Like so many of Berlin's coolest neighborhoods, Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain has undergone vast changes and renovations from its buildings to its people. Once the home for immigrants, it has been variously taken over by squatters, then artists and students, and is now overrun by a vastly different international crowd.
Once separate neighborhoods, since 2001 Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg have been officially joined. They are divided by the river Spree and connected by the iconic Oberbaumbrücke. While they are both known for their never-ending nightlife, art scenes, and alternative atmosphere, they are distinct neighborhoods with their own attractions and personalities. Here is the guide to Berlin's Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain neighborhood.
History of Berlin's Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain Neighborhood
Kreuzberg: Until the 19th century this area was quite rural. But as the region industrialized, the villages that became known as Berlin spread and expanded, adding housing. Many of Kreuzberg's ornate buildings date from that time, around 1860. People continued to move to the area, eventually making it the most populous district even though it is geographically the smallest.
Kreuzberg is also one of the newer neighborhoods in Berlin. The Groß-Berlin-Gesetz (Greater Berlin Act) redrew the city in October 1920, organizing it into twenty districts. Classified as the VIth borough, it was first named Hallesches Tor until they changed the name a year later after the nearby hill, Kreuzberg. This is the highest elevation in the area at 66 m (217 ft) above sea level (yes, the city is that flat).
Renamed Horst-Wessel-Stadt by the Nazis in 1933, air raids during World War II pummeled the city. Many of its most beautiful buildings were lost and population decimated. Rebuilding was painfully slow and much of the new housing was cheap and less than picturesque. Only the poorest segments of the population moved back to Kreuzberg, mostly foreign guest workers from Turkey. Though on the West side of the Berlin Wall, this area was undeniably poor.
Low rents began to attract arty young students in the late 1960s. A leftist, alternative population found a home — sometimes for free — as squatters took over uninhabited buildings. There continue to be clashes between the foreigners that made Kreuzberg their home and naturalized as Germans, and newer Western immigrants as gentrification vastly changes the look and vibe of the neighborhood. Protest is common with Labor Day (Erster Mai) the cause for annual celebrations that frequently devolve into riots after dark.
At the other end, Kreuzberg is home to the inclusive Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Cultures). One of the best festivals of the year, it celebrates the many different cultures that make up Berlin with a flamboyant street parade plus many live performances, ethnic food, and exhibits.
Kreuzberg is further divided into subdivisions of West (Kreuzberg 61) and East (SO36):
Kreuzberg 61 - The 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.
SO36 - Grittier than its western side and radiating out from Kotti (Kottbusser Tor), this is the real heart of Kreuzberg. Eisenbahnkiez is the "nicest", nearest neighborhood.
Friedrichshain: This pre-war industrial powerhouse was heavily damaged during World War II. While many buildings were completely demolished, bullet holes can still be seen on some structures today.
When Berlin was divided in 1961, the border between the US and Soviet occupied sectors ran between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg with the river Spree as the dividing line. Friedrichshain was in the east and Kreuzberg in the west.
One of its main thoroughfares has undergone several renamings from Große Frankfurter Straße to Stalinallee to today's Karl-Marx-Allee and Frankfurter Allee. It is bordered by impressive social housing known as "workers' palaces" that were prized for their modern amenities like elevators and central air when they were built in the 1940s and 50s. It is also dotted with cultural monuments like Kino International and Cafe Moskau.
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. The area is still clinging to its gritty side — in spite of rampant gentrification. Go here for the unmarked clubs lurking beneath the S-Bahn, Wall history, and delicious cheap eats.
What to Do in Berlin's Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain Neighborhood
Oberbaumbrücke is the red brick bridge that crosses from Friedrichshain to Kreuzberg and though it now unites the district, it was once a border crossing in divided Berlin. Visitors can cross this scenic bridge by foot, bike, car, or by the bright yellow U-Bahn that rides overhead.
Attractions in Kreuzberg
- Görltizer Park: Görli is dirty, raucous, and often filled with people. That's why we like it. Things are always happening here (although much less drug dealing since the police drove them out of the park...and onto nearby Revaler Strasse). Despite its lingering rep, this is a great place for kids with a somewhat hidden petting zoo, perfect sledding hills in winter and black light mini-golf in the center structure.
