Guides

Where to Eat, Shop, and Explore in Berlin

A born-and-raised Brooklynite shows us her favorite sides of a splendid city.

Juergen Henkelmann Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

“ARE YOU FROM New York?!” the man at the T-Mobile counter in the Galeria Karstadt said to me as I gently but frantically whispered entschuldigung (excuse me) while holding my dead iPhone in one hand. I had left behind the most important thing in Brooklyn: an outlet converter. “How’d you know?!” I replied, impressed by his accuracy and pace as he moved his body from behind the white counter to the front to speak with me. Learning to wait patiently on line until it is clearly your turn is probably one of the most important lessons I’ve received in visiting Berlin over the years. There’s calm and a sense of rule-following, and then there’s just respect. “I could see it in your eyes,” he responded with a laugh. I giggled under my disposable mask, unsure of the next steps in our conversational dance, admittedly made awkward by the surprise of small talk, something else I’m not used to as a newcomer to Berlin.

I remembered a few years back a friend had said that many Germans, specifically Berliners, are often eager to test their English on folks like me, folks who can barely pronounce “excuse me” in German without an awkwardly mixed Spanish–New York accent. Or maybe it was the style of dress that gave it away — a yellow jumper and a bright red thick cotton cardigan, sticking out like a sore thumb in the brown- and black-clad city. The sun was just starting to shine after a long gray season, and although I was familiar with where to go and what to do, the idea of not being able to use my phone if necessary spun my usual Berlin comfort on top of its head.

For a born-and-mostly-raised Brooklynite, Berlin has felt, for better and worse, eerily familiar. An initial visit with an ex-boyfriend turned quickly into a long-term love affair. I could easily spend hours at cafes doing absolutely nothing and everything — the way I so easily do in New York. The thing about Berlin is that it is a city of expats, like New York City in a sense. Within hours, I am able to build a community with one Black artist friend that led me to another woman of color who knows a friend who was having a dinner party that night, who knows two more friends (with kids!) who at once decided to leave New York City’s unyielding pace and ballooning rent for a similar yet different city, with its own rich history and a decidedly more sustainable way of life.

My friends in Berlin speak of making art, buying groceries, drinking beers in parks, wandering forests, going to readings, and child-rearing with such ease. And although it’s difficult for those who choose to stay and entrench themselves in the country’s customs, the offering for shorter visits and even longer ones (my children and I visited for three weeks in the summer) provides a necessary and intimate break for the many of us needing to lick our New York City wounds (or those of any similarly large city that isn’t Berlin).

I crave Berlin the way I crave Brooklyn. Its flavor is unique and ubiquitous among its people. I’ve heard this too from friends who visit for months at a time. Maybe it is the weird anonymity that I mostly expect (until, of course, I start speaking). It’s the thing I can only assume David Bowie found in the divided city in the late ’70s, and that Audre Lorde was called to in the mid-’80s to early ’90s. For all of that and so much more, Berlin is bigger than a place to visit. It is a city splitting at its seams with history, so often ready to take up various people and their art, desire for exploration, and love for community.

VPC Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

Where to Eat and Drink

When I first visited Berlin four years ago, I was warned that the to-go food scene was nothing like New York City’s. To be frank, that’s a hard comparison by any stretch. Berliners often take up the task of cooking for themselves, lighting candles when the sun goes down (often early), and finding ways to practice their art through food. But lately, there’s been a shift. Besides the cafes that are good and plentiful, more experimental restaurants seem to now call Berlin home, giving visitors the opportunity to taste not only what German cuisine has to offer, but also the palate of the many who migrate to the city and call it home.

Oh, Panama

Made for a memorable meal out
I may be a little biased on this end because of the name and my paternal home country, but Oh, Panama is high on the list of places to experience just because. Through a courtyard, the restaurant spans two floors and delightfully plays with textures and flavors that pull you from one country to the next. It can’t be missed.

Sammys Berliner Donuts

A new spin on coffee and cake
Listen, two words: coffee and cake. You will hear this a lot and be offered it even more. Kaffee und Kuchen. It’s a midday ritual for family and friends in Berlin. The scene is taking on a surprising spin with these delicious vegan donuts.

Klunkerkranich

Ideal for rooftop cocktails
Klunkerkranich is a roof-garden bar that hosts and celebrates LGBTQIA+ parties with unique, unlikely, exploratory sonic experiences.
Andris Romanovskis

Where to Shop and Explore

The tendency to go thrifting as soon as one touches down in Berlin is shared by the masses. It’s hard not to when sharing and swapping are cultural norms. The vintage shops are plentiful, and flea markets and beautifully curated boutiques abound. But what I find most interesting about Berlin is that there seems to be something cultural to consume every day of the week, despite being a slower big city. There’s a certain relation to the amplification of the underground and up-and-coming work of writers, poets, painters, and musicians that has been historically unique to the city. It’s also enthralling for those of us so often wanting to put our hands deep into the undercurrent of what culturally matters right now.

