Kreuzberg is the heart of Turkish Berlin and the city's alternative centre, with an energetic mix of colourful buildings, funky eateries and exotic markets
Colourful Kreuzberg is the centre of Berlin’s alternative culture and the heart of Turkish Berlin. Here, Berliners meet to have lunch, catch up on Turkish politics or strut their latest body piercing. This area is a glorious amalgam of bright streets, crazy fashion, eastern markets, delightful green space, posh international eateries and cool bars.
I fell in love with Kreuzberg the minute I stepped into Oranienstrasse, the area’s unofficial high street. It’s the wildest and most unusual street in the district, not to mention one of the most vivid I’d come across in any city in the world. Funky shops and pubs jostle for space with doner kebab takeaways and Turkish greengrocers. Buildings are a candy jar of colours and textures, with antique-green restaurants flirting for attention next to exuberantly pink cafes and sky-blue apartment buildings with industrial facades.
The neighbourhood feel to the area assured me that, rather than coming here to be seen, Berliners genuinely love passing life in this zany and inviting environment. I was enchanted by the sight of young couples, singletons and families gleefully spilling out of the colourful terraces on a sunny day. Despite not being hungry, I stopped in at Sol Y Sombre, a cosy eatery that served lovely and inexpensive tapas and wine. Best of all, I joined the crowds on the outdoor benches, soaking up the sun and the riot of colour around me.
I indulged my shopaholic tendencies on nearby Bergmanstrasse, the Mecca for alternative fashionistas. Up-and-coming designers and tatty shops offer club wear, military clothes and garments made from hemp. High-Lite is a well-known store, where I triumphantly emerged with some slightly mad shades and accessories to help me fit in with Kreuzberg’s alternative scene.
Next, I wandered down Kreuzberg’s tree-lined streets to the Turkish Market in Maybachufer Strasse. Kreuzberg’s eastern infusion comes alive with Berliners and Turks alike exchanging euros for unleavened bread, fresh cheese, olives, fruits and spices in this exotic market. It’s a little ocean of fresh products, exotic smells and Mediterranean colours.
The market is located along the bank of the Landwehr canal and the leafy Volkspark. Swans float lazily downstream, underneath charming storybook bridges like Kottbusser Bridge. I joined the locals and sprawled on the cobblestones, enjoying the sparkling street entertainers and musicians who brought the area to life. There are plenty of lovely cafes with outdoor terraces where you can while away the day. Café Uebersee is the top choice for a variety of international breakfasts, including German, French, Polish, American and Italian delicacies. Ankerklause is a lively pub, and also very popular for drinks later in the evening.
A stroll through Kreuzberg is like a whistle-stop tour of international cuisine. Osteria No 1, on Kreuzbergstrasse, serves unique pizzas and excellent pastas, and also boasts a wine bar next door. From a beautiful bourgeois home on Fichtestrasse, French restaurant Le Cochon Bourgeois entices with top quality French food at reasonable prices. Thymian, on Gneisenstrausse, is one of Berlin’s top vegetarian restaurants, serving up tasty dishes with a Turkish influence. For German cuisine, try Altes Zollhaus, a restaurant in a former border control point near the Landwehr canal.
Not to be outdone, Kreuzberg’s bars are just as diverse in their offerings. Kumpelnest 3000 is based in a former brothel and boasts the original chintz wallpaper. It's extremely popular and also renowned for its caipirinhas. Mr Hu is a favourite haunt of the locals, and serves some of the best cocktails in Berlin. And Golgatha is a classic beer garden with a small dance floor that is popular with students.
Unsurprisingly, hostels and hotels have their own edge in Kreuzberg. Sleep in a Volkswagen Beetle car or wake up to a Swiss mountain mural complete with wildflowers at the Baxpax Hostel. Or live the life of a Prussian officer at the Riehmers Hofgarten; the hotel is made up of elegant apartments with 19th-century décor.
Rather than having to seek out its charms, Kreuzberg offers them up to anyone who wanders through. The mix of cheerfully-coloured buildings, energetic locals and a variety of leisurely pastimes makes it a must-see area on even the shortest trip to Berlin.