By: Molly Helfend
When I first arrived at graduate school in Canterbury, England, I did not have any expectations on where I wanted to travel to in Europe. However, honestly, Berlin was not top of my list. But, when my good friends from Freiburg invited me for the weekend, I just couldn’t pass it up. And, I am so glad I took that flight over to Germany. Now, we all know there are lots of Berlin travel guides out there. And it is very understandable, as it is an incredibly hip and trendy city with so much to offer. However, this is guide is unique, as it is my young funky and holistic recommendations. I had an amazing time in Berlin, and was lucky enough to be shown around by my incredible German friends and get a true local experience. Thank you to my wonderful friends Tori and Nanina for your input on this guide as well.
Berlin has more rich history and exciting opportunities than most cities I have ever traveled to. With its stunning old architecture, I did not expect to find such a contemporary hipster city, where surprisingly almost everyone spoke English. Seriously, the language barrier was just not a problem in Berlin. With some sort of festival always happening or free event to attend, it was easy to get lost and feel like time flew quickly. I was always busy and entertained (not to mention exhausted from the all night partying) and the food was so delicious and easily digestible. For you vegans out there, this was definitely one of the most vegan friendly cities I have ever been to. A great way to take advantage of what the city has to offer is by renting second hand bikes or if you want to take in as much of the German capital as possible consider a Berlin City Pass. You can buy one for a fixed price and get 2, 3 or 6 days worth of free museum entries, unlimited rides on the hop on / hop off sightseeing tour buses, as well as skip the queue privileges at the Reichstag and Pergamon museum. Berlin might be the capital of Germany, but it is also one of the art capitals of the world, with museums, street art and even historic monuments representing the deeply rooted artistic values of the culture. (If you are short on time or confused where to begin, a fun way to fit in as much culture as you can is by taking a tour with the hip Go Art!). There are multiple districts in Berlin, so this is shortened overview, so you can decide where you want to stay or visit:
Prenzlauerberg - Bohemian meets bourgeouis vibes. Beautiful buildings and modern design
Kreuzberg - Punk, cool, and edgy. The east is a bit edgier than the west, which is more gentrified
Friedrichshain - Artsy
Neukölln - Cool area with fewer visitors and tourists (also be sure to visit the fresh market, where you can get fruit and vegetables for super cheap. There are also booths with healthy shakes and food)
Mitte - This is central Berlin, so it is very touristy
Wedding - Multicultural and hipster with Portland-esque vibes
Schöneberg - A major hub of city’s gay scene - so much fun!
Overall, there is so much I can say about Berlin. Its edgy vibes and memorizing victorian cityscape will always be on my mind. But, it is also a holistic health mecca for those who want to still indulge, while being mindful. It is definitely a city you should add to your European itinerary.
Clubs and Bars
Grießmühle - One of my favorite clubs in Berlin that is located inside an old grain mill. Great atmosphere and music.
Kater Blau - Pretty much, there are 4-5 different bars in one space. You can go from a tavern to a dance floor in a few connected steps. Grab a drink and definitely make a meeting spot with friends because you will probably get lost.
Sisyphos - Berlin is known for its house and techno scene. Sisyphos has some of the best live electronic DJs. It has funky underground vibes and is 21+. The party definitely goes from sunset on Friday until dawn on Monday here.
Ritter Butzke - Located in an old factory, it originally began as an illegal club in 2007. Now, it hosts three dance floors and the crowd is filled with locals more than anyone else.
Reingold - For more of a classier cocktail bar vibe, this is a great Speakeasy style bar. It actually is one of my favorites, with a beautiful 1920's atmosphere and dark red lighting and lovely tones.
Clärchens Ballhaus - Although they serve food, you come here to dance, not to eat. With a mix of ages and mix of dance styles, this is a guaranteed groovy night where everyone in your party can enjoy!
Tiefgrund - Although I indulged in electronic music scene, I am really more a rock girl. If you are like me, this is the best club for live stoner, garage and psychedelic rock.
Klunkerkranich - This is more like a “cultural rooftop garden” that has a bar, DJs, live music and parties looking over the lights of the city.
Art and History
Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art - KW houses exquisite contemporary art through various modes of artistic production, display and dissemination. It has a very dynamic and progressive tone, with commissioned works and exhibitions and various events. It is worth its international recognition. Annual ticket cost is 25 EUR.
Jüdische Mädchenschule - The best way I can describe how cool this museum is truly through its personal description. “This imposing prewar brick building, which housed a Jewish girls’ school until 1942, is now home to three galleries, among them Michael Fuchs, on the top floor: One of the most respected in the city, it exhibits cerebral shows from artists like Frank Stella and Nir Hod. Two floors down is the CWC Gallery, showing contemporary photography, painting, and sculpture. And between the two—somewhat unexpectedly—is The Kennedys, a museum dedicated to the former American First Family.” Great museum to get lost in, so give yourself plenty of time.
Holocaust Memorial - Truly thought provoking and moving. My heritage stems from Eastern European Jews, so I always make a point to visit Holocaust Museums in various cities, especially in Europe. A must even if you are not Jewish. A reminder of the sad past our world has endured and a push to make sure we never fall backwards again. Free public tour on weekends and low tour costs during the week.
East Side Gallery - I had so much fun walking along the gallery in rain with my friend Tori. It is a mile-long stretch of the Berlin Wall, which is one of the largest remaining portions of the former divide between East and West Germany. It is covered in street art creations and represents freedom. It is free to explore!
