The Beginner’s Guide To Berlin: Everything You NTK
From superclubs to supper clubs and the best of the rest.
Fun fact: A bunch of MTV execs happened to be in Berlin as the Wall crumbled and fell on 9th November 1989. Realising history was being made, they expanded access to the TV channel in east Berlin for the first time during the Cold War, meaning music lovers were among the first to see Berlin's ideological barriers torn down forever.
Makes sense, then, that the very first MTV Europe Music Awards launched at the Brandenburg Gate. Artists have been moved to (and moved here to) create ground-breaking techno, rock music and jaw-dropping contemporary art. In 2009 U2 played a free concert to celebrate 20 years since the wall toppled. It was here that David Bowie rented an apartment to write ‘Heroes’, ‘Low’ and ‘Lodger’ (between three-day benders and lavish lunches), and Iggy Pop got locked in a public phone booth at 2am, leaving the bar to call a girl back home.
You’ll have heard it’s THE place to party, and you’re not wrong. If you’re the type of person who could cry when the lights go up, and actually LOOKS FORWARD TO three-hour nightclub queues in heavy snow, you need to visit this city. We're talking world-class music on the planet's best sound systems.
The only issue with exploring new restaurants, clubs, museums, bars, parks and shops is finding time to actually sleep. Luckily, there are a bunch of awesome places to grab some shut-eye too. Here’s everything you NTK about the most enigmatic city in the world – the rest you’ll have to discover for yourself...
Berlin is so popular with party people, Thursday-Monday visitors are known as the ‘Easy Jet Set’, taking return flights from Europe for a few nights of pure hedonism. Check out the cheapest deals in advance, then Resident Advisor to see what (and crucially, who’s) on while you’re there.
Where to dance all night (and day, and night, and day and...)
We could write an entire book on where to go and when (believe us, people have). This is techno heaven: deep, industrial sounds reuniting East and West at illegal raves in abandoned warehouses and spaces through the 90s and beyond. You’ve probably heard of Berghain & Panorama Bar, the King of them all – as impossible to forget as it is to get into the venue. The queue stretches for hours as tattooed bouncers turn 70% of people away from the ex-power station for no discernible reason.
If you manage it, you’ll nab a hand stamp that gets you in all weekend, so you can go away, nap, eat a big German brunch (hit Geist Im Glas for the sexiest pancakes of your life and hangover-crushing cocktails by candlelight) before throwing yourself back into the rave until Monday afternoon.
The party does not stop in Kreuzberg. Tips for getting in? Turn up in a pair, wear all black (fetish clothing works a treat), brush up on your German, don’t act out/shout/appear drunk in the queue, and for God’s sake, do not get your phone out. Lastly – be yourself. The bouncers want to see people who truly love the music and will add a great vibe – this isn’t a place for Champagne showers, table service and selfies in the loos.
Anyway, there aren't even mirrors in the toilets - sparing you the indignity of seeing your face 12 hours into the party. You’re more likely to catch people having sex at the bar than ordering Prosecco. Oh, and the world’s best DJs fly in to play at these venues, so it helps if you know who’s on the bill.
Nightclubs to try
Many with door policies as strict as Berghain’s, these clubs should regardless be tried at all costs. Hit Kit Kat for a taste of Berlin’s ‘anything goes’ sex party culture (you have been warned: try it on a Monday when things are a little tamer - clothing-friendly but not encouraged). Tresor, Kater Blau and Watergate deliver mind-numbing house and techno nights, while ://aboutblank favours extremely wonky house party vibes. Salon zur Wilden Renate is a favourite of Berlin rejects (its atmosphere akin to a circus), then there’s the actual Suicide Circus, with an indoor and open-air dancefloor. Summer brings a new realm to proceedings, where long queues are less painful, beer gardens stay open for days and locals drink at picnic tables outside corner shops (spatis).
Where to eat
Berlin’s food scene is nothing short of epic if you know where to go – search Berlin Food Stories and Eater for inspiration. Try six courses of decadent Asian fusion at Sra Bua, or a world-class dirty kebab or currywurst at the myriad of places in trendy Mitte (Curry 61 for the win).
Australian brunch dishes and excellent coffee can be found at Silo and Commonground, but head to House Of Small Wonder for colourful brunch dishes and a spiral staircase that deserves a square tile on your Insta. Their cocktail menu is awesome, and there's a newly-launched dinner offering. Geist Im Glas deserves another mention here, with chicken fried inside fluffy waffles, doused in boozy syrup - you'll be reminiscing about your meal here weeks afterwards.