Maybachufer “Turkish Market”

An Istanbul-style bazaar in Berlin
On Thursdays and Fridays, this market is dedicated to fresh fruit, vegetables, and Turkish delicacies you wouldn’t be able to eat, buy, or experience anywhere else in the city. When tired, grab a coffee at Katie’s Blue Cat and begin again.

The Store

A well-edited mix of art, retail, and food
First opened in 2015, this shopping experience occupies two floors of the Soho House building in Mitte. Offering everything from fashion, furniture, music, art and books, alongside food from Cecconi’s and The Store Kitchen, this shopping outpost features a mix of local and international offerings as well as curated exhibitions.

Oyoun

A cultural center for diverse perspectives
Oyoun is so much more than a space. It is an arts and cultural center that uniquely sits on a 3,500-square-meter property. It is a nonprofit anti-disciplinary platform that supports emerging approaches in arts through decolonial, queer, feminist, and class perspectives.

SAVVY Contemporary

A gallery and performance hub for provocative art
SAVVY is a performance space, an experience, an evolving exploration of what it means to know and embody its motto, “Another Knowledge Is Possible.”

Hopscotch Reading Room

A boundary-breaking English-language bookstore
Named after the children’s game that founder Siddhartha Lokanandi often heard kids playing in Harlem, New York, his home for 20 years, this bookstore and arts event space aims to center non-Western and diasporic perspectives from writers, authors, poets, and storytellers that span far beyond Berlin’s borders, teaching readers and artists alike.

Spielplatz

Playgrounds that let the imagination run wild
What makes Berlin so incredibly easy for parents with kids is this general sense that kids are equally part of society. They are integrated into daily activities, from cafes to museums, so it’s no wonder there is literally a spielplatz, or playground, on every corner. What makes these playgrounds... What makes Berlin so incredibly easy for parents with kids is this general sense that kids are equally part of society. They are integrated into daily activities, from cafes to museums, so it’s no wonder there is literally a spielplatz, or playground, on every corner. What makes these playgrounds even more interesting is that they are so simple, yet incredibly detailed. Their very construction is imbued with a sense of imagination. There are even themed ones, like Fairytale Playground, located at Drosselbartstraße 30 in Neukölln, and Pirates Playground on Tegeler Weg 97 in Charlottenburg.

Grunewald Forest

Audre Lorde’s verdant stomping grounds
I have never explored Grunewald in the spring, let alone what I am certain is a glorious autumn or creaking winter. But the summers I’ve spent swimming in the lakes that surround it, watching the trees blow in the breeze, have been some of the most beautiful experiences of my visits. The sheer... I have never explored Grunewald in the spring, let alone what I am certain is a glorious autumn or creaking winter. But the summers I’ve spent swimming in the lakes that surround it, watching the trees blow in the breeze, have been some of the most beautiful experiences of my visits. The sheer fact that those forest walks were also said to be one of Audre Lorde’s favorites puts it on this list.

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Claudio Schwarz

Where to Stay

From the editors: While there is no shortage of storied hotels in Berlin, some of the most interesting occupy buildings that previously served a very different purpose.

Château Royal

A chic take on a grand hotel
A brand-new boutique hotel in the heart of Mitte, the Château Royal offers 93 rooms spread across five floors, each filled with custom-designed furniture and high-end amenities. Imagined as a modern take on a grand hotel with a focus on sustainability, it has quickly become one of Berlin’s most chic stays.

The Hotel Telegraphenamt

An elegant stay steeped in history
Built between 1910 and 1916, the Haupttelegraphenamt was once the most elaborate postal building in Germany and served as the center of Berlin’s telephone network. Located directly at Monbijou Park, the neo-baroque building was recently reborn as a hotel with 97 unique rooms and suites.

Wilmina Hotel

A design-forward escape in the heart of the city
Located in what was the Charlottenburg Women’s Prison, this design-forward boutique hotel is surrounded by lush gardens and interconnected courtyards. With 44 rooms and suites, a rooftop terrace, library, bar, spa, and gym, this family-run hotel is now a uniquely contemplative retreat tucked away in the heart of Berlin.

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Our Contributors

LaTonya Yvette Writer

LaTonya Yvette is a multi-medium storyteller. She founded LY, a highly trafficked lifestyle blog, in 2011, and produced visual and written content for a decade. During that time, she published her first book, “Woman of Color” (Abrams, 2019). She also co-authored “The Hair Book” (Union Square, 2022), an illustrated children’s book, with Amanda Jane Jones. Her third book, “Stand In My Window” (Dial Press), hits shelves Spring 2024. LaTonya is the owner and steward of The Mae House, an upstate New York rental property and the home of Rest as Residency, which offers BIPOC (primarily geared towards families) a no-cost place for rest and focus. Yvette resides in Brooklyn with her two children, where she writes the newsletter “With Love, L.”

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