Berlin loves Saturday lunchtime – there’s a sense that the weekend starts here. It wasn’t so long ago that the German school week didn’t finish until Saturday lunchtime and the shops closed for the weekend soon after midday. Some traditions haven’t changed though, and many Berliners still head for their local market to do the weekend shopping, then find a good café for lunch. They might even call into the church on the market square for musical and spiritual refreshment.
A notable example is the Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz (Church on Hohenzollern Square) where a choral concert and church service called ‘NoonSong’ takes place every Saturday at noon. ‘NoonSong’ is a play on the name of the Anglican service of Evensong, and its aim is to offer peaceful respite from busy city life.
Outside the church is a hive of activity around the stalls of the local street market but inside you can escape into ‘thirty minutes of heaven’ provided by the beautiful a cappella singing from centuries of sacred music by the professional vocal ensemble ‘sirventes berlin’. There are organ voluntaries as well and the congregation joins in with the two hymns. Every seat was taken when I went there recently, so it’s worth arriving early.
The stark 1930s Brick Expressionist church building contributes to the rarefied atmosphere and on a sunny day, the light streams in through the high, stained glass windows turning the whole experience into something quite ethereal.
After feeding the soul at NoonSong, it was time for Saturday lunch and there is no shortage of restaurants and cafés near Hohenzollernplatz. I can highly recommend Tian Fu on Uhlandstrasse, only a two-minute walk from the church and Hohenzollernplatz Underground Station. This very well-reviewed restaurant serves spicy Sichuan-style food and is a favourite with the Berlin Chinese community.
On my last visit, we started with Tian Fu’s excellent Dim Sum, then chose various dishes of lamb, duck and calamari which were all delicious. Despite being very busy, the service was efficient and friendly. I loved the décor too – a Chinese twist to Berlin urban retro charm. A great place to start our multi-cultural Berlin weekend.
Surrounded by waterways, Moabit is a diverse neighbourhood to the north of the Tiergarten and the Reichstag. Barely off the main tourist track, it has managed to keep below the radar and is a great place to be among Berliners without having to go too far afield. There are already two blogs about Moabit on the Berlin Unwrapped website. ‘The History Garden’ (History and Politics, September 4th, 2015) features a fascinating park on the site of Moabit’s infamous former prison and ‘Putting Moabit on the Map’ (Small Worlds, September 25th, 2015) has a wealth of information about Moabit’s history and some of its attractions. You can find them both by scrolling down the blogs in the relevant categories. Now, a sunny day strolling down Turmstraβe, stopping for lunch in the covered market and then meandering along the north bank of the River Spree has inspired me to write more about Moabit.
Outside the market in Moabit
We started our walk at the Hauptbahnhof, crossed the road into the Geschichtspark hidden behind its high prison walls and walked through to Seydlitzstraβe at the eastern end of Moabit’s busy Turmstraβe. Passing the imposing building of the Amtsgericht Tiergarten (District Court) on our left, we soon reached the Kleiner Tiergarten. These pretty public gardens provide shaded paths through the tall trees; quintessential Berlin. Before the fall of the Wall, Moabit was part of the West Berlin district of Tiergarten but now it belongs to the central borough of Mitte.
The Arminius Markthalle is on the other side of Turmstraβe, opposite the U-Bahn station. It may not be as big and hip as the Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg, but it’s still a great place for street food. The historic building dating back to 1891, with its elaborate cast-iron archways. pillars and Gothic proportions has a cool and colourful interior.
Inside the market
As well as the market stalls, there are plenty of places to eat. We headed for the ‘Hofladen’ at the back of the hall and opted for the fish set lunch menu, a Friday favourite and great value. The Markthalle is open in the evenings until 10pm, so it’s a fun place to go for supper too. For more foodie tips follow this link.
Seating inside the Markthalle
The ‘mother of all tables’!
The mandatory coffee post-prandial coffee stop was at ‘Antjes Café natürlicher Lebensraum’ on Jonasstraβe just outside the market. Its long name suggests a homely parlour and with its home-made cakes, tea and coffee served on pretty china this is an apt description. There are a couple of intimate rooms at the back, as well as seating on the pavement outside and I have it on good authority that breakfast here is delicious too.
Sitting in the window at Antje’s
One of the back rooms
Now heading towards the River Spree, we crossed the square in front of the tall, red-brick Lutheran church of ‘Heilandskirche’ competing with the height of the trees in the parkland between Turmstraβe and Alt-Moabit.
