A Berlin Travel Guide With Cool Outfit Ideas Tucked Inside
07.03.17

It took me two years to fall in love with Berlin: one to make peace with it, two to never want to leave again. I moved here right after graduating from high school. It was October and the gloomy industrial apartment blocks bathed in the last warming sun rays of the year. The avenues crossing the Tiergarten, Berlin’s central park, were covered in orange leaves, and the golden statue on top of the Victory Column turned black in front of the setting sun.

When I moved here, all I knew about Berlin was that it was home to the notorious Berghain nightclub and anyone who considered themselves more extravagant and free-minded than the average. I had imagined Berlin to be a tough, even spooky place with a cityscape shaped by the uniform Communist era, reminiscent of dark rather than glorious times. What took me one year to understand (one tough year in which I again and again dragged myself to ruins turned techno clubs because I felt like I had to) was that Berlin, in fact, is not gloomy. It’s a very romantic city.

If I had to paint Berlin in one color, it would be orange, like an old telephone or kitchen wallpaper from the seventies. The subway trains have windows patterned with tiny opaque Brandenburg Gates and pleather seats with camouflage prints resembling a Jackson Pollock painting. Mid-century buildings, like the oyster-shaped Haus der Kulturen der Welt (a center for international contemporary art) and the radio tower shining over the city like an iridescent disco ball, add to its vintage charm. Many abandoned structures have been repurposed without erasing their original vibe: a former war shelter became an impressive contemporary art collection (the Boros Bunker), a kebab deli was taken over by a visionary chef and turned into the French gourmet restaurant Bandol sur Mer and an empty public swimming pool was temporarily used as a nightclub.

A lot in Berlin seems improvised and unfinished. I once sent a friend who was visiting from Dubai to the Potsdamer Straße, one of the city’s coolest neighborhoods colonized by art galleries, experimental restaurants and sex shops. She later told me that it was not what she had expected to see, expressing surprise at how ugly some parts of the district were. But the fact that there’s still so much undiscovered territory in this city is also what makes it so beautiful. With its slightly crumbling glamour, Berlin sometimes reminds me of an elderly lady. Her outer appearance is of a wrinkled elegance, and she definitely has her quirks. But her mind is bold and young, and she’s always ready to play.

So…wanna come visit? Here’s a Berlin travel guide to all the places I wouldn’t want to miss if I were you.

1. Sommerbad Kreuzberg

Berlin is a city of late risers (rents are low, people are relaxed). But the public swimming pool Sommerbad Kreuzberg opens at 7 a.m., and I recommend you to show up no later than that. With the sun rising over the treetops surrounding the three giant pools, your morning workout will feel like an actual treat here.

Address: Prinzenstraße 113-119 (Kreuzberg), berlinerbaeder.de

2. Pension Funk

If you didn’t get into Berghain (I’ve never been, so I can’t share any tricks with you), comfort yourself by staying in this beautiful bed and breakfast in Charlottenburg. Red velvet sofas, floral wallpaper, an untuned piano in the hall and antique furniture in the rooms take you back to the roaring twenties, so don’t forget to bring your flapper outfit. (Or something similar. Or just something nice!). The place is classy, but in the fun kind of way.

Address: Fasanenstraße 69 (Charlottenburg), hotel-pensionfunk.de

3. Konditorei Damaskus

Populists around the world have called Angela Merkel an irresponsible idiot for admitting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into the country. I would like to invite all of them, including Donald Trump, to visit the Konditorei Damaskus, a traditional Syrian bakery run by Tamem Al Sakka, who had to flee from Homs with his family. If his heavenly baklava and kanafeh aren’t a win for this country, I don’t know what is.

Address: Sonnenallee 93 (Neukölln), facebook.com

4. Museum Island

Museum Island is basically an island full of art (as you may have guessed), and museums like the Pergamon Museum or the Old National Gallery are definitely worth a visit if you’re into Byzantine art and/or your grandmother who sponsored your trip expects you to do some culture activities. If I were you, I would skip the art and wander the shady colonnades instead, then find myself a lover to watch the sunset from one of the bridges and empty a bottle of wine on the Old Museum’s staircases. “Rome was great!,” you’ll tell your grandmother after.

5. Townes Vintage

Comme des Garçons vintage skirt, vintage T-Shirt (both available at Townes), Castañer sandals, Marni striped drop earrings, Seymoure sunglasses — similar here

Shoko, the charming Japanese owner of this very well-curated, high-end vintage boutique, has a secret closet at the back of her store. Tell her that you love Prada or are in desperate need of a gold-sequined maxi skirt, and she will probably find you the piece of your dreams in her treasure chest. Comme des Garçons is her specialty.

