Many people say that Berlin is the home of subculture, and it’s hard to deny it. There’s an abundance of alternative things to do in Berlin that some might call quirky and weird, but each one is highly entertaining.
We love subculture, purely because it’s so different to what’s expected and we’re always keen to learn from our locally-based friends what new things there are to do.
Over the past few years we’ve been lucky enough to spend long periods of time in the city and have visited many of the alternative attractions and done many of the different things to do.
We never have enough time to try them all – even our friends never have enough time to do them all, and they live there! – but we always try and tick off something each time we’re in town.
Of them all, here are our favourite fifteen that we think you’ll love as much as we do.
1. Join the Berlin Graffiti Tour and Workshop
For over two years Franca and I had a burning desire to join the graffiti tour and workshop organised by Alternative Berlin, but due to a combination of work, procrastination — and the small fact that there’s so much happening in Berlin — there’s always something else happening the same day so we’d never got around to trying it.
Thankfully in the summer of 2015 we got to join in the fun.
The walking tour consists of a walk around Kreuzberg, the neighbourhood with the most graffiti covered walls of any part of the city. We walked past works by Obey, Pussy, and the immediately recognisable Astronaut by Victor Ash; all the while learning about the incredible rise of graffiti and street art culture in Berlin.
As a graffiti writer, our tour guide gave an incredible insight into how the community cooperates together and how there are a number of unwritten rules that forbid the covering of certain types of work.
At a small extra charge there’s also a graffiti workshop where the tour ends in which the expert team instruct and guide people on the tour how to cut out their stencils, how to prep the work, and how best to spray paint it.
It was a blast! Neither of us have every done graffiti before and it was a really eye opening experience. Maybe you might start seeing the works of DL+FRNC (our names without vowels!) in every destination we visit from now on.
2. Shop at Berlin’s OTHER Vintage Market
At one time the flea market at Mauerpark was loved and adored by locals, but today the park is fast becoming an area to avoid.
Thousands of tourists flock to the unique vintage market every weekend and the number of people visiting is having an effect on the market itself. It’s less about what bargain goodies you might find by chance, instead it’s more about what vintage replicas you can find and what new fashionable design stalls are open.
A number of locals we trust told us that it’s best avoided altogether. Instead, they’re heading to other flea markets like the one at Revaler Strasse to pick up something genuinely interesting, and possibly cheap too.
RAW Flohmarket may be smaller than its more famous counterpart, but it feels far more genuine and it’s full of interesting items, clothes, and collectables.
3. Compare East and West Berlin Architecture
Long-time readers of this blog will know that we’ve a keen interest in architecture, so when we were offered the chance to try an architecture tour of Berlin we didn’t think twice.
Context Travel are doing tours differently. They only employ experts from the related interest field of the tour to guide the small groups of a maximum of six people, meaining that every person gets individual attention and their questions answered.
Our tour compared the differences between the architecture built in East Berlin and West Berlin following the war and the construction of the wall.
Rather than being hustled between the usual sites with an earphone plugged into one ear we had the divided attention of our expert guide who explained each significant Soviet-era building along Karl-Marx-Allee, and why the choices of architect in the western housing area of Hansaviertel were intended to outshine the quality of their Soviet/GDR counterparts.
MORE INFO: Book an Architecture Walking Tour of Berlin
4. See Hitler’s Plan for Berlin
I love history. I wish I’d opted to study it at school rather than geography; but hindsights always great, right?
One of the first fascinations for me about Berlin was the more recent history, especially around World War II. I’m probably not the first tourist to the city to be interested in knowing more about the city under Nazi rule, and I’m probably not the last.
One great alternative thing to do in Berlin that sheds some light on the changes the city saw over the 1930’s and 40’s is the Mythos Germania exhibition organised by expert tour guides, Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underground).
The group run a number of tours under the city through forgotten bunkers and the dark tunnels that connect them all. With the Germania exhibition they showcase hundreds of pictures of Berlin prior to the destruction and reconstruction efforts Hitler ordered as part of his dream plan for the city.
