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This is my Berlin: Discover Prenzlauer Berg With me

by Silke Elzner

If you have followed this blog a little bit you may be wondering why I ended up living in Berlin again. You may also wonder why I came to leave it in the first place. And lastly, maybe you are also a little bit curious about how life is like in Berlin and where we eventually did find a new home.

Let me take you around my neighbourhood Prenzlauer Berg and show you its beautiful and sometimes quirky sites. Maybe after reading this article and seeing the 20+ photos you will understand why I couldn’t help but fall in love with Berlin again and why I though that moving the family here would be a good idea.

Kollwitzstrasse is probably one of the most appealing streets in Prenzlauer Berg. Rents have skyrocketed in the last 10 years and not many people can afford to live here anymore.

Kollwitzstrasse is probably one of the most appealing streets in Prenzlauer Berg. Rents have skyrocketed in the last 10 years and not many people can afford to live here anymore.

Prologue: This is why we left Berlin in the First Place

14 years ago my husband and I were newly married and we lived in Berlin. I studied at uni and was about to graduate, and he was working at a big international firm. When the opportunity came up to move to Sydney, Australia for two years it was mostly a winter decision which made us apply for the role on the other side of the world. A no commitment opportunity for a new adventure, a chance to chase the sun and to live life on a beach. Little did we know that we would fall in love with the Sydney lifestyle and that we would get stuck there (read: we fell in love with that place).

After 13 years, however, I felt that something was missing from our life. Sydney was nice but all too familiar. We needed another sea-change. And so we moved to Spain, for no other reason than that I loved Spain as a child and had fond holiday memories from there. We moved to the very south, to Andalusia, and had an exciting time there. Lots of sunshine, wonderful culture, great food, amazing landscapes. But I couldn’t settle in. My Spanish was not good enough, and we were surrounded by lots of retirees from Northern Europe and Spanish families who led an offline life.

So when we went to Berlin for a Christmas holiday last year I couldn’t help but feel extreme homesickness kicking in. The broad avenues with the century-old houses, the street art, the little shops, the sound of the underground… It felt like coming home and I didn’t want to leave again.

In the end, we decided to return to Berlin. It makes me feel better to know that we live close to our families, and that the children learn a little bit about the German culture. I trust the German school system and I want the kids to have a good start in life. Speaking German and meeting lots of people from all over the world took me out of my bitter isolation that I experienced in Spain, and mentally I feel much better know.

Return of the Cows in Dietrich-Bonhoeffer-Strasse is a well-known public artwork in Prenzlauer Berg. It was created by Sergej Dott.

Return of the Cows in Dietrich-Bonhoeffer-Strasse is a well-known public artwork in Prenzlauer Berg. It was created by Sergej Dott.

The Honeymoon Phase of Being Back in Berlin

When I was younger I would listen to a band from London called Suede. Their music was a lot about living in London, that big city full of contrast and opportunity and drama. The singer and songwriter captured beautifully the romance of living in this big anonymous place, walking the busy streets and imagining the lives of the people around him. This is how I experience Berlin as well.

Only yesterday, a sunny and warm afternoon, I walked the busy streets of my neighbourhood Prenzlauer Berg, where people would sit in the sidewalk cafes and children would play in the parks. I got a kick out of looking at the belle-epoque houses, some of them with original stucco and the faded paint of a business sign on the walls. I listened to the street musicians, looked at the artwork on the houses, read the random notes on signposts, listen to the many languages spoken around me. I walked and walked for two hours and it just felt good.

We were lucky in finding a good place to live in Berlin. We are located in Prenzlauer Berg, a beautiful inner city suburb with lots of old houses that have been restored to their former glory. The streets are leafy and have cobblestones, and there are many families with young children who care about their neighbourhood. Only this weekend, I spent all day with a group of volunteers cleaning up the square in our neighbourhood, Arnswalder Platz, just so that the community can enjoy this great space.

Look at this cool balcony. Germans generally take pride in their apartments and they love to decorate them to feel homely and comfortable. Some people like to take it to the extreme, but I love it.

Look at this cool balcony. Germans generally take pride in their apartments and they love to decorate them to feel homely and comfortable. Some people like to take it to the extreme, but I love it.

The Story of Prenzlauer Berg

To understand the appeal of Prenzlauer Berg, my suburb in Berlin, you have to go back to its beginnings. The quarter was a planned part of the city that came into being at the turn of the 19th century. Just like in many other parts of Berlin, whole blocks of houses sprung up with a mix of different standards of living that attracted a very mixed population.

