David Bowie once described Berlin as the greatest cultural extravaganza that on could experience – I only had 36 hours. The word Imbiss is more commonly associated with fast food fare like currywurst or Döner Kebap, the kind food drunk people crave. But I had it on good authority that Imbiss 204, a grubby little place along Prenzlander Allee, serves some of the best traditional German food in Berlin. It’s the kind of place where you order at the counter, grab a beer from the fridge, and find a place to sit wherever you can. It wasn’t long before at a plate pilled high with beans, potatoes, and three giant meatballs arrived, a great start to my Berlin experience at only € 10 (including the beer).
Imbiss 204 is located in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin, about a block from my € 70 a night Airbnb apartment. The area is popular with the health conscious 30–somethings and hip young families looking for a place with a real neighbourhood feel to raise their young. It makes for a great place to stay in Berlin, with no shortage of trendy coffee spots, fusion restaurants and quirky neighbourhood stores. On Saturdays the Kollwitzplatz Farmers Market lures neighbours and visitors out onto the tree-lined street with the promise of fresh organic produce, a variety of street foods, and local arts and crafts. For parents it’s an opportunity to release their children into the nearby park – conveniently located adjacent the markets wine seller.
A first time visit to Berlin isn’t complete without The Berlin Wall experience. Getting to attractions from Prenzlauer Berg is easy; Mauerpark is a short walk away, there area good tram and U-Bahn connections (a day ticket costs €4.70), or you can rent a bike for around €10 a day. I opted for the U-Bahn to Stadmitte station, a short walk from Check-Point Charlie. While not something to be missed, nowadays this infamous crossing between East and West Berlin is more like an amusement park attraction than a historic monument.
For a more authentic experience, visit YAAM (Young African Art Market). Tucked away just off the Spree River – you can’t miss the big “Refugees Welcome” sign – this place is like a slice of the Caribbean in Berlin. Drawn in by the sound of Raggamuffin vibes, the smell of Jerk Chicken cooking, and the graffiti covered walls, I followed a narrow alleyway along the river that opened out onto beach bar. The only logical thing to do was order a Cube Libre, settle into a deck chair, and soak up some of the atmosphere.
Be careful not to get too comfortable YAAM, the East Side Gallery is only a short walk around the corner. An international memorial to freedom, this 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall is located nearby on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. The Kunstmeile, or art mile in English, runs along the banks of the river Spree and is the longest segment of the Berlin Wall still standing. After the fall of The Wall, 118 artists from 21 different countries painted this section depicting the political events between 1989 and 1990. A walk along the East Side Gallery is a more authentic experience than Check-Point Charlie and sure to leave you feeling thirsty by the end. Fortunately, Warschauer station marks the end of the East Side Gallery where the M10 Tram transports thirsty visitors back to Eberswalder Station and the Prater Biergarten.
Prater is Berlin’s oldest beer garden with its roots going back to 1837. Over time it has hosted a variety of cultural events including theatre, film screenings, political meetings and even boxing matches. Now they serve up Hefeweissbier and bretzels under the shade of the gardens chestnut trees. It’s a great place to relax after a day spent wandering through the cities past.
Sunday mornings in Berlin are about brunch, and it’s advisable to book in advance. I stopped in at Betty’n Caty for coffee and a giant slice of banana bread before making my way to the Mauerpark Flea Market were I spent the day sifting for treasure amongst hip Berliners, bleary-eyed students, and fellow tourists. Aside from the opportunity to browse through other people’s junk, the market has decent eats and a fantastic atmosphere.
When you’ve had enough of browsing other people’s junk, cross into the park where you’ll performers pretending to be Houdini in the amphitheatre and people like Kolja Kugler, a native Berlin artist, who builds robots, including Sir Elton Junk and afreakin bassplayer.
Weaving my way back to my Airbnb apartment I realised how little of Berlin I had managed to experience and how accurate Bowie’s description of the city was. With asparagus season starting and Ryan Air offering cheap flights into Berlin Schöenfield – the train between the city and the airport takes about 40 minutes and costs €5 – I’d be back very soon.