Does Berlin, the European capital of cool, really need an introduction? Behind its worldwide famous techno clubs and its inevitable Currywurst stands, however, Berlin continues to surprise thanks to the diversity of its artistic, cultural and community projects. Dive into the art and alternative scene of Berlin with these five spots taken from our city guide Indie Guides Berlin.
Urban Spree: Most unique art-event location
Urban Spree is a little mix of everything that makes Berlin fantastic. You’ll find it in Friedrichshain a former East Berlin district. It’s a post-industrial, working class neighbourhood with a bit of a hippy vibe to it.
Urban Spree is an art gallery, a shop, a bar, and atelier. They also host truly unique events. Every time you descend the steps into the surrounding RAW Gelände to get in there you’ll see something different. Sometimes various vans selling international street food, sometimes a photography show, sometimes the artists studios are open, or they’ll have a one-off art market on. In all the times I’ve been there myself I’ve seen an illustration festival, some truly inspiring photography, and a full size fire-breathing mechanical horse.
If you’re in Berlin then make sure you check out their website to see what’s going on, as there’s always something new.
Revaler Strasse 99, 10245 Berlin Friedrichshain
Open most days from 12 (check their site)
Monarch: A real Berliner’s place to dance
Finding Monarch is the hard part. To get up there you head through a white door covered in stickers and graffiti and head up the stairs. Follow the music, you’ll get there.
Once you’ve paid your €1 to get in you’ll find yourself in a wood-panelled, dimly lit room. There should be a throng of people pushing up to the bar to get served, a dance floor packed with wide-eyed excited Berliners, and a row of seats lining the windows that allow you to get a great view over Kottbusser Tor. The windows are half the fun! Kottbusser Tor, or ‘Kotti’, is the spiritual heart of the weird, fun, artsy, exciting part of Kreuzberg. From your party-nest on high in Monarch you’ll be able to people watch to your heart’s content; bottle collectors, beggars, tourists, teenagers, cyclists, a never ending stream of traffic all blur past as you dance the night away to DJs who are given freedom to spin whatever they want. The latest techno, 70s funk, a bit of classic rock, these guys really are wizards at not just putting it all together, but making it work.
Skalitzer Strasse 134, 10999 Berlin
Open Monday through Thursday and Sunday from 21pm to 3am and Friday to Saturday from 21pm to 5:30am
Clärchen’s Ballhaus: German cuisine in a 100 year old ballroom
Push through the old, heavy doors wooden into a ballroom that’s been running since 1913. Miraculously surviving not only the second world war, but 40 years East Germany as well, you can feel the history almost seeping out of the walls.
Unlike most restaurants there’s a huge dance floor in the middle. Come by any night of the week for a dance; Mondays are for Salsa, Wednesdays for Swing, and Fridays and Saturdays are ‘Swoof’, which has a wedding disco vibe. It might sound a little strange, but that’s what makes this place so special: you’ll have teenagers, grannies, tiny kids all having a drink, a dance, and a great time together. The fun of Fridays and Saturdays are no secret here, come after 8pm and you’ll pay €5 to get in, and you may have to queue.
Arrive before 8 and you’ll also be presented with some of the greatest food Berlin has to offer. The menu has starters such as beet soup with ginger, basil and duck breast. Mains include my favorite; ‘Käsespätzle’ served with apple sauce and crispy onions. The Lamb Chops with rosemary and potato-fennel mash are great as well.
All this, and I don’t even have room to write about the excellent wines, cocktails, beers, oh and the pizzas…
Auguststrasse 24, 10117 Berlin Mitte
Open Monday through Thursday and Sunday from 11am to midnight and Friday through Saturday from 11am to 4am
Bass Cadet Records / Down By Retro: Well-curated record store, cool fashion section
Part record store, part clothing store, part record label. There’s a lot here in a little place. When you get into the store the first thing you’ll notice is the really tasteful minimal design.
The store is neatly split into two, and at first you’ll be in the record section. Other than a small section with vintage hits from the 70s and 80s BCR keeps its record collection fresh. Expect to find a lot of new electro, techno, and house, which is of course the soundtrack to Berlin, but also anything that takes the owner’s fancy, so you’ll stumble across funk or punk, or whatnot else as well.
Put together by Laura le Marchand who used to run events in Paris, in the Down By Retro (DBR) side you’ll find a heavily curated collection of new and vintage clothes. Whilst there’s not a whole lot on offer, what’s there tends to be fantastic.
Keep an eye out on the BCR website for new releases from the label, or upcoming events at the store, including gigs by guest artists and those signed to the label.
Weserstrasse 189, 12045 Berlin
Open Monday from 2pm to 8pm, Tuesday through Friday from 1am to 8pm and Saturday from 2pm to 10pm
Schokoladen: Small, intimate gigs in a Berlin squat
Stand in Ackerstrasse and one building really stands out, huge banner flying out the front, crumbling façade covered with crawling plants, is Schokoladen.
Much more welcoming than your average squat, Schokoladen organises a lot of different gigs. Lesser known acts from all over the world are invited to the stage, meaning that every time you go you’ll likely find something new.
The squat caters to all sorts of musical tastes. A quick look at what’s coming up will show you party nights with DJs featuring punk, electro, and indie music, or live bands playing reggae or covering Elvis. If you’re picky, it’s worth checking what’s on. If you’re game for a surprise, just show up.
The small stage and dance floor make gigs and club nights an intimate affair. Homemade decorations and some mismatch furniture give everything the cosy Berlin feel. Bar prices are on the cheaper side, especially for Mitte, and there’s table football in the back. Word of warning, Germans have excellent table football skills.
Ackerstrasse 169, 10115 Berlin Mitte
Opening hours: see their program
Discover more alternative and cultural spots in Berlin with our city guide Indie Guides Berlin.
Photos and texts: Jonny Whitlam