Too-too or too perfect? Either way, Prenzlauer Berg is the Berlin hood I can’t live without. Prenzlauer Berg isn’t packed with sights, but the atmosphere in this shabby-chic eastern Berlin neighborhood—especially the so-called Kollwitzkiez—is irresistible.
A network of leafy lanes and avenues perched on a barely perceptible hill (“berg”) just northeast of the center, this district offers such a perfect mix of cafés, restaurants, boutiques and charming architecture that it sometimes has a “this-is-too-good-to-true”, movie-set vibe to it. If Woody Allen were to make a film in Berlin, this is where he’d shoot it.
“Prenzlberg” emerged as a bustling, working class industrial hub in the 19th century—and still has the rows upon rows of (now-restored) tenement houses, complete with ornate stucco details and flower-bedecked balconies, to prove it. Also adding a historic touch are the restored and repurposed red brick factories studding the area. (The Kulturbrauerei cultural center, a former beer brewery, is an essential stop on a tour of the district.)
Ideal city living in the Kollwitzkiez
One century later, the district gained fame as the home base of East Germany’s poets, novelists, dissidents and intellectuals, who gathered around Köllwitzplatz, a triangular park named after the leftist artist and anti-war protestor, Kathe Köllwitz. (Her work is honored over in western Berlin’s Kathe Köllwitz Museum.) The district was grimy then, but the apartment buildings had survived the war relatively unscathed.
Fast forward to this century, and an over-sized bronze statue of Kollwitz is still watching over the park. But now, instead of gray, rundown façades, she faces swing sets and awning-shaded tables marking the cafés and bars along Kollwitz Strasse, Knaack Strasse and Wörther Strasse, the district’s three most genteel streets.
On Saturdays, a market, the Markt am Kollwitzplatz, takes over the square. Overflowing with gourmet food and hand-crafted clothing, it makes this corner of Berlin an urban paradise. After a stroll through the market, it’s practically mandatory to stop at Kaffeehaus SowohlalsAuch, a café-bakery famous for its cakes. Sit outside, even if it’s a bit chilly—blankets draped over the chairs will keep you warm.
This idyllic square is just one indication that this once-rundown neighborhood has morphed into the reunified city’s most appealing “Szeneviertel” (scene). Some Berliners grumble that well-to-do yuppies—many of whom add stylish little tykes to their brood—transformed the once-bohemian, left-leaning district into a pretentious playground for affluent, western German transplants, but the area retains a touch of alluring grittiness, especially along wide avenues like Schönhauser Allee, Prenzlauer Allee and Danziger Strasse.
A laid-back itinerary
The best way to tour the district is to start at the U-Bahn Senerfelder Platz. Walk north on Kollwitz Strasse to reach Kollwitzplatz. Continue north onto Knaack Strasse to reach the Kulturbrauerei (nearby, on Schönhauser Allee 44a, underneath the U-bahn tracks, is the famed Currywurst kiosk, Konnopke’s).
If you have time, keep heading north, across Danziger Strasse, to explore the mellow streets surrounding another classic Prenzlauer Berg square, Helmholzplatz. Bordered by Lynchener Strasse, Raumer Strasse, Duncker Strasse and Lette Strasse, it’s well stocked with shops and café-restaurants.
In addition to the Kulturbraueri, the district’s Cheapo-friendly sights include the redbrick Wasserturm (Watertower, between Knaack Strasse und Belforter Strasse), which served as one of the city’s first concentration camps, and the Jüdischer Friedhof (Jewish Cemetery, Schönhauser Allee 22-23), one of Germany’s largest historic Jewish resting places. The Zeiss Grosplantarium ( Prenzlauer Allee 80) offers inexpensive tours of the stars.