If somebody mentions the words ‘alternative’ and ‘cool’ while describing a city, there’s a pretty good chance they’re talking about Berlin. Berlin’s alternative culture has evolved significantly over the last few years, with many of Berlin’s famed squat houses being shut down as officials try to reclaim the prized real estate where these buildings stood. Nevertheless, for a traveller, there are still many alternative and cool things to do in Berlin. This makes the German capital a favourite amongst backpackers and alternative culture seekers.
1. Gaze at street art
Nothing screams ‘alternative’ and ‘cool’ more than street art and it’s one thing that Berlin has no shortage of (aside from doner kebabs!)! One of my favourite cool things to do in Berlin is simply to stroll around the areas of Mitte and Kreuzberg, gazing at the amazing murals, sculptures and portraits that line the streets. If you’re short on time and want to understand some of the history and meaning behind the art, I definitely suggest you take a free walking tour run by Alternative Berlin. The guides are extremely knowledgeable about Berlin’s sub culture and provide a fantastic introduction to Berlin’s alternative areas.
It would be remiss of me not to mention arguably Berlin’s most famous street art – The East Side Gallery – which has a number of murals painted on the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall. I strongly suggest you check out the East Side Gallery from a historical perspective, as the murals painted here are synonymous with Berlin and the fall of the wall!
2. People watch at Tempelhof – Berlin’s Abandoned Airport
Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport was originally built by the Nazis during WWII, however, it hasn’t served any flights since it was officially closed in 2008. Since then, it has become the epicentre of recreational activities for many Berliners due to its location in the heart of the city centre. You’ll see all kinds of activities here, including people flying kites, having picnics, playing sports or simply just relaxing with a beer in hand. The history of the airport is fascinating and in recent years, parts of the airport have been transformed to become Berlin’s largest refugee shelter. The abandoned airport is definitely one of the most alternative things to do in Berlin and a great place to people watch!
3. Play table tennis at Dr Pong
Berliners love to have a drink in an alternative and minimalist setting and few places show this off more than Dr Pong – a small bar with a twist located near Eberswalder Strasse station. From the outside, you wouldn’t even know it’s a bar. However, once you enter the dimly lit and smoky venue, your focus instantly shifts to the table tennis in the centre of the room. The rules here are simple – everybody lines up in a circle and you take turns at the hitting ball across the table. If you miss, you’re out. This continues until there are two people left who play a series of points to determine the winner before the fun starts all over again. The hardcore participants bring their own paddle, however, don’t worry if like most travellers you don’t store one in your backpack as you can rent one from the bar! This place does get really busy so if your main intention is to have a few games of table tennis – try and get here early!
The Young African Art Market, shortened to YAMM, is a riverside bar that is a favourite spot amongst both locals and tourists, at least partly due to the imported sand that transforms the riverside area to a beach bar! There’s always something going on here at night, so make sure to check out their website for information about the latest concerts and events. It’s also worth visiting here during the day, particularly if it’s sunny, to enjoy the sand under your feet. Check out some of the cool art or eat some tasty food, all while supporting the local artists and community!
5. Go to a flea market
One of the cool things to do in Berlin is to check out the plethora of flea markets that run all over the city. Arguably, Berlin’s most famous flea market runs every Sunday at Mauerpark. This is a great flea market to come and enjoy the atmosphere as there are a number of street musicians, tasty street food vendors and its well-known karaoke that takes place at 3pm every Sunday. This market is definitely more popular with tourists than others in Berlin so whilst this is a great place to relax, I would go to smaller and more local markets if you’re after some bargains.
One of my favourites is the flea market that runs at Boxhagener Platz every Sunday where stalls are packed with all kinds of random things including antiques, books and furniture! There is also an Antique and Book Market that runs on weekends at Museum Island, which is nice to wander around however if you’re after second-hand books, though be aware that most of them are in German.
6. Explore RAW
The area known as RAW is a collection of run down, graffiti-filled buildings located in the centre of town and a perfect example of Berlin’s alternative sub culture. Exploring this area is undoubtedly one of the cool things to do in Berlin as its home to amazing street art, an indoor skate park, flea markets and climbing walls. This is also one of the most popular areas in Berlin to go out as there a number of cool nightclubs in this area. I suggest exploring here both during the day and at night as you will certainly get two very different experiences!
7. Visit Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind
Located in the heart of alternative Berlin, in an alley off Rosenthaler Straße, is a little-known museum dedicated to Otto Weidt. Otto Weidt was the owner of a small factory during WWII where he employed a number of blind Jews in a bid to save them from Nazi persecution. The museum is located in the actual factory and tells the story of both Otto Weidt and the people that he attempted to save. Entrance to the museum is free and provides a sobering reminder that, despite all of the amazing and cool things to do in Berlin today, there is a very tragic past in Berlin that should not be forgotten. After visiting the museum, make sure to spend some time wandering around the alleyways as it contains some amazing street art and murals.
8. Listen to a street musician with a beer
Despite there being so many off-beat and cool things to do in Berlin, locals often like to keep their entertainment fairly simple. This means that a favourite past time for locals is to buy some beers from a convenience store and drink it in a park with their friends or find a spot in town and listen to one of the many street musicians that ply their trade on Berlin’s streets. The relative cheapness of Berlin compared to other major cities in Western Europe means that many musicians call the German capital home, so you won’t have to wander too far in the alternative areas of Berlin until you stumble across somebody playing a few tunes. When the sun’s out and you have a beer in hand there’s simply nothing better!
Berlin is simply an amazing city and one of my all time favourites. There are so many cool things to do in Berlin that you will never run out of activities to keep yourself occupied. It’s undoubtedly what draws travellers of all ages to keep coming back to the German capital!
What are your favourite cool things to do in Berlin? Add a comment below!