There’s also an enormous actualised model of how the city might have looked had the dictator had his way.
MORE INFO: Details of the ‘Mythos Germania’ Exhibition
5. Invite Yourself to a Local’s for Dinner
We’ve become foodies since going vegan. We’re always keen to know what to eat in Berlin, and thankfully we’ve found a great many restaurants to try.
Sometimes we like to try something different and there’s nothing more alternative to the usual restaurants in Berlin than going to a local’s house for dinner.
Organised via the ‘airbnb for food‘ website Bonappetour, we met with a local expat Pete who put on an incredible day for us.
We started with a quick drink and some vegan pastries at our meeting point, spent the next hour walking around the best fresh food market in Berlin (see number 13), and ended the day by going back to Pete’s apartment for a menu he’d specifically tailored for our diet.
It was outstanding. We had a five star-worthy meal with great company. The whole day was really interesting, and the insight of knowing more about what moving to Berlin full-time is like was fascinating too.
If there’s one unique experience from our latest time in Berlin that we’d like to replicate elsewhere, it’s dining with locals.
MORE INFO: Enjoy a meal with a local near you
6. Retreat for Yoga in Berlin
There are so many different things to do in Berlin that no matter what you’re into, there will be at least one place where you can enjoy it.
During our stay at the Essentis Biohotel on our last visit we learned more of how widespread and loved yoga is within the city. There are hundreds of great locations in Berlin to practice the relaxing exercise of the discipline, but what we loved about Essentis is that they’ve made yoga workshops and wellness the cornerstone of their service.
During our stay there was one workshop taking place full of people of all ages who – whenever we saw them – looked blissful and at peace.
If ever there was somewhere we’d like to start doing yoga, we both think this would be it.
7. Wander Around Volkspark Wuhlheide
Most people know Mauerpark. Several people know Treptower Park because of the Soviet Memorial.
Not many people know of Wuhlheide.
Less than five minutes away from the hotel above there is the fantastic green space tourists rarely visit called Volkspark Wuhlheide, which Franca and I both fell in love with. It’s a large wooded park that you could wonder around for hours between the tall trees and past the open fields.
It’s perfect for those who want somewhere to run. Quiet enough for those in need of a moment of peace from the centre of the city. It’s also incredibly fun for kids too as the heart of the woods is a place called FEZ Berlin, a large recreation centre that’s surrounded by all the things to do that kids love.
Most interesting of all is the restored train that rolls back and forth over grass covered tracks.
MORE INFO: Details for Wuhlheide Park
8. Take An Alternative Walking Tour of Berlin
There are several walking tours in the capital and we’ve tried a few of them, but by far the most quirky is the Alternative Berlin Free Tour organised by the same team who put on the graffiti tour and workshop.
Showcasing the unusual life of subculture Berlin, the tour winds around and past several highlights that most guides miss out. There are artist’s squats, skateparks, art projects, abandoned buildings, street art, and wild stories that bring them all together.
If sightseeing the unusual sights of Berlin sounds more interesting to you, this tour is perfect.
9. Learn at the Topography of Terror
The first time we visited Berlin together the space on which this unique historical museum is now built was completely bare. There was nothing more than rubble and a boarded off area next to remnants of the Berlin Wall.
Several years later and one of the Berlin’s most fascinating museums now stands there.
The Topography of Terror is built on the same space where the Gestapo and SS headquarters were once located. The museum sets to document and educate through photographs and documentation how the country was examined through a microscope of repression and terror by the secret services of the National Socialist government.
The museum is increasingly becoming a necessary stop for all the school groups that visit the city and we’d both encourage every tourist to consider it. It’s an insightful alternative to some of the more regular museums that can be found on Museumsinsel and elsewhere.
MORE INFO: More details from the Topography of Terror
10. See the Former Luftwaffe HQ
Directly opposite to the above museum is an unusual building that is designed unlike any other in the centre of Berlin.
We learned about the history of the current home to the German Finance Ministry through one of the free walking tours we took on our first visit together. Looking at it with the guide’s explanation it all makes sense. The building was headquarters to Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe (Air Force).
