Prenzlauer Berg was once synonymous with punks, squatters, revolutionaries, and political activists. Today, its radical edge has softened; its adults are more likely to be spotted wielding ice creams than Molotov cocktails. Despite the influx of prams over the past three decades, the northern cultural heart of Berlin beats loudly, and many love the area for its green streets, strong cafe culture, good restaurants, grand Altbau apartment buildings, and rich, multi-layered history. Prenzlauer Berg is also arguably the birthplace of Third Wave coffee in Berlin, and home to the high-caffeine-density block affectionately known as the Kaffeeviertel (the Coffee Quarter), with cafes dotting the Kiez, perfect for cafe hopping. With oodles left to discover, this guide starts with four of Prenzlauer Berg’s trail-blazing best.
Coffee as Berliners know it today sprung from the work of Bonanza Coffee (the cafe formerly known as Bonanza Coffee Heroes). Bonanza was started in 2006 by Yumi Choi and Kiduk Reus, who met in Rotterdam, and found Berlin at the time to be a coffee no man’s land. Bonanza blossomed with the establishment of its own roastery in Wedding, and the duo developed strong ideas about ethical practices and roasting styles—i.e., light, light, light—in a country that traditionally favors a dark roast.
Today, Bonanza beans can be spotted across the city and overseas, though the best way to sample them is in Bonanza’s chic two-room cafe space on Oderberger Strasse (close by the popular weekend flea market Mauerpark), whose outside seats become prime real estate in the summer. Featuring a sleek, black Slayer Espresso machine and an eye-grabbing brew bar in the center, Bonanza’s fine baristas and lab-like attention to detail are matched in Berlin perhaps only by The Barn roastery’s hushed, white walls (it's another Berlin coffee institution, over in Mitte). Celebrating its 10th year in 2016, Bonanza remains daring and adventurous, forging ahead. For example: Berliners are currently rejoicing, as Bonanza’s gorgeous new 300-square-meter roastery and cafe opened on Adalbertstrasse in Kreuzberg just this past April.
No Fire No Glory
Fellow Berlin pioneer No Fire No Glory was opened in 2004 by owner Ralf Berlit—one of the eventual forces behind the now-seven-cafe-strong Berlin Coffee Society and its annual Barista Camp—before the cafe moved from Friedrichshain to Prenzlauer Berg in 2011. Today, No Fire No Glory has ample outside space for people-watching; inside, it lures with a glamorous speakeasy vibe: an antique casino slot machine sits against one wall, a horseshoe hangs over the doorway, the liquor cabinet is well-stocked, and guests sit on leather couches sipping cold drip brews from Mad Men tumblers, or on stools that line the counter, chatting with the friendly baristas like they were therapists.
But there are no gambles taken here: guests fall head over heels for the consistently excellent coffee. No Fire No Glory is loyal to Denmark’s Coffee Collective roastery, with options including AeroPress, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, cold drip, and an espresso menu from the Kees van der Westen Spirit Triplette.
A stone's throw away, east of Prenzlauer Allee, Café CK is the sweet, shaggy cousin to the slick ambience of other Prenzlauer Berg spaces. The owners—American Cory Andreen, the 2012 World Cup Tasters Champion, and German Kerstin Winkelbauer—opened CK in 2009 and immediately set the bar high.
CK remains a citywide favorite, loved for its combination of serious coffee and relaxed atmosphere. Regular cuppings and tastings draw many from across Berlin. A side room sees young folk spilling over couches and laptops, while in the back, guests laze away an afternoon over private tables. The best move is to grab something to read around the corner from Saint George's, one of Berlin’s best English-language bookstores, and nab an outside seat with a slice of banana bread and one of CK’s espresso tonics, cold-draft coffees on tap, filter coffee (AeroPress or Hario V60), or flat white from international roasters such as Norway’s Solberg & Hansen.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve come to understand that Prenzlauer Berg represents something of a Kaffee K-hole. One more danger spot is Godshot, named for that elusive, perfect espresso that may hit you once in a lifetime. Opened by Kai-Uwe Beyer seven and a half years ago, Godshot’s unpretentious air disguises its place at the vanguard of Berlin’s Third Wave scene. From its cafe and neighboring training space, baristas have come through, learned, and spread their wings across the city, pulling shots from Kreuzberg to Potsdam and beyond.
Accumulated over time, the Godshot décor includes a relaxed mishmash of classy, soft leather couches and vintage chairs that, all together, feels like a giant, chic living room—one with a lower floor and mezzanine, a stack of “Micky Maus” comics for the kids, and a classically Berlin minimal-techno soundtrack that sets it apart from the city’s other coffee shops. (Also fun: bring Australians and watch them lose their cool at the sight of Tim Tam biscuits spilling out of a jar on the counter top.) Espresso coffee comes from Beyer’s latest custom-built machine, with Third Wave roast options via Phoenix Coffee Roasters from Dresden, Backyard Coffee from Frankfurt am Main, and an Italian roast via Manaresi Caffè in Florence. A self-taught barista, Beyer is open-minded and ever-curious, ready to buck trends—for example, recently bringing in Phoenix Coffee’s Ethiopia/Peru Deep Red, a complex, very dark and creamy roast with a helluva kick.
Photos by Septimus Brope.