Thursday, 18 October 2012

Hipster Survival Guide

In a city where being a hipster deutschbag is the mainstream it can be overwhelming when trying to find the right places to show off your freshly buzzed undercut. Well, fortunately for you and your collection of thrifted grandmother cardigans I have spent a month going to places so cool that you've probably never heard of them. This is not an exhaustive list of the only hipster approved establishments, but merely a few trendy spots that I think are worth visiting if you have the time. Figuring you already know about Mauer Park, Gorlitzer Park and Cassiopeia, I thought I'd focus on places a little more obscure. Like any self respecting hipster city, Berlin is changing at a rate that even the coolest local bearded and geometric-tattoo clad people can't keep up with all the options. It's quite possible that the places in my guide are now over-run with mainstream people or simple don't exist any more. Given I only had a month to do this, I had to stop taking notes on places eventually and just go with what I had. You could easily find your own trendy hangouts just by wandering around the city. As a foreigner with an asymmetrical haircut and a proclivity for reused buildings I have done my best to make your stay in Berlin as effortlessly cool as possible. You can thank me later.

How to Blend in With the Berlin Hipsters
Along with your rolled up skinny jeans, decorative horn rimmed glasses and Instagram account there are few items and behaviours specific to Berlin that will allow you to blend in so well the locals will be asking you for directions.

Club Mate
This fizzy energy drink is made from a Brazilian tea and tastes like a combination of fig and apple juice. Popular on it's own or topped with vodka or rum, no hipster outfit is complete without a bottle of Club Mate in one hand. Available from most cafes, restaurants, super markets and late shops (Spätkauf) a bottle will set you back 1€-2€. Don't forget you can get 8c back when you return the empty bottle to the special machines in supermarkets.

With smoking being accepted inside most cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs (some get uncomfortably hot and smokey even for the hardcore chain smokers amongst you) you have to make sure you're smoking the right cigarettes. If you can't roll, Marlboro Lights are of course tolerated among the cool crowd, but you really should teach yourself, ditch the tailors and pick up a pack of American Spirit, Lucky Strike or Pueblo tobacco. You should have learnt by now that rolling is far cheaper [cooler] and therefore leaves more money for tote bags and vegan burgers. Don't worry about cancer, we're all quitting next week.

Second Hand Bikes
Berlin is a relatively flat city and therefore very bike-friendly. As a fixie is the best way to spot a hipster on the move, it's probably no surprise that a bike is a must for any Berlin hipster. An establishment with more bikes than usual locked up out the front, marks most hipster approved hang outs. Preferably a second hand one purchased from Mauer Park Fleamarket, any style bike is acceptable to pedal from gallery to cafe to bar to recycled warehouse space/around the streets of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. If you're not in Berlin for long enough to buy a bike but still want to join in with the two wheeled fun, you can rent Dutch Style bikes for about 10€ a day from most hire shops.

Speak very little Deutsch
Even the German hipsters deny their mother tongue, bar a few key words (such as scheisse). This is particularly comforting for visiting hipsters as most Berliners under the age of fifty speak English very well, even if they say they only know a little bit. When in doubt start an encounter with “Enschuldigung, sprechen sie Englisch?” (Excuse me, do you speak English?) then you are free to ask or say whatever you want, without rudely assuming they speak English. Other key phrases include “Ich nehme ein Club Mate/bier, bitte” (I'll take a Club Mate/beer, please), “Dankeshön” (Thank you - for the beer), “Nein, danke” (No thanks - useful for turning away beggars or people handing out flyers) “Prost!” (Cheers - make sure you look the person in the eye or suffer seven years of bad sex) and “Hast du fuer?” (Do you have a light?).

As I mentioned above you can find many of your own hipster places in Kreuzberg and Freidrichshain. Some areas of Neukölln are also very alt-cool and for those interested in more gentrified establishments, a stroll through Prenzlauer Berg will not go amiss. In fact if you just stick to these eastern suburbs your scuffed shoes and kahki jackets will be welcomed amongst the locals.

Increase Your Intellectual Power

There are hundreds of galleries and museums in Berlin and all of them house inspirational art and thought provoking cultural information but it can be overwhelming to know which ones are worthy of your precious time. The following is a short list of galleries that focus on modern art, where you can absorb some arty facts that you could use to impress people at parties.