Photo montage by Gruss aus Berlin)
Then we meandered our way through the network of streets south of Turmstraβe, named after cities in Westphalia, North-West Germany. In this part of Moabit, there are several interesting-looking shops and restaurants dotted amongst the patrician apartment blocks. On Krefelder Straβe there was ‘Berlin Edition’ wine in the window of the ‘Weinschmiede’ and in the ‘Buchkantine’ a contemporary bookshop and café on the corner of Bochumer and Dortmunder Straβe, we noticed bottles of ‘Moabit London Dry Gin’ with 14 botanicals.
Weinschmiede and Buchkantine
By now we had reached the Bundesratufer (Upper Parliament House Bank) which runs along the north bank of the River Spree. There were plenty of families about, enjoying the afternoon sunshine and the playpark on the green area between the path and the river. After Lessingbrücke (Lessing Bridge) we were confronted with the massive glass and steel towers of the Spree-Bogen business and residential complex.
The word ‘Spreebogen’ simply means any large bend in the River Spree. In Berlin it can denote the whole meander between Museum Island in the east and the junction with the Landwehrkanal in the west, or different sections of this meander. The Spree-Bogen in Moabit refers to the redevelopment of the huge site once owned by the famous Berlin dairy, opened in 1879 by Carl Bolle. From 1933 until 2011 there was a large chain of Bolle supermarkets in Berlin and today Bolle still runs a spectacular event venuein the former factory chapel and ballroom of the Bolle dairy.
The original Bolle Meierei
Bolle milk deliveries
The Bolle ballroom today
Today, between the massive glass and steel buildings of the Spree-Bogen complex and the River Spree, the Ernst Freiberger Foundation has created a memorial called the ‘Straβe der Erinnerung’ (Street of Remembrance). It consists of a wide path lined with ‘Helden ohne Degen’ (Heroes without daggers) – bronze busts of German heroes who “achieved extraordinary things and behaved in an exemplary way in the most difficult of times”. Among the most famous names are resistance fighter Georg Elser, Nobel prize-winning author Thomas Mann, architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, industrialist and politician Walther Rathenau, politician Ludwig Erhard, philosopher and nun Edith Stein, physicist Albert Einstein and artist Käthe Kollwitz.
Käthe Kollwitz on the Straβe der Erinnerung
At the end of the Straβe der Erinnerung is a sculpture depicting a figure breaking through the Berlin Wall. It’s called ‘Wir sind das Volk’ (We are the people) and commemorates the citizens of East Germany whose peaceful revolution led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. They, too, are moral heroes and have a place in Berlin’s deep memory. In the photograph below you can see a section of the Berlin Wall – also part of the Straβe der Erinnerung.
‘Wir sind das Volk’
The river bank in Moabit now winds its way back to the Hauptbahnhof, with wonderful views of the Tiergarten across the Spree. But on this particular Friday afternoon, we stopped at the Moabiter Brücke, admired the restaurant ship ‘Patio’, and turned left up Kirchstrasse towards Alt-Moabit.
‘Patio’ restaurant ship
On the pavement outside 22 Kirchstraβe, we looked down at two Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stones) to mark the homes of Betty and Frieda Brasch who were deported by the Nazis in 1943. There are over 357 of these small brass commemorative plaques embedded in the streets of Moabit alone and we had already seen several on our walk. On 8th May this year they were cleaned and polished as part of an initiative started by the SPD in Berlin (Social Democrat Party of Germany) to mark the day the German capital was liberated from the grip of the Nazis in 1945.
Stolpersteine on Kirchstraβe
On our circular tour we had enjoyed Moabit in the spring sunshine, but we had been reminded of darker days. Despite its liberal and laid-back atmosphere, Berlin never lets us forget the fragility of our freedom.
Saturday was bitterly cold in Berlin, but with bright sunshine. For lunch, we headed off to the beautiful Bergmannkiez. In this gentrified neighbourhood of multi-cultural Kreuzberg there are endless colourful restaurants, cafés and small shops to dive into – not to mention the Marheineke Martkhalleindoor market, a paradise for foodies. Today, our main destination was Umami, one of the best-rated Asian-style restaurants in the capital. The first Umami opened in Knaackstrasse, Prenzlauer Berg in 2014 and was so successful that another one established itself two years later, at 97 Bergmannstrasse, alongside the legendary Knofi with its Mediterranean epicurean delights.
