Berlin was once the black sheep of Germany. Covered in graffiti and crumbling cement, the tattoo work of a tumultuous history, the capital had always been rough and gritty compared to other German cities like Munich and Frankfurt.
When the city’s mayor described Berlin as “poor but sexy” a decade ago, it made headlines around the world and helped to spur a new wave of artists and innovators keen on living cheap and chasing dreams.
These days, the city’s still undeniably sexy. But poor? That’s questionable. In fact, it’s never been more luxurious. In no other city in the world are highbrow and lowbrow so intertwined and constantly in flux.
The Neukölln Neighbourhood and Industry Standard
A few years ago, the Neukölln neighbourhood was not somewhere to walk alone at night. But ever since students, artists and techies trickled in, it’s become very trendy.
Neukölln’s now known for its signature sidewalk cafés and “living room bars” – dark venues filled with vintage furniture and cigarette smoke, lit only by tapered candles dripping sensually out of old liquor bottles.
Industry Standard, one of Berlin’s most raved-about new restaurants, fits the neighbourhood’s bill. It pioneered “nose to tail” eating in Berlin, the concept of using every part of the animal in cooking.
On its menu, you’ll see pickled pork tongue and blood marrow placed ceremoniously on toast, duck hearts done up with greens and even a “blood cake” accompanied by a fried egg.
Every night of the week, affluent Berliners and tourists roll up in taxis (some expecting a taxi to be ordered right to do the door when they’re ready to leave), up for eating animal bits that normally make people queasy.
The 25 Hours Design Hotel
Comprised of 140 rooms, 25 Hours’s trendy vibe was an instant hit in an area of town previously known as boring and unhip: City West.
The hallways are dark save for fluorescent lights illuminating room numbers.
Instead of a do-not-disturb sign, you get one that reads, “Please place aspirin in front of the door and leave”, and a thick pull-down curtain keeps the interior cool and dim.
Rooms have hammocks, minimalistic furniture and light-hearted stencils of giraffes and bicycles on the walls – enough to feel at home while still on vacation.
25 Hours is also home to the Berlin’s most well-known rooftop venue, Monkey Bar. It’s the epitome of Berlin’s signature shabby chic: couches and throw pillows so mismatched they just go together, tons of lush hanging plants and a fantastic 360-degree view of the city landscape.
Chilled-out house music and stiff cocktails make this a good place to start an evening, or accidentally end one.
Notorious Techno Nightclubs
Berlin’s techno nightclubs are dirty and proudly anti-fancy, yet this is about as exclusive as exclusive can get. Here it’s common to wait in line for over an hour, the entire time praying the doorman doesn’t shake his head and send you back to the taxi stand.
Club der Visionäre, Watergate, Sisyphos – they’re all picky about who they let in. Recently, some nightclubs have even started sending a “pre-selector” into the queues, someone that does a couple rounds of culling the crowd before they even reach the bouncer.
The most difficult venue to get in by far is the Berghain, an infamous former factory that’s hailed by many as the best techno club in the world.
Regulars say there are tricks for getting in – no high heels, wear black, don’t act rowdy or simply just get yourself on the guest list – but nobody really knows for sure what the real formula is.
Doorman Sven Marquardt, a 53-year-old man with snakebite lip piercings and a meandering face tattoo, recently told GQ there are “no set rules” and he simply allows people he think will create an atmosphere of “friction” and “diversity”.
If Berlin proves anything, it’s that luxury’s not about money but a mindset. Being broad-minded, individualistic and confident (but dear God, not pretentious) is what this city’s all about.