Though today you will find that typically cool, artsy, “Berlin” vibe in the city’s more easterly neighbourhoods, for decades Schöneberg was THE epicentre of Berlin’s creative underground. And within Schöneberg, Akazienkiez was cool enough to attract such luminaries as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Nick Cave. Today, more and more young people are rediscovering the neighbourhood, so let’s take a stroll around the neighbourhood…
Akazienkiez is located in the northern part of Schöneberg, near the underground station Eisenacher Strasse. It technically comprises the triangle formed by Grunewaldstrasse to the north, Hauptstrasse in the east and Martin-Luther-Strasse in the west though, like all good Kiezes, its boundaries are fiercely contested. While Schöneberg is relatively versatile in terms of rents and people, Akazienkiez has the reputation of being a well-heeled area. The shops are varied and individually designed, and you get the feeling that you are being spared the "Berlin hipsterism".
Though Schöneberg is today somewhat overlooked, it has played a hugely important cultural role in Berlin. The area around Nollendorfplatz has been a centre of gay life in the city since the Weimar Republic, and was particularly influential in the 1920s and early ‘30s. The Eldorado on Motzstrasse was an infamous cabaret bar, featuring regular performances by the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Claire Waldoff and the Weintraub Syncopators, and was widely known to be a regular venue for transvestites and transsexuals. The Eldorado was (unsurprisingly) closed down by the Nazis on coming to power in 1933, yet its influence and legacy were vast. The British author Christopher Isherwood lived just around the corner on Nollendorfstrasse, and his experiences at the Eldorado formed the basis for his book Goodbye to Berlin and later the musical and film Cabaret (1972).
It was conversations with Isherwood, whom he met while living in Los Angeles, that convinced a drug-addled David Bowie to move to Berlin, and specifically to Schöneberg. Though Isherwood lived slightly to the north of Akazienkiez, Bowie chose an apartment on Hauptstrasse (no.155, specifically) and moved in with friend, collaborator and fellow recovering degenerate Iggy Pop in 1976. The pair loved the city for its relative anonymity, allowing them to move around freely and enjoy themselves without being pestered. This led to a creative rejuvenation for both, and they made some of the best music of either’s career (“Heroes”, The Passenger, Lust for Life…), before leaving the city two years later.
Supposedly one of Bowie’s favourite bars, Café M was one of the epicentres of wild Berlin in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It was where everyone who thought Kreuzberg was too dirty and grimy celebrated, undeterred by the legendary unfriendliness of the staff. Blixa Bargeld and Nick Cave were regulars, and even today there seem to be people who have almost never left the bar since 1985.
Continuing the area’s contribution to Berlin’s musical and cultural life, on the corner of Eisenacher Strasse and Grunewaldstrasse, where the café Salt ‘n’ Sweet is today, the legendary club Turbine Rosenheim stood for several years. Opened in 1986 by Love Parade founder Dr Motte, at first the club played a variety of sounds before settling on acid house in summer ‘88. Soon the club was bursting at the seams (not difficult considering the dance floor was overcrowded with 15 people on it…) and the Turbine moved on to Glogauer Strasse in Kreuzberg.
So, what is Akazienkiez actually like today, long after the days of cabaret, Bowie or acid house? In short – diverse, relaxed and extremely liveable.
The north and west of Schöneberg were severely damaged by air raids during the Second World War; approximately one third of the housing stock was lost. Around Akazienkiez, however, there are still many houses dating from the Gründerzeit, Germany’s “founders’ period” in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. As you stroll around the neighbourhood, don't forget to look up from time to time, as many houses in Akazienstrasse are now classified as historical monuments. The perfect place to get an idea of this is the corner with Vorbergstrasse; the buildings on both corners are beautiful examples of the Historicist inclinations of Gründerzeit architecture.
Directly opposite is the beautiful Church of St. Paul the Apostle. The three-towered hall church was severely damaged in the war, though it was repaired by 1949. However, the stunning stained-glass windows miraculously survived unscathed. These days, regular jazz and world music concerts are held in the church.
Speaking of churches, there is an interesting cluster in the south of Akazienkiez, on the corner of Dominicusstrasse and Hauptstrasse. The pretty, traditional village church of Schöneberg is contrasted by two huge, concrete, Brutalist examples. The Protestant Paul Gerhardt Church was originally one of the few pure Art Nouveau churches in Berlin, before its destruction in the war. The new church was built between 1958 and 1962 by the architect Hermann Fehling, and is a superb example of the unusual juxtaposition of our expectations of a church and the reality of Brutalism’s raw concrete. Fehling was also responsible for the new construction of the Catholic St. Norbert Church next door. This was also damaged during the war, but not as badly. However, after the war it stood in the way of the extension of Dominicusstrasse, and so the northern half was demolished. A part of the original Byzantine-style circular building was integrated into the new building, providing an interesting contrast within the building itself, and exemplifying the tension amongst the group as a whole.
Away from ecclesiastical architecture, Akazienkiez is more than well served for more earthly pleasures, namely shopping, eating and drinking. The overriding characteristic in the neighbourhood is vitality. There are many cafés, pubs and restaurants, shops selling arts and crafts, antiquarian bookshops, design shops and clothing stores. The streets are full even during the week and the cafés are always well frequented. The population are comfortable city dwellers, easy-going but open and curious.
Just like the neighbourhood itself, the culinary offer is colourful and diverse. You can find authentic Korean cuisine at Ixthys, Mediterranean delicacies at Meyan, brunch at Gasthaus Gottlob, or fancy hot dog variations at the Hot Dog Laden.
Akazienkiez may be less well known than other neighbourhoods, it may be less hip and less fashionable. Yet it is dynamic, endlessly changeable, sometimes perhaps a touch more conventional, but almost entirely without pretention or posturing. It is home to an array of people of all ages, persuasions and social classes, who peacefully coexist. In short, it is a very liveable part of Berlin, and you should definitely consider spending some time here.
Some Akazienkiez Highlights
Weekly Market at Winterfeldtplatz
Berlin's largest weekly market, where you can find everything from food to household goods and clothing. A visit to the market is especially worthwhile on Saturday.
Anything but a secret tip, Double Eye has achieved cult status for its baristas and their coffee.
Ich bin ein Berliner...
At Schöneberg Town Hall, you can view the balcony where, in June 1963, US President John F Kennedy uttered these immortal words.
Don't forget to look up from time to time, many houses in Akazienstrasse are now classified as historical monuments.
Jones Ice Cream
The best ice cream in town. Whether it's Salted Butter Caramel, Matcha Green Tea or Lemon & Mint, everything here is made from natural ingredients.