The me Collector Room
Auguststrasse 68, Mitte
U8 Weimeisterstrasse
Tue-Sun 12-6pm
6€, 4€
The me Collector Room showcases a series of rotating exhibitions that celebrate collecting and the childlike passion it instils in all of us. From street art and designer Japanese toys to voodoo figurines, you and your hoarding tendencies will be sure to have a soft spot for this colourful and energetic space. The exhibits will have nothing on your collection of fish eye, lomography and polaroid cameras but it's worth a look anyway. The two story building, with high ceilings and wide floors takes only 45 minutes to an hour to explore, however there is an open plan cafe (with wifi) which is the perfect place to sip on a Latte Macchiato and review the gallery on your blog.

Hamburger Bahnhof
Invalidenstrasse 50-51, Mitte
Tues-Fri 10-6pm, Sat 11-8pm, Sun 11-6pm
Hamburger Bahnhof, an old railway station, turned modern art gallery is, somewhat suprisingly, in most guide books. With an entry price of 12€ and a constant flow of hipsters and arty-looking-types buying tickets, you'd expect a lot more than what this exhbition space has to offer. Admittedly the room with Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rauchenberg is fascinating but you have probably seen bigger and more impressive collections of Pop Art else where. The rest of the gallery is filled with works that make you wonder if and how it constitutes art, including a room filled with large, dull rocks and a collection of white chairs placed randomly in a hallway. Check the website for temporary exhibitions as they are often worth more attention than the rest, but you'd be better off visiting another gallery.

The Berlinische Gallery
Alte Jakobstrasse 124-128, Mitte
Wed-Mon 10am-6pm
8€, 4€
If wanky modern art is your thing then you should go to Berlinische Gallery. It houses a variety of German art from the late 19th century weaving it's way through the styles to the modern art of today. The first floor showcases the kind of beautifully obtruse art that no one understands, but you will no doubt be able to give everyone an in depth analysis of exactly how it comments on society. In addition to seemingly meaningless collages and tumblr-worthy light installations, the gallery often exhibits poignant political commentary that will have you writing letters to your local councillor as soon as you get the chance. If possible head down on the first Monday of the month when admission is half price and the space is rife with fellow amateur art critics donning DSLRs.

Skalitzer Strasse 68, Kreuzberg
U1 Schlesisches Tor
Mon-Sat 12-10pm
In a quiet courtyard behind the Schlesisches Tor U-bahn station lies the quaint book and magazine store called Motto. This small, cramped space stocks shelf upon shelf of discontinued street magazines and art, photography and literature books. A hipster's dream come true, Motto is definitely worth a look to get some inspiration for that 'zine you've been working on. The staff are happy to help you locate that one issue with the poetic short story you can't get out of your head, or let you browse on your own. As a small chain, Motto also has stores in New York, Vancouver, London, Tokyo and now Melbourne but the Berlin store is the only one that stocks German as well as English publications. Check their website for upcoming events such as book readings and launch parties.

Hipsters Eat Too

Whether you're still doing your vegan thing, only eating raw organic products grown locally by midgets with one arm or you just want to fill that sensation of a gaping void of nothingness inside you Berlin has an ever growing range of eating options. Here are two that probably won't be in the other guide books.

The Bird
Falkplatz 5, Prenzlauer Berg
U2 Schonhauser Allee
Mon-Thurs 6-11pm, Fri 5pm-12am, Sat 12-12am, Sun 12-11pm
In 2006, a couple from New York realised Berlin lacked an authentic American burger joint and decided to open their own in the trendy district of Prenzlauer Berg. The staff at this steakhouse are probably more hipster than the clientele, with a mixture of visiting hipsters and burger loving Germans regularly coming in the door. You may have to wait for a table at this very popular restaurant, even if you made a reservation, but the English speaking staff will be sure to take care of you. The exposed brick walls, dim lighting and loud American tunes from the 50's up to ironically played mainstream hip hop of today, makes The Bird a chaotic but cosy place to enjoy a meal. The bar is decorated with redneck bumper stickers such as “If it's called tourist season, why can't I shoot them?” and sorely missed PBR logos. The burger prices are a little steep at about 12€, but you easily get your money's worth. The gargantuan beef patties (imported from Iowa) are accompanied by a choice of blue cheese, orange American cheddar or bacon and are reminiscent of a true New York burger, served of course, with a mountain of fries and a pickle. However, the greasy hunk of the best burger mince in Berlin is sandwiched in between an inappropriately sized English muffin. Upon arrival of your beast of a burger you will be given a roll of paper towels and frowned upon if you don't use your hands; a worthy challenge for any burger enthusiast, but it is likely to leave you feeling like you need a shower once your plate is empty. American expats or those of you who have spent the obligatory exchange semester at Penn State or U-Dub are especially encouraged to go to this ironically redneck restaurant and have a nostalgic night about The States. You can even get a tap beer to go, and pretend you're back on Frenchmen St in New Orleans while you nurse your burger belly.