In Japanese, the word ‘umami’ roughly means ‘delicious’, and refers to the fifth taste after sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It’s a moreish, savoury flavour only recently identified by western scientists, but which has been recognised in the Orient since ancient times. Umami in Kreuzberg certainly fulfilled the promise of its name. And with its mellow vibe and exciting menu of Indochinese cooking, it is incredibly popular.
We came in from the cold to a warm, dimly-lit haven. The lanterns, the wooden tables and benches, the pictures of 1950s Indochina and the haunting Asian music transported us back in time. And as advertised on its website, we discovered that Umami really does serve food that an Asian ‘Mami’ would cook. We ordered a selection of dishes from the inspired menu of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes. ‘Angry Calamari’, ‘Tongkin’s Roastduck’, ‘BanhBhao Burger’ and ‘Shaolin Bowl’ all looked and tasted amazing. And the drinks we chose met with universal approval. Next time we’ll leave room for one of the tempting starters or desserts.
The service was fast and friendly and the bill was very reasonable; about 12 euros a head for a main course. Families can even order a six-course banquet for just 23 euros. Behind the main restaurant area, there is a cosy screened-off room with floor seating. Even the pretty loos echoed the Asian theme, adorned with lanterns, bamboo mirrors and Ming-style pots.
After lunch, we headed across the road for some retail therapy to Toko Satu, selling Asian silks, ornaments and gifts. In warmer weather, the Bergmannkiez is the perfect neighbourhood for ‘flanieren’ – the German word (taken from French) for strolling along and savouring the scene.
A walk around Chamissoplatz is an absolute must. The stucco facades, cobblestone streets and courtyards of the imperial apartment buildings are stunning.
But by late afternoon, the temperature had dropped to zero in the shade and we couldn’t resist a coffee stop at the original Barcomi’s, followed by a wander through the indoor market stalls of the Marheineke Markthalle. Since I was last there, a first floor has been added especially for Vegans. Kreuzberg is always at the front of the queue when it comes to inclusiveness.
Kreuzberg has always been a district on the edge – literally and metaphorically. When the city was divided, this West Berlin neighbourhood was enclosed on three sides by the Berlin Wall. Rents were cheap and it attracted hippies and artists, immigrants and squatters. These days, parts of Kreuzberg may be more gentrified and upmarket, but there is still an undercurrent of edginess in its multicultural landscape. The streets of Kreuzberg are noisy and colourful, yet it is always possible to find quiet corners where you can escape the hustle and bustle. One of my favourites is the Engelbecken (‘Angel’s Pool’), opposite Michaelkirchplatz.
Escape from the madding crowd
This man-made pool was once part of the Luisenstadt Canal, constructed in the mid-19th Century to link the Landwehr Canal with the River Spree. However, the Luisenstadt Canal wasn’t used sufficiently and its waters became stagnant. Between 1926 and 1932, the canal was partially filled in and transformed into sunken gardens, although the Engelbecken was retained as an ornamental pool and fountains were added.
Luisenstadt Canal in 1905
Engelbecken in 1937
During World War II, the gardens were badly damaged and later filled in with rubble. Then in 1961, the Berlin Wall was constructed along the northern part of the former route of the canal and the Engelbecken simply became part of ‘no man’s land’ – the photograph below shows clearly how it had been filled in and flattened.
The Berlin Wall along the border of Kreuzberg
Since 1991, many of the destroyed gardens have been restored to their original design and the Engelbecken once again provides a perfect inner-city oasis. The Café am Engelbecken has generous terraces by the water’s edge where you can sit among rustling green reeds, watching swans glide past and the sun playing on the water’s surface. It’s a great tip for an ‘anytime’ meal. I love it for brunch, for its salads and pizzas and for magical cocktails at dusk. Follow thislink for further details.
Behind the Engelbecken, among tall trees, are the ruins of St Michael’s Church (Michaelkirche), dedicated to the Archangel Michael, who gives his name to the lake. It was designed by architect August Stoller, dates back to the 1850s and was only the second Roman Catholic church to be built in Berlin after the Reformation. Theodor Fontane, the great German novelist of the 19th Century, thought St Michael’s to be the most beautiful church in Berlin. Sadly, it suffered terribly in bombing raids in 1944, but much of the exterior survived and walking through its grounds, you can still sense its former grandeur – even if it is now impossible to imagine it blocked off by the Berlin Wall.
