The best bars in Berlin aren’t microbreweries (except for the Vagabund Brauerei, where the folks behind the scenes craft a wide variety of excellent beers). No, my favorite bars are those where I feel I’m surrounded by close friends even when I arrive alone and don’t recognize a single face.
Best times to go: Wednesday and Friday evenings into the night. They go late, but the house drumset gets put away around midnight.
What to bring: your singing voice or an instrument and a few bucks (5-10 EU).
Inside Kiki Sol, In the center of Nettelbeckplatz sits a large fountain; a curving volcano of red and light grey granite rises two meters high and some nine meters across. Atop, a small group of bronze men and women dance. At the base, a piano and player. The pianist is Satyr, a companion of the greek god Dionysus, who rocks a permanent erection. He is sculpted not from bronze but from volcanic gabbro rock. A hoof is barely visible behind the water. The music-oriented “Tanz auf dem Vulkan” (Dance on the Volcano) was sculpted by Ludmila Seefried-Matějková: “The volcano symbolizes today’s world: the people who – animated by Satyr – dance on the precipice of the volcano, don’t want to acknowledge the danger, the people want to live!”
A block away, inside the smoky warmth of Kiki Sol, flesh and blood humans put beers to their lips, wiggle their fingers on the strings of instruments, and lift their chests to sing. That Satyr plays music in the platz nearby can’t be pure coincidence. Inhibitions are low here, but not club/drug/techno/wasted low. Despite the cigarette smoke, Kiki Sol has always felt to me like a supremely healthy environment that encourages free expression.
On Wednesday and Friday evenings, Kiki Sol hosts Berlin’s best open jam session. Everyone is welcome to participate. That means that the jam sessions are sometimes six electric guitars with no bass nor drums to lead the way. With slightly better luck, you may instead walk in to the best living room concert of your life, with Dr. Funk himself leading the room. On any given night, the infamous Jerry Blue will be there, peering through his round glasses. Flute in one hand, beer in the other, Jerry Blue is there, chatting with anyone who can understand his thick New Jersey accent between jazzy solos. Beneath the din, I’ve practiced freestyling, sang along, and danced barefoot on the carpet. Rugs, cushions, and a random assortment of couches, love seats, chairs, and benches contribute to the warm living room feel. The stage is barely higher than the floor; the jam session is truly open.
For their full schedule, check out their facebook page. There are community events, regular stand up comedy shows (in English), and there are regular concerts.
Best times to go: After 9pm, Sundays.
What to bring: a friend, a record, and a few bucks (5-15 EU).
Looking for a place to sip whisky and spill the contents of your frightening fantasies to a confidant? Analog is a whole in the wall, a few blocks deep into the northeast neighborhood of Wedding, Berlin. The glowing cassette above the door illuminates doodles along walls around the door. Vinyl, cassettes, and mixtapes, supply the soundtrack to the night.
The first time I locked my bike to a drain pipe on Martin Opitz Str, and wandered into Analog, it was the last Sunday of the month. Two friends of mine, both of whom spoke very little English and worked blue collar jobs in the neighborhood, had invited me to come and listen. A DJ sat behind a small turntable and two microphones were equipped with long, long black cords. I sat in the corner in the second room, a pilsner in hand. It was dim inside, almost as dark as the cold winter night up here, at 52 degrees north. A mellow hip hop beat began to rise, bringing energy and joy to the smattering of people sitting on padded boxes and crates one measure at a time. A mic rested in Sammi’s hand, his fingers barely gripping tight enough to hold it towards his mouth. His head fell back on the wall, his chest rising and falling several times. When the music and his mind met, he leaned forward and opened his heart, lines flowing out of him easily. A few bars later, his rhymes got mixed and he smiled, eyes still closed, he repeated himself, sinking deeper into the beats. The second mic was lifted somewhere across the narrow room and another voice rose to meet the music, twisting in and out in a melodious dance.
The German language gets a bad rap; it’s associated with anger, harshness, and bluntness. The first freestyle session I heard in Analog Bar utterly destroyed this stereotype in my mind. Though I had already decided that German could also be cute and silly, like a real-life Dr. Seuss language, I learned that night that German could also be overwhelmingly smooth. It was so tranquil that it painted over me a thick varnish of human emotion. My German language skills were not yet developed enough for me to understand the nuances or even the gist. Yet, there I sat, in the corner, forgotten beer in hand, until close, listening to the stories of the freestylers as long as they would tell them.
Best times to go: After 7pm. Check the schedule for live music.
What to bring: everything and nothing. A friend, a book, bowling shoes (?!), and a few bucks (5-15 EU).
The Kugelbahn is the furthest north of these three bars. Located near the railroad tracks in a dark, residential, pedestrian-only avenue, this mini bowling alley slash venue and bar is an unexpected lightsource. The porch is big for Berlin standards, lit with red light from behind the broad windows, blue light from the sign, and yellow from globe lights high on poles. Inside, the main room is warm and red. An assortment of quirky vintage chairs are arranged around low coffee tables beneath the sparkle of disco balls and trinkets dangling from the ceiling. A small stage with mics flanks one wall and stairs to the bowling alley. Downstairs, there’s a more formal stage with a dark backdrop and the namesake of the locale.
Old school German bowling has nine pins and smaller balls without holes. A small narrow path broadens just before the pins, unlike the straight runways of modern American bowling. The two alleys in the basement are available for rent for groups and though for smaller groups just showing up works too. This weird little bowling alley has been around since the early 60s and it shows. Unfortunately, the land was recently sold and 2019 might be bar’s last year.
Above, music, art, and theater reign. Der Kugelbahn is part of Kolonie Wedding, an arts collective that organizes DJ nights, art exhibitions, and theater. In this potentially finally year of the Kugelbahn, they are going all out. By February, there are nine music events planned, starting with diebrotfrau, a DJ offering a journey through the space age, and leading right up through a post-punk Psycho Jones and the Mexican Radio to Oxo Oho, the electro-gremlins.
I first went to the Kugelbahn for a Zikade concert (full album Salzgeschichte). I was hooked. When Analog Bar’s hiphop freestyle session started holding a second event here, I started coming more often. The – usually female – bartenders keep a full stock of tequila. A drink otherwise hard to find in Berlin. For me, red wine is my drink of choice in the Kugelbahn. I bring a notebook and pen, a mind full of poems and short stories, and seek out the dark red chair that matches my glass.
Have you tried any of these spots? Do you have any must-visit places we should know about in Berlin, Germany?
Leave a reply and share with the community.