Berlin: a tale of cheesecake, more coffee, less lycra

Berlin has so much going for it. Over the last 20+ years, it’s transformed itself from a grim, antisocial, graffiti-covered orphan to an artistic, happy and cosmopolitan metropolis. This post will serve as a guide for my friend ShirleyTemple, visiting soon, but it’s also an update of my favourite Berlin places.

But first, a rant (come now, don’t be surprised). Actually, this is more a pleasant observation: Berlin is a city full of cyclists. It’s flat, has plenty of cycleways, and drivers generally aware of their two-wheeled cousins. But what is doesn’t have – thankfully – is lycra. No early-morning-hero-commuters dressed for the Tour, even if they’re riding 4km to a job as a lawyer at Mallesons (apology to any lawyer from Mallesons who happens to read this – now get back to work). How nice to see normal people, dressed like humans, engaged in a human activity. I’m still hooked on the U-banh and S-bahn (as a Sydneysider, effective public transport is a marvel), but I promise to get a bike for future visits.

Back to a few of my favourite things – starting, unsurprisingly, with coffee (shameless plug: see my earlier post). Good cafes are still relatively rare, but the scene is better than Paris, and there are a few good places. To avoid playing favourites, we’ll go geographically, starting with No Fire No Glory! in Prenzlauerberg (very gentrified, very Paddington, and not lacking in Australian accents and baristas).

IMG_3097-6Good coffee and food, a lovely location and cool artwork (bonus: wifi) make this a great place to relax, write postcards, and realise just how relaxed Berlin is as a city – hard to believe it’s a capital city. Maybe the real estate boom and ongoing gentrification will change all that. Walk about ten minutes south and you’ll end up at The Barn (they have another outpost nearby at Hackschermarkt). If coffee has a German stereotype, this might be it: great, rich coffee roasted on-site, a serious space, and an intolerance for prams (laptops are ok – just) which I love. There’s even a bollard… Brilliant.


Meanwhile, Five Elephant roasts in a more grungy part of town. The coffee is very good, but more importantly, they make the best cheesecake in the world. Ever. Yes, I haven’t tried every cheesecake in the world, but stop arguing and eat the damn cake at Five Elephant.IMG_3210-6

Finally, there’s Double Eye toward the south (Akazienstrasse 22). They don’t get as many tourists and seats are limited, but Arno has been making great coffee for ages and it’s really worth a trip (hassle them for a dry mac…they froth milk better than anyone, anywhere, ever).IMG_3150-6

And while you’re there, swing by Mi Ouda a couple blocks north – a great new addition to the Berlin coffee scene. There are others – Bonanza, Godshot, CK – but I never became a regular (read into that what you will!). IMG_3988

You don’t like coffee? Stop reading this blog! I’m not going to list all the tourist sites, but if the weather is good, you should visit the Badeschiff. Originally an art project, it’s a swimming pool floating n the Spree. The graffiti on a nearby building – Good morning Ken + Barbie – is spot on, but why not sun-bake with the beautiful people? It’s €5 to get in, and you can’t bring bottles (but a lock for the lockers will save you €1…). BADESCHIFF_sommer_1000x266

(as a bonus it’s only 15 minutes walk from Five Elephant… No, I can’t forget the cheesecake…)

Food might be what lets Berlin down a little. There are some definite upsides – awesome fresh produce, it’s really cheap, and there are some great city markets: try Winterfeldplatz (and then Double Eye) or Kollwitzplatz (Prenzlauerberg) on a Saturday and have a fresh fish burger (not the pre-made ones).

IMG_3291-6There’s also some good mid-range food. Definitely have a burger (or splurge on a steak) at The Bird – close to the Mauerpark. And for something lighter, the Indochinese at Monsieur Vuong (Hackschermarkt) is good. And at the top end, there are some good performers like Tim Raue and the restaurant at Brandenburger Hof. A schnitzel in the foodhall at KaDeWe is also a worthy adventure, and I keep hearing good things about Reinstoff. But for all its creativity – a lot of young chefs experimenting – Berlin feels like the kid who’s a bit alternative because he hasn’t yet grown into himself. After a visit to Paris, the food offerings in the German capital weren’t as exciting anymore.IMG_3117-6IMG_3405-6IMG_3975-6

A final touristy suggestion – take a walk through the Tiergarten. It’s a grand old park, easy to get lost in. Take the time to climb up the Siegessaule – Berlin’s victory column at the centre of the park – peak up the angel’s skirt, and then walk South West toward the zoo to best take in the park. Just watch out for the naked sun-bathers (invariably old men – why is the amount of clothing removed in proportion to the age of the bather?!), which proudly display themselves like confused peacocks in the summer months. Upon reflection, I think I prefer a few lycra-clad MAMILS (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) to the nude Picasso-wannabes (the artist, not his models) wandering the Tiergarten. Apart from that, Berlin is tops. Gute Reise!


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Categories: Berlin, Coffee, Food, Travel


coffee, food, calculated rambling


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