Best spots to shop 'til you drop
By Andrea Schulte-Peevers
Berlin Local Expert
Berlin is a great place to shop, and we're definitely not talking malls and chains. The most famous and longest retail spine is the Kurfürstendamm in western Berlin, but it’s no secret that for the best buys you have to hit the imaginatively curated indie boutiques scattered around its distinctive neighborhoods. It is they who best reflect the city's zest for life, individual style and aspirations, and a bottomless entrepreneurial spirit. And isn’t it much more fun to flaunt some unique outfit or accessory you won’t find on the high street back home?
In fact, the only thing typical about the Berlin look is that there is no such thing. Basically anything goes, the more idiosyncratic the better. Berliners see nothing wrong with combining black leggings from a cheap chain store with a flared skirt from an up-and-coming local designer (Flagshipstore has a great selection) and a pair of 70s leather boots hunted down at a flea market like Flohmarkt am Mauerpark. Individuality triumphs over conformity any day, and that’s true for fashionistas of any age or gender,
But it’s not just fashion and accessories waiting to be stashed into your suitcase. Berlin is also big when it comes to design and already back in 2006 got the Unesco nod as a City of Design. There’s even an entire design district ready to inspire your decorating fancies. Of course you can also pick up legendary ‘made in Germany’ products like Meissen porcelain, stuffed animals by Steiff or a fountain pen by MontBlanc. Or if you want to enjoy the flavor of Berlin back home, stock up on gin by Berlin Brandstifter, chocolates by Erich Hamann or honey by Berliner Honig.
Saint George's Bookshop
It's always heartening to see a bookshop thrive in the Digital Age. But then, Saint George's isn't your average bookworm haven. In fact, with its mind-boggling selection, fair prices, living-room atmosphere and keen staff, it's a stand-out among the growing number of English-language bookshops in Berlin, both in terms of quality and longevity. Founded by twin brothers Paul and Daniel Gurner in 2003, the store caters as much to English-speaking expats as to Germans wanting to read Faulkner or Grisham in the original. It's easy to lose track of time browsing the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves or taking a tome for a test-read huddled into a comfy sofa. The selection includes plenty of rare and out-of-print books as well as literature by foreign authors translated into English. Most volumes are second-hand. (030 8179 8333)
1. Absinth Depot Berlin
As the painters, writers and poets of fin de siècle Paris knew only too well, it's a short transition from absinthe-minded to absent-minded. Also known as the 'green fairy', absinthe is a distilled spirit that originated in Switzerland in the late 18th century. It contains various herbs, primarily the very potent Artemisia absinthium (wormwood) and fennel and anis, which give it a characteristic liquorish taste. This quaint little shop with its floral wall paper and Old Berlin wooden fixtures stocks more than a 100 different bottles along with the requisite glasses and accoutrements. Ask for a taste but be careful: absinthe packs a punch that's hard to see coming! (030 281 6789)
In our times, when the release of a new iPhone elicits headline news and Chinese children make clothing for pennies, the idea of a shop that sells traditionally made products of yesteryear seems to be an anachronism. Yet, Manufactum has stemmed the tide of mass production since being founded in 1988 by a leading politician of Germany's Green party. Stores are stocked with a global assortment of time-tested products, including kitchen utensils, tools, clothing, cosmetics and toys. Cool finds include a hand whisk made by the Amish, Ludwig Reiter leather hunting boots from Vienna, a Fisher Bullet pen made for astronauts and a 300-layer handmade Damaskus steel pocket knife. Quality is sky-high, so don't expect any bargains. (030 2403 3844)
P & T - Paper & Tea GmbH
To say that P & T sells tea is like saying that Tiffany sells jewelry. As sleek and minimalist as a gallery, this concept-shrine to fine and rare teas from around the world makes the heart of every sophisticated tea lover skip a beat. The store delivers a sensory experience where you can look at, touch and smell dozens of varieties arranged in little bowls on islands and in drawers according to their level of oxidation (eg black tea has a higher level than white tea). At GongFu-style (Chinese tea ceremony) tasting stations staff 'teaists' introduce you to the mysteries of the perfect leaf, explain the difference between first and second flush, or reveal that white tea was once reserved for the Chinese emperors. Beautiful tea pots, cups, bowls and other accessories are displayed throughout, as are greetings cards and other fine paper products. (030 95615468)