Street Art - Speaking of street art, I think one of the best places to explore free street art is in Kreuzberg. You can also take a tour if you want to get deeper.
Berlin Wall Memorial Site - A staple and historic must. The Berlin wall Memorial is located directly in the middle of the capital and memorializes the former divided border culture of communist East and capitalist West Berlin. Another true representation and appreciation of freedom.
Neues Musuem - If you are interested in compelling archaeological collections from Egyptian and Papyrus Collections, then definitely go here. One of the most prominent features of the exhibit is the bust of the world’s most beautiful women, Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. Cost is 12 EUR.
Accidentally Wes Anderson - Like many young artists, I am a huge fan of Wes Anderson’s distinctive artistic craft and movies. Accidentally Wes Anderson is one of the coolest blogs and instagram accounts right now, showcasing “the unique, the symmetrical, the atypical, the distinctive design and amazing architecture that inspires us all.” Travelers from around the globe submit Wes Anderson-esque inspiring places that relate to his specific color palette selections and to each thematic art piece he creates. This awesome project is shared with us all and it’s hard to not want to visit them all:
Palast der Republik
Haus der kulturen der welt
Berlin is filled with second-hand shopping heaven. There are vintage and thrift stores and flea markets galore.
Do You Read Me?! - Quaint, artistic book shop.
Bikini Berlin - Home to the world’s first concept shopping mall, great food and shopping scattered around with interesting pop-up box shops.
Bergmann-Kiez - From record stores to fake-fur, the Kiez is where all the hipsters and students moved to in the last ten years.
Bergmannstraße - Perfect destination for vintage and thrift bargains.
Pick-and-Weight - The biggest and craziest second hand store I have ever seen. Ever style of clothing I have ever seen.
One thing I learned is that many restaurants are cash only, so make sure to have Euros on hand in Berlin!
Daluma - Run by one of Berlin’s top chefs and nutrition experts, this superfood and nutrient dense menu is based around the simple idea of pure, raw healthy ingredients. A bit more expensive, indulging on some delicious juices is worth it after a long night dancing. CASH ONLY.
The Bowl - Vegan, gluten and refined sugar free, this clean eating brunch restaurant is heavenly. I recommend starting and sharing the guacamole and flaxseed crackers and ordering the Kitchererbsen Bowl as your main dish.
Superfood & Organic Liquids - My friend Tori knew exactly where to take us right off my flight. This was my favorite breakfast restaurant in the city, which made my stomach basically glow. I had a tough time deciding on my order, but I would recommend the Matcha and Coconut Yogurt Bowl or the Vegan Gluten-free Waffles with a Matcha Latte and homemade coconut milk.
Holy Flat - An eclectic mix of various cultural flavors, this was definitely up on my list as one of my favorite lunch spots. I really loved their Holy Bowl, filled with Quinoa Tabouli, grilled vegetables, homemade hummus, chickpeas, fresh salad greens and added avocado goodness! The restaurant was small and quaint and the food was just big enough to fill you up without feeling bloated.
Boris Lauser - This is THE plant-based restaurant, comparable to Matthew Kinney. Sustainable and raw, this is an intimate upscale date night dinner spot. There are specific dinner calendar dates and seasonal menus, so make a reservation in advance if you are traveling during a Dinner Club night.
Avocai - This new paleo-friendly cafe/pilates studio is owned by the most lovely Russian woman named Anna - you cannot help but want to support her, which isn’t hard with such a delicious, yet simple menu.
Dada Falafel - Pretty much the classic snack and daily diet choice of most Berliners, I loved Dada Falafels the best out of all the food stands I ran into. Great price for those on a budget for delicious falafels and hummus platter.
Umami - Beautifully presented food and cozy wooden atmosphere. I really enjoyed the Indochinese influenced food over some of the German food I found. (Although I did love homemade German pastries at my friend’s home in Hamburg)
Hamy Cafe - My favorite dinner I had in Berlin, Hamy has a small, simple menu with some of the most delicious Vietnamese food I’ve ever had. Portions were generous, quick service and prices were extremely cheap - a budget traveler’s heaven! I fell in love with my chicken lemongrass curry and freshly grated ginger green tea.
Airbnb - Berlin isn’t a cheap city. Airbnb is really the best way to get immersed in the city and find great deals on places to stay. With so many districts to chose from, you can truly feel like a local and find accommodation that best suits your needs.
Linnen - Hip hotel with stylish rooms and apartment options. Adorable on site cafe and artsy decor.
Ostel - A 1970s-themed hostel for those who want to budget a bit more. This upscale hostel also offers a beautiful garden and rooms.
Stick and Poke Tattoo Artists
Tattoo Hug - Unique small script font (super recommend her - she is wicked cool and did a great job on my finger tattoo!)
Moritz Lindur - Stunning lines
Unikat Berlin - Various international personalities and styles
Rozita Tattoo - Classic art redesigned
Alk Faen - Distinctive animated human interpretations
Julim Rosa - Interesting designs with a range of artistic background
Molly Helfend is part of the HOC team and is a writer, ethnobotanist and environmental activist. She graduated from University of Vermont in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and a concentration in Holistic Health and recently from University of Kent in 2018 in Canterbury, England with a Masters of Science Degree in Ethnobotany. She has worked for Urban Moonshine, Greenpeace and received her herbalism training with Spoonful Herbals. Her goal is to travel the world, researching plant-human interconnected relationships while continuing to educate about the transformational energy of life. Molly resides in Raglan, New Zealand and Santa Cruz, California.