Depending on what you could afford you would live in the same house but on a different level – the belle-etage (ground floor) being the priciest option, the apartment under the roof the cheapest. You could also differentiate between the house facing the street and the house in the backyard or the houses in the wings – they all shared the same address but they paid a different rent.

Prenzlauer Berg today is posh and trendy. This is a typical scene on a random Sunday afternoon. I always feel I need to dress up to blend in with the crowd.

Prenzlauer Berg today is posh and trendy. This is a typical scene on a random Sunday afternoon. I always feel I need to dress up to blend in with the crowd.

Today, times have changed. After years of neglect these buildings have undergone a renaissance, and many young families moved in to give new life to the beautiful apartments. Just like in the old days, they value the large windows, the high ceilings (some of them up to 4.5 metres high!), the stucco, the elaborately carved door frames. Now that the houses are restored, living in them has become costly, gentrification has kicked in. When you walk around Prenzlauer Berg these days you will see mostly people that are well off. Young couples and families that frequent the many cafes and restaurants, have picnics in the parks, eat ice-cream on the benches. It’s a peaceful and relaxed setting, a bit like a fairytale.

We do not live in an old house though, but we were lucky to move into a brand-new apartment in a house that was added to a courtyard of an existing house. The apartment has a modern floorpan, underfloor heating, a balcony overlooking a schoolyard. It is comfortable and quiet, and we love every bit of it.

Two beautiful belle-epoque buildings in my neighbourhood. Not just the fresh paint has given these houses new life.

Two beautiful belle-epoque buildings in my neighbourhood. Not just the fresh paint has given these houses new life.

A Walk Around Prenzlauer Berg

Even though Berlin is a big city, you cannot help but feel that it is divided up into smaller parts. These neighbourhoods are called “Kiez” and they roughly centre around a bigger street with shops and restaurants or around a central square or park. Prenzlauer Berg, even though sort of them same vibe and the same crowd, is made up of a number of these kiezes, and some people hardly ever leave theirs.

Prenzlauer Berg is widely known as the area of Berlin with the most families. Its epicentre can be found around Kollwitzplatz, hence the name Kollwitzkiez. It is probably by far the most charming part of Prenzlauer Berg, the one with the most relaxed vibe and the most expensive housing. The other areas are called, for example, Winsviertel (with some good restaurants), and the area where I live which is around Arnswalder Platz (Bötzowkiez).

My photo walk will explain some of the particular features of this area and will hopefully illustrate what I think is the most beautiful thing about Berlin: the exciting mix of culture, history, innovation, interpretation, and creativity. Enjoy!

Photos of Prenzlauer Berg 2018

The former water tower is today a converted apartment building. It is located in a park which is now used as a playground but during the Nazi regime this was the site of one of the first concentration camps for the political opposition.

The former water tower is today a converted apartment building. It is located in a park which is now used as a playground but during the Nazi regime this was the site of one of the first concentration camps for the political opposition.

Water pumps can be found all around Berlin. They are remains of a time when most households would not have running water. Since Berlin is basically built on sand and groundwater, it is very easy to install these pumps.

Water pumps can be found all around Berlin. They are remains of a time when most households would not have running water. Since Berlin is basically built on sand and groundwater, it is very easy to install these pumps.

Neighbours taking care of their neighbourhood. This tree was planted by children of a local primary school.

Neighbours taking care of their neighbourhood. This tree was planted by children of a local primary school.

Some street trees in Berlin carry fruit. So far we've seen pears, cherries and these strange fruits that look like apples - probably they are custard apples?

Some street trees in Berlin carry fruit. So far we’ve seen pears, cherries and these strange fruits that look like apples – probably they are custard apples?

Street art is not such a big thing in Prenzlauer Berg as gentrification killed this kind of artistic outburst. If you do see it around it's because of a wider strategy like this marketing concept of a store.

Street art is not such a big thing in Prenzlauer Berg as gentrification killed this kind of artistic outburst. If you do see it around it’s because of a wider strategy like this marketing concept of a store.

Loved this little sticker on a pole in the middle of a road.

Loved this little sticker on a pole in the middle of a road.

The carefully preserved business entrance to a former business in the basement of a posh apartment house. It proves that tradespeople, upper class and working class lived under the same roof in Berlin.

