Exploring Berlin: Pankow and Kreuzberg

April 04, 2013

Our latest Berlin trip was mostly about getting Bailey there to get her take, but we also went with the intention of expanding our Berlin neighborhood knowledge. For those of you unfamiliar with the city, it is massive. Like many other big cities, it has many different neighborhoods, each with its own greatly differing vibe - from busy, touristy Mitte to the quiet, spread-out surburbia that makes up the city's outskirts, so far out it's hard to believe that one is still in fact, in Berlin. After our initial trip, we fell in love with Prenzlauer Berg, but our apartment search has shown us that this neighborhood is definitely desirable - and has the rent prices prove it. A firm believer in the adages 'you get what you pay for' and 'location, location, location', I was admittedly hesitant to widen our search to other, as-of-yet unexplored parts of town in search of getting more for our money, but off we went with open minds...


Our second full day in Berlin, we decided Bailey was ready give a longer train ride - U-Bahn and S-Bahn - out to Pankow a shot, mostly in search of a new coffee shop with amazing-looking baked goods that I had learned about via someone I follow on Instagram (have I mentioned how much I love Instagram?). While Bailey certainly appreciated the less-crowded and view-filled ride on the S-Bahn, the time it took to get all the way out there got us thinking... That's how long it would take to get into the middle of town if we wanted to go out. Hmm.  

Sure, it took a while to get out there, but our arrival at the ridiculously beautiful Pankow station and initial wanderings through the neighborhood had us changing our tune. The buildings were all gorgeous and well-taken care of. Graffiti was minimal. It actually reminded us a bit of Wiesbaden, with a slower pace about it and the sidewalks filled with small children and older couples. After making our way through a little park and past the most gorgeous Rathaus I have seen in Germany, we found our destination: Stück vom Glück

Initially worried we would have to get everything zum Mitnehmen and eat out in the cold, on account of our overly-excitable dog, a peek inside showed a wide open space with minimal patrons that would be perfect for our not-always-so-well-behaved pooch. While not quite the sprawling food choices one might find in an American shop, the carefully curated selection proved to be delicious. We got something savory - a warm vegetarian quiche with a beautiful salad - and something sweet - a perfectly crunchy blueberry tart with fresh cream - and were quite impressed with both. The coffee was some of the best I've had in Berlin, the space was well-designed and inviting (the white and hot pink walls fondly reminded me of my mother's frozen yogurt shop, painted in the very same color scheme) and best of all, the proprietors were warm and full of smiles. No matter where we end up settling in this city, this is definitely a place I look forward to frequenting. 

Sufficiently warmed and fed, we headed towards nearby parks to feed our four-legged family member's need for running and exploring. Per usual, we were impressed. The amount of space in Berlin dedicated parks never ceases to astound me. It's as if there is NYC's Central Park every few blocks. Not only are they abundant, but they seem to go on and on, to the point of getting lost in them. I think this was what won Bailey over in this city.

We decided to spend some more time exploring the neighborhood by walking to an even bigger park several blocks further out - which ended up resembling more of a forest than an urban green space - taking us through a picture-perfect suburban-looking part of town. While the yards were enviable and the wide, quiet streets held a kind of serenity, it just felt a bit like what we were trying to get away from. Ultimately, we want to live in Berlin to be in the middle of all the things going on, not to rediscover the suburbia we left behind in California. 


We decided to stay in Kreuzberg this trip because of it's proximity to both Tempelhof and Viktoriapark, for Bailey's sake. We knew such a big city would be a bit of a shock to her, so we figured easing her in, rather than plopping her right down in Mitte, would be the best plan to win her over. We stopped at Tempelhof first thing after getting into the city so that Bailey could get out the pent-up energy from five hours in the car. She was an immediate fan. It was the first time she had been able to roam free in a fenced in dog area since leaving California. The first morning, we began by walking to Viktoriapark, which was of course a winter wonderland on this first full day of spring, with the fresh dumping of snow the city was getting. Like most places after a heavy snowfall, it was hushed and magical, so we felt the neighborhood was off to a good start.  

The more we walked around Kreuzberg though, the more we started to see the reason behind its 'up-and-coming' status. Some blocks were beautiful - clean, well-kept architecture, nice-looking people - whereas some blocks were much more dingy, with layers of overlapping graffiti, broken sidewalks and storefronts that were merely cardboard boxes piled on the sidewalk with chintzy wares (the antique doorknobs below were a rare exception) like some sort of third-world market. It's one thing to have these as parts of the city to visit, but it's another to have it right on your doorstep. Being so new to the city, it was hard to know where the respectable addresses end, and the decline begins...

Our final morning in Berlin, I got a hankering for doughnuts - real, American doughnuts, not Berliners - after realizing Dunkin' Donuts populated this city in abundance, so we make the trek down Gneisenaustrasse and Hasenheide in the bone-chilling, -6C windy morning air - albeit, beautifully sunny - to grab coffee, doughnuts (which like most American treats I crave, wound up being mildly disappointing) and a place at the nearby Hasenheide park to enjoy our breakfast in the sun. 

While the park was a beautiful expanse of white beneath the shining blue sky, and even had a surprising little menagerie whose inhabitants ranged from sheep to ponies to camels, there was something about that part of town that morning that turned us off. Perhaps it was the shady-looking guys outposted at each path crossroads, trying to look inconspicuous, or maybe the dirty, slurring trio of guys who tried to reach out to Bailey as we walked past, one of them cleaning his bloodied hands in the snow, but these negative elements made us feel that this neighborhood was still a bit on the other side of transitioning for our liking. There's a fine line between a little city grit and being stabbed in broad daylight, and this seemed to hold more of an opportunity for the latter. 

Of course, like Pankow, just because we might not want to settle here does not mean we didn't find things to love. There was a street of charming shops with promising-looking contents and a bakery containing the best bread I've ever had in Germany. The unassuming storefront, the giant domed bread oven in the corner, the selection of not only dense, dark German bread, but white fluffy loaves and brioches... I knew this would be worth traveling to for weekend morning breakfast makings. I will continue to dream about the brioche french toast I made from that bread until I can get back for another loaf...

Until next time Berlin.... We'll see you in May!

Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische