(Photos clockwise from top right: mural at the East Side Art Gallery, the Oberbaum Bridge, Volkspark Friedrichshain, and Urban Spree at R.A.W.)
Explore the Neighborhood: Friedrichshain
by Bethany Sharp
Considered one of the hippest districts in Berlin, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is home to two colorful neighborhoods: (you guessed it) Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. Separated by the river Spree, these two popular areas are home to some of the hottest restaurants, clubs, and sites that Berlin has to offer. Rather than lump the entire borough together, I’m going to talk about Friedrichshain in this article, and its sister neighborhood of Kreuzberg will receive its own blog post.
Friedrichshain is located to the east of the former Berlin Wall and used to be part of the GDR (German Democratic Republic). In fact, Friedrichshain claims the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, but there’s so much more to this neighborhood, it’s hard to know where to begin. The alternative vibe of Friedrichshain is worn like a badge of honor, but aside from the popular nightlife spots and clubs, you can find a lot of green space and family-friendly places amongst the imposing Soviet architecture.
The neighborhood was hit hard during World War II, and much of the old architecture was destroyed. Friedrichshain was held as a GDR symbol of post-war rebuilding, and much of the architecture in the neighborhood has a distinctly Soviet feel. Between the fascinating history, beautiful sights, and plethora of businesses and nightlife spots, Friedrichshain today is one of the most sought-after residential areas in Berlin and a favorite retreat for folks from all around the city. There are a multitude of great places to meet up with people in your circle!
Check out The East Side Art Gallery
Walking down the 1316-meter stretch of the Berlin Wall that makes up the East Side art Gallery is, by far, one of the top attractions in all of Berlin. This outdoor gallery consisting of murals painted onto the remnants of the Berlin Wall by artists from all around the world is one of the most famous landmarks in the city. The gallery runs along the river Spree, and there are great views along the waterfront to sit with a friend. There are also bars, restaurants, and outdoor spots where people gather to dance to live music. At the southernmost point of this section of the Wall near Warschauer Straße, you’ll find the Wall Museum—a worthwhile stop for not only history buffs, but those interested in learning a little bit more about the history of the area.
Meet on the Oberbaum Bridge
Just meters from the Wall Museum, crossing the Spree is another Berlin landmark—the Oberbaum Bridge. Constructed in the latter 1800s, this double-deck bridge actually replaced an older wooden bridge that was built in the 18th century. It eventually became part of the border between East and West Berlin, connecting Friedrichshain in the Soviet Sector with Kreuzberg in the American Sector in the 1960s. The look of this red brick bridge changed dramatically over time, and the structure we see now is not nearly as old as some think. The towers were demolished, but after the Wall came down in 1989, the bridge was restored and rebuilt to look like its former self (including its towers). Today, everything from demonstrations to celebrations take place on the Oberbaum Bridge, and it’s a great place to watch the boats floating up and down the Spree as well as a great spot to view Berlin’s TV Tower and the famous Molecule Men statue from afar.
Love it or hate it, there’s always the East Side Mall
Not necessarily the type of place one would associate with the vibrant club-loving, artistic culture of Friedrichshain, the East Side Mall sits just across the street from the Warschauer Straße S-Bahn and U-Bahn station. Sure, it may not be particularly beloved by every Friedrichshain resident, especially folks who’ve been there since before its construction started in 2016. But it’s hard to deny that the East Side Mall does add an element of convenience to the neighborhood. Housing approximately 120 different stores, service providers, cafes, and restaurants, the East Side Mall means that Friedrichshain dwellers don’t have to travel to another borough to get a wide variety of clothing, electronics, and housewares. There are even grocery stores inside the mall that are often more stocked than other nearby grocers (I’ve gone there a few times when I lived in Friedrichshain when the Mexican food section at my closest Rewe was high and dry). I’ll also go ahead and be a little “basic” here and mention that there’s an H&M and a Starbucks I’ve frequented at the mall when I’ve needed clothing essentials or gotten homesick for an almond milk caramel macchiato. The East Side Mall is a far cry from the rest of Friedrichshain, but it does hold a place for the comfort of chain stores where you know your size and predictable food and drinks when you’re on the go.
