Berlin is a sprawling city and it can be hard to get your head around. So it makes sense, that many tourists to Berlin can spend several days in the city without leaving Mitte, Berlin's central neighborhood.
The reality is, Berlin is divided into 12 different administrative districts. These districts, or Bezirk, are further broken down into Kiez. Even within the Kiez, areas are further split into street specific areas like Kollwitzkiez and Bergmannkiez—each with their own personality. The city arose through uniting many small villages and areas retain their village feel within the city environment.
Adding to the confusion, these areas are occasionally redrawn. Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, distinct neighboring Kiez, have recently been joined together. Wedding, with its own strong reputation, is now within Mitte which has a very different vibe. And the line that divided the city has never really disappeared—a brick line still traces the path of the Berlin Wall. Less tangibly, Kiez are still distinguished as being in the East and the West and have traits passed down from that time. While the district of Mitte is in the center of the city, there were once two centers of Berlin—in the west around Zoologischer Garten and in the east around Alexanderplatz. That division is still felt.
This means that street to street neighborhoods can have a different personality—and price tag. Central areas of Mitte can be pricey, as can trendy locations like Schlesisches Tor in Kreuzberg and around Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg. This ever-changing atmosphere is also accelerated by the rapid gentrification that sometimes seem it will devour a city. Just try using google street view to "see" the city. That empty lot? Multi-story hotel now. That rundown flower shop? Hipster bar. That späti (late-night convenience store)? Different späti...
The good news is that there is a place for everyone in Berlin. This guide to every Berlin neighborhood you need to know will help plan a trip, pick which areas to visit and find a hotel or apartment.
Mitte literally translates to "middle" and that is (basically) where it lies. This district is plopped as close to center as possible for the squiggly line mess that is a map of Berlin.
Packed full of must-see sights from Brandenburger Tor to the Reichstag, Mitte is a necessary stop for anyone traveling through or to Berlin. However, it is not recommended to stay in central Mitte. Berlin's transportation system is excellent, and staying in another Kiez can better acquaint you with the multiple facets of the city and the people who live there (plus some actual grocery stores).
Central Mitte was once the heart of East Berlin and besides monuments, it holds loads of chic shops, restaurants and tacky tourist shops. This area is one the most urban looking as Berlin is largely devoid of skyscrapers.
Prenzlauer Berg is perfect example of the confusion regarding neighborhoods. Though this is one of the most popular areas for visitors and Berliners, it is actually part of the Pankow Bezirk.
No matter its administrative status, Prenzlauer Berg is among the most popular neighborhoods for a reason. It survived WWII with many of its elegant Altbaus (old buildings) intact. Rapid gentrification has changed it from a Jewish ghetto to a place full of squatters and artists to one of the richest areas in Berlin. The bohemians have settled into yuppiedom and now roll with baby strollers rather than fixies.
The good news is that the area is beautifully restored with some of the most picturesque streets in all of Berlin. Organic ice cream shops, kindercafes (children cafes) and playgrounds sit on every corner. The streets of Kollwitzplatz and along Kastanienallee are particularly desirable, if now totally uncool.
Friedrichshain is now part of a combined district of Friedrichshain -Kreuzberg, but these Kiez across the water have distinct personalities.
Friedrichshain is young, punk, industrial, and full of history. Artists and their galleries have long found a home here, with informal street art tagging every external surface. Squatters once occupied many of the abandoned buildings around Berlin, but there are only a few strongholds left, mostly in Friedrichshain. With some of the best nightlife in the city, clubs lurk beneath the S-Bahn or behind that unmarked door.
Rental prices have traditionally been low, meaning there are plenty of cheap eats. But gentrification has even started to encroach on this neighborhood's grime and art nouveau façades have gotten some polish.
Like so many of Berlin's coolest neighborhoods, Kreuzberg was once the area for immigrants, then squatters, then artists and students, and is now being taken over by a much richer crowd at a breathtaking pace.
Bars seem to breed here, as well as restaurants offering more exotic fare than schnitzel. There is a bohemian vibe with a strong current of counter-culture. Massive works of art adorn the walls (look for the "people eater" as soon as you cross Oberbaumbrucke) and notable pieces that have become world-famous that have since gone missing.
Its multikulti (multicultural), anything-goes atmosphere has made it a nightlife hub while fabulous parks and ever-changing cafes and restaurants keep it buzzing during the day. It continues to pull an international crows, but they are now more likely to be from San Francisco than Istanbul.
This pull has made it one of the most expensive areas to live in the city, though living costs are still quite manageable. It is also the site of two of the city's biggest festivals, Ertser Mai and Karneval der Kulturen.
Kreuzberg is in what was West Berlin, and is divided into its own subdivision of West (Kreuzberg 61) and East (SO36).
The Kreuzberg 61 area around Bergmannkiez is bourgeois and exceptionally desirable with leafy trees enclosed by gorgeous Altbaus (old buildings). Graefekiez is similarly lovely and located alongside the canal.
Grittier than its western side and radiating out from Kotti (Kottbusser Tor), SO36 is the real heart of Kreuzberg. Eisenbahnkiez is the "nicest", nearest neighborhood.
Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf (its administrative title—again uniting two formerly distinct neighborhoods) is the nicer Berlin. It is cleaner and more civilized than other sections of the city, but for many people that also means it is more boring.
Ideal for upscale families and older people, it also has some of the best Asian restaurants in the city (plus a wildly popular market). There is a palace, a museum lined with Picassos, and shopping is done for sport.
Wedding (pronounced VED-ding) has a very different reputation than much of Mitte. Located just north of central Mitte, the area is still a haven of relatively cheap rents in grand historical buildings. But the now tired saying, "Wedding kommt" ("Wedding is coming/developing"), has been uttered for years now and is more of a warning than a promise.
Gentrification is changing this gritty, bustling area as young Germans and Western immigrants move in. It is one of the most diverse neighborhoods with African grocers, hipster breweries, Turkish restaurants, and Korean nail shops. It is estimated that 30% of the population is non-German.
Neukölln is one of the most popular up-and-coming neighborhoods, swiftly changing amidst rampant gentrification. Romanticized by David Bowie with his song "Neuköln", this neighborhood is the current darling of new immigrants and a great place to base yourself for some of the best nightlife in a changing Berlin.
Central Neukölln can generally be divided into three areas:
- Reuterkiez or Kreuzkölln: In the north section closest to Kreuzberg, this was the first area to experience the spread from the center. It has become uber trendy, and expensive.
- Rixdorf: The traditional village has grown-up to be a respectable area within a wild neighborhood.
- Schillerkiez: At the western border of central Neukölln, connected by Boddinstraße and Leinestrasse, this micro-kiez is of growing popularity. It offers easy access to Tempelhofer Feld and Volkspark Hasenheide and is still on the grittier, graffiti-spackled end of gentrification.