Skip to content

Secret Berlin

– By Gavin Blackburn

“Berlin is famous for embracing the offbeat and alternative – an attitude that extends to all aspects of life and lends a rich texture to any exploration of the city.

Throughout a century in which Berlin was the focal point for some of the biggest events in European history, and in today’s times of political stability and freedom, the city has displayed a penchant for the quirky and underground.

Quit the beaten track and explore the city anew with this selection of just a few of the city’s numerous curiosities.

Peristal Singum at Salon Zur Wilden Renate

While there is something labyrinthine about Renate when it operates as a nightclub, the ‘Peristal Singum’ installation in the basement adds yet another dimension. Be warned though, it is not for the faint-hearted. The underground network of connecting rooms, tunnels and passageways is immense, dimly lit and filled with unusual sounds. It’s genuinely disorienting, with no staff or signposts to hand: the idea is not to find your way out but to get completely lost. Visitors are picked from different groups at ten-minute intervals so that your entrance is solo and your trail through the labyrinth may lead to a burst of inner reflection – just hope you find your friends at the end of it.

Peristal Singum at Salon Zur Wilden Renate, Alt-Stralau 70, 10245 Berlin ( S-Bahn Ostkreuz.
 Open 6-10pm Wed-Sat.

See all clubs in Berlin


Meilenwerk is a must-see for fans of vintage cars – or ‘old timers’ as Germans fondly call them. This sprawling former factory in the Moabit district is a combination of showroom, repair shop and auto club and is crammed with lovingly restored classics from the likes of MG, Triumph and Bugatti. An unexpected highlight is the traditional Berlin Sunday brunch, served from 10am and without a whiff of engine oil; the setting is spectacular, whether you’re seated in the restaurant or out on the terrace. Once you’ve finished your coffee, pick a set of wheels to hire and take a spin through Berlin.

Meilenwerk, Wiebestraße 36-37, 10555 Berlin (030 3435 5796, S-Bahn Beusselstraße. 
Open 8am-8pm Mon-Sat; 10am-8pm Sun.

See all attractions in Berlin


Teufelsberg – meaning ‘devil’s mountain’ – is a fascinating, if spooky relic from the Cold War. This artificial hill on the western side of the city was constructed from the detritus of post-war, bombed Berlin, and its top made home to the US Secret Service listening station, which monitored the Soviet military airwaves. Take a guided tour to the top to experience what seems like an ever-present melancholic wind blowing through the now derelict listening tower and get magnificent views over Berlin, the Havel River and nearby lakes, Wannsee and Schlachtensee.

Teufelsberg, Teufelsbergchaussee, 14055 Berlin (0171 3831 666). S-Bahn Messe Sud or S-Bahn Heerstrase.

See all attractions in Berlin

Olympic Village

Built to accommodate the 4,000 athletes competing at the 1936 Olympic Games, the Olympic Village covers 22 hectares in Elstal, Brandenburg, some 14 km from the Olympic Stadium. During World War II the site was used as an army training facility; later, in post-war East Germany, it was occupied by Soviet troops. Now a listed building, much of the site has been restored to its former glory with the support of the DKB Bank.

Olympisches Dorf, An der B5, Elstal, 14624 Berlin (030 9470 0451, U2 Nue Westend.
 Open (Apr-Oct) 10am-4pm Mon-Fri; 10am-6pm Sat-Sun. Tours start at 11am Mon-Fri and 12noon and 3pm Sat, Sun.

See all attractions in Berlin


Right at the heart of Berlin, the Nikolaiviertel is both historically significant and architecturally peculiar. This small network of streets, built on the site of the medieval settlement of Altberlin – along with Cölln on the opposite bank of the Spree – formed the origin of the city we have today. What remained of this site was subject to restoration in 1987 by the East German government, in celebration of Berlin’s 750th birthday, and a number of new buildings were constructed in the style of a traditional German village. Rumour has it that funds dried up mid-construction and so work had to be hastily completed, which would explain the juxtaposition of historic-style buildings and concrete slabs. Nowadays, the quarter is full of gift shops, restaurants and bars.

Nikolaiviertel, Propststrasse 9, 10178 Berlin (030 2474 6010, S-Bahn U2, U5, U8 Alexanderplatz. Open11am-10pm daily.


