Berlin: Afternoon in Friedrichshain—Berlin Wall, Cheap Eats, Soviet Stroll

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Walking along the East Side Gallery. Photo by Mark Turner.
Walking along the East Side Gallery. Photo by Mark Turner.

With only a handful of sights to its name, the edgy Berlin district of Friedrichshain, which is infamous for its anti-capitalism protests, prolific graffiti artists, and rocking music venues, isn’t a jackpot in the sight-seeing department. But thanks to its free-to-see landmarks and a bevy of inexpensive and innovative eateries, this is a great day-time destination for Cheapos desperate to give their wallets some serious R and R.

Here are some great ways to spend a Cheapo-friendly afternoon in Friedrichshain.

Open-air Art: The East Side Gallery

From the Ostbahnhof S-bahn station, stroll alongside Friedrichshain’s best-known attraction: the free-of-charge East Side Gallery (Mühlen Str., between the Ostbahnhof train station and Warschauer Str.) Reputed to be the continent’s largest open-air gallery, it’s a great way to pay tribute to the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The .8-mile-long stretch of Wall bordering the Spree river is a concrete canvas for some 100 graffiti-style artworks. The two most famous images: Birgit Kinder’s painting of a Trabant, the iconic East German car, bursting through the Wall and Dmitri Vrubel’s rendering of a passionate kiss between the Soviet Union’s Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany’s Erich Honecker. If you need a break, spread out on the recently revamped Spree river banks, tucked away just behind the Wall.

A Bridge with a View

The Oberbaumbrucke. Photo by Stadtneurotiker.

The Oberbaumbrucke. Photo by Stadtneurotiker.

Once you’ve reached the end of Mühlen Str., the historic, red brick Oberbaumbrücke bridge, which links Friedrichshain to Kreuzberg, is impossible to miss.

Originally built in the 18th century, the two-story structure with a 21st-century addition by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, offers sweeping views of eastern Berlin. Look east to see the shimmering silver Molecule Man sculpture rising from the river. Look west to spot the ubiquitous Fernsehturm (TV tower).

Music fans should check out the patterned brick-and-glass Universal Records building, where the company’s European headquarters is located, adjacent to the bridge.

Lunch in a shabby-chic hood

Continue north on Warschauer Strasse to reach the heart of the Boxhaganer Kiez, a shabby-chic hood between Boxhagener Strasse and Revaler Strasse. A gathering place for stylish students, wannabe musicians, and other low-earning Berliners, this colorful corner boasts plenty of eateries serving low-budget food with flair. The best spots serve portions so large that a party of two could fill their bellies for less than €10.

Organic burger joints and vegan eateries are the restaurants du jour in this trend-conscious foodie zone. Since you probably didn’t travel all the way to Berlin to sample diner-style cheeseburgers (or veggie burgers) and fries, you should skip places like Kreuzburger (Grünberger Str. 52-53), Green Burger (Grünberger Str. 38), and Burgeramt/Frühstucksclub (Krossener Str. 22).

Vegan Pizza at Yoyo Foodworld. Photo: Milgrammer.

Vegan Pizza at Yoyo Foodworld. Photo: Milgrammer.

If you can’t resist the urge, head to the best of the bunch, Frittiersalon (Boxhagener Str. 104). Reminiscent of a 1950’s diner, the organic burgers served in this greasy spoon are big and tasty. Not to be missed are the house-made potato chips and the diverse, house-made sauces. Vegetarian Wurst is also on the menu.

Meatless meals

Vegans and the green-minded are well served well by another set of Friedrichshain faves that specialize in politically-responsible dishes. The popular Yoyo Foodworld (Gärtner Str. 27) is dedicated to providing strict vegans with dishes that are usually verboten from their diets: Käsespätzle (cheese-covered egg noodles), gyros, schnitzels, burgers, and even banana splits. And the price is right: a vegan hot chili cheeseburger with fries and a salad is €6.99.

A few blocks away, Vöner (Boxhagener Str. 56) draws the vegan masses with its P.C. version of the city’s most beloved meat-centric snack: the Döner kebab. The Imbisse (snack stand) also turns out a mean veggie burger and a meaty bio burger.

A Soviet-era Avenue: Karl Marx Allee

Karl Marx Allee's Soviet facades. Photo by Mishkabear.

Karl Marx Allee’s Soviet facades. Photo by Mishkabear.

After lunching, wrap up your tour of Friedrichshain with a visit to the Stalinist-era Karl Marx Allee (at the northern end of Warschauer Str., between Alexanderplatz and Frankfurter Allee).

A showcase of monumental Communist architecture, including eight-story, “wedding cake” apartment buildings sheathed in creamy white tiles, the wide boulevard was built by the Soviets shortly after World War II to impress the west. In addition to hosting government-sanctioned marches, it also hosted a brutally-put down demonstration by workers on June 17, 1953.

After staring up at the 2,620-feet-high, neo-classical towers marking the Allee’s eastern end, meander west, past chipping, graffiti-covered facades, funky movie theaters, and retro store fronts, some of which still bear their funky 1950’s shop signs. The apartment buildings west of the Weberwiese U-bahn stop are the most impressive as they’ve been wonderfully restored to their Stalinist/neoclassical glory.

When you’ve had enough, rest your feet and grab a coffee at the historic Café Sybille (Karl Marx Allee 72), which includes an exhibit about the Berlin Wall. A hipper option across the street, Ehrenburg Café (Karl Marx Allee 103) is named after Ilya Ehrenburg, a Soviet-Jewish journalist.

About the author

Susan Buzzelli

About the author: A Pittsburgh native, Susan Buzzelli has been a sworn Germanophile since she spent a high school summer as an exchange student in Buxtehude. After stints in Dresden, Munich, and Hamburg she settled (possibly for good) in Europe’s most dynamic city: Berlin. When she isn't exploring Berlin, she's traveling throughout Germany (with an occasional hop over the border). Her comprehensive guidebook to Germany, Zeitguide Germany, will be published soon. Look for updates on her website, www.susanbuzzelli.com.

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