockets of green amid the otherwise grimy face of industrial decay.
Few tourists venture here, even though it’s a fast ride on the U-Bahn from Mitte or Charlottenburg, but if Neukölln no longer seems edgy and you’re sick of hearing English spoken on the streets in Kreuzberg, take a trip up the U6 or the U8 and discover what much of the rest of Berlin was like a decade ago. There may be few traditional sights, but with an interesting and varied nightlife and some little known eating options, it’s a great place for off-the-beaten path exploration.
The area was put on the young creative map by the opening of Stattbad, a conversion of an abandoned public swimming pool that for over a decade hosted some of Berlin’s best parties, concerts and exhibits, including Boiler Room sets, around its empty pool. Stattbad was suddenly closed in mid-2015 – increasingly the fate of cultural spaces that grew out of Berlin’s squatting and underground techno scene, but there’s plenty of other such space in Wedding despite this sad loss.
Literally opposite Stattbad is Anita Berber, a decadent loft bar named after one of the brightest stars of Weimar Berlin, whose androgyny and debauchery made her a legend. This place is hauntingly atmospheric and plays host to an in-the-know crowd of new Weddingites discovering cheap cocktails amid the louche surroundings.
Another such place is Brunnen 70, literally the underground club you might have fantasised about visiting in Berlin: to get to the subterranean vaults that pump with techno each weekend, you have to enter a freight elevator that takes you rather terrifyingly down to the dark heart of the club, all the while wondering where the fire exits are.
Should a night of sweaty, shirtless dancing underground not appeal, there’s also a fine whiskey bar for more refined drinking. Indeed, Wedding Offside is the kind of whisky bar that connoisseurs dream of, with some 700 different varieties on sale, and where you can play darts, drink draught Irish ales and generally hole up in one of Berlin’s least known and cosiest pubs.
And should quirky and old school be on the menu, venture to Kugelbahn in Gruntaler Strasse, where a restored bar that dates from the sixties attracts a fun crowd, who occasionally go down to the basement and play the German version of nine-pin bowling.
As a multi-ethnic place, you’ll have a surprising amount of food to try. The selection is best for Turkish dishes, which you can find all over this most Turkish of cities, though almost nowhere else in such concentration (perhaps only Neukölln and Kreuzberg are Wedding’s equal in this respect). A couple to try include Pamfilya on Luxemburger Strasse or Sirin Gözleme on Müllerstrasse, where delicious variations of Gözleme (traditional flatbread served with various toppings) are served up.
But with changing immigration patterns comes even more choice. Berlin’s best Pierogis can be found at Pierogarnia on Turinerstrasse in the middle of the charmingly leafy and cobbled streets just north of Leopoldplatz, while for something more contemporary and international, gastropub Volta seems predestined to appeal to a young and worldly crowd with its stripped down and industrial design, beautifully presented dishes and its eclectic menu that takes in items as disparate as kimchi pancakes, ceviche and wonton pizza with black pudding, feta and potato cream.