Where to Live — A Guide to Berlin’s Neighbourhoods
Like most cosmopolitan cities, Berlin life focuses less on its centre — partly because it doesn’t really have one — and more on its individual neighbourhoods. Depending on which area you choose, your experience of Berlin could be very different. Berlin’s neighbourhoods are all incredibly unique, each with its own very distinct vibe. A lot of that character comes from historical context; which side of the Wall they were on, and their proximity to it. The physical barrier has long since disappeared, but if you know your history you can still see signs of the division in city’s districts, and in the people that live there.
Just like when you’re picking an actual flat, there are a lot of factors that can sway your decision when it comes to choosing which area you want to live in. The biggest and most obvious is budget. After that there are all sorts of things to consider like:
- What’s the area’s public transport like?
- If you already have a job is it close or at least easily accessible?
- Do you want to be at the heart of the city’s hustle and bustle?
- Or would you rather a quieter, residential area?
- If you have kids, then what are the schools and kindergartens like?
It’s definitely worth your while to take the time to visit each area and get a feel for it if you can. There’s no point in rushing into a decision and then realising the area is too quiet/loud/far away for your liking; you’ll only have to start the process all over again.
To figure out where you’d fit in best, here is a guide to some of the more central districts that you may like to live or work — or eat or drink — in.
Literally meaning “middle”, Mitte is smack-bang in the centre of the city and was once the focal point of East Berlin. It’s definitely the most commercial district of the city, and is also home to most of Berlin’s key tourist destinations, such as the iconic Fernsehturm (TV Tower), Museum Island, Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag. As a result, if you live here, you’re likely to be falling over tourists as soon as you step out your front door.
Its central location means that Mitte has no shortage of tacky tourist shops and eateries, but if you fight your way past the Ampelmann shops, there’s also a much more chic side to the city’s centre. There’s lots of shopping, from high street to boutiques and the bars and restaurants are definitely flashier than in most other areas. In fact, it’s all just that touch cleaner, neater, glossier and more expensive than the rest of the city, possibly because of the abundance of new startups that inhabit its buildings. Mitte is also home to some of the most famous galleries in the city, meaning that between tourists, tech-heads, and artists, the locals make up a very eclectic bunch. Flats here are quite a bit more expensive, and more likely to be modern, than other parts of town, but you can get lucky if you put in the research.
Don’t let the levels of picturesque middle-class bougieness here fool you. Prenzlauer Berg was once edgy af. The beautifully-restored old Altbau buildings here were once home to many of the original Berlin squats following the fall of the Wall in the 1990s. However, what was once a place of anarchy has grown into a sophisticated, slick neighbourhood filled with professionals and young families. As it happens, the bohemians that originally flooded the area post-Mauerfall were making more than art and noisy protests. It is one of the only places in Germany that has had a baby boom since the ‘90s, earning itself a variety of baby- and pram-related nicknames.
It is beautiful in a cutesy, almost quaint way. Full of families and rather middle-class, there are boutique shops dedicated to everything from wine to books, cupcakes to organic groceries.
You can still catch a glimpse of its alternative past at Mauerpark (literally Wall Park because, as you can imagine, the Wall ran straight through it) but with a higher cost of living than other areas, the type of young upstarts that made it what it is can no longer afford to live there. That said, as other neighbourhoods are now considered a lot cooler than P’Berg, you can sometimes get lucky with a room or flat for prices lower than the likes of Kreuzberg.
A little like a young Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain has managed to maintain its arty feel and punk attitude. It’s here that some of the few remaining squats in the city survive and is still popular with students and artists as it has stayed relatively cheap. Walk down Simon-Dach-Straße and you’ll see dreadlocked hippies, mohawked punks, trendy young tourists and a whole array of characters weaving through the pavements lined with tables of the masses of bars and eateries. The area near Warschauer Straße station is where some of Berlin’s biggest nightclubs live under bridges or railways, or in vast concrete buildings, and the area’s art is visible on walls as well as in artist collectives like RAW and Urban Spree.
