November 9th marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The concrete barrier was supposed to separate East Germany and West Germany after World War II. In reality, it prevented emigration from the communist Eastern Bloc. Berlin will celebrate the wall’s destruction—and the city’s eventual reunification—with a light installation, wall tours, and the release of white peace balloons. You’ll go for the festivities, but you’ll stay after being enchanted by a neighborhood that looks nothing like it did a quarter-century ago.
Prenzlauer Berg, in northeast Berlin, was built as a tenement-housing neighborhood in the late 19th century. Unlike the rest of the city, few of the area’s buildings were destroyed during World War II. But it was largely neglected under the German Democratic Republic. It’s since been rehabilitated and become one of Berlin’s most popular neighborhoods. It’s full of quirky galleries and independent shops, chic cafés and hip bars, street markets and green parks. Some even call it the Williamsburg of Berlin.
Your first stops are the historic sites. Circular Wasserturm Prenzlauer Berg is Berlin’s oldest water tower. It was used from 1877-1952; today, it’s filled with pricey apartments. Nazi Germany’s first concentration camp was built next door in 1933, though that building was later demolished. A Jewish cemetery and Rykestrasse Synagogue, the largest synagogue in all of Germany, stand nearby. While the high-steepled Gethsemane Church was an important meeting place during the reunification process.
From there, it’s just a short walk to Mauerpark, where the “death strip” and part of the Berlin Wall stood. A graffiti-covered section of the wall still remains, but the park is now a joyous place. A flea market is held every Sunday, an amphitheater has become a karaoke destination, and people lounge and play on the grass during the warmer months. Most of the anniversary’s festivities take place here.
Then go to Helmholtzplatz or Kollwitzplatz. Both of the small parks are surrounded by little cafés and are perfect for people watching. Stroll down tree-lined Kastanienallee, a street filled with tiny, fashionable shops. Have a beer and a hot dog under old chestnut trees at the Prater Garten, Berlin’s oldest beer garden. Make plans for dinner, since this neighborhood has every type of food imaginable. Alsatian, African, Vietnamese, and even a new American place are all within a few blocks of each other. Then hop between bars that feature chocolate, table tennis, burlesque, and live music. The options, right in this little borough, are endless. Prenzlauer Berg, like the rest of Berlin, has come a long way in 25 years.