As one of Europe’s primo party playgrounds, Berlin offers a thousand and one scenarios for getting your cocktails and kicks (or wine or beer, for that matter). From cocktail lairs and concept bars, craft beer pubs to rooftop lounge, the next thirst parlour is usually within stumbling distance.
Berlin is a notoriously late city: bars stay packed from dusk to dawn, and some clubs don’t hit their stride until 4am and stay open nonstop until Monday morning. The lack of a curfew never created a tradition of binge drinking, which is why many party folk prefer to pace their alcohol consumption and thus manage to keep going until the wee hours. Of course there’s no denying that illegal drugs also play their part…
Edgier, more underground venues cluster in Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Neukölln and, to some extent, parts of Lichtenberg (east of Friedrichshain). Places in Charlottenburg, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg tend to be quieter, close earlier and are more suited for date nights than dedicated drinking. Generally, the emphasis here is on style and atmosphere and some proprietors have gone to extraordinary lengths to come up with creative design concepts.
The line between cafe and bar is often blurred, with many changing stripes as the hands move around the clock. Alcohol, however, is served (and consumed) pretty much all day.
Some bars have happy hours that usually run from 6pm to 9pm but overall the happy hour concept isn't as prevalent in Berlin as in other cities. This is partly because drinks prices (especially for beer) are still lower than in many other major cities. Still, they are creeping up here as well, partly fuelled by a growing demand for quality over quantity, especially when it comes to cocktails, craft beer and wine.
On the flip side, some of Berlin’s late-night convenience stores (called Spätkauf or Späti for short) cater to the cash-strapped by putting out tables on the sidewalks for patrons to gather and consume their store-bought beverages.
Dedicated cocktail bars are booming in Berlin and new arrivals have measurably elevated the ‘liquid art’ scene. Classic drinking dens tend to be elegant cocoons with mellow lighting and low sound levels but of late buzzier cocktail bars with less stuffy ambience have also thrown themselves into the mix. All are helmed by mix-meisters keen on applying their training to both classics and boundary-pushing riffs. A good cocktail will set you back between €10 and €15. Most bars and pubs serve cocktails, too, but of the Sex on the Beach and Cosmopolitan variety. Prices are lower (between €8 and €10) and quality can be hit or miss due to mediocre mixing talents and/or inferior spirits.
Table service is common, and you shouldn’t order at the bar unless you intend to hang out there or there’s a sign saying Selbstbedienung (self-service). In traditional German pubs, it’s customary to keep a tab instead of paying for each round separately. In bars with DJs €1 or €2 is usually added to the cost of your first drink. Tip bartenders about 5%, servers 10%. Drinking in public is legal and widely practised, especially around party zones. Try to be civilised about it, though. No puking on the U-Bahn, please!
Predictably, beer is big in Berlin and served – and consumed – almost everywhere all day long. Most places pour a variety of local, national and imported brews, including at least one draught beer (vom Fass) served in 300mL or 500mL glasses. In summer, drinking your lager as an Alster, Radler or Diesel (mixed with Sprite, Fanta or Coke, respectively) is a popular thirst quencher.
Beer has been brewed in Berlin since the Middle Ages, reaching its peak in the 19th century when there used to be hundreds of breweries, especially in Prenzlauer Berg. Today the only commercial one left is the Berliner Kindl-Schultheiss Brauerei, which produces the Berliner Pilsner, Schultheiss, Berliner Kindl brands. For a behind-the-scenes look, book a guided tour (in German) – preferably followed by a beer tasting – via its website.
Other German and imported beers are widely available. There’s plenty of Beck’s and Heineken around but for more flavour look for Jever Pilsener from northern Germany, Rothaus Tannenzäpfle from the Black Forest, Zywiec from Poland, and Krušovice and Budweiser from the Czech Republic. American Budweiser is practically nonexistent here.
Thanks to Germany's famous Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law), which celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2016, the quality of beer has always been high here, which is one of the reasons it took such a long time for the craft beer craze to reach the country. In recent years, though, it has arrived with a vengeance, leading to a virtual explosion of breweries specialising in handmade suds.
In Berlin, local pioneers such as Heidenpeters, Vagabund, Schoppe Bräu, Eschenbräu and Hops & Barley have been joined by dozens more small breweries. International brands like Stone Brewing, BrewDog and Mikkeler have also opened their own tap rooms in the capital.
With a growing crop of pubs deeply dedicated to craft beers, and even traditional ones starting to feature at least a couple on their drinks menu. the trend has slowly reached the mainstream.
