If you look at a map of Berlin, the district of Moabit is pretty central. In the aerial photo below it takes up most of the top right-hand corner. You can clearly see the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) and the green areas of the two Moabit parks, the Geschichtspark and the Fritz-Schloß-Park, described in my last two posts.
But despite its relative proximity to the Brandenburg Gate, Moabit gets left behind in the Berlin neighbourhood popularity stakes. It is generally viewed as a poor, working class district with cheap rents and a large prison. When the city was divided, the Berlin Wall placed Moabit on the very edge of West Berlin, leaving it rather neglected.
This map of Berlin shows the Berlin Wall and Lehrter Station in Moabit, now replaced by the Hauptbahnhof
Surrounded on all sides by the waters of the river Spree, the Westhafen Canal and the Berlin-Spandau Navigation Canal, Moabit is still technically an island. But since the fall of the Berlin wall, Moabit is no longer a border town between east and west and there has been substantial construction of new government buildings as well as the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Moabit has been incorporated into Berlin-Mitte and things are beginning to look up.
Modern Moabit – on the Spree
The name ‘Moabit’ may be traced back to 1716 when the French Huguenots came to Berlin in the time of King Frederick William I of Prussia and settled in ‘Alt-Moabit’ (Old Moabit). These Protestant refugees are supposed to have called their new homeland after the biblical Kingdom of Moab. Another possible of origin of the word may be from ‘Moorjebiet’ which in Berlin dialect means ‘swamp area’. At any rate, it was poor wasteland until industrialisation followed in 1820. (You can read the full history on the Wikipedia website). For many visitors to Berlin, their first taste of Moabit is from the windows of a 109 or TXL bus which whisks them along Turmstrasse into the city centre from Tegel Airport. It is a multi-cultural scene with an abundance of Turkish and Arab-speaking shops, cafés and markets.
A short walk from the Turmstraße U-Bahn station is the fabulous Arminius Markthalle, a beautiful market hall from the 1980s, where you can eat good food and buy fresh produce and crafts. There is a bar inside that brews its own beer and a stall with the best fish and chips in Berlin. The Markthalle even hosts films, and live music and theatre.
Another ‘big name’ street in Moabit is Lehrterstrasse. It’s a short walk from the Hauptbahnhof or take the M27 bus to Quitzowstrasse. This street has a real ‘Kiez’ (neighbourhood) identity and has earned the local nickname ‘billige Prachtstrasse’ – ‘cheap Grand Boulevard’. Some of the buildings are magnificent, but have seen much better days
The ‘Kulturfabrik’- ‘Culture Factory’ is downright shabby, but exudes its own unique energy. Built in 1911, it was originally a meat factory, a biscuit factory and a home for many other industrial uses. Between 1976 and 1991 it lay vacant and neglected and was taken over by squatters. After reunification the Kulturfabrik Moabit was born. Artists, locals and students together founded a co-operative of non-profit clubs or associations including the Fabriktheater (alternative theatre), the Filmrauschpalast (an art house cinema which also runs an Open Air programme in summer), the Slaughterhouse Club (rock, punk and gothic and wave music concerts) and the Kunsthalle Moabit (an art gallery which existed until 1996).
There are a couple of restaurants along Lehrterstrasse worth crossing town for. Mediteranneo is an Italian place, very popular with locals. It opens from 4pm until midnight. I also love the friendly, retro atmosphere of Kapitel 21. This café-bar opened in 2012. It offers a gallery space and brings in an assortment of live bands, theatre, poetry, book readings and more. Kapitel 21 is somewhere special and officially opens from 5pm until very late. If you’re lucky you might catch coffee or one of their amazing juices the following morning.
For a chilled brunch, lunch or supper, head for Birkenstrasse. The U-Bahn station of the same name on line U9 will bring you out right on top of three of four good café bars. I have two favourites – both serving good food and drink at very reasonable prices and with tables outside. The iconic ‘Dicker Engel’ – with the eponymous ‘Fat Angel’ hanging comically from the ceiling – is best for traditional German specialities. ‘Arema’ on the other side of the street has a more eco feel and is well-known for its ‘Maultaschen’ (South German style ravioli).