It’s true that big things come in small packages. In recent years, Friedrichshain has been experiencing a rapid redevelopment phase that has brought new life into this once delapitated district with a bleak future. Today, people from near and far are drawn to this hip and popular neighborhood, which encompasses the many faces that give this slice of Berlin a unique flair.
History 101—Sightseeing in Friedrichshain
Although the fall of the Berlin Wall occurred in the autumn of 1989, the longest stretch of it remains along the shore of the Spree River. In 1990 over one hundred artists from 24 countries were invited to come and express themselves on this city’s most imposing piece of history. The results of their visionary creations on a 1300-meter concrete canvas brought the East Side Gallery to life. Since then, millions of visitors have passed by to admire works of art, including Test the Best, portraying a GDR Trabant breaking through the Wall, and the Mortal Kiss, featuring a lip-locked Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev.
Across the street from the world’s longest open-air gallery, another city symbol stands proud: the Oberbaumbrücke. Crafted in red brickwork, tiles and turrets, this bridge of exceptional architecture, which was completed in 1896, spans the Spree River and links Friedrichshain with the western Berlin district of Kreuzberg. During the dark days of the Cold War, it also served as a border checkpoint for Berliners between East and West.
Looking east from under the archways of the Oberbaumbrücke, the Molecule Man stands 30 meters upon the water amid the Media Spree development project. Designed by American artist Jonathan Borofky, the towering aluminum sculpture marks the meeting point of three Berlin districts (Friedrichshain, Treptow and Kreuzberg).
For a taste of Stalinistic neo-classisism architecture on a grand scale, take a quick trip on the M10 tram to Frankfurter Tor. The busy boulevard of Karl-Marx-Alle, previously known as Stalin Allee until his death, used to herald in the red-flag-waving May Day and 7 October celebrations during communist rule. Nowadays, it ushers in commuters from the eastern districts to the heart of the city. The monumental edifices, which line this avenue formerly dubbed the „Ku-damm of the East,“ reflect the „Stalinistic gingerbread style“ of the socialist architectural movment of the 1950s.
Berlin Cafés, Bars and Restaurants, Oh My!
To experience a plethora of tantalizing menus for every pallate and craving, Simon-Dach-Strasse, whose rhythm pulsates through the center of the district and radiates to other streets that intersect its cobbled path, showcases restaurants that offer local and international cuisine. Bars beckon patrons to enter and quench their thirst, and cafés create a sought-after cozy atmosphere. To sample a bar with hints of the former GDR, Die Tagung, located on Wühlischstrasse, fits the bill.
Sonntagstrasse, which leads to the S-bahn station of Ostkreuz, is a nice alternative to what may seem to be too many tourists on Simon-Dach-Strasse during the summer months. Offering a nice neighborhood feel, the street is also lined with restaurants, cafés and bars that are worth visiting.
Friedrichshain Nightlife for Nightowls
For the die-hard party-goers, who are energized for the night and ache to feel the vibrating sounds of Berlin’s techno and house music scene in their souls, a venture out in Friedrichshain’s nightlife is the place to be.
Like moths to a flame, clubbers are drawn to the thumping treble and bass of the Berghain and Panorama Bar. Eagerly queuing up in hopes of being let in by finicky doormen, lines of people form before midnight and still stand strong until the early morning hours.
As an alternate, The Matrix, located at U-bahn station Warschauerstrasse, offers three separate rooms with DJs who turn out techno, hip hop and music from the 80s. A younger crowd generally frequents this club, but a mix of age groups can still be found cutting a rug there, as well.
Other Weekend Tips
A hotel stay at the Ostel for a splash of “DDR Ostgalgie.” Take a gander at the treasure trove found at the flea market in Boxhagener Platz on Saturday morning. Then go for a coffee and a slice of cake at Café Sibylle, located on Karl-Marx-Alle, and experience a dose of original GDR.
Enjoy a tasty Sunday brunch on Simon-Dach-Strasse, then hop on the M10 tram to the Volkspark Friedrichshain. A leisurely stroll through this green oasis in the middle of the city will top off a perfect weekend.
In a city that is always reinventing itself, each of Berlin’s 16 districts offer their own distinct panache. And Friedrichshain is one of the best.