Afternoon Strolls: a lovely Berlin Reuterkiez walk
I spent my summer working and strolling Berlin’s lovely streets. So, my Berlin Reuterkiez walk is all I have to offer in terms of “fresh” travel right now.
In response to the fuel shortages in 2022, the German government issued a public transport ticket for the months of June, July and August 2022. Everyone could buy it and travel all over the country at their hearts content using all public transport except some private lines and intercity and high-speed trains. After my initial frustration with the ticket, as I use public transport to commute to work, I decided to use the ticket on weekends to explore part of Berlin, old favourites and unknown districts.
Let’s start with an old favourite, the Reuterkiez! It didn’t register on my radar on my infrequent visits while living in England, but then I heard about its fabric market – and since 2014, I have been a regular visitor. Normally I am not really strong on Berlin content, as I tend to go to the same favourite places, but let me try!
Why visit the Reuterkiez?
The Reuterkiez is a informal area in the north of the Berlin district Kreuzberg-Neukoelln, named after the central Fritz- Reuter-Square. It is bordered by the busy thoroughfare of Kottbuser Damm and Karl-Marx-Strasse and the Landwehrkanal. It is a typical fin-de-siecle living quarter filled with tenements, more spacious and pretty ones out towards the streets, more crammed ones at the back, and now one of the most dense populated areas of Berlin. Looking at the blank stats, it does not sound appealing – it has one of the highest rates of unemployment, social deprivation but, on the other hand, part of it are extremely gentrified, and thankfully, there is a lot in between that makes a walk here rewarding.
If you like Middle Eastern food, here is one of the most authentic and inexpensive places to try.
Its wide side streets are pleasant and shaded and full of small cafes, book shops, bric-a-brac shops, small Middle Eastern businesses and tons and tons of restaurants and bars.
If you are male and in need of a sharp but inexpensive haircut, this is the best place to come.
And last not least, there is the twice-weekly produce market and weekly crafts and fabric market on Maybachufer by the canal, where you can buy good veggies by the truck load and Middle Eastern food galore.
Getting to the starting point of the Reuterkiez walk
For us, the Berlin Reuterkiez walk starts in Gesundbrunnen, the Northern Rail Crossing , where we dive into the underground and use the very convenient U8 subway line taking us through the established hipster quarter and tourist favourites of Rosenthaler Platz and Weinmeisterstrasse underneath the centre of East Berlin with the Alexanderplatz to Schoenleinstrasse.
Or, if you fancy a longer walk, then go one station further to Hermannplatz, which is big and busy. I prefer Schoenleinstrasse.
On the corner, as you leave the U-Bahn, there is a pleasant place for a coffee and cake called Kaffeekirsche. Right across, you will find KUGU Kuruyemis. A common sight of the Middle East, these shops roast nuts and sell them along with sweets and spices. This one has a nice selection of nuts, sweets and radish crisps. Not cheap, but good quality. Another such place is the Ed and Fred Nussdepot further down Sonnenallee ( see map)
From Schoenleinstrasse to Maybachufer
From the underground station, take one of the smaller streets perpendicular to Kottbuser Damm ( Buerknerstrasse, Schinkestrasse or Sanderstrasse) to start your Berlin Reuterkiez walk, depending on how far you prefer walking. Here, you will find pretty stately fin-de-siecle Berlin apartment buildings and a mixture of old-school repair shops and pubs as well as some trendy bars, fashion shops and cafes. All are pretty small and not corporate, it’s more like small businesses here, but it is no secret that this part of Berlin, especially along the canal and in its quiet side-streets, has been gentrified extensively. Once the part of town with the highest percentage of migrants, especially from Turkey and the Middle East and the highest level of poverty, it is very mixed now.
What’s still there are the shops and cafes serving the community – a ton of Middle Eastern Supermarkets and cafes and restaurants as well as cheap clothing stores. If you want some Middle Eastern special ingredient, you can almost be guaranteed to find it here. As for safety – it is perfectly fine in the day. I try to avoid certain pockets at night, unlit paths, parks, and I would probably stick to the buses on public transport, I have certainly taken the underground after nightfall, especially coming from a large and busy road like Kottbuser Damm and going into somewhat grungy Schoenleinstrasse, it is not usually a problem.
In recent years, the area has become more heterogenous. About twenty to thirty years ago, this was a relatively deprived area, with many empty apartments, Because rents were cheap, artists and small businesses moved in and established cafes, small shops, etc. which coexisted with the traditional long-established Middles Eastern shops. Only in recent years haa the area become a centre for gentrification, as it had more places to eat and shop, green spaces and facilities – as well as good bones for renovation projects, i.e. lots of blocks of generously sized apartments with balconies, high ceilings etc.