To tap deeper into the scene, have a look at the online magazine Hopfenhelden (www.hopfenhelden.de/en); check out local festivals like Berlin Beer Week, Braufest or Craft Beer Festival; or join an English-language craft beer tour offered by such outfits as Original Berlin Walks and Alternative Berlin Tours.
The most common classic German brews include the following:
Pils (pilsner) Bottom-fermented beer with a pronounced hop flavour and a creamy head.
Weizenbier/Weissbier (wheat beer) Top-fermented wheat beer that’s fruity and refreshing. Comes bottled either as Hefeweizen, which has a stronger shot of yeast, or the filtered and fizzier Kristallweizen.
Berliner Weisse This cloudy, slightly sour wheat beer is typically sweetened with a Schuss (shot) of woodruff or raspberry syrup. It’s quite refreshing on a hot day but few locals drink it.
Schwarzbier (black beer, like porter) This full-bodied dark beer is fermented using roasted malt.
Bockbier Strong beer with around 7% alcohol; brewed seasonally. Maibock shows up in May, Weihnachtsbock around Christmas.
Germany's Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law) is considered the world’s oldest nutritional law still in effect. The original law, formulated by local dukes in 1516, permitted only barley, yeast and water in brewing the amber nectar. The goal was to stop the addition of ox bile, oak bark, henbane and other potentially toxic ingredients more typically found in an alchemist’s garden.
Boutique Beverages Made in Berlin
In recent years a flurry of indie boutique beverage purveyors has cropped up in Berlin. Look for them at kiosks, cool bars, pubs and even supermarkets. Here are our favourites:
Berliner Brandstifter Berliner Vincent Honrodt is the man behind the Brandstifter Korn, a premium schnapps that gets extraordinary smoothness from a seven-stage filtering process. It also makes a mean gin.
Original Berlin Cidre (www.obc-cidre.com) OBC is made from 100% German apples by two Berliners, Urs Breitenstein and Thomas Godel. There are three varieties: the dry OBC Strong, the sweet OBC Classic and the fruity OBC Rose.
Adler Berlin Dry Gin Crafted by the Preussische Spirituosen Manufaktur that once served Kaiser Wilhelm II, this creamy and balanced gin is aromatised with juniper, lavender, coriander, ginger and lemon peel.
Our/Berlin (www.ourvodka.com) Made with Berlin water and German wheat, this smooth vodka is distilled in small batches at Flutgraben 2 on the Kreuzberg–Treptow border and sold in stylish bottles right there and in select shops.
Berliner Luft Peppermint schnapps has gained cult status despite tasting like mouthwash. Consumed as a shot, it’s a popular method to get blasted fast.
Wostok This Kreuzberg-made certified organic lemonade comes in six flavours, the most famous of which is the pine-scented Tannenwald based on an original 1973 Soviet soft drink recipe.
Oenophiles can rejoice as there is finally a respectable crop of wine bars in Berlin. Run by wine enthusiasts, they have an egalitarian rather than elitist mood and pour with a sense of humour and free-spiritedness devoid of snobbery. Since the quality of wine produced in Germany has markedly improved in recent years, you'll now find more Riesling on wine lists than ever before. Other varietals enjoying huge popularity are sauvignon blanc and Grauburgunder (Pinot gris).
Vin naturel (‘natural wine’, ie organically grown and handled with minimal chemical interference), which often looks cloudy and tastes a bit tart at first, also has a devoted following.
In regular pubs and bars the quality of wine ranges from drinkable to abysmal. In these places, wine is usually served in 200mL glasses and costs from €4 to €6. In better establishments, finer vintages are served in mere 100mL glasses and usually start at €5.
In summer, many Germans like to mix (cheap) white wine with fizzy water, which is called a Weinschorle.
Sparkling wine comes in 100mL flutes. Depending on where a place sees itself on the trendiness scale, it will offer German Sekt, Italian Prosecco or French cremant. In clubs it’s often served on the rocks (Sekt auf Eis). Champagne is popular among the monied set.
In winter, and especially at the Christmas markets, Glühwein (mulled wine) is a popular beverage to stave off the chills.
Since the 1990s, Berlin’s club culture has taken on near-mythical status and, to no small degree, contributed to the magnetism of the German capital. It has incubated trends and sounds, launched the careers of such internationally renowned DJs as Paul van Dyk, Ricardo Villalobos, Ellen Allien and Paul Kalkbrenner, and put Berlin firmly on the map of global music fans who turn night into day in the over 200 clubs in this curfew-free city.
What distinguishes the Berlin scene from other party capitals is a focus on independent, non-mainstream niche venues, run by owners or collectives with a creative rather than a corporate background. The shared goal is to promote a diverse, inclusive and progressive club culture rather than to maximize profit. This is also reflected in a door policy that strives to create a harmonious balance in terms of age, gender and attitude.
