Along the wide, leafy streets radiating around a green square called Kollwitzplatz, there are Italian, Spanish, and Persian restaurants.
There are wine merchants, estate agents, delicatessens, bakeries and beer gardens for summer. Concrete monstrosities? Not from what I can see.
With its numerous cafe-bars, boutiques and Saturday gourmet organic food market, Prenzlauer Berg is among the most sought-after neighborhoods of the former East Berlin, Germany. On warm summer evenings, Kollwitzplatz stays lively until well into the early hours.
Often built around an inner courtyard, many Prenzlauer Berg houses were constructed between 1880 and 1920. Although apartments were State-issued for 50 years, the houses remained in the original Altbau style. The name means “old build,” but most have been stylishly refurbished over the past 20 years.
A typical Altbau apartment has high ceilings, original wooden floors and a balcony. Grander buildings have facades with Jugendstilfeatures—Germany’s version of Art Nouveau. Although anti-socialist propaganda painted everywhere east of the Berlin Wall as architecturally dreary, Plattenbau (pre-fabricated concrete) apartments only account for around 15% of the city’s housing stock.
Compared to other major European capitals, Berlin property is remarkably inexpensive. For example, 89,900 euro ($117,000) buys a well-maintained, 45-square-meter apartment with stucco details in a Prenzlauer Berg Altbau dating from 1902. Prices like that don’t exist anywhere in London or Paris, let alone in their fashionable districts.
I had lunch at Endlos, a cozy brasserie-style restaurant on a street flanking Kollwitzplatz. (43-45 Knaakstrasse). Eavesdropping on conversations, it seemed quite a few diners were involved in IT. Berlin is at the cutting edge of European tech start-ups.
Like me, most chose the daily special: a three-course feast of goose liver on lambs’ lettuce, roast goose with red cabbage and dumplings, then chocolate mousse. At 12.90 euro ($17), incredibly good value. I could have eaten cheaper—many neighborhood places had three-course lunchtime menus from $10 – $13—but roast goose is irresistible.
In GDR times, Prenzlauer Berg was a workers’ quarter but with elements of the subversive, the avant-garde, and the bohemian. Ten minutes walk away, on Schönhauser Allee, the Gothic-looking KulturBrauerei is at the heart of the local cultural scene.
An old brewery with red brick towers and chimneys, its cobbled courtyards once echoed to the sound of rolling beer barrels. Now people come to eat, drink, shop, catch movies, experimental theater and poetry readings.
During the Christmas run-up, the Kulturbrauerei hosts the Scandinavian-themed Lucia market. It’s not remarkably different to Berlin’s other magical Christmas markets, but the hot spiced wine is called Glögg instead of Gluhwein—and lots of Scandinavian woolen gifts are for sale.
But Prenzlauer Berg still offers one taste of Ostalgie—nostalgia for the East German past.
Continue up Schönhauser Allee to Eberswalder U-Bahn station. Under the arches, Konnopke’s Imbiss is a traditional sausage stand that survived both World War Two and the subsequent decades of Communism. Konnopke’s has been in business since 1930. Wrapped inside a bread roll, a $2.50 Currywurst slathered in spicy sauce is gastronomic heaven on a Berlin winter’s night.
Look for more on Berlin and its property market in an issue of International Living magazine coming soon.