Splashy signage? How gauche! Many of Berlin's most evocative bars, restaurants and sights are actually hidden from view behind unmarked doors, in nondescript buildings or recycled breweries, under railway bridges and even in wartime bunkers. Here's our pick of the top clandestine hot spots around town.
Dive deep into the fairytale world of this exotic tea parlour, imported straight from Tajikistan and complete with plump pillows, sumptuous carpets and hand-carved pillars. On blustering winter nights, steaming tea poured from silvery samovars is perfect for staving off the chills. Tadschikische Teestube is an unexpected find in the back of a Berlin courtyard in Mitte; the room was originally part of the Tajik exhibition stand at a 1970s Leipzig trade fair and given to the GDR government as a gift.
True to its name, Butcher’s does indeed occupy a former butcher shop and has the tiled walls, bovine art and slaughterhouse paraphernalia to prove it. The brainchild of cocktail guru David Wiedemann, this clandestine bar is found at the back of a sausage shack; the entrance is through a red British phone booth. Drinks are first rate - and that's no secret.
La Soupe Populaire
Deep in the bowels of a 19th-century ex-brewery, amid raw brick, pipes and steel, top Berlin chef Tim Raue regales diners with creative dishes that celebrate the soulful goodness of German home cooking. La Soupe Populaire’s menu revolves around whatever’s in season, but there’s one exceptional dish that’s never missing: Königsberger Klopse, Raue’s riff on veal meatballs in caper sauce. Cap dinner with a fanciful cocktail amid Hansel-and-Gretel decor in the adjacent Le Croco Bleu bar.
Created by the Dead Chickens artist collective, surrealist underground world Monsterkabinett is inhabited by a menagerie of mechanical robot-monsters, assembled in a computer-controlled art and sound installation that will entertain, astound and perhaps even frighten you...just a little bit. The entrance is down a spiral staircase in the second courtyard of Haus Schwarzenberg in Mitte.
Kudos if you can find Berlin’s chic herbivore haven, Cookies Cream, right away. Hint: the entrance is reached via the Westin Hotel’s service alley, beyond the waste bins and a giant chandelier. In an elegantly industrial loft, a small army of cooks whips up meat-free compositions that are a treat for both the eyes and the palate. If you do crave meat, check out the affiliated Crackers (www.crackersberlin.com), in a lofty former cinema down below. Bonus: it’s easier to locate.
The baby of two veteran techno DJs, Anita Berber (www.facebook.com/pages/Anita-Berber/105564142987901) is a funky art bar tucked up a flight of stairs in the third courtyard of a 19th-century industrial complex in the hip-ifiying ‘hood of Wedding. It’s an intimate space with a 20s-style vibe, great music and cool crowd. The name, by the way, honours a notorious Berlin cabaret dancer who took Weimar-era decadence to a new level of excess and prematurely exited this world in 1928 at the tender age of 29.
Below Berlin’s storied boulevards exists an entire subterranean world, a dark and dank underbelly made up of bunkers, tunnels and shelters, most of them harkening back to the Nazi or Cold War years. Thanks to the nonprofit Berliner Unterwelten, some of these haunting spaces – including an air-raid shelter, an anti-aircraft tower and a nuclear bomb shelter – can be officially explored on guided tours. Not for the claustrophobic.
The vibe of war still hangs over Sammlung Boros, a WWII above-ground bunker turned shining beacon of art thanks to advertising guru Christian Boros. Boros collects works of practitioners currently writing art history – Olafur Eliasson, Elmgreen & Dragsted, Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Wolfgang Tilmanns among them – and shares a selection of his treasures with the public here. Entry is by guided tour only, so make online reservations as early as possible.
Wind down the weekend with an intimate classical concert in one of Berlin's most unique spaces: the Spiegelsaal (www.spiegelsaal-berlin.de). Hidden above a late-19th-century dance hall called Clärchens Ballhaus, its cracked and blinded mirrors, fancy chandeliers and old-timey wallpaper recall past epochs when the city elite gathered here for wild parties.
Beyond an anonymous steel door, flirty frocks sip raspberry mojitos alongside martini-cradling three-day stubbles at Tausend, a cosmopolitan drinking den tucked in a railway bridge. On weekends, the crowd lets the DJ save their lives beneath the mirrored ceiling and steely gaze of the giant pupil installation bookmarking one end of the tunnel-shaped space. Hungry? The 'cantina' in the back room serves fine Asian and Latin American morsels.
Views of the Berlin skyline are truly impressive at Solar, a sparkling sky lounge atop an unassuming 1950s office building. Dimly lit and with great cocktails, it's a perfect spot for a date or sunset drinks. Even just getting there aboard an exterior glass lift is half the fun – at least if you're not prone to vertigo. The entrance is behind the Pit Stop auto shop.
This article was first published in September 2010 and was updated in May 2015.