Houses have been done up, the shops are not what I would shop in every day, much more fancy. But it is nice to see there actually seems to be some sort of community, and old locals seem to happily mix with more recent professionals, often migrants from the EU. And you see a bit of effort how sidewalks are kept interesting with mini gardens. Ans as a tourist, it’s nice to enjoy the humongous choice of eating places, from the traditional Middle Eastern cafe to Vietnamese fusion.
Although a sometimes city-dweller, I have never lived in an apartment with dimensions like this. But many of the refurbished apartments rent for massively high rents, while other houses, especially the unrefurbished ones, may have tenants that have been there 50 years or more. It is very heterogenous. In 2021 I visited this area as part of the vaccination drive, and saw very heterogenous community – from obviously poor old people living in cavernous old apartments, via Iranians who had fully assimilated into German habits, to Turkish and wealthy people.
All in all, as you wander these streets, this is sadly not how the majority of Berlin residents live. Many family camp out in too-small flats because rents have been rising constantly the past 15 years, and even if you had sufficient funds, it is almost impossible to rent (or even buy) an apartment in Berlin at a half decent price.
After 200-300metres, you will come to a T-junction. Here is where the famous Maybachufer starts.
Well, for me it was always fabled and fabulous, when I first “discovered” it on a visit from the UK. Coming from a medium-sized Northern English town, the variety of fruit, veg and foods on offer was burst of colour. You may find a quiet waterside street on some days, and a thriving market on others.
Generally speaking, the “market days” are Tuesday and Friday from around 11.00 to 18.00. Times vary depending on weather on season – it is usually finished well before nightfall. Nice to look at, and usually there are some good fabric stalls as well
Saturday sees a more Arts &. Crafts market, with ready-made quite nice handmade stuff but no vintage or antiques. Some do veer into tourist tat nowadays, but most stalls are nice to look at, with a slant towards the “alternative” . Things I may have purchased from here are simple silver rings and incense…
For me, the real attraction is the fabrics, as Berlin fabric stores are okay but not amazing for a capital city, and quite procey. Give me Paris or London any time, but there are treasures to be had in Berlin, and the MAybachufer is one of the little fabric treasure islands.
Depending where you meet the Maybachufer, the market may be already there or now. I would say it starts getting quite interesting from the Hobrechtbruecke or the bunch of supermarkets to the eastern section, walking towards the Kottbuser Bruecke with its iconic Ankerklause. If you are crazy enough to come by car, the supermarkets offer a good and safe place for short-term parking – but don’t forget to make a purchase in the supermarket beforehand.
Spending on day, season and weather, you can expect market stalls hundred or two hundred meters after passing the bridge. Before you enter the market area proper, strengthen with a cup of coffee or tea. Unfortunately, the third wave of coffee artistry has sloshed here too, and instead of decent little shops with Neapolitan Espresso you get acidic own roasts in aesthetically pleasing minimalist interiors. Five Elephant across the canal, a 15-minute walk away, is a pleasant exception – I mean, it’s Third Wave but with good coffee and nice cakes, including vegan ones.
The other great snack option is Brammibal’s Donuts, about halfway between the bridges. I really like their Maybachufer shop, it is quite spacious and friendly, and there’s free drinking water. Which is good because the coffee isn’t but the donuts are incredible. Crunchy yet soft, in an array of flavours, not too sweet – and vegan! How can a vegan piece of cake taste so good? Seriously, I think that’s the best vegan cake I ever tasted, and I tasted quite some in Berlin. Sadly, nothing is cheap here, so at nearly 4Euros for a donut it’s a bit of a treat.
But now, the market proper. This is the market on a rather light day – it was summer and holiday season in Berlin, so not too much going on.
As usual, my husband disappears into a cafe and I disappear for an hour. Some time ago, I did have to drag him out there because the second hand clothes seller had some really nice coats. But other than that, it’s fabric shopping galore.
So, what can you get there? Well. The market started out to provide a choice of fabric for Turkish ladies who often sew their own garments or get them sewn. You still find that, a lot of polyester in rather muted colours, along with upholstery fabrics and vinyl tablecloth fabric. Then, there’s a lot of cotton an mystery mixed fibres. See the table below for an example.
The sellers are usually honest and very helpful and tell you what a fabric is made from. I am a little spoilt by Liberty fabrics, to be hones,t but I have, on occasion picked up cheap viscose fabric in inoffensive patterns for something like 3Euro per metre here. But I have also been unlucky when my cotton knit started to get holes here, there and everywhere. Sometimes you find end-of-line fabric from higher-end stores or manufacturers mixed in, too.