The carefully preserved business entrance to a former business in the basement of a posh apartment house. It proves that tradespeople, upper class and working class lived under the same roof in Berlin.

The area I live in is a planned neighbourhood with quiet side streets that are interconnected by these broad avenues. This setup keeps through traffic out and ensures that the streets inside the kiez are quiet with a high quality of life.

The area I live in is a planned neighbourhood with quiet side streets that are interconnected by these broad avenues. This setup keeps through traffic out and ensures that the streets inside the kiez are quiet with a high quality of life.

The Planetarium is one of the reasons people from outside would want to come to Prenzlauer Berg. There are regular shows about space and the stars.

The Planetarium is one of the reasons people from outside would want to come to Prenzlauer Berg. There are regular shows about space and the stars.

A random note on a pole. It reads: "You are much better than perfect! You are incredibly beautiful." Part of the "You are better than perfect" campaign initiated by Jens.

A random note on a pole. It reads: “You are much better than perfect! You are incredibly beautiful.” Part of the “You are better than perfect” campaign initiated by Jens.

Another friendly note on a street pole. This one reads: "You are much better than perfect. When I see confetti somewhere I always have to think of you."

Another friendly note on a street pole. This one reads: “You are much better than perfect. When I see confetti somewhere I always have to think of you.”

People playing music in the park next to the Planetarium. It is these spontaneous meet-ups with lots of creativity that I love about this city.

People playing music in the park next to the Planetarium. It is these spontaneous meet-ups with lots of creativity that I love about this city.

A detail on one of the old apartment houses. Most older style buildings in Prenzlauer Berg were built in the belle-epoque style and they come with nice little features like this.

A detail on one of the old apartment houses. Most older style buildings in Prenzlauer Berg were built in the belle-epoque style and they come with nice little features like this.

One of the many leafy cobblestone streets in my neighbourhood. It's a different picture in winter, of course, when all the leaves are gone, but right now the city looks beautiful.

One of the many leafy cobblestone streets in my neighbourhood. It’s a different picture in winter, of course, when all the leaves are gone, but right now the city looks beautiful.

This is our local library. It is housed in a former teacher's home of the nearby school and comes with squeaky floorboards and the smell of old linoleum.

This is our local library. It is housed in a former teacher’s home of the nearby school and comes with squeaky floorboards and the smell of old linoleum.

A faded business sign which was spared the recent renovation of the building. A dairy retailer used to own a business here.

A faded business sign which was spared the recent renovation of the building. A dairy retailer used to own a business here.

There are tons of good playgrounds in the area, one of the reasons why families choose to live in Prenzlauer Berg. I missed that our kids could not meet up randomly with other kids from the neighbourhood while we lived in Australia. Now it's a whole new experience, and they spontaneously meet friends from school all the time.

There are tons of good playgrounds in the area, one of the reasons why families choose to live in Prenzlauer Berg. I missed that our kids could not meet up randomly with other kids from the neighbourhood while we lived in Australia. Now it’s a whole new experience, and they spontaneously meet friends from school all the time.

Ernst-Thälmann-Platz is a typical East German square in Prenzlauer Berg, recognisable by the wide open space and the socialist style monument. Ernst Thälmann was the leader of the communist party and was murdered by the Nazis at Buchenwald concentration camp.

Ernst-Thälmann-Platz is a typical East German square in Prenzlauer Berg, recognisable by the wide open space and the socialist style monument. Ernst Thälmann was the leader of the communist party and was murdered by the Nazis at Buchenwald concentration camp.

The sign over the door reads 1903 - the year the house was built. What I love even more is the face right underneath with its rather stoic outlook on visitors.

The sign over the door reads 1903 – the year the house was built. What I love even more is the face right underneath with its rather stoic outlook on visitors.

A middle school in Berlin - what a wonderful old-style building, the lower part "graced" with graffiti, a tell-tale sign that this building must be located in Berlin.

A middle school in Berlin – what a wonderful old-style building, the lower part “graced” with graffiti, a tell-tale sign that this building must be located in Berlin.

The Bull Fountain (or Fountain of Fertility) at Arnswalder Platz was designed in 1910 and built in the 1930s. If you are ever in the area you might find me hang around here.

The Bull Fountain (or Fountain of Fertility) at Arnswalder Platz was designed in 1910 and built in the 1930s. If you are ever in the area you might find me hang around here.

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