To explore the German capital, it is not enough to walk the length and breadth of its streets. If you want to catch the Berlin Feeling and understand what makes this city really tick, you must enter a world that lies hidden behind the façades – the parallel universes of the Berlin courtyards. There is no other city in the world where this style of building construction is so seminal to its architectural style. Berlin’s ‘Höfe’ (singular: ‘Hof) contain apartments, offices, workshops, shops, galleries, cafés and gardens. They may be chic or shabby, interlinking or individual, but one thing is sure, this multiverse of courtyards pumps energy into Berlin street-life in a unique and fascinating way.
Berlin courtyards – My very own Berlin courtyard
The history of the Höfe goes back to the second half of the 19th Century when Berlin’s population began to boom. In the 1870s, there were over one million people living in Berlin; whereas in the 1820s, it stood at about 220,000. This massive population increase had dramatic effects on the social and economic aspects of city life. The city centre residential districts had to be utilized as much as possible and this resulted in the construction of tenement blocks called ‘Mietskasernen’ (literally ‘rented barracks’). These blocks were often built behind the prestigious street-front buildings that served as homes for the bourgeoisie and housed domestic employees, workmen, and poorer families.
Kreuzberg Hinterhof today
The ‘Hinterhof’ (‘backyard’) separated the various social strata and there were sometimes three or four such courtyards in a row, with the buildings at the very back having little sunlight and a darker atmosphere. Yet these courtyards were also the focus of daily life – even the bathrooms could be located there. Most of these historic tenement buildings have now been renovated and are highly-coveted residential properties. And with their varying garden styles and sizes, the back courtyards are a large part of their charm.
Berlin courtyards – 21st Century chic courtyard
There are several well-known refurbished and renovated courtyards in the central borough of Mitte in the ‘Scheunenviertel’, a poor working-class area just outside the old city walls. Although they are firmly on the tourist route, I always take visitors to the Hackesche Höfe. The eight intercommunicating courtyards have been wonderfully restored and now contain upmarket apartments, galleries, boutiques and cafés. The main entrance at 40, Rosenthaler Straβe opens into to Hof I, festooned with art nouveau tiling and containing restaurants, a cinema and the Chamäleon cabaret theatre. Hof VII leads to the romantic Rosenhöfe with its sunken rose garden and elegant balustrades.
Berlin courtyards – Hackescher Hof I
An absolute must is a walk through the Hinterhof of Haus Schwarzenberg, at 39, Rosenthaler Straβe where the buildings have not been gentrified. This backyard is now famed for its street art, but it also contains three excellent small museums about Jewish life in Nazi Berlin and an art-house cinema that shows films outside in summer.
Berlin courtyards – Central CInema in Haus Schwarzenberg
Around the corner in pretty Sophienstraβe, there are more courtyards to explore. At number 21, the Sophie-Gips-Höfe boast both the Hoffmann Art Collection and Café Barcomi in the shaded Hinterhof. The high walls of the first courtyard are inscribed with an interesting list of German adjectives expressing opposites. It is also worth looking into Paulinenhof, just along the street at number 28/29, an earlier example of the courtyard style, built in 1842.
Berlin courtyards – Sophie-Gips-Höfe
On the opposite side of Rosenthaler Straβe is Münzstraβe, a gently curving street lined with shoe boutiques and coffee shops. Until recently, the courtyards at number 21 still gave a wonderful impression of pre-war Berlin. Now they too have been spruced up and are clearly one of the on-trend places to hang out in Mitte.
Berlin courtyards – Breakfast in Münzstraβe
Nearby Auguststraβe is a street oozing with history, well-known for its galleries and restaurants. The KW Institute for Contemporary Art at number 69 has a pretty courtyard with a café and the legendary Clärchens Ballhaus, set back from the street at number 24, looks on to what was originally a Hinterhof – although in this case the Vorderhaus was destroyed in the bombing and no longer exists. Further along Auguststraβe, just before Tucholskystraβe, there is a sign into the Heckmannhöfe, a courtyard complex which links Auguststraβe with Oranienburger Straβe. This idyllic urban retreat dotted with shops and restaurants surrounding a small playpark, comes as a complete surprise and gives a photogenic view of the golden dome of the Neue Synagoge.