Waldermarstraße 48, Kreuzberg
U1/U8 Kottbusser Tor
daily 10am-1am
On the corner of Waldermarstraße and Adalbertstraße lies the newly opened cafe whose exterior walls are adorned with worn pine crates and flowers. Unless you dine at Mundvoll you are unlikely to see the name of the establishment, and as such the restaurant is commonly referred to as The Cafe With No Name. The elusive title directly translates as “mouthful” which is something every foodie should sample from this restaurant. The main menu offers exquisite dishes such as beetroot crepes, barbecued chicken and a special that changes daily. While bare and minimalistic yet rustic on the inside, Mundvoll creates a pleasant dining experience at any time of the day. The attractive and trendy waiters will be sure to look after you, as they will treat you how you feel you should be treated, waiting for you to finish your wine glass before topping it up for you. During the day and night, the rickety tables outside are almost always occupied by classic hipsters enjoying a vegan salad and swapping poetry or reading Nietzsche.

Save Your Reputation and Avoid

While most places featured in travel guides are worth a look if you're not particularly bothered  about mingling with common tourists, there are few recommendations that you should avoid at all costs and save your carefully crafted reputation. I'm not even going to give you the addresses. 

Berlin Beer Festival
Every year on the first weekend of August, the longest beer garden in the world (over 2km) is set up along Karl Marx Allee in Friedrichshain. While this may sound like your cup of organically grown green tea, it won't be. Filled, shoulder to shoulder, with whom can only be referred to as real Germans, there are more hairy armpits and drunk middle aged men here than in 1970s pornography. While the beer selection is indeed extensive with over 2000 speciality beers on offer, your carefully selected outfit will be out of place in a sea of terrible tattoos, teeth too big for their faces and the worst people from your home country. Avoid Berlin Beer Festival, grab a beer from a spätkauf and sit in Görlitzer Park instead.

Ten years ago Tacheles used to be the coolest squat to visit, with bars, cinemas and artists work shops running all day. Now a shell of it's former self, this once Jewish department store come Nazi torture headquarters come lumber storage space come artists' squat house, Tacheles attracts hundreds of tourists every day. The grungy building is now owned by a Dutch bank and is continuously undergoing a legal battle with the remaining artists who are staying true to their integrity (admittedly with admirable determination) and could be completely closed down any day now. Every inch of this five story building is covered in layer upon layer of graffiti, unfortunately the distinct smell of urine prevents you from staying long enough to appreciate it all. A few of the artists sell their work in an attempt to promote The Piss Palace and get their name out there. However, most of the art resembles something created during a particularly bad acid trip and not in a redeeming artistic beauty kind of way. Today it's overrated and filled with trigger happy tourists. Avoid Tacheles and check out Teufelsberg or have a voku meal at a Collective House instead.

*Author's note: While the building was open at the time I wrote this, Tacheles is now closed. The squatters have been kicked out for good and tourists can no longer enter – not even to buy the terrible art. Even though Kunsthaus was overrated it's still sad and the end of an era that this has happened. You can still visit the building from the street (before they eventually knock it down and turn it into a hotel) if you're that desperate to experience what is left. But I still recommend you don't waste your time. For more read this bitter sweet article about the closing of Tacheles.

Neukölln Bar Crawl

Some areas of Neukölln are a bit rough and not particularly interesting, however there are several pockets of hipster approved establishments. Along the leafy street of Westerstraße there are the kind of dingy, dimly lit and eclectic bars you would hope to find in a district that has not yet been gentrified.

Fuch's and Elster
Westerstraße 207, Neukölln
U7/U8 Hermanplatz
Daily 4pm til late
Fuch's and Elster is a small, mismatched bar that also houses electronic and acoustic live acts on some nights. On normal nights you can sit in the comfortable, thrifted arm chairs by the window and watch the world wander past. Unusually for Berlin, smoking is not allowed inside, however there are a number of stools and low tables on the door step, often occupied by the coolest Neukölln people. Sit among them, smoke your rollies and plan your band name and first song titles with your visiting hipster friends.

Weichelstraße 18, Neukölln
U7/U8 Hermanplatz
Dailt 3pm til late
Depending on what time you start this bar crawl, you're likely to build up an appetite and need to line your stomach for the night of drinking ahead. While there are many imbisses in the area, you'd be missing out if you didn't sample the tapas at Gaston on the corner of Westerstraße and Weichelstraße. With black and white kitchen tiles on the floor, rickety bar stools and dogs curled up in the corner this restaurant makes for a energetic but homely place to stop for a meal. Grab a bottle of wine and talk excitedly about your time at Pamplona and Spanish festivals this summer as you eat some of the best tapas this side of France. In fact, the tapas is so good you'll be wanting to get a tattoo of it to commemorate it's deliciousness.