Eat, find art, or club hop around R.A.W. Gelände
This is one of my all-time favorite areas to venture in Berlin. R.A.W. is a great graffiti-covered Friedrichshain spot for everyone from club-goers to families. Some of the best spots in the city for late-night music and dancing can be found at R.A.W., including the Suicide Club and Cassiopeia. R.A.W. houses my personal favorite beer garden in Berlin as well as a club, art gallery, and tattoo studio Amor de Madre, all at Urban Spree. A couple of great locations for more daring and active entertainment are the Nike SB Shelter skate park, and The Cone—an extensive rock-climbing wall. You can also find cheap and delicious food throughout the area along with art houses, furniture, and antiques. On most Sundays, there’s even a flea market at R.A.W. Throughout the year, there are multiple concerts and other live events in this eclectic treasure trove where you’ll find people from all walks of life, from crust punks to young families.
Visit the Wochenmarkt Boxhagener Platz
Boxhagener Platz is a scenic little Friedrichshain park surrounded by a number of great restaurants, cafes, and shops. But I’d say the best part of this beautiful square is the Saturday food market and Sunday flea market. The Saturday food market has everything from fresh fruit and vegetable stands, to homemade jams and bread, to a variety of delicious food trucks. I recommend sharing an item or two with your Circles friends while you walk around the square because you’re bound to find something else that’s too tasty to pass up! On Sundays, the flea market is perfect for finding cheap second-hand clothes and accessories, handmade jewelry, art, candles and soaps, furniture, books, and vinyl. I rarely leave empty-handed and tend to find great affordable gifts for friends and family here.
For restaurants, take a walk down Simon-Dach-Straße
Friedrichshain is full of wonderful restaurants, and while they aren’t all located on this street, a lot of them are (also check out the blocks surrounding Boxhaganer Platz and up and down Warschauer Straße for even more delicious options)! A few personal favorites of mine along the scenic cobblestone blocks of Simon-Dach-Straße are Fatoush for savory Middle Eastern dishes, Yogi Snack for affordable and tasty Indian fare, Cayetano for a great breakfast or brunch, and Intimes (on the corner of Boxhaganer Straße) for a hip and delicious Mediterranean spot. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fantastic food, though. You really just have to walk around the area yourself—you’re bound to find restaurants and cafes all over Friedrichshain that tantalize your taste buds!
Take in the Soviet sights on Karl-Marx-Allee
Formerly called Stalinallee, this extra-wide roadway was called “the first socialist street in Germany” by East German leaders in the days of the GDR and was constructed with the idea of hosting massive parades and marches. A couple of the most notable landmarks for this boulevard of GDR dreams are the Hochhaus an der Weberwiese
(apartment tower at Weberwiese) and the two towers at Frankfurter Tor (Frankfurter Gate). The Hochhaus an der Weberwiese—a 9-story building with 33 apartments—was built in the 1950s as a symbol of East Germany’s reconstruction after WWII. The two towers at Frankfurter Tor were also built during this reconstruction period to give the impression of an entrance or gateway into the city at this historic square. Today Karl-Marx-Allee is the home base for many festivals and events, but just walking down the street on any typical day is a great way to take in local restaurants, shops, and attractions with your Circles connections.
Get back to nature at Volkspark Friedrichshain
This historic park is Berlin’s oldest and one of my favorite green spaces in Berlin to explore. With numerous hiking trails, Volkspark Friedrichshain is large enough to forget that you’re in a city, and there are beautiful sculptures, gardens, ponds, streams, and playgrounds for Berliners of any age to enjoy. The park’s most well-known work of art is called Märchenbrunnen (fountain of fairy tales)—a literal fountain covered in sculptures depicting traditional German fairy tales. This is a peaceful spot with a lot of room to sit and enjoy the scenery, but it’s only the beginning of the park. Keep going, and you’ll find so much more! For history lovers, check out the various monuments in the park, such as the Monument to the International Brigades dedicated to Germans who fought in the Spanish Civil War, the Monument to the Polish Soldiers and German anti-fascists who fought against Nazism, and the Japanese Peace Bell dedicated to the victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by US atomic bombs. Große Bunkerberg (Large Bunker Mountain—also known Mont Klamott) and Kleiner Bunkerberg (Small Bunker Mountain) are technically not high enough to be considered real mountains, but these hills were created from piles of debris from WWII, standing at 78 and 48 meters high, respectively. Today, they are covered with grass, trees, and walking paths. Große Bunkerberg is especially popular for sledding in the winter. Volkspark Friedrichshain also holds an open-air cinema, restaurant, beer garden, and plenty of flat green space for a picnic. You and your circle can spend all day (and evening) exploring this spacious urban retreat.
*Keep in mind that all activities, events, and places of business are subject to change hours of operation and policies due to COVID-19 restrictions. Circles encourages social distancing when you can and wearing a mask in crowded places.