Berlin courtyards – Lunch in the Heckmannhöfe
For a final courtyard visit in the Scheunenviertel of Mitte, I recommend the Missing House Memorial at 16, Groβe Hamburger Straβe, created in 1990 by French artist, Christian Boltansnki. Here, a tenement building on a Hinterhof was destroyed by bombing in 1945. There is now just an empty space with large plaques bearing the names of the people who lived placed at the relevant level the plain walls of the surviving buildings on either side. The café next door to the memorial is called ‘You’re so welcome’ and lives up to its name. Its terrace opposite the Jewish School and the Jewish Memorial outside the Jewish Cemetery is a perfect place to reflect on the pre-war life of the courtyards in this part of Berlin.
Berlin courtyards – The Missing House
I never miss an opportunity to walk through entrances and open gates to see if there is more discover behind the buildings that line the pavements; the Hinterhöfe are the Narnia of the Berlin. For further reading, follow this linkto an interesting article on the Deutsche Welle website.
With its vast tracts of forests and parks, Berlin has always been a green metropolis. Now the city centre has a growing number of urban oases created out of wasteland (‘Brachland’) left behind by wartime destruction or the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. One of the latest triumphs is the Park am Gleisdreieck (‘Park on the Railway Triangle’). It is a wonderful example of how a wilderness of overgrown and disused railway tracks and yards can be transformed into a beautiful and vibrant recreational space.
Panorama view of the park
This large park in Kreuzberg and Schöneberg has been created from a former railway junction, which was badly bombed in the Second World War and left as wasteland. It became part of a Reichsbahn enclave belonging to the GDR and remained untouched for decades. Left to its own natural devices, it developed a rich diversity of vegetation. A citizens’ group was formed with the aim of ensuring that this refuge for flora and fauna did not fall into the hands of developers, and in the end they were successful. The planning process took the views of local residents into account and the result is a resounding victory for ‘people power’. It was also a multi-cultural venture, with immigrant women helping with planting and gardening. Very Kreuzberg.
An urban oasis
The Rosenduft (‘rose scent’) garden
A railway track running north-south and leading to the Deutsches Technikmuseum still separates the grounds of the Park am Gleisdreieck and a museum train operates along it in the summer months. The 42-acre Ostpark was opened in September 2011 and the 22-acre Westpark on 1st June 2013. In March 2014, the smaller Flaschenhalspark (‘Bottleneck Park’), completed the project, making a trio of parks in the Gleisdreieck. The whole complex stretches from the Landwehr Canal to the Monument Bridge.
The museum train
Each part of the park has a different character. The Westpark features expansive lawns, play zones and beach volleyball courts. The Ostpark boasts a nature discovery area, a skateboard half-pipe, a little maple and oak forest and even an outdoor dance floor. Historic relics such as railway tracks, signals and ramps have been integrated into the landscaping as a permanent reminder of the past use of the land, especially in the Flaschenhalspark. There is always something magical about spotting overgrown, disused railway tracks amongst trees. The imagination starts to run free.
Old tracks among the trees
The Park am Gleisdreieck has something to offer everyone – young and old, walkers and cyclists, joggers and ramblers. I went there recently on a Sunday and was enchanted. Despite being so popular, there are plenty of quiet corners and interesting views. Locals were enjoying picnics and barbecues on the grass and there are a number of kiosks and pavilions with tables in the shade, where you can stop for drinks and snacks.
Beach Volleyball in the Westpark
Picnics and playparks in the Ostpark
The coolest kiosk is ‘Café Eule’
The various park entrances are listed below. The Yorckstrasse entrance is a good place to start if you want a stroll through nature before hitting the more populated areas. Because the original pre-1945 ‘railway triangle’ was formed from the viaducts of overhead rails, the park feels as if it is on a plateau, magically above street life and yet so close to it. There is something wistful and poetic about this urban retreat. The essence of pre-war Berlin still lingers, providing simple outdoor pleasures for city dwellers.
Ostpark U1 U7 Underground Station Möckernbrücke Entrance Tempelhofer Ufer/Ecke Möckernstraße
S1 S2 S25 U7 S-Bahn and Underground Station Yorckstraβe, Bus M19, N7 Entrance Yorckstrasse
Westpark U2 Underground Station Mendelssohn-Bartholdy-Park, Bus M 29 Entrance Schöneberger Ufer
U1 U2 Underground Station Gleisdreieck Entrance Schöneberger Straße
U1 Underground Stations Kurfürstenstraße and Bülowstraße Entrance Kurfürstenstraße
U2 Underground Station Bülowstraße Entrance Bülowstraße