Ah, Berlin, the city that has always reinvented itself. If you’re a first-time visitor, you’d have glimpsed in its many historical monuments the tumultuous change that the city has been through. Its progressive and counter-cultural spirit continues to reverberate today, drawing hordes of hedonists and hipsters to its streets. But to find it, you’ll have to look beyond the central tourist belt and towards the less traditional things to do in Berlin. The city’s kaleidoscopic heart beats within its eastern fringes.

Here are five hidden gems in Berlin where you too can join in in the spirit of reinvention — as a top-secret spy or a connoisseur of Turkish kebab.

The Top Things To Do In Berlin Off The Beaten Path

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Bed at Michelberger Hotel in BerlinDining at Michelberger Hotel in BerlinFood at Michelberger Hotel in Berlin

Full of quirky cool, each room in Michelberger Hotel is as distinctive as Berlin hotels come. Linger in the spacious courtyard and trendy bar, which often play host to DJ acts and other live music. It’s also located a stone’s throw away from Berlin’s most famous nightlife spots.

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1. Pick up some dance moves at Clärchen Ballhaus

Clarchen in BerlinImage @claerchens_ballhaus /  Instagram

A long-standing institution in Berlin, the 19th-century dance hall Clärchen Ballhaus has lived many lives for more than a hundred years. Having survived two world wars, it has played host to communist spies and the glitzy nightlife of the 1920s. Twenty-something scenesters and cha-cha regulars now frequent it. There is an array of dancing classes, live concerts, and proms you’ll stumble upon on any evening.

Dancing at the Clarchen in Berlin Image @claerchens_ballhaus / Instagram

When I visited, a crowd of Berliners swarmed the open dance floor in an accessible style of dance from the 1940s known as swing. That, along with the sparkling streamers and chipped, peeling facade, lent the entire place a festive decadence. Even if you have two left feet as I do, you can surely gulp down some bratwurst and beer while people-watching.

2. Sample Turkish and Levantine cuisine in Neukolln

In the vibrant borough of Neukölln, Berlin’s hippest kiez, you’ll find trendy burger joints one street down from Sonneallee’s many döner kebab shops. Beneath its layer of rapid gentrification, Neukölln’s working-class roots live on in the bustling Arab enclave that has sprung up in the years since.

Falafel at Azzam in BerlinFalafel at Azzam Restaurant @rachsig / Instagram 

Having stayed in Neukölln before on a recent trip to Berlin, I can heartily recommend its Turkish and Syrian eateries. Berlin food is, after all, a diverse array and flavors and the city is home to the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey. A favourite of mine is Azzam Restaurant, a fast-food joint that serves excellent, crunchy falafel along with specials like Fatteh—crumbly pita drenched in creamy yoghurt and chickpeas. For under seven euros, the portions are so generous that you can make two meals out of one!

A selection of pastries at Konditorei Damaskus in BerlinImage @lenaschk / Instagram 

Another favourite is Konditorei Damaskus, helmed by a family of pastry chefs who fled from Syria as refugees. It’s hard to pick from its mouth-watering range of Levantine delicacies, but the mini-platters of varied small bites are a good start. Me? I love the pistachio-studded pastry nests called Esh Al-Bulbul, and most of all the bakery’s pièce de résistance — sweet cheese rolls called Halawet El Jibn that simply melt in your mouth.

3. Party at an underground music venue

Known for its legendary diversity of nightlife and all-day nightclubs, Berlin is truly a city that never sleeps. In fact, on weekends, its underground train network U-Bahn operates for 24 hours. Which means it’s a perfect time to check out the city’s coolest clubs.

Silent Green in BerlinImage Cordia Schlegelmilch / silent green Kulturquartier

You might start with the notorious Berghain. Famed as the “best club in the world”, it’s one of the biggest Berlin attractions for party-goers and operates a brutally selective door policy. To avoid the queue, I checked out a grittier alternative called ://about blank, a dingy techno cavern with a sprawling outdoor courtyard. When I went in fall, there were fire pits in the yard to take a breather from the dense atmosphere indoors.

Partygoers at Silent Green in Berlin

But for an authentic Berlin experience that leans towards the avant-garde, take a northward-bound sojourn to silent green Kulturquartier in the Wedding borough — a historical crematorium (yes, you read that right) that hosts some of the most cutting-edge music acts. The night I was there, Berliners laid out on the floor, all dressed in black, as we came up against a wall of electrifying guitar noise.

4. Take a soak in the River Spree

Badeschiff pool in Berlin Image @badeschiff_berlin / Instagram 

If you’re ever wondering what to do in Berlin, then simply do as the Berliners do. Come summer, you’ll be sure to find Berliners flocking to the city’s lakes, pools, and city beaches that are scattered along the banks of river Spree. One of these is Badeschiff, an ultra-hip swimming pool that floats over the river on a moored barge. A modern throwback to the tradition of open-air baths.

River Spree in BerlinRiver Spree

There’s even a beach bar to boot, which means you can soak up a panoramic sight of the city’s iconic monuments with a cocktail in hand. Berlin sightseeing doesn’t come much more laidback than this. Stand-up paddling courses and massage treatments are also available during summer. Check out their events calendar too for the latest beach parties and concerts.

5. Dodge a laser maze at the German Spy Museum Berlin

Laser maze at German Spy Museum Berlin©Deutsches Spionagemuseum Berlin

Looking for a museum that’s unlike any other? Then the German Spy Museum near Potsdamer Platz — the only museum of its kind in Germany — will be right up your alley.

Often overlooked by Berlin tours and holidaymakers on the tourist trail, the museum is a true hidden gem for history buffs, where you’ll get to uncover the covert world of espionage through a variety of interactive multimedia installations.

Interactive installation at German Spy Museum Berlin ©Deutsches Spionagemuseum Berlin

The museum is small but full of fascinating exhibits that range from secret Biblical scriptures to cyber-espionage. Witness cold war-era surveillance and see bizarre weapons up close, like an umbrella hiding poisonous arrows, for example. Compete in the laser maze room to avoid detection as a secret agent and have fun deciphering encrypted codes!

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