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Of the German cities you may have visited, Berlin is one with a few issues. It’s a great place with good nightlife (more later), but you do have to watch your back at times.
The best place to go without doubt is the Kultur Brauerei (KB) in Kollwitzplatz. This is in the Prenzlauer Berg area, NE of the centre. It is a converted brewery with several clubs with different sounds and only costs 10 Euros. On the way to KB, you can find a number of bars on Kollwitzplatz, but the best one is the Coconut Jungle (red sign). They serve great cocktails and the place resembles a tropical island, with sand on the floor ! Start there and then make your way to KB later!
The second best place is the Matrix club, which is a converted subway. You can spot the old cars advertising outside. Make your way to Warschauer Strasse U-bahn/S-bahn station, and you will find it below. The Matrix can be busy on a Sunday, and the KB had concerts on a Monday night before a German bank holiday. Otherwise it’s just a very busy disco/club area.
Fortunately, there is a disco over the road at the lights called Schreibers, on Fri and Sat nights only. The people streaming in and out (and the gear they were wearing) indicated it would be a good place. Worth starting there and finishing in Matrix, which closes later.
Also, Kollwitzplatz is good for evening markets and car boot sales. There is a distinct grunge anti-capitalist theme in parts of East Berlin, with people being creative and squatting in old buildings.
Have some fun on Simon Dach Strasse, in Friedrischshain, E of the centre. This is good for cheap Asian food (10 euros a head for soup, main and drink) and reasonable bars including a Goth pub.
The last place worth mentioning is Kreuzberg, where there are some cocktail bars and eateries. Choose a hotel in Kreuzberg because it is a cheaper area, where you can also eat and start drinking in the local bars. Kreuzberg (like everywhere) is connected to the public rail system so take the train to KB or Matrix/Schreibers perhaps. You can stay in Friedrischshain for good access, or choose Kreuzberg and probably this hotel: www.hotel-Sarottihoefe.de
In terms of daytime activities, a good place to visit and eat is Hackescher Markt, right in the centre of your train map. It is walkable from Alexanderplatz, where the tall TV tower is based. The Germans love this place, it may be overrated. However, they take a long time to serve at peak times, so don’t visit on a Sat evening at 8pm! After your meal you might visit the Irish pub (Kilkenny’s under the arches there). Then make your way to Kollwitzplatz (hoorah!). You can visit many buildings and drive past the Reichstag, but you have to keep moving.
At some point, do take a walk down Friedrich Strasse (runs north/south) to Checkpoint Charlie for a picture. Carry on south towards Kreuzberg. As you might expect, the wealthy streets and big brands deteriorate to very ordinary surroundings. Friedrich Strasse then hits Mehring Platz, which is visibly “Eastern block” with a cheap food buffet (as much as you want for 6.50 Euros) and drab buildings. Continue down Mehring Damm to reach Bergmanstrasse, the Kreuzberg street.
On the down side, watch out for punks throwing bottles, and singing nationalistic tunes, and belligerent locals and East European migrants. There are pockets of poverty here. Don’t talk to people camped in the train stations, and don’t buy used tickets they claim to be valid.
Remember to stamp your ticket for use “today” or you may experience plain clothes “passengers” who suddenly spring a badge and request a valid ticket. The Germans don’t tolerate ticket dodgers! f you are making a few train journeys in a day, it is probably better to buy a Tag (day) ticket. These are valid until 3am the following day (good for returning from a drink), then there is a little gap before the next day’s trains start at 4am (new ticket).
Berlin does seem daunting for the new visitor, but it's really easy to travel about on the trains, and it’s not as large as they say. For example, you can often see the TV tower as a reference point, which reminds you that most places are walking distance.