Due to a combination of blanket bombing by allied forces and the Battle of Berlin which destroyed much of what was left of the city, there are very few buildings that remain in the centre that were built by the Nazi government of that time, making this large intimidating building all the more interesting.
Not every sightseeing tour mentions the former headquarters, so for some it’s certainly an alternative attraction, even if a little macabre.
MORE INFO: History of the former Luftwaffe headquarters
11. Buy a Classic at the Book Market
It’s not large, but the Book Market next to the Bode Museum is very special.
We found the market by accident with the first hour of our first visit together one cold February weekend when we had no idea where we were going or what was around the next corner. What we found was the weekend market where many great German and international classics can be found.
It’s not especially alternative, but the market is quite different to the flea markets that people tend to prefer visiting whilst in Berlin.
What we loved about it is how loved the books all looked and how people treated them as they picked them up from the tables.
Even more interesting was our learning later that the market is only a few moments walk away from Bebelplatz, the scene of the Nazi book burnings in 1933, and where a touching memorial to the 20,000 burned books is located.
12. Have Fun at Clarchens Ballhaus
We only stopped by the Clarchens Ballhaus dance hall once, but what we saw in those short few minutes was outstanding.
The noise and sound of so many happy with the music of the in-house band as a soundtrack in the background was contagious. People were pouring in and out of the entrance way to the restaurant on the ground floor and from the stairway that leads to the dance-rooms upstairs and we both wanted to be a part of it.
The feeling is fully nostalgic. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to eat and have fun at an old fashioned cabaret, then this classic revitalised dance hall is a must visit.
MORE INFO: Official Clarchens Ballhaus Website (German)
13. Devour Exotic Food at the Turkish Market
We visited this exotic food-filled market that runs along the Landwehrkanal in Neukolln during our Bonappetour experience and loved every stall we saw.
Almost every stall is filled with fresh fruit and veg, organic produce, imported sweets and treats, and enough Turkish bread to fill the both of us a hundred times over.
If you’d prefer your food to be fresh and with a fuller flavour that the supermarkets nearby, then a visit to the Turkish Market is a must.
MORE INFO: Official Turkish Market Website
14. Enjoy a Drink at the Urban Spree
No alternative guide to Berlin would ever be complete without a mention of the subculture haven of Urban Spree.
A combination of art space, night club, and outdoor drinking area; the Urban Spree is always full of people and paints of all colour that decorate every surface. The outside of the building is repainted as the theme of the current exhibition changes and is typically designed by the same artist or studio of artists the show is about.
The outdoor area is incredibly popular with locals who will sit around the outdoor bar under the lights until the area closes some time way after midnight.
Many of the best pub crawls in Berlin mention this place, but not all pass by. If you’re thinking of enjoying what hipster and alternative culture is like in the city, then this great place is a perfect place to start.
MORE INFO: Official Urban Spree Website
15. Eat a Vegan Doner Kebab
To some Berlin = Kebab. They’re not wrong.
The kebab is one of the most loved fast foods in the city and buying one has become part of the ritual for many visitors to the city recently, as well as a plate of currywurst.
For veggies enjoying either fast food dish is not exactly easy to do, but it is possible.
At the vegan kebab restaurant Vöner there’s arguably the best vegan kebab available anywhere. We’ve only tried a few (all of them in Germany), but none of them matched the spicy-bite the Voner Kebab has.
We love this place. Sometimes we’d eat there twice a week. Sometimes we’d eat there twice in a day. That’s how good it is.
If you’re looking for an alternative bit to eat in Berlin, this should be the first place on your list.
MORE INFO: Read our review of Vöner in Berlin
Plenty More To See
Clearly Berlin is deserving of all the love and attention it receives from the international alternative community, and during the time you’ve read this maybe a dozen or more new and interesting things to do have been created in the city.
Don’t forget you can find more tips on how to stay cheaper and for longer inside our Slow Travel Guide to Berlin – and if you know of any more alternative or free things to do, we’d love to read them in the comments!
Which of these things would YOU like to do?