Berlin has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to drinking holes, pick-up joints and hang-outs and there’s plenty to get the blood pumping. Neil Goodwin helps you plot a course through the arteries of the savage city, from Prenzlauer Berg to Mitte.
Some call it the heart of Europe, some say Vampire City. Others talk of it providing the lifeblood for contemporary art, social change and possibility. For surelich, Berlin is still arguably the most florid outcrop of Europe’s cultural evolution, with genius lodged deep and immovable in its DNA. But when the loft spaces fall dark and the peripatetic thinking takes pause, the city provides a smorgasbord of opportunities for entertainment and relaxation, all easily accessed by the excellent public transport system.
Follow me now as I take a carefully chosen yet random night out in the heart of Berlin – from the hip and pretty Prenzlauer Berg, which has grown from working-class backwater to haven for avant-garde artists, writers, homosexuals, political activists and young well-to-do parents – to Mitte, or ‘Middle’, the city’s historic core.
Let us begin the evening with the city’s superior vena cava – lying above the heart and receiving blood from the head and upper body region. Enter if you will the calm, brooding ambience of Wohnzimmer (‘living room’).
To get there from Eberswalder Str., on line U2 of the U-bahn, take the first left off Danziger Str. down Lychener Str., then on to Lettestrasse 6, where you will discover a charming and welcoming space serving beer by the bottle, coffee and cocktails in what appears to be a flood-damaged sitting room with a sprawling array of sofas, armchairs and chaises longues.
Besides the always pleasing selection of music at Wohnzimmer, it’s the diastolic atmosphere, warmth and lighting that aids the circulation and prepares you for the next stage of your journey.
The atrium is the pacemaker of the heart and Zu Mir Oder Zu Dir (‘your place or mine’) on Lychener Str. acts as such with its glittering disco ball, psychedelic and kaleidoscopic strobe lights, retro chic furnishings and funky soul grooves on the turntables. An excellent cocktail menu and a lively atmosphere warm the proverbial cockles and set the low pressure pumps to fill the ventricles and relax inhibitions just enough to befriend a stranger or three.
After a few mojitos, caipirinhas or whatever floats your boat in Zu Mir, head around the block to Revolution on Pappelallee and allow the inferior vena cava to be pumped from the pelvic organs and lower body regions by DJs who deserve – but don’t ask for more than – the nominal one euro cover charge. Wednesdays and Sundays witness chilled-out grooves and carefully chosen crackling vinyl, but take a chance with any other night and you’ll find the place throbbing to house, electro or funk.
This bar is a tall-ceilinged throwback to the DDR and not a single detail appears to be post 1974. Friendly, generous bar staff and the freedom of space make this a place in which you could gladly while away the whole night. But wait! Berlin has more to offer …
At the bottom of Pappelallee take the U2 artery one stop to Senefelder Platz. Here you have the option of soaking up the alcohol a little with some hearty fare at White Trash Fast Food, which is not only a live swing/rockabilly/rock n’ roll venue but also evokes the burlesque and decadence of 1920s Berlin, with a tattoo parlour and barber shop under its roof to boot. It also shows films.
The food menu at White Trash is sumptuous: fish “skinned and fried in our anti-terrorist beer batter” & “zero tolerance fuck-you fries”, a special Caesar salad served with “one fat-ass Scampi”, “meal-size bowls” of soup, and much else besides.
Almost directly opposite White Trash is the too-cool-for-school 8MM bar on Schonhauser Allee 177. This is a teensy rectangular space with subtley patterned black wallpaper and minimal furnishings that attracts artsy folk, Scandinavians and assorted flotsam and jetsam.
Most nights a film is projected onto the end wall, typically a Godard, a Fassbinder or a Bergman – occasionally, a Japanese zombie movie or an episode from the classic TV series ‘Monkey’. Always an interesting and pleasant place to have a drink before stumbling a few doors up to the one and only Bassy Cowboy Club.
Club Bassy is arguably the most eccentric cowboy club in Western Europe. Knock on the door to enter and find yourself stepping into 1950s Hamburg. A live music venue with a separate smoking room full of 50s kitsch and a jaw-dropping jukebox, Bassy is a friendly kinda place where you’re likely to meet all sorts: Teddyboy, Mod, Rocker, Tranny, Tourist, Drag Queen, Cowboy, Funkster and Everyday Average Joe, all grooving to pre-1969 country wildstyle, surf, rythym and blues, Northern soul, rock n’ roll in perfect harmony. It’s very easy to lose hours enjoying the sights and sounds of this unique venue and you will promise yourself it won’t be the last time.
Step outside into a new dawn and close the ductus arteriosis with a breath of fresh air and head to bed for well-earned diastolic r&r, but a word of advice: avoid your liver filing for divorce (citing years of domestic abuse) and dose yourself with a few drops of milk thistle and B complex. You wouldn’t want to have to rule out another intrepid fun-seeking mission tomorrow, now would you?
What? too early for bed you say? No problem… it may be 7am, but rest assured, you’ll always find elbow room at the bar over at Kaffee Burger on Torstrasse, a mere eight-minute stroll down Schonhauser Allee from Bassy. This is the home of Vladimir Kaminer’s Russian Disco and it hasn’t changed a bit since the DDR melted into air.
The DJ plays popular hits – ya-hoo wheee spin-a-lot! – and the girls who like boys make no secret of it. It’s a flirter’s paradise.
Upon waking, the heart may well be creaking. For the very finest restorative, head to the superb Olivin wellness lounge, a beautiful and spotlessly clean sauna with bamboo gardens, plunge pool and a dignified clientele all going about their wellness with German integrity and humility. Rent towels and a robe here for three euros extra on top of the 11 euros entrance, and detox to your poor heart’s content in Zen-like surroundings.
Leaving Berlin can be heart-breaking. But knowing that this city is as vibrant as it ever was in the 1920s, and in many ways is humbly leading the way forward towards a more social capitalism, can give you the strength and hope to fight on for a better world.
And you will return! Mark my words.