Kreuzberg: Has Berlin lost its X-berg factor?
Hipsters in the hood
Kreuzberg has a reputation as Germany's hippest hood... but has its hipster shtick has started to wear thin?
I'm writing this week from Europe's hipster heartland. Buildings around me are tagged with graffiti; bars and cafes serving artisan coffee and organic wine on tastefully salvaged furniture. Everyone does brunch. And there are beards. Lots of beards.
Welcome to Kreuzberg and Neukölln, Berlin's most Instagramable neighbourhoods. A couple of museum visits aside, I've spent 48 hours exploring the streets where the two mesh, skipping big city sights to live (albeit briefly) like a local.
Picking my way from one boutique business to the next, I found gorgeously ginormous burgers at Berlinburger International (berlinburgerinternational.com). There's a killer cappuccino and homemade 'rapple' - raspberry and apple jam - at Kate's Blue Cat Café (katiesbluecat.de). A lush, 40-seater cinema lounges behind the bar at Il Kino (ilkino.de). Kreuzberg (or X-Berg, as some call it) has a large Turkish community, so the kebabs are kicking too.
These aren't urban utopias, however - and gentrification is a touchy subject in Neukölln. Could it be that artists, ex-pats and wheelie-case-toting tourists like myself are not the forces of creativity we imagine, but the spreaders of increasingly generic scenes? Has the uniformity of hipsterism made places like Williamsburg, Shoreditch and Kreuzberg boring? Has some of that X-Berg factor been lost?
I don't have the answer, but it's a perfect place to ask the question.
Kreuzberg and Neukölln are an easy, 20-25 minute cab ride from Berlin Schönefeld Airport - to which Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) fly direct from Dublin. The neighbourhoods are tailormade for Airbnb (airbnb.ie), or you could try Die Fabrik, an affordable and atmospheric hotel/hostel set in an old factory on Schlesische Straße (diefabrik.com; doubles from €58). Mill Apartments (millapartments.de) are a solid bet too - with a range of self-catering apartments in Neukölln from €55.
Surprisingly, perhaps, hip hotels seem thin on the ground in eastern Kreuzberg and northern Neukölln. Instead, pop across the river to Friedrichshain for the Michelberger Hotel (michelbergerhotel.com; doubles from €84), with funky, lo-fi rooms set along the Spree River. Also across the Spree is nhow Berlin (nh-hotels.de; rooms from €85), complete with its own recording studio (apparently, guests are allowed to borrow the electric guitars).
A final tip: if you hail a cab from the road in Berlin, the first 2km is charged at a flat fee of just €4... a handy travel hack for those sprawling suburbs.
NB: All prices subject to availability/change.