- Landwehr Canal: This leisurely canal wanders by some of the most expensive real estate in town. It also glides by one of the best markets and is the perfect place to do as the locals do by buying a beer and chilling on the grass.
- Markthalle Neun: This international market hall is at the epicenter of all things trendy in food and is positively packed every week for their Street Food Thursday event.
- Badeschiff: Plop a barge in the river and load the shore with sand and you have one of the best beaches in Berlin. Clubs surround the area so you don't have to stop partying once the sun goes down.
- Another Country: One of the best English bookshops in Berlin with an extensive list of events and readings.
- Wranglerkiez: This neighborhood just across the Oberbaumbrucke is full of revelers every weekend - much to the chagrin of some locals who have organized anti-tourist meetings.
- Viktoriapark: This park is an oasis of calm in a sometimes turbulent Kiez. Look for the picture perfect waterfall created by Kaiser Friedrich III and have a bier at the Golgatha Biergarten.
- SO36: This iconic club was a fixture of the 1970s punk scene with Iggy Pop and David Bowie listed among their clientele.
- Bergmannstrasse: Ritzy Bergmannkiez centers on the street of the same name. It even has its own festival, Bergmannstraßenfest.
Attractions in Friedrichshain
- East Side Gallery: Leading to the bridge from Ostbahnhof is the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. After the opening of the borders in 1990, artists from around the world were invited to paint it and many of these works have become iconic of Berlin and the wall. This area continues to develop with sections removed to make access for luxury condos (complete with protest) and many tourists' services established along the River Spree. However, nothing can take away from that view.
- Boxhagener Platz: This square holds a farmer’s market every Saturday and one of the best flea markets in the city on Sunday. During the week, there are great shopping and eating options radiating off the platz.
- Warschauer Strasse: The area around this discombobulated meeting of U-Bahn and S-Bahn is a popular spot for clubs and nightlife. If you want to stay in the action, Michelberger Hotel provides small, stylish rooms and an excellent hang-out lounge.
- RAW & Revaler Strasse: This area has a negative reputation as a drug dealers' paradise, but if you're not interested it's little more than talk. In reality, this is an arty alternative area covered in street art. RAW is a confusing maze of restaurants, clubs and events - like club complex Cassiopeia, the Neue Heimat flea market on Sundays, and incredible Thai BBQ at Khwan. Just don't get comfortable as closures and re-openings are common. Bordering Revaler Straße (and nearby Simon Dach Straße) offer a similar vibe and have been referred to as the Techno Strich (Strip).
- Monster Ronson's Ichiban Karaoke: Behind this innocuous bar front is a shower singer's dream. This karaoke bar has private rooms of varying size, plus one main stage to show off for the locals. Go on Tuesday night for the off-the-wall drag show.
- Frankfurter Allee: This grand East German boulevard features apartment blocks that were the height of fashion plus significant monuments almost all the way to Alexanderplatz. Look for the green domed towers of Frankfurter Tor poking into the skyline.
- Berghain: The club to end all clubs is a massive warehouse with dark rooms and an infamous door policy. Standing in line is half the experience.
How to Get to Berlin's Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain Neighborhood
How to Get to Kreuzberg
While Berlin has great public transportation, Kruezberg has a few odd connection points and its reliance on buses versus trams can make times less accurate than other places in the city. That said, it is easy to get to and around via S-Bahn, U-Bahn or bus.
Bergmannstraße is easily accessible off the U6 at Mehringdamm. For the SO36, Kottbusser Tor is the ideal leaping off point for Erster Mai or the best Turkish food in the city. For the increasingly upmarket Kreuzkölln area, get off the U8 at Schönleinstraße or Hermannplatz stations.
How to Get to Friedrichshain
Friedrichshain is well connected with the major station of former East Berlin, Ostbahnhof, located here. Warschauer Straße is another important connection point here, and the closest stop from Friedrichshain to Kreuzberg.
Unlike Kreuzberg, stops in Friedrichshain are part of the extensive tram network which is a step up from bus, as well as the S-Bahn and U-Bahn system.