Address: Linienstraße 56 (Mitte), facebook.com

6. Café Ora

Stay away from this place if you’re a member of camp gluten-free, because in that case, your visit will be a trip to hell. They bake their own bread! Roll their own cinnamon rolls! Make their own brioche AND cook their own jam! The bakery/cafe/bar is located in one of Berlin’s oldest pharmacies and would make for the ideal scenery for Wes Anderson’s next film.

Address: Oranienplatz 14 (Kreuzberg), facebook.com

7. Blain Southern Gallery

I don’t often need a break from Berlin because it’s such a chill city. But if life gets exhausting here, there’s no better place to relax than in one of the city’s many oasis-like contemporary art galleries. My favorite piece currently on view is Jonas Burgert’s 22-meter-long painting at the Blain Southern Gallery. It pretty much sums up the mess I’m dreaming about at night.

Address: Potsdamer Straße 77-87 (Tiergarten), blainsouthern.com

8. Fiona Bennett

Hats are difficult: they often feel like a disguise. But Fiona Bennett, the German-British milliner who was among the first to open her store and studio on the aforementioned Potsdamer Straße, will make you reconsider the headpiece. Her creations are flamboyant without ever looking too quirky. I’m a huge fan of her colorful straw hats, which are handwoven in Ghana and would be the cherry on top of any of my boring summer outfits.

Address: Potsdamer Straße 81-83 (Tiergarten), fionabennett.de

9. Osteria Ribaltone

The interior designer who decorated this Italian restaurant must have had the time of his life. With the bicycles hanging from the ceiling, motorbike sitting next to the antipasti buffet and cartoons, Italian maps and party photos cladding the walls, the place resembles an eccentric race driver-slash-cat lady’s living room. If you can’t focus on your tagliatelle in such an environment, I’d recommend booking a table on their terrace facing the beautiful Viktoria-Luise-Platz.

Address: Motzstraße 54 (Schöneberg), ribaltone.de

10. Kino International

Zara jacket, Pre T-Shirt — another here, Dries Van Noten printed trousers, Rayne mules, vintage Versace earrings

Going to the movies is probably the last occasion I’d dress up for, but Berlin’s theaters are different: many were built in the ‘20s or early ‘60s and will take you back to a time when going to the movies still was a colorful affair. With its chandeliers and disco balls, navy velvet seats and silvery, glittering curtain (that every Saint Laurent boot would be envious of), the Kino International (built in 1963) would actually be my number one wedding location. Seriously.

Address: Karl-Marx-Allee 33 (Mitte), yorck.de

Photos by Julien Barbès; follow him on Instagram @studiojulienbarbes.

Get more Fashion ?
  • gracesface

    Lewk #4 is everything. Looooooove.

  • Pandora Sykes

    GOD I LOVE CLAIRE. These pictures are so interesting and timeless and she describes Berlin, with such panache. Man Repeller at its best.

    • Thank you Pandora I LOVE YOU TOO!!!!!!

  • Love Claire’s writing and L👀Ks

  • Meg S

    Staying in hostels were always my thing in Berlin. Met a bunch of cool people in the common room (where meals were served), got a private no frills room for not much money. Alternative Berlin has some great tours. Maybe it’s time to go back.

    Lewk #2 is my fave, but I need that blouse in #6. The polka dots I’m wearing today pale in comparison.

    • Emma

      Zara has a (copy) budget one!!! Superbeaut indeed!

      • Meg S

        I never spend a ton of money at Zara, but after looking at their tops section I might be.

  • Anum Bashir

    GO CB!

  • Charlotte

    Claire is always so inspiring!!

  • Kristie

    for real do an article about Claire’s skincare routine, skin tone and highlight on point!

  • Mun

    Such incredible style and photography

  • Marin

    Berliners don’t dress like this.

    • Valerie

      Wrong. Berliners couldn’t care less about how others tell them to dress.

  • Alice

    I went to Berlin last year and was so disappointed. I really recommend 2 things : thai park (had the best swet mango rice) and if you’re into tea, Tea and Paper. I’ve reordered their vanilla black tea and their sencha and oolongs are great quality.

  • laraesther28

    Oh Claire I just love your articles! So inspiring every time! Even though I live in Berlin, I now want to make a vacation in Berlin! 🙂

  • Bambi loves Rose

    Cool! Stayed in Berlin for a year..and missed all the hints of Claire…next time!

  • I have planned travel to Berlin with my family.But i have no information about Berlin. I see your blog you give great information.Thanks for sharing.https://goo.gl/f74dSx

  • Vanessa

    I love this! I have no intentions of going to Berlin but this article was still really interesting and I’m totally gonna start looking at theaters as a wedding venue.
    Well done Claire!

  • Emma

    YAAAS thank you for this! I’m moving to Berlin with a friend this fall- this ma new check-list!

  • anna

    I’m sorry, but this is one of the worst guides ever, you will never get a glimpse at the culture of the city by doing any of this (why are these guides always by English speaking expats anyway!?) – if all you wanna do live in blissful tourisy ignorance, well then there you go.