Finding a flat in Friedrichshain can be tough as the neighbourhood is so in-demand, but it’s definitely worth making an effort if you want to be close to the city’s alternative nightlife.
Growing up in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, neglected by the rest of the West, Kreuzberg became a real stronghold for punks and anarchists, students, and immigrants. Kottbusser Tor is almost the Turkish capital of the city and the surrounding area was the scene of the May 1st riots. May 1st is still a big deal near Kotti, and every year local businesses board up their windows in advance of the celebrations. The locals are anti-capitalism, anti-government, anti-fascism, and generally anti-establishment.
Of course, the area’s reputation as a centre of counter-culture made it incredibly popular and the steely grip of gentrification has taken hold. There are quite simply heaps of hip bars and food of every kind to check out. Prices are rising but the area comes under a special conservation regulation to protect the original inhabitants from being forced out.
Checking out the massive graffiti artworks, hanging by the Landwehrkanal or in Görlitzer Park, or watching the cool crowds drift past at Heinrichplatz are a must.
Western Kreuzberg is slightly different in that it is leafier and pricier. Bergmannkiez and its surrounding areas have become a little more polished than their eastern counterparts and have lost a lot of that original buzz and attitude. That said, it’s a beautiful place to live with a colourful café culture and lots of outstanding local amenities.
Once a somewhat unloved area neighbouring Tempelhofer Feld, Neukölln is part up-and-coming, part already arrived. The northern parts are often referred to as Kreuzkölln as they merge with the boundary of well-established hipster mecca Kreuzberg and are already equivalently pricey for rent, but further down the Bezirk the streets get dirtier, the people a little grittier, and the rents get cheaper. This coupled with good transport routes — there are two U-Bahn lines and easy access to the Ringbahn — means it’s a real draw for newcomers. In fact, the area sandwiched between the Landwehrkanal and Tempelhofer Feld is the most densely populated area in Germany.
There is a seriously sizeable Arab and Turkish community and therefore an unending stream of great (and not-so-great) Middle Eastern food joints as well as huge supermarkets where the labels may be in both German and the corresponding language. Not forgetting that the aforementioned airfield is now a huge park complete with areas for barbecuing, cycling, roller-skating, kite-flying, and all sorts of weird and wonderful activities, it’s easy to see why people are coming ‘round to it.
Once the glistening centre of Weimar Berlin and West Berlin, Charlottenburg maintains something of that old glamour, even if it’s now a little faded. With its huge luxury shops along Ku’damm, leafy squares like Savignyplatz and five-star hotels, it’s definitely one of the more upscale areas of the city.
It’s quieter and more civilised than other Bezirke but there are still remnants of its exciting former self. Grab a drink at Schwarzes Cafe whenever you feel like it, because the one-time favourite of David Bowie and Iggy Pop is open ‘round the clock. Or check out some of the longest-standing book shops that supported the city’s literati scene, like Marga Schoeller’s Buchstube. This incredible store managed to survive WWII by pretending to sell pictures of horses while selling banned books from a secret cellar.
There is something of a reawakening occurring too, with a new wave of young entrepreneurs opening cool cafes and bars in the area, along with some of Berlin’s best Asian food on Kantstraße. It’s without a doubt one of the priciest areas to rent an apartment but hey, if you can afford it, you could live right next to a palace!
People have been saying that Wedding is on the verge of becoming the new hip neighbourhood for at least 10 years now. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on which side of the argument you’re on, it’s never quite made it and has more or less managed to avoid the tide of gentrification and is still one of the more working-class areas of Berlin. Wedding is relatively poor with high unemployment rates compared to the rest of the city and, along with Neukölln, is one of the most ethnically-diverse neighbourhoods in the city.
Due to its financial demographic rents are still quite low, drawing artists and students in small numbers. The art scene is small but burgeoning and there are signs of new blood moving in, with cafes and organic food stores among them.
These are just the most central districts. If you don’t mind a long commute, want to find a really cheap flat, or are eager to live in a neighbourhood where you can definitely improve your German, then you can check out other boroughs beyond the Ring!