Nightlife in Berlin: getting cultural

by Paul.Sullivan

Berlin's cultural life is vast and a lot of fun. Here's a guide to some of the highlights and events...

Burlesque and cabaret

Berlin has a long history of cabaret and its decadent aura lives on today. Claerchens Ballhaus (Augustraße 24, 030 2829295, www.ballhaus.de) has become a bit well known on the tourist circuit now, but is still an enchanting place to go - where else can you watch tourists, Mitte hipsters and grandparents dancing together to the tango, swing, waltz and jitterbug? Boheme Sauvage (www.boheme-sauvage.de) is a series of parties that aims to directly revive 1920's Berlin. The event features swing bands, burlesque dancers, an absinthe bar, and a casino where you can gamble with reichsmarks. Events are held roughly once a month and the creators have another series of burlesque parties called La Fete Fatale.

Bassy Cowboy Club (Schönhauser Allee 176, 030 2818323, www.bassy-club.de) hosts many of the Boheme Sauvage parties, and has a policy of only playing music from before 1969 - the DJs also exclusively spin vinyl. Bar jeder Vernunft (Schaperstraße 24, 030 8831582, www.bar-jeder-vernunft.de) hosts quirky, campy and bizarre shows in a red velvet-draped Art Nouveau marquee (be warned - they do sell out quickly). Kleine Nachtrevue (Kurfurtenstraße 116, 030 2188950, www.kleine-nachtrevue.de) has been hosting erotic theatre, burlesque and acrobatic performances for almost 20 years, while Girl in a Hot Rod (www.girlinahotrod.de) is a monthly rockabilly party that features live music and performances from La Fete Fatale’s burlesque dancers.

Classical and theatre

One of the world’s greatest orchestras, the Berlin Philharmonic’s primary concert hall is the Philharmonie (Herbert-von-Karajan Straße 1, 030 254880, www.berliner-philharmoniker.de) in Kulturforum, which has two venues: one for orchestral concerts and one for chamber music. Located in Mitte, the Volksbühne, or ‘people’s theatre’ (Torstraße 33-35, 030 24065777, www.volksbuehne-berlin.de), has a reputation for experimental and challenging productions. The Opera House (Unter den Linden 7, 030 20354555, www.deutsche-staatsoper.de) is home to the Berlin State Opera, and is one of three key opera houses in the city.

A wealth of theatres keep the city's thespians in work. The English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstraße 40, 030 6935692, www.thefriends.de) in Kreuzberg specialises in works by contemporary English-speaking playwrights. The Deutsches Theater (Schumannstaße 13, 030 28441225, www.deutschestheater.de) occupies a classical building built in 1850 and is home to one of Berlin’s most prominent theatre companies. Brotfabrik (Prenzlauer Promenade 3, 030 4714001, www.brotfabrik-berlin.de) occupies a former bread factory and hosts an art gallery and theatre, used for performing arts and lectures. The esteemed Maxim Gorki Theater (Am Festungsgraben 2, 030 202210, www.gorki.de) is one of the city’s biggest, with two stages hosting both classical and contemporary theatre. Theater 89 (Torstaße 216, 030 2824656, www.theater89.de), meanwhile, was founded in 1989 and has a tradition of socially-critical productions. The Renaissance Theater (Hardenbergstraße 6, 030 3124202, www.renaissance-theater.de) is Europe’s only preserved Art Deco theatre. Notable actors come here to perform in international dramas and comedies.

Events

It seems at times as though Berlin is hosting dozens of events a day – and sometimes it is. It has become a highly popular city for hosting international art, film and music events in particular, like the Berlin International Film Festival (www.berlinale.de), one of Europe’s most prestigious, with high-profile premieres and movie stars in attendance; the famed Berlin Biennnale (www.berlinbiennale.de), which showcases the best in international contemporary art every two years, and The Berlin Festival (www.berlinfestival.de), which hosts more contemporary music in Tempelhof, the former airport. JazzFest Berlin (www.jazzfest-berlin.de) is one of Europe’s most important jazz festivals, while the Berlin International Literature Festival (www.literaturfestival.com) features readings from international writers, as well as workshops, concerts and film screenings.

More locally-focused events include the Fete de la Musique, a free street music festival that takes place at the beginning of summer, and Berlin Klassiktage, where evening classical concerts are held at historic locations throughout the city. Musikfest Berlin (www.musikfest-berlin.de) features concerts by, amongst others, the Berlin Philharmonic, as well as film screenings, readings and lectures. The Berlin Night of Theatres and Operas utilises around 60 venues to stay open late and hold mini-productions. There’s also Bread and Butter Fashion Week (www.breadandbutter.com), a fashion trade show targeted at street and urban wear, and, coming back to techno, Berlin’s Music Days (www.bermuda-berlin.de), a weekend of big parties at Berlin’s best nightclubs.

More expert advice on Berlin

For suggestions on where to stay in Berlin, see my Berlin Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Berlin page.

Read my overview on Berlin nightlife.

Paul.Sullivan

I've been covering travel, music and culture as a freelance writer & photographer for a decade.

My articles and images have appeared in various international publications including The Guardian, The Independent, Sunday Times, Easyjet Magazine, Financial Times, Intelligent Life, Matador, and I've written, photographed and contributed to several high profile travel guides for publishers like Time Out, Cool Camping, A Hedonist's Guide To, Rough Guide...and more.

I first came to Berlin in 1999 to write about the city's incredible music scene. I fell immediately in love with its rawness, its history and its expansive, overwhelming sense of possibility. I returned over the years and finally got commissioned to write a guidebook (HG2 Berlin) in 2007, which was published in 2008. A year later I was living here, in leafy, laid-back Prenzlauer Berg.

I adore many European cities - Madrid, Paris and Amsterdam are among my favourites - but Berlin is the only place I've felt compelled to live. If anything, since I've been here my passion and respect for the city have grown exponentially.

My Berlin

Where I always grab a decent coffee: There are literally zillions of places to get decent coffee in Berlin. But for a truly outstanding cup I head to The Barn in Mitte, Bonanza Coffee Heroes in Prenzlauer Berg or No Fire No Glory in Friedrichshain.

My favourite stroll: In summer I really enjoy a walk along the section of the Spree where you can see the Reichstag and the Hauptbahnhof, and relax at one of the cafes on the embankment. In winter I like the atmosphere and relative emptiness of broad boulevards like Karl Marx Allee or Unter den Linden.

Where to be seen: Oh my, there are so many places to be seen in Berin. My favourite see-and-be-seen restaurant is Grill Royal, as it backs up the hyperbole with good views (if you can get a terrace seat) and excellent steaks and seafood dishes. Clubs like Tausend are good for showing out, but I prefer the more underground feel of Berghain and the Panorama Bar.

The most breathtaking view: Berlin has some great view points. You can take a lift up the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), ride to the top of the Kollhoff Tower on Potsdamer Platz or climb up to the memorial in Kreuzberg's Viktoriapark - Berlin's highest natural viewpoint.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: Berlin has many leafy parks in which you can easily get away from it all. My favourite is Volkspark Friedrichshain, which is vast and dotted with interesting historical monuments (as well as the gorgeous Märchenbrunnen fountain).

Shopaholics beware!: Both downtown Mitte and the side streets of Charlottenburg (between Kantstr. and Ku'damm) are full of amazing boutiques selling everything from underwear and jewellery to designer clothing and accessories. You'll need a lot of resolve to resist.

Don’t leave without...visiting the atmospheric Mauerpark flea market on a Sunday. In summer you'll also find the famous Bearpit Karaoke underway.