    • olivia

      hello! where would you recommend? I’m going to berlin at the end of this month (& i speak very little German) & i have no real idea of where I want to go. any advice would be much appreciated!

      • @anna Don’t knock all of us English-speaking expats 🙂

        @olivia:

        I’ve lived here for the past three+ years, and these would be some of my suggestions:

        1. Stay in an AirBnB! Apartments here are gorgeous.

        2. For your history walk: start at Museum Island and then walk down Unter den Linden till you reach Brandenburger Tor. Take that in for a minute, then walk through the arch and turn right and spend some time at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

        2a. Hamburger Bahnhof is a great contemporary art museum in a really cool building.

        3. Hallesches Haus: great space, great coffee, great food.

        4. Mamecha on Mulackstrasse in Mitte. Green tea e v e r y t h i n g, plus savory things to eat as well. Mulackstrasse and the surrounding area is also full of boutiques and galleries.

        4a. Get out at Rosenthaler Platz and just walk around. Torstrasse, Weinbergsweg, around Rosa Luxembourg Platz. Tons of cafes, restaurants, and boutiques.

        4b. For vegetarians, Chay Viet in this area is a great and cheap vegetarian Vietnamese place. One of the best in the city imho.

        5. You’ll find a vintage store pretty much everywhere- I was forced to travel out to Buch (outer Berlin) to get my apartment registration (Berlin’s bureacracy is maxed out) but randomly there was a 2nd hand shop attached to the registration office where I found some vintage Bodum coffee cups for 1€ each, so it was definitely a win.

        6. Maybe a bit cliche, but the giant fleamarket at Mauerpark on Sundays can be really enjoyable, especially if you get there early (before 10am) before all the crowds. Get a coffee afterwards at Bonanza Coffee House on Oderberger Strasse.

        7. Walk down Weserstrasse in Neukoelln and go where your legs take you. Eat a Sudanese falafel or chicken sandwich at Sahara.

        8. I know Man Repeller loves France/Paris, so here is a French restaurant recommendation that I got just yesterday: Les Valseuses by Eberswalder Str. “The beef melts in your mouth” is what I’ve been told.

        While the food scene may be a bit lacking (<3 you Berlin), there are literally endless amounts of incredible cafes, way too many to list, and many easily found just by walking around.

        The best parts of Berlin for me: a public transportation system that works, and the incredible people you'll meet.

        As shamelessly as possible: Living here inspired me to design and launch my own footwear brand, called Matriarch. We offer menswear-style wingtips and brogues in sizes for all genders (even in tiny sizes, and without having to go to the kids section 😉 –

        http://www.wethematriarch.com

        Hope these tips help!
        Sarah

        • Anna

          @Sarah, I was mainly criticizing this specific article, even tho, yes, I personally do prefer if there were guides by locals when I visit cities/places. I’m not even saying that you won’t have fun doing any of this, all I am saying is that it is all very tourisy.

          and partly incorrect:

          There is no such thing as a ‘central park’ in Berlin (partly bc of the history of the city. Berlin’s history is also ignored by the remark on the communist past: half of the city was part of Western Germany…. hence, the ‘Berlin Wall’)

          The ‘radio tower’ is actually ‘television tower’. (Really not sure how she got this one wrong, but okay).

          Potsdamer Straße is hardly ‘one of the coolest’ areas (I do like it there, but the adjective is simply misleading. ‘Cool’ would props be Neukölln (around Weserstraße), Kreuzberg, (maybe) parts of Friedrichshain and Mitte (between Torstraße and Oranienburger Straße – which is also where most of the galleries still are).

          The Merkel comment speaks to an utter lack of understanding of German politics and is reenforcing an international stereotype about her, as she has done no such thing – all she did was not imposing further restrictions, thus, what she did is what she normally does: pretty much nothing. Indeed, Germany keeps on sending back refugees, even to countries where it is not safe and we are not actually providing well for the ones who are here (indeed, people live in gyms w/o any privacy for years; to be fair tho, this misconception of Merkel’s politics is pretty common in international media).

          And: the author might have never seen a Jackson Pollock – anything camouflage-like by its very nature does not come close to a Jackson Pollock painting (maybe next time don’t skip the art in actual museums – which is a ridiculous comment to begin with, especially when she later recommends galleries).

    • Anna

      Claire is native German by the way… Even as a Berlin born and raised I liked her recommendations:)

  • isabel-96

    I visited Berlin last year and fell in love with it. i couldn’t have described the city better. you just used the perfect words. and i thought orange was just the right color for the city, too. i haven’t visited any of the places you suggest so you made me wanna go again!

  • Justyna Broclawik

    I love how many places Ive never head of from that list! Usually such lists are like, “places in xxx you never heard of” and then they list obvious well known spots. So great! 🙂