Thumping bass coming from behind a metal door with no name. Dodgy people hanging out in front of what looks like a grungy, crumbling, graffiti-covered factory. This is the stuff uninhibited, hedonistic dreams are made of. This is where unbridled orgies of excess turn into legend. This is the heart and soul of Berlin nightlife. Sure there are more upscale places moving in like the swanky, members only Soho house and there are old school places such as Tacheles being shut down. The real party scene though is still something wild, unexpected, edgy and slightly insane. To cover the whole city would take a book so in this blog I will focus on some of my favorite places to trip the light fantastic.
Berlin’s party scene is divided into many sub-genres; pubs, techno clubs, ping pong bars, smoking bars, sex clubs, jazz bars, music venues, and of course the hybrid pub/club. There is no officially sanctioned closing time so things usually start quite late and end in the wee early hours of the afternoon. Most of the clubs are located in the former eastern district of Friedrichshain and the former West Berlin district of Kreuzberg. Bars of all sizes and shapes can be found throughout the city but the more popular areas for nightlife have moved to the more touristy, central district of Mitte, the grungy, alternative district of Kreuzberg, and to the more upscale and gentrified district of Prenzlauerberg. West Berlin has a scene all its own and is one of the few places in Berlin you might actually meet a Berliner. One famous name in West Berlin bars is Diener, a Charlottenburg institution.
Mitte, the central district of East Berlin, has what is rapidly becoming known as the red light district of the German capital. This area is located in what was once the center of the Jewish quarter on a street called Oranienburger Str. Here the ladies of the night are on the prowl chatting up the drunks as they walk by and ogle the scantily clad, working women. There is a wide variety of watering holes in the neighborhood. My favorite bar/club on Oranienburger Str is the former Jewish department store Tacheles. The remnants of this historical building are worth seeing soon before the government shuts it down completely. Unfortunately this area is also the stomping ground of the pub crawls which can consist of over 50 stumbling (mainly British) drunks commandeered by equally loud, overbearing tour guides.
There are also alternatives to the pub crawl scene , such as the anti pub crawl started by a group of Germans determined to prove that they can show tourists around at night without coming off as a bunch of obnoxious twats. A stroll through this neighborhood is still a pleasant way to spend a night bar-hopping. As it has become the new art quarter of the city, you can find a different bar, restaurant or art gallery every few meters. One of my favorites places to start the night is at Brut on Torstr which serves great wines, cocktails, and snacks. Right across the street is the uber-popular Neue Odessa full of all the beautiful people dying to prove how special they are.
Another lovely area for non-clubbing nightlife is the northern district of Prenzlauerberg. It has become quite gentrified over the past few years but it still has a great variety of places to go out for a drink or 10. Some of my favorites are:
-Wohnzimmer: located in Helmholtzplatz it has a nice crowd and a friendly staff. On the weekends they serve great cocktails. The name means living room and with the random furniture and decor it is essentially that.
-Die Bar: Located just off Stargarder Str which is a great street to go out for a bite to eat and a drink. Die Bar is only a year old but with a convivial ambiance and lovely wine it is a great place to start an evening of debauchery.
-Café Schwarzsauer: an institution on Kastanien Allee, sometimes refered to as Casting Allee because of all the beautiful people who strut up and down the street waiting to be discovered. The bar gets quite lively late at night.
Over the past five years the younger and greviously hip generation have settled in an area which has become known as Kreuzkolln, between Kreuzberg and Neukolln. Check out the video to understand how the locals are handling the change in demographics. The whole neighborhood has become popular for the more underground nightlife, bars which look as if they were decorated with discarded furniture, and employing disinterested staff disdainfully serving drinks. One of the most popular bars in this part of town is “Ä” on Weserstr, home to the hipster. This is one of the most interesting parts of Berlin in that it is the area being most transformed by the new transient Berlin scene alienating the locals.
Clubbing in Berlin is worth writing home about. It is wild and uninhibited in no small part due to the unofficial decriminalization of drugs and liberal attitude of the locals. Many clubs stay open for days at a time. You can arrive Friday night and stumble back out into the sunlight again on Sunday. A Berlin after dark blog would not be complete without at least a mention of the most famous club, Panorama Bar, or Berghain. This is a massive sprawling factory complex with a surreal reputation. In 2010 It was voted the best club in the world by djs, but due to the tough door policy I still have nothing positive to say about it so I will leave it at that. Some other famous names in electro-nightlife are as follows;
-Goldengate: a dilapidated and grungy club located under the train tracks at Jannowitzbrucke, with a dirty, dazed crowd to boot, yet beloved amongst a certain set of party-goers.
-Watergate: this is one of the classiest clubbing venues. It is located next to the River Spree by the Oberbaumbrucke and even has a dock on the water. The whole neighborhood is ideal for partying whether you want a pub or a club, live music or electro, it’s got it all!
-Arena: Aside from having swimming pools in the river Spree the complex also hosts a variety of bars and clubs, as well as a live music venue. Right next door is one of the most popular summer bars in Berlin, Club Der Visionaere.
-Weekend: almost too fashionable for Berlin yet I include it for all those of you who feel that dressing up is an integral part of going out. It is located directly at Alexanderplatz and is therefore one of the most geographically central clubs.
-Ritter Butzke: this is one of the most authentic old school clubs without the pretentious vibe that surrounds places like Panorama/Berghain. It is located in a great neighborhood of Kreuzberg worth checking out day or night.
-Tresor: one of the most famous clubs named after the vault it was originally located in. It was the home of techno in Berlin and is now in a new location directly next to a power plant at the Heinrich Heine Platz subway station.
-Rosi’s: A great club along the train tracks in Friedrichshain. It always reminded me of Berlin before the hipster invasion, beautiful beer garden, great djs, and unpretentious people.
-Horst Kreuzberg: Away from the central clubbing district this fairly new location in a former post office has quickly garnered quite a following. It is located centrally at Hallesches Tor at the end of Friedrichstrasse.
-Cookies: One of the coolest locations in Mitte. It is located directly in the geographic heart of the city at the intersection of Unter den Linden and Friedrichstr. Open Tues, Thurs, and Sat there is also a trendy restaurant on location named cookies cream. Make a reservation to dine and avoid the club lines.
-KitKatKlub: Berlin’s most famous sex club is exactly that. Be prepared to shed some layers at the door and keep an open mind about what you might see inside.
Once again let me reiterate, this is not a comprehensive list of all the best places to go out in Berlin but rather a guide to some of my favorite places. Though the city is constantly changing I would still recommend the tried and trusted method for discovering this hedonistic city. Simply follow your nose.