Westerstraße 182, Neukölln
U7/U8 Hermanplatz
Daily 7pm til late
Keep heading down the street away from Hermanplatz and you'll find yourself in front of a plain looking bar with an oversized couch out the front. Alice in Wonderland tendencies aside, Ratzeputz is a quiet and chilled bar with a slightly outdated feel. Beware, even the most timid of hipsters would recognise all the songs in this bar's rotation. Unfortunately the wine sold here tastes worse than merely drinking crushed grapes, so stick to a beer or cocktail instead while you discretely hum along to your indie favourites.

Westerstraße 40, Neukölln
U7 Rathaus Neukölln
Daily 5pm til late
If boutique bars that have pretentious names are your thing then Ä is for you. While a little more widely known about that the others on Westerstraße, Ä is still not included on “alternative” pub crawls. The long and narrow bar is filled with armchairs, couches and raggedy standard lamps. The music is eclectic with just the right mix of classics, favourites and ironic tunes. Like many places in Berlin there is a free kicker table and a good way to expend any excess energy you may have before stumbling home in the small hours of the morning.

Hangover Cafes

If you've woken up with the undeniable taste of death in your mouth and the embarrassing realisation that everyone knows you can recite Lady Gaga songs, you should head to one of these cafes to regain your sense of self. Take a friend, ease the swirling sensations of nausea and work out exactly where you went and what you did last night.

Cafe Vux
Wipperstraße 14, Neukölln
U7 Neukölln
Mon-Sat 12-7pm, 12-6pm
If you have the undeniable hangover munchies and think you can return to Neukölln without experiencing mortifying flashbacks of the previous night's shenanigans, Cafe Vux is a quiet and welcoming place to re-line your stomach. This Brazilian inspired joint offers an all-vegan menu of coffees, smoothies, bagels and cakes. In an unexpected location just off the main street that is filled with tacky Turkish imbisses and laundromats, the peaceful street of Wipperstraße will be gentle with your pounding head. Try their vegan “salami” or “cream cheese” to tickle your taste buds or an avocado smoothie if you're feeling adventurous. The cute boy behind the counter will be sure to help you decide if you're really on Struggle Street and bring your snack over with a smile.

Efa's Froyo
Weinbergsweg 24, Mitte
U8 Rosenthaler
Mon-Fri 9-9pm, Sat-Sun 10-9pm
Conveniently located opposite The Circus Hostel, Berlin's most popular hostel, this frozen yoghurt cafe is perpetually crowded with travellers or locals but all fans of tasty froyo. Efa's offers only two flavours of yoghurt; original and a seasonal flavour, both of which are organic and delicious. Efa's takes great care in making sure their products have minimal fat content and are as carbon neutral as possible. As usual there is an array of toppings to choose from, enough that with only two flavours of yoghurt you could still have different tasting froyo with every visit. The smallest size is only 3€ but gives you a satisfying serving so that a large would be too much. The back of the store has a homely feel with soft lighting, family pictures and cross stitched images hanging on the wall. Take a seat in one of the square, chip board chairs on wheels while you eat. Nestle into the oversized pillows and use the free wifi to blog about the importance of supporting independent companies and organically grown foods.  

Factory Girl
Simon-Dach-Straße 10, Friedrichshain
U1 Waschauer Straße
daily 10am-8pm
This quiet and cutesy cafe sits among the busy tourist restaurants of Friedrichshain around Boxhagener Platz. You could easily imagine the décor of Factory Girl resembling the inside of Zooey Deschanel's mind. The brightly coloured, mismatched wall hangings, crocheted seat covers and small wooden spades in the sugar bowls will have you singing along to the indie tunes with whimsy while you wait for your coffee, meal, or maybe “Berlin's best lemonade” according to TIP magazine. In addition to a variety of home made breakfast and lunch options, The Factory Girl also offers Magnolia, a dessert which closely resembles flavoured Tira Misu. If you're having trouble deciding between Chai Latte, Apple and Walnut, Cookies and Cream and the five or so other flavours the staff encourage you to sample before you make a decision. Factory Girl is a gentle, comforting cafe to nurse a hangover from the night before. If you're having a particularly rough morning, get your Magnolia to go and laze on the grass in Boxhagener Platz with the other horrendously hungover hipsters.