As soon as the temperature rises, Berliners can be seen to strip off and launch themselves at the nearest body of water. Wannsee, the most popular of Berlin’s lakes, can get so busy during the summer months that finding a spot on its famous beach can prove a challenge; neighbouring Schlachtensee’s popularity is also on the rise. A more tranquil option is Plötzensee, in the northern district of Wedding, where the trees surroundng the lake provide shade from the sun – and a little privacy – and the locals claim that, of all Berlin’s lakes, it has the clearest water. There are plenty of places to spread your towel on the shore, plus an official beach and cordoned-off swimming zone for youngsters. Hire a pedal boat at the rickety harbour and visit the boathouse for beers.

Plötzensee, 13351 Berlin. S-Bahn Westhafen, U9 Westhafen.

See all parks and gardens in Berlin

Café im Literaturhaus

Get away from the hustle and bustle of Berlin’s principal shopping mile, Ku’damm, by turning into any one of the side streets, which teem with elegant cafés and restaurants. A particular highlight is Café im Literaturhaus on Fasanenstraße, which belongs to one of Berlin’s oldest literature groups. While those of a literary bent should check out the regular programme of literary events, tired shoppers can take a welcome Kaffee und Kuchen(coffee and cake) break in the secluded garden.

Cafe im Literaturhaus, Fasanenstraße 23, 10719 Berlin (030 8825 044, U1 Uhlandstraße. Open 10.30am-7.30pm Mon-Fri; 10.30am-6pm Sat.

See all restaurants and cafés in Belin

Doctor Pong

Ping-pong is a popular pub ‘sport’ in Berlin and Doctor Pong in Prenzlauer Berg is the serious place to play – not that you’d know from the outside. Its frontage is nondescript and lacking a sign; inside the bar is typically ramshackle. What’s inescapable however, is the ping-pong table dominating the front room; the Chinese style of the game is played and up to 50 people can be involved round the table at a single time. Bats are available to rent. In the back the bar is replete with turntables – although ping-pong is the focus here, the music is surprisingly good.

Dr. Pong, Eberswalderstraße 21, 10437 Berlin (, U2 Eberswalder Straße, M1, M10, M12 Eberswalder Strasse. 
Open 8pm-late Mon-Sat; 6pm-late Sun.

See all bars and pubs in Berlin

Gelbe Musik

There are many record stores in Berlin and lots of good, specialist ones at that. Among them Gelbe Musik is unique. Founded in 1980 by Ursula Block, you won’t find anything commercial here. This neat little space is part record store, part exhibition space, and devoted to all manner of off-kilter experimental sounds, category-defying compositions and electronic studio outtakes. Expect sounds along the lines of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, John Cage and a sprinkling of musique concrete.

Gelbe Musik, Schaperstraße 11, 10719 Berlin (030 211 3962). U3 Augsburger StraßeOpen 1-6pm Tue-Fri; 11am-2pm Sat.

See all record shops in Berlin

Fassbender & Rausch

Indulge a sweet tooth with the luxury delights at Fassbender and Rausch, one of Berlin’s finest chocolatiers. The bright and elegant store overlooks the grand Gendarmenmarkt square in Mitte, and the centrepiece of its window display is a rendering in chocolate of the German parliament building, the Reichstag. It is supplied by 25 skilled employees, who work around the clock down in Tempelhof to produce a daily delivery of 3,000 delicacies. Coffee and cake is served throughout the day in the store’s café, while at night a restaurant opens its doors for less chocolate-centric meals.

Fassbender & Rausch, Charlottenstraße 60, 10117 Berlin (030 2045 8443, U2 Stadtmitte. 
Open 10am-8pm Mon-Sat; 11am-8pm Sun.

See all food and drink shops in Berlin

Chez Jacki

Nothing in Berlin changes faster than the club landscape: well-established venues can disappear without warning and tiny hyped locations come and go in the blink of an eye. The recent closure of Maria am Ufer by the River Spree was surprising but mourned by few; its replacement, Chez Jacki, is still something of a secret, despite the prominent location. The bar and club is bringing a sexy line-up of local electronic DJs and regular club and exhibition events to the riverside.”

Posted in Outgoing students.

Tagged with .