A weekend spent traversing through Berlin’s eventful past can be an exhausting one to say the least. This is a city with a number of stories to tell: each district has a different personality, background, color and vibe. And, as this is a capital that welcomes strangers with open arms, its intermingling nationalities have created different tastes within the districts, too.
Discover six Berlin neighborhoods and learn how their largest immigration groups have influenced the local food culture, and pocket some hot tips for your dining pleasure. Guten Appetit!
Around the world – Friedrichshain
The former East German district of Friedrichshain has changed dramatically over the years. One of Berlin’s most affected areas during the Second World War, Friedrichshain is now the city’s bohemian hub. It is a beautiful yet unpolished space that embraces change and progression. Punks, techno-heads and artists from across the world live alongside huge media corporations and Soviet architecture, creating a melting pot of cultures felt across all facets of everyday life.
For locals, a significant perk of the area’s gentrification is the wealth of gourmet options. Reflective of the city’s largest immigrant groups, in Friedrichshain there’s something for everyone. If you fancy sampling native food from Berlin’s 300 thousand-strong Russian-speaking population, try Datscha Café Bar where you can stuff yourself silly on hearty soups, kievs and Sunday brunch plates. Or, if you want a quick trip to Sudan, grab yourself a “Tamiya mit halloumi” from Nil and allow its peanut-sauce smothered goodness to transport you there.
Dumplings and dough balls – Prenzlauer Berg
The name Prenzlauer Berg is a title that carries rather picturesque connotations, and luckily for the area, these are backed up by its aesthetics. This is undoubtedly one of Berlin’s lushest neighborhoods. Boasting leafy cobbled boulevards, 300 protected properties and a wealth of stylish stores and hangouts, it’s easy to forget that its up-market facade hides a nonconformist past.
Once a squatters’ paradise, Prenzlauer Berg was renowned for its empty buildings, anarchist collectives and soup kitchens. Its spirit lead the area to become an important site for the peaceful revolution that sparked the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. 27 years later, this is no longer the site of revolt. Affluent parents pushing baby strollers have replaced rebels, high-class condos occupy the vacant lots and soup kitchens are now trendy eateries.
Thus, there are plenty of places to rest your feet and feed your soul as you venture through the neighborhood’s past. For exceptional and traditional dumplings, visit Wok Show — an unpretentious Chinese restaurant that’ll serve you more steamed parcels than you can shake a stick at, for a ridiculously low price. Or, if you’re in the mood to try one of the best pizzas in the city, head to Standard, where even the crusts are delicious.
Little Istanbul – Kreuzberg and Neukölln
It’s impossible to venture through Kreuzberg without noticing the dominance of the Turkish community. Turks came here through the country’s “guest worker program” and helped rebuild the city after the Second World War. Most flocked to Kreuzberg for various reasons: the rent on flats was capped, living was cheap and contained within a cement Berlin Wall bubble. Fortunately, they were able to transfer their culture to a pocket of the city.
There are now a quarter-million Turks residing in Berlin and a stroll through Kreuzberg and its neighbouring district, Neukölln, will highlight the two countries’ connections. Every week, the Turkish Market (Tuesdays and Fridays, 11am – 6:30pm) brings the Landwehr Canal to life with a rainbow of stalls selling everything from fabric and handbags, to sizzling koftas and baklava dripping in honey.
Of course, while you’re in the area it would be a crime to pass by the many grills and kebab houses without sampling what’s on offer. For the works, head to Doyum by Kottbusser Tor for their outstanding ‘Adana Kebab’, or migrate towards the lamb chops at Adana Grill by Görlitzer Bahnhof. Whichever you choose, your stomach is guaranteed to leave smiling.
Kanton kingdom – Charlottenburg
Once its own city, Charlottenburg is Berlin’s commercial center of the West and boasts a wealth of major attractions. From Charlottenburg Palace, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and the Deutsche Oper, to huge shopping boulevards and the Berlin Zoological Garden, there’s enough to keep you busy.
However, for those looking for different, more local experiences, Kantstrasse – home of Berlin’s China Town – houses some of the best Asian eateries in town. Berlin’s relationship with China dates back to the 1800s, when the first wave of Chinese immigrants came to the city, followed by a large number of foreign exchange students in the 1920s. It’s in Kantstrasse – dubbed “Kantonstrasse” in reference to the Guangdong province – where their influence is most visible.
Like most China Towns though, the selection can be somewhat overwhelming and it’s not always a good idea to pick a spot on a whim. For those not afraid of spice, try Selig and opt for the ‘Gebratene Reisbandnudeln,’ comforting hand-pulled noodles in a delicious beef broth. Or, for excellent crispy Peking Duck try Good Friends – these guys have a reputation for being the best Cantonese restaurant in the city. Budget-friendly XCC 369 serves generous portions of Sichuan-style dishes in a rather small space; but don’t let that get in the way – you’ll leave this place full and ready to walk the city.
Secret treasures – Schöneberg
Although quiet, leafy Schöneberg is far from being Berlin’s least popular district, there are a number of reasons why you will have heard of it. Its town hall hosted J. F. Kennedy and his infamous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech back in 1963. Additionally, it’s welcomed countless famous faces over the years, from Albert Einstein to David Bowie. And, last but not least, the area provided inspiration for the book and subsequent movie Cabaret, as it was a thriving gay center in the 1920s and 1930s.
However, the area is not as well-known for its food culture – but that is OK by us. It means that some of our favorite eateries remain hidden gems and you rarely have to wait for a table. Take the Korean Imbiss (street food shop, usually tiny and locally run) IXTHYS, beloved not only for its A+ bibimbap but also for its truly strange decor. Not shying away from their religious alignment, this small deli’s walls are lined floor to ceiling with German bible quotes.
Unlike every other recommendation on this list, the innovative eatery Martha’s transforms traditional German cuisine into beautiful dishes with elements from Asia and the Mediterranean. Championed by Michelin-trained chef, Manuel Schmuck, this is by far the most expensive restaurant on the list. But Martha’s ambition, paired with high-quality service, make this place a must-visit for locals and tourists alike.