Berlin’s club scene is indisputably one of the most dynamic and diverse in the world. From clubs inside boats, to bars atop shopping centres, you’re as good as guaranteed a party on any given night of the week. But there really are so many ways to get beneath the surface of Berlin that go beyond a weekend in Berghain. And while Madrid is equally fit to bursting with nocturnal energy – which is only spurred on by the Madrileños who jump on any excuse to hit the streets and enjoy a good fiesta – its cultural offerings are vast and ever-changing. So here’s our rundown of 5 great and slightly alternative cultural things to do in these infamous party cities.
“The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine.” – David Bowie
Museums/Galleries: Bauhaus Archiv
With museums numbering something around 200 and art galleries springing up left, right and centre, Berlin leaves you really pretty spoilt for choice. Whether you want to delve into life in the former GDR or fancy checking out works by the likes of Picasso and Warhol, this diverse city offers attractions for any culture vulture. One of our favourites is the Bauhaus Archiv. The museum offers a great introduction to the avant-garde school and its influence on 20th-century architecture and design, boasting a massive collection of retro designs of everything from teapots to chess sets.
Food & drink: Streetfood Thursday @ Markthalle Neun
Recent developments in the city’s street food scene have given the traditionally somewhat bland German dining experience a much-needed injection of flavour, and Berlin has fast become a foodie’s paradise. You need not look much further than Kreuzberg’s cooperative marketplace, Markthalle Neun. Each week it draws in the crowds to sample its eclectic assortment of “street food” (let’s face it, it’s borderline gourmet) hailing from all corners of the globe – from Bavarian to Taiwanese, it’s quite the smörgåsbord! Swing by on a Thursday evening with an empty stomach and a full purse.
Entertainment: Sputnik Kino
Berlin certainly has no shortage of cinemas – from major multiplexes to independent art houses – with many showing films in their original language. Sputnik Kino, dating back to the Cold War era when it served as an art house film mainstay, is a charming little cinema with rows of cosy two-seater sofas constructed from bricks – comfier than it sounds! Though it’s on the small side with a grand sum of two cinema screens, its programme is really quite diverse, showing everything from British independents to new German releases, and hosting a number of festivals throughout the year.
If you’re in the mood to scour the rails for some vintage gems, Neukölln is the ultimate district for a spot of thrift shopping. For starters, head to Weserstraße from the Hermannplatz U-Bahn station – the street and its connecting side-streets are dotted with countless good-quality second-hand shops. Shio on Weichselstraße never fails to stock a great selection of handmade and upcycled pieces finished to fantastic standard, while the Humana charity shop on the nearby Karl-Marx-Straße is always good for a bargain. And of course, there are few better ways to spend a lazy Sunday than perusing the stalls of one of Berlin’s many markets. If you’re in the neighbourhood, the Nowkoelln Flowmarkt is the epitome of the city’s trendy fleamarket culture. Set beside the Maybachufer canal it provides a lovely setting for vintage finds – and tasty paella!
Outdoor Spaces: Tempelhof
Of Berlin’s whopping 2,500 parks and green spaces, Tempelhof has got to be one of the favourites among locals. The site of a once functioning airport, its 368-hectare grassy expanse makes for perfect cycling/jogging/picnicking conditions and is a real hub of activity in the summer months.
“Madrid is enjoyed most from the ground, exploring your way through its narrow streets that always lead to some intriguing park, market, tapas bar or street performer.” – Emilio Estevez
Museums/Galleries: La Casa Encendida
A European Capital of Art, Madrid has a buzzing and lively arts scene. Perhaps its most prominent cultural centre is La Casa Encendida in the Lavapies neighbourhood. Open, dynamic, vanguard and environmentally-conscious, it’s come to be at the forefront of Madrid’s alternative Bohemian culture and is a real hive of artsy activity. All year round it hosts a diverse array of exhibitions, cinema sessions and workshops, and supporting up and coming new artists to develop their projects. Not to mention the massive rooftop terrace which regularly invites DJs to play on those warm summer nights.
Food & drink: La Latina
It’s all about the tapas. From the classic patatas bravas to the Madrid-style tripe, you can find those little pieces of culinary heaven all across the city, particularly in the neighbourhood of La Latina which is the ultimate spot to go tapas bar hopping. The Juana La Loca bar dishes up a range of creative and delicious tapas options across its long countertop. The potato omelette is not one to miss!
Entertainment: Microteatro por Dinero
As austerity measures have chopped away large chunks of Spain’s arts funding, artists, actors and directors started to find ways to fund their own work. Microtheatres are at the heart of this cultural revolution, feeding new life into Spain’s theatre scene. Housed in an old butcher’s shop, the Microteatro por Dinero (that’s the “Microtheatre for Money“) runs back-to-back 15-minute shows for up to a dozen people at a time. Topics are varied and experimental, and at just €4 a ticket, you can’t afford not to check it out.
The Camden Town of Madrid, Malasaña is a vibrant neighbourhood with a countercultural scene. It’s just a short walk from downtown Sol and is simply brimming with fashion boutiques and secondhand stores. Calle Espiritu Santo is the epitome of the district’s diverse shopping scene, stocking everything from wool and uncommon meats to customised trainers and vintage clothes all in one street. The Fuencarral street is also dotted with independent shops, their racks lined with the creations of burgeoning young designers.
Outdoor Spaces: El Retiro
A gem of Madrid’s artistic and cultural heritage, El Retiro is one of Madrid’s best loved and most popular parks. Dotted around the lake are all manner of street performers – painters, caricaturists, fortune tellers, jugglers, you name it – lending it a buzzing atmosphere. Stroll, run, bike or skate your way around the park’s beautiful sculptures and monuments, and get whisked away to 18th century Madrid.