Over in refined Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, you’ll find high-end shopping outlets, hotels, bars and restaurants. Make the journey for Bombay Café Bunty’s, home to out-of-this-world curries, Sri Lankan-inspired hoppers and a pink neon sign that says “Be nice or fucking leave.” We stan.
Unforgettable dinner options include a set 9-course Italian meal in old industrial laundry Lavanderia Vecchia, where you’ll eat prawn spaghetti and homemade bruschetta amid tablecloths on washing lines as an indoor fountain bubbles.
Where to chill the F out
Book yourself in for some #selfcare at Liquidrom spa. You'll find a cave-like salt pool pumping underwater music (techno or chill out, depending on the day), plus an outdoor Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. We recommend a few hours sploshing about before walking round the corner to Layla, a modern Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean peddling grilled lamb chops and Yemenite Kubbana brioche.
If you've any energy left, wander around Markethall Neun, awash with amazing food stalls (try the Turkish coffee) and KaDeWe food hall, which could outdo Harrods for sheer choice and freshness. Go out of your way to find the world's best record shop, Hard Wax, and Mitte's vintage shops full of unique gems.
Where to drink
Round the corner from Monster Kabinnett gallery/haunted house (has to be seen to be believed, nay, vaguely understood), Cinema café shouldn’t be missed. Cheap prices, a smoking room and a beautiful candlelit interior make it crazy romantic and the perfect place to escape the cold.
It's not far from Japanese restaurant and totally bougie bar Zenkichi, filled with romantic private booths hidden away behind bamboo curtains, made to sip expensive sake and share secrets. Head to Dschungel for indoor smoking next to a salamander tank, and Hofbrau beer hall for live music and steins. Hotel bars are a great place to start your night – leading us nicely into where you should rest your head (at some point, maybe).
Where to stay
Nhow on the River Spree could not get more rock ‘n’ roll, stumbling distance from dozens of clubs and bars. The ideal place for a drink (stay til 2am, when it’s time to go clubbing), its huge bar and lounge area features an actual stage (played by the likes of Blue, Editors and Nick Howard) with DJs on all weekend, plus there’s an art gallery, gym and 450sq spa with a steam bath.
24hr room service includes FREE guitars and keyboards (WTAF?) and the river views are incredible. Get a load of the Nhow suite: 258sqm of luxury spread over TWO floors, with a giant Jacuzzi bath, living room and flat screen TV. You'll find a Marshall speaker and electric Epiphone guitar in the corner of your bedroom. Casual.
Hipster haven Schulz Hotel is perfect for worshippers attending service at the church that is Berghain, less than 10 minutes walk from its booming speakers (and several other clubs where you inevitably won't get in). Try Yaam reggae bar and the trendy RAW area nearby, or take a wander along the East Side Gallery (the hotel’s literally next to this historic chunk of the Berlin wall, plastered with profound images by prominent 90s artists).
Nearer Charlottenberg Palace and the shopping district, there’s H’Otello (with big balconies, a sauna and an extremely comprehensive breakfast buffet – we loved it) and Max Brown Ku’Damm, with a gorgeous in-house bakery, stunning interior design and a 24hr breakfast buffet.
Hostels are a great shout if you don’t plan to spend much time snoozing – try Huttenpalast for cosy, quirky caravans parked in a huge hallway, or super-friendly Eastern Comfort boat and floating lounge (yep, it’s a canal boat moored between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain).
What to see
If you can rouse yourself from your hangover, there’s plenty more to see and do. Start off at the Brandenburg Gate, then walk to the breathtaking Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and its adjoining museum. Continue to the Topography Of Terror and Museum Island, where you’ll find several incredible buildings housing art, culture and the poignant history of this beguiling city.
The best view of Berlin can be found at the revolving deck of the TV Tower, which can be booked through the money-saving app Get Your Guide (ditto the city’s best attractions). Don't miss the amazing DDR Museum, driving an original Trabi car around the city and a creepy tour of Nazi-built Templehof airport - its huge park grounds are great for running and picnics in summer. As well as guaranteeing you'll get in (and skipping long queues!), you can sort out transfers to and from the airport.
GYG covers the tram, buses and trains at a hugely discounted price, too. Book online in advance, and remember to take a print out of your booking to the desk in the airport – you’ll skip a huge line of people who forgot theirs, and save yourself tons of cash.
Our golden tip for this wonderful place: you can score free drinks at most of the bars and clubs by collecting abandoned empty glasses and taking them to the bartender. They’ll love you for helping them out, and you’ll love them for free double gin and tonics on demand.
TL;DR: Berlin. Is. Awesome.
By Amy Everett