After the beauty of Paris, our visit to Berlin provided a shock to the system. Berlin is real. Berlin is creative, messy, gritty, full of secrets and darkness and hope. It’s cash poor, but culture rich. The unemployment rate is twice as high as the rest of Germany, but that’s just because everyone is too busy trying to make art and music, plus disappearing into a club from Friday to Monday, to bother with a salary.
It’s also, because of its history, quite left-leaning. So you’ll see a lot of grassroots environmental initiatives and small businesses with a collectivist, sustainable ethos. Vegan and vegetarian options are everywhere, sustainable fashion abounds, community gardens are the cool thing to do. And yes, there is a great park.
A tip: I preferred Kreuzberg, though Mitte is prettier and has some great restaurants. In general, Kreuzberg has its roots in the far-left movement, so you won’t find Starbucks, but independently owned shops with smoothies, coffee, pastries, vegan and vegetarian food, plus street art and really cool fashion. It is the gritty, sustainable side of the city, while Mitte offers museums and upscale food and shopping.
That out of the way, here are my recommendations:
Almodóvar Hotel, Boxhagener Straße 83, Friedrichshain
This upscale hotel is centrally located, making it the perfect starting spot for your touring around Berlin. Each room is decorated differently – ours was simple, classy, quiet, and really comfortable.
The next morning, we helped ourselves to the large, continental breakfast, which was organic, local, and vegetarian, with vegan options, too. Then we rented a bike for touring around. I thought about booking a massage in the rooftop spa (all the dancing and walking I had been doing left me foot-weary) but we simply didn’t have enough time. They also recommend a hot yoga studio nearby. Other small sustainable things they do including purchasing renewable energy, having non-toxic paint and sustainable wood floors and furniture, using non-toxic cleaning products, and working with partners that emphasize eco and fair production. We really liked this hotel and would recommend it to any friends looking for a comfortable experience that still felt like you’re in the real Berlin, not in a tourist-y district.
There’s practically a cultural exchange going on between Brooklyn and Berlin. The rent is affordable ($800 a month for a big, beautiful one bedroom flat) and a visa easy to obtain. So as soon as we informed our Facebook friends we were headed to Berlin, offers started popping up for places to crash. We stayed at a friend of a friend’s place, a great guy who is originally from right outside Berlin, on his daybed. It was a great way to get to know the city and culture. If you can find a place to crash and are the crashing type, take it! Or try AirBnB, though the city has been cracking down on it.
Other Sustainable Hotel: Scandic – Gabriele-Tergit-Promenade 19, border between Mitte and Kreuzberg
Berlin has an overabundance of public transportation. We didn’t rent bikes for the first two days we were there, and for the most part, we didn’t miss them. You could take the below-ground metro, the above-ground metro, the tram, or the bus. We were pretty confused when we first got on the tram, because they don’t make you swipe a card when you get on, though there’s a machine inside. Turns out Berlin is on the honor system. Pay for a card before you get on the metro, or when you get on the tram. Our third day, an employee came through and did a check to make sure everyone had stamped passes, so don’t press your luck!
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