And the piece de resistance? Well. Natural fibres and organic fabric, best if it’s both. There is always at least one seller that will have gorgeous organic cottons or linen. Also, as these are very obvioulsy much cheaper than in the shops,, do not expect the latest sewing trends here. On my last visits, I bought some nice double gauze for travel shirts (I remember being it all the rage 5 years ago before arriving in mainstram Germany) and I bought some of this linen. The double gauze was a decent quality and about 6 Euro per metre, the organic linen (really nice feel, heavy but drapey) was 10-12Euro per metre. Oh, and bring a bag. No more plastic bags allowed in German markets.
Hauling my finds away, half walking, half being dragged by a hungry husband, we made our way back to the main road, which is Kottbuser Damm. Just by the bridge (Kottbuser Bruecke) you will spot the famous “Ankerklause” pub. Why is is famous? I have no idea. Well. It’s cheap, it has beer on tap, you can sit outside ans people watch. Somewhat classier than congregating on Admiralbruecke and Hobrechtbruecke with a bottle of beer like Berlin hipsters 10 years ago.
We always end our stroll here with food before we roll home. More often than not, it’s falafel (terrible mess to make at home) and our favourites are Falafel Jacoub and Azzam. If you walk down as far as Azzam, pick up some date cookies in the Manar Bakery opposite. The shop may look like it’s 1970, the quality of the cakes is excellent.
If you cross Kottbuser Damm then turn slightly left into a leafy busy street you come into the next hip area called Graefekiez. More bars, louder, and definitely more touristy than the Kottbuser Damm but quite nice to wander.
Azzam is, by far, my favourite, but may not be to everyones taste. It is a really frantic self-service shop on Sonnenallee, with some spartan seating inside and outdoors (for the smokers), and, of course, it’s dry. They serve meat and vegetarian/vegan dishes and prices are super low. Some friends I brought here thought it lacked atmosphere and criticised the cleanliness. I honestly always found it clean enoughm and inthe twenty-odd times I have eaten here, never got sick. And their hummus is the best in all of Berlin.
But this time… we wanted a break from Middle Eastern food. So we went to Transit, a, well , Thai kind of restaurant that takes inspiration from street food stalls in Southeast Asia.
The style of cooking and the food presentation are, I would say, very Thai. And the food? Oh, delicious. Really fresh ingredients, fresh herbs, definitely a notch or two up from the neighbourhood Thai restaurant. My only regret is that there were not many vegetarian dishes, and if there were, they were, of course, vegan.
But still, from the narrow choice of veggie dishes, we enjoyed what we got a lot.
So here concludes our little walk through the Reuterkiez. Depending on number and duration of pit stops, it will take you approximately two hours. Don’t forget to stock up on roasted nuts, baklava, cookies and fresh produce. If you walk down Kottbuser Damm and into Sonnenallee, you can visit Azzam as well as some nice new coffee shops further down the road. Also, note the Berliner “Eckkneipen” – small neighbourhood pubs, usually on street corners. Classic ones are the Kindl Stuben in Sonnenallee 92 and the Rixdorfer Bierstuben in Erkstrasse 14 further down Sonnenallee. They may serve some food, but basically you come here for the good (usually cheap) local beer, watch football, talk to your mates. Don’t expect much English spoken, although every one will understand “beer”.
The Kottbuser Damm area is an excellent place if you are male and look for a good haircut. The barbers are Turkish and do a nice sharp short men’s cut, nothing fancy but without fail, my husband always looks a lot smarter when he returns from the barber. We’ve been to the Kreuzkoelln Friseur next to the Kottbuser Bridge, and to the Dubai Salon on Sonnenallee 23, both were excellent, with prices about half what we’d pay in our not particularly fancy suburb.
The parallel Karl-Marx-Strasse is more like a mainstream shopping street with bigger shops and grilled chicken joints, not as interesting as Sonnenallee. There isn’t much of interest past the S-Bahn Station (Sonnenallee) so take the circle line train back from here.
If you continue from Hermannplatz along Sonnenallee, it’s a pleasant stroll through a predominantly Middle Eastern area with groceries, cafes (often filled with men) and small snack bars. At Sonnenallee 54 is Azzam, one of the best places to eat hummus. It is rather noisy and spartan, always crowded. Hummus is by far the best dish to have, but the falafel are nice as well. Huge portions, and very cheap. They do a range of meat dishes, too, although I have never tried them. For hummus, my favourite place in Berlin.
A few steps down the road, at Sonnenallee 73, is the Ed and Fred Nussdepot – another roaster of nuts and coffee. If you need a pick me, up, they will serve you an excellent Arabic coffee, too.
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