If you want to bring something home from Berlin other than memories and a Brandenburg Gate-shaped fridge magnet, stop by this boutique that stocks a tightly edited selection of fashion and accessories by around 30 designers, most of them based in Berlin. Rather than showcasing established labels, FlagshipStore is first and foremost a platform for up-and-comers who may well become tomorrow's fashion hotshots. Perennial take-home faves range from hoodies by experimental streetwear designer Stoffbruch, sporty-elegant dresses by Hazelnut or stylishly slim men's pants by Anne Schmuhl. Some pieces are even made exclusively for the store. (030 4373 5327)
This bazaar-like canalside market scores a 10 for color and liveliness and is tops for putting together yummy meals or picnics. Squeeze past glistening olives, creamy feta spreads, exotic spices, fresh fish and meat, crusty flatbread and piles of seasonal fruit and vegetables. The selection is huge, but it's the wallet-friendly prices that lure a congenial mix of thrifty hipsters, pram-pushing moms and Turkish-Germans draped in headscarfs. There's also a (pricier) organic section along with a few stands selling non-food items like scarves, bags and fabric. In good weather, grab a gozleme (stuffed Turkish pastry) or a smoothie and join locals along the canal to listen to musicians until long after the last vendor has packed up and gone. (none)
Kantstrasse Design District
If your home needs a makeover, make a beeline to Kantstrasse, which in recent years has evolved into Berlin's 'Design Mile'. Between Zoo Station and Savignyplatz square around 50 high-end stores and showrooms provide decorating ideas and a vast selection of furnishings and accessories to make them reality. Kicking off the trend in 1999 was Stilwerk, a glass-and-steel emporium of style sheltering international interior design premium brands. It takes time and stamina to navigate all of its five floors to peruse covetable bedding by M�ve, carpets by Nyhues, housewares by Alessi or electronics by Bang & Olafson. Nearby Rahaus stocks more wallet-friendly home accessories, lamps and furniture. Kantstrasse is also home to such legendary caf�s as the 24-hour Schwarzes Caf� and the Paris Bar, which is famous for its star-studded clientele. (030 315150)
French savoir vivre is alive and well on Friedrichstrasse in the heart of Berlin's historic Mitte district. This is where, in 1996, the famous Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette set up its first German branch in a spectacular building designed by French starchitect Jean Nouvel. This postmodern glass temple centers on a vast shimmering glass cone encircled by five chic floors. In true French style, the focus is on all the major international fashion, accessories and beauty labels, although one section is also reserved for emerging Berlin designers. Bon vivants won't want to miss the tantalizing gourmet groceries and food counters in the basement. (+49-(0)-30-2094-80)
Flohmarkt am Mauerpark
Ok, this flea market is not exactly a well-kept secret, but even after years in business it's still much beloved by both locals and tourists. For good reason: the selection is awesome, prices are fair and the ambience vibrant. Year round, thousands of eagle-eyed treasure scouts roam its stalls on Sundays for covetable bargains on everything from retro clothing to Cold War-era trinkets. Sellers are a mix of locals cleaning out their closets, young designers hoping for a break, and a few pros hawking collectibles and memorabilia. If you need time out from foraging, head to a beer garden or grab a cold beer and relax on the well-worn lawn of the park itself, which was resuscitated from a former stretch of Berlin Wall 'death strip'. In warm weather, a karaoke show in the park's amphitheater draws surprising talent and thousands of happy onlookers cheering them on. (0176 29 25 00 21)
If you're in the hunt for gourmet anything, look no further than the Food Hall on the 6th floor of KaDeWe (short for Kaufhaus des Westens or Department Store of the West), continental Europe's largest department store. Take your sweet time as you stroll around this temple of temptations, past cakes that are little works of art, piles of fresh oysters and lobsters, fancy wines and whiskies and no fewer than 1300 varieties of cheeses. But it's more than food that makes this vast and venerable Berlin institution (in business since 1907) so impressive. The remaining five floors are a treasure chest of international luxury goods: luggage to lingerie to linen. Labels range from the time-tested like Gucci and Prada to the innovative like Issa London and Markus Lupfer. (+49-(0)-30-2121-0)
About Andrea Schulte-Peevers
Andrea has made a living as a travel writer and photographer for over 20 years, visiting some 70 countries in the process and authoring a similar number of guidebooks, mostly for Lonely Planet. Add to that hundreds of articles in print and online, magazine editing, travel consulting, developing content for travel apps, translating from German to English and vice versa... Andrea’s destination expertise is especially strong when it comes to her native Germany and especially to Berlin, where she makes her home. She also has extensive knowledge about Crete, Dubai and the UAE, California and various Caribbean islands.
Read more about Andrea Schulte-Peevers here.