The Art Historian’s Failed Guide to Hipster Berlin

I already had the words formed in my head before I even arrived in Berlin. Maybe that was a mistake in the first place. The Art Historian’s Guide to Hipster Berlin. I was convinced I could write this.

I exactly knew what this post was supposed to be like. I wanted to write about street art and those cool coffee shops were you can buy coffee as well as the mug your coffee’s served in and the chair you’re sitting on. I wanted to write about Berlin the party capital, where every café serves breakfast until 7 pm so you will always find a place to have your hangover-curing scrambled eggs at. I wanted to write about bikes and museums, about Vietnamese food and the huge empty airport fields of the old Tempelhofer Flughafen. I wanted to tell you how I listened to karaoke and how I bought beautiful individually crafted earrings at the Mauerpark. I wanted to describe this incredible Berlin self-confidence when in comes to art and fashion. I wanted to prove that it is true what they say: Berlin is the closest thing Europe has to New York City.

Berlin, Germany

I wanted to experience this Berlin that I’ve heard, read, and seen so much about.

But I failed. Because I underestimated Berlin. Maybe it was because I thought I had the advantage of speaking the language and didn’t really prepare myself properly. Berlin was bigger than I thought — geographically and mentally. Most definitely I didn’t have enough time: I roughly had 40 hours in the city. I could only scratch the surface. Maybe not even that.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Therefore, I cannot offer you a proper guide to hipster Berlin. I don’t know where the funkiest art galleries, the favorite cafés of Berlin’s famous fashion bloggers and the best flea markets are. I can’t tell you where to find the best street art and what hipster neighborhood is my favorite.

What I can give you, however, is to show you the few glimpses of the real, antsy, edgy, slightly fucked up, awesome, insane, artistic Berlin that I found during my way too short stay.

Berlin at night

Street art in Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain at night. Berlin at daytime is one thing. But at night, it’s a whole different story. Whereas my daytime experiences in Berlin were filled with tourists from all over the world and cheesy Soviet souvenirs, the nights in Kreuzberg felt more like the Berlin I was looking for: Guys with nerdy glasses, girls with 80ies tops and bare midriffs, Turkish street food stalls, incredibly talented buskers and oh-so-much graffiti.

Warschauer Straße, Berlin, Germany

Night scenes in Berlin, Germany

Night scenes, Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany, at night

Seeing Berlin’s skyline reflect in the dark water of the Spree River while listing to a fantastic sitar player, made me fall in love with love nighttime Berlin quickly. It was a Friday night and Berlin’s hippest neighborhood was buzzing with life and creative energy — I was simply overwhelmed by this sensory overload of sounds and smells and emotions. 

Berlin, Germany, at dusk

Street food in Berlin, Germany

Beer in Berlin, Germany

Live music in Berlin, Germany

East Side Gallery. Berlin has approximately 450 (!) galleries and 180 (!) museums, and I feel bad for not having visited any of them this time in Berlin. Pretty crappy for an aspiring art historian, I know. But I did see Berlin’s probably most famous gallery — which also happens to be the world’s largest outdoor gallery.

East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany

East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany

East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany

East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany

In the 1990ies parts of the former Berlin Wall were painted and sprayed by artists from all over the world. The East Side Gallery is a vast conglomeration of different kinds of art: From thought-provoking slogans to meaningless statements, from historical motifs to abstract forms. History meets art in the best possible way. The East Side Gallery is definitely the one gallery you should not miss in Berlin.

So, after this short experience of Berlin — did I have the right to name this post a guide to hipster Berlin? Probably not.

Graffiti door in Berlin, Germany

Photoautomat in Berlin, Germany

Hipster cup poster, Berlin, Germany

Night scenes in Berlin, Germany

But I can tell you a few things about how to find artsy, crazy, gorgeously chaotic Berlin:
Open your eyes. Take nighttime strolls. Follow the hordes of people walking into a shady courtyards with graffiti on brick walls. Listen to the buskers. Look for street art. Get lost.
And I’m sure hipster Berlin will find you.

Night scenes in Berlin, Germany

Live music in Berlin, Germany

Graffiti door in Berlin, Germany

Have you found hipster Berlin?

Many thanks to the Berlin Tourism Board for providing Steffen and me with a complimentary Berlin WelcomeCard which made getting around in this bigger-than-I-imagined city so much easier. However, all opinions are my own.

  • OCDemon

    You sure look like you did a good job finding it. I always think it’s a good idea to wander a city randomly, away from the touristy areas, and see what happens. It’s always fun.

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you! You’re absolutely right — I love getting lost in cites 🙂

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad

    I really enjoyed this post! As a New York-lover I think I’d really enjoy exploring Berlin… it seems so young, gritty and alive.

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you Ashley! Young, gritty, and alive are the perfect words for Berlin! I’m sure you’d love it!

  • Mariella

    40 hours?? Uhm, no, that was never gonna be enough. I hope I don’t sound patronizing, but I have been living here for 2 1/2 years and still feel I haven’t gotten around to grasping fully what the city is about. Your pictures are as beautiful, atmospheric and expressive as always though. Good job, dear!

    • JulikaSarah

      I had a feeling that Berlin was one of those places you can never stop discovering! Looks like I have to go back very soon! Thank you 🙂

  • Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com

    I stayed 4 days there and I didn’t even finish checking out the museums!

    • JulikaSarah

      How would you? There are 180 of them! 🙂 Berlin is just so insanely huge — I’m definitely staying at least a week next time! 🙂

  • I stayed in Kruezberg when I was there, so it’s pretty much the only part of the city I saw, and while I would have liked to see more, I think I definitely was able to get the general city vibe during my 3 nights there.

    • JulikaSarah

      It’s such a good idea to stay in one neighborhood and explore it thoroughly to get a feel for the city! It’s just impossible to see it all in such a short time! Can’t wait to be back 🙂

  • BeyondBlighty

    Don’t be so hard on yourself! It’s a great insight! I still haven’t been to Berlin! What’s that about?!!!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you Arianwen 🙂 Oh I’m sure you’d absolutely love Berlin!

  • I’ve been to Berlin three times so far and that isn’t even enough to really get a feel for Berlin.It’s so big and there is so much to do!

    • JulikaSarah

      Berlin is absolutely overwhelming in every possible way! Next time I’m staying for at least a week — and most likely that won’t be enough time either 🙂

  • ugh

    i just have to say, you’re writing is very egotistical and you’re not an art historian. it gets tired of hearing it. loose the ego, build your resume.

    • Sonja

      Then just stop reading if you don’t like it! I absolutely LOVE your blog and enjoy reading everything you write. Thank you very much for the awesome (art historians) travel blog 🙂

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you so very much Sonja! This really means a lot to me!

    • JulikaSarah

      It’s true, I write from a very personal perspective and it’s entirely subjective. However, I do have an academic degree in art history.