Electronic music in its infinite varieties continues to define Berlin’s after-dark action but other sounds like hip-hop, dancehall, rock, swing and funk have also made inroads. The edgiest clubs have taken up residence in power plants, transformer stations, abandoned apartment buildings and other repurposed locations. Most are in Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Friedrichshain and parts of Treptow and Lichtenberg.
The scene is in constant flux as experienced club owners look for new challenges and a younger generation of promoters enters the scene with new ideas and impetus. Overall, though, rising rents, development, noise complaints and investors focused on profit maximisation have forced many smaller venues to close, thereby threatening Berlin's cult status as one of Europe's most free-wheeling and biggest party hubs.
When to Go
Whatever club or party you’re heading for, don’t bother showing up before 1am unless you want to have a deep conversation with a bored bartender. And don’t worry about closing times – Berlin’s famously long nights have gotten even later of late and, thanks to a growing number of after parties and daytime clubs, not going home until Monday night is definitely an option at weekends. In fact, savvy clubbers put in a good night’s sleep, then hit the dance floor when other people head for Sunday church or afternoon tea.
At the Door
Doors are notoriously tough at Berlin’s best clubs (eg Watergate, Berghain/Panorama Bar and ://aboutblank) as door staff strive to sift out people that would feel uncomfortable with the music, the vibe or the libertine ways beyond the door. Except at some disco-type establishments, flaunting fancy labels and glam cocktail dresses can actually get in the way of your getting in. Wear something black and casual. If your attitude is right, age rarely matters. Be respectful in the queue, don’t drink and don’t talk too loudly (seriously!). Don’t arrive wasted. As elsewhere, large groups (even mixed ones) have a lower chance of getting in, so split up if you can. Stag and hen parties are rarely welcome. If you do get turned away, don’t argue. And don’t worry, there’s always another party somewhere…
RAW Gelände & Revaler Strasse The skinny-jeanster set invades the gritty clubs and bars along the ‘techno strip’ sprawling out over a former train repair station. Live concerts at Astra Kulturhaus, techno-electro at Suicide Circus, eclectic sounds at Cassiopeia and various off-kilter bars in between.
Ostkreuz Draw a bead on this party zone by staggering through the dark trying to find the entrance to Salon zur Wilden Renate or ://about blank.
Ostbahnhof Hardcore partying at Berghain/Panorama Bar and mellow chilling at Yaam.
Simon-Dach-Strasse If you need a cheap buzz, head to this well-trodden booze strip popular with field-tripping school groups and stag parties.
Kreuzberg & Neukölln
Weserstrasse & Around The main party drag in the hyped hood of Neukölln is packed with an eclectic mix of pubs and bars, from trashy to stylish.
Kottbusser Tor & Oranienstrasse Grunge-tastic area perfect for dedicated drink-a-thons with a punky-funky flair.
Schlesische Strasse Freestyle strip with a potpourri of party stations from beer gardens to concert venues, techno temples to daytime outdoor chill zones.
Skalitzer Strasse Eclectic drag with small clubs and some quality cocktail bars just off it.
Torstrasse This strip is where Berlin demonstrates that it, too, can grow up. A globe-spanning roster of monied creatives populates the chic drinking dens with their well-thought-out bar concepts and drinks made with top-shelf spirits.
Oranienburger Strasse Tourist zone where you have to hopscotch around sex workers and pub crawlers to find the few remaining thirst parlours worth your money.
Displaced by development, rising rents and noise complaints, a growing number of clubs are trading the central districts for locations in suburbs like Lichtenberg, just southeast of Friedrichshain. An area called Rummelsburger Bucht, along the Spree, has emerged as a new frontier, especially for open-air clubs such as Sisyphos. Festival and club-night host Funkhaus is also here. The area is served by tram 21 from Ostkreuz.
Need to Know
- Pubs are open from around noon to midnight or 1am (later on weekends).
- Trendy places and cocktail bars open around 8pm or 9pm until the last tippler leaves.
- Clubs open at 11pm or midnight and start filling up around 1am or 2am
Big clubs like Berghain/Panorama Bar or Watergate will set you back €15 or more, but there are plenty of others that charge between €5 and €10. Places that open a bit earlier don’t charge admission until a certain hour, usually 11pm or midnight. Student discounts are virtually unheard of, as are ‘Ladies Nights’.
Berlin’s clubs are very relaxed. In general, individual style almost always trumps high heels and Armani. Cocktail bars and some disco-style clubs may prefer a more glam look, but in pubs anything goes.