For any Berlin locals out there curious about the Spotted by Locals concept – and even for non-locals curious about using the app in Berlin – I spent a few days using the app to explore my city so I could share my thoughts and experience with you.
This is a description of how I used the app, but also of a couple of fun weekends in Berlin spent with friends and family. I had a great time exploring, and perhaps it will provide you with inspiration for a city trip or staycation in Berlin as well!
A little bit about me
I’m Isabel, a German-American university student, and I’m currently completing an internship at Spotted by Locals. I moved to Berlin with my family in 2011. Although I lived here for all of my upper school years, I was a shy teen and didn’t go out into the city much, and I never felt a real connection to it.
While I was off at university in London, my mom moved to “Mitte”, the central district of Berlin. I knew it was a cool and very artsy district, but no more than that. The first time I had the chance to explore it was this summer, when I came back due to the global health situation.
A few weeks into my internship it occurred to me that a good way to get to know the Spotted by Locals company better would be trying out the app. And what better way to spend a weekend than exploring my “home” city – the place I’ve lived in longer than anywhere else in my life, but that I barely know? So I set aside a weekend with my best friend to explore and try out the app.
A spontaneous day in the city
We started our (fairly late) morning at Caffetteria Buchhandlung, a cozy alternative cafe with interesting local artwork decorating the walls. Over a tasty coffee, we opened the app and began browsing for nearby spots to explore, starting with a good breakfast place.
I noticed an article about the Kino Hackeschen Höfe – an arthouse cinema in one of central Berlin’s many courtyards, or “Höfe” – and we decided to head to the Höfe for a quick breakfast. We ate at one of the small cafes in the courtyard of the cinema. The buildings in this courtyard are beautiful, decorated with aquamarine and sandstone tiles, and sitting here on a sunny day is a great way to relax with a friend over coffee and watch people meander by.
As a side note, I would recommend that anybody visiting Berlin spend some time wandering around the courtyards – they are full of little shops, cafes, galleries, and other surprising enterprises.
After breakfast we ourselves spent some time exploring the courtyards, which is when I made my next great discovery of the day: the Lumas Gallery, located in the same interlocking warren of courtyards as the cinema. The works on display are just beautiful, mostly photographs but also collages, sculptures, and other pieces, and we spent a good half hour looking around and chatting with the cashiers about individual pieces.
After leaving Lumas we walked through some nearby streets filled with clothing stores and half-heartedly looking at the windows before deciding that we’d had more fun at the art gallery, and decided to keep an eye out for more of those. We found another series of courtyards to explore, and lo and behold, found another great hidden gem.
My new favorite hidden courtyard is filled with jungle-like plants and graffiti. In the back corner lies an abandoned cinema (or not abandoned and fully-functioning? Sometimes it’s hard to tell in Berlin), and to the left an art gallery with an unobtrusive entrance but cool and very Berlin artwork inside.
We stopped for lunch at one of the many restaurants at nearby Hackescher Markt. If you do decide to explore the courtyards, I would also recommend coming here for lunch. There is a produce and crafts market on some days, live street music and a number of restaurants to choose from with very reasonable pricing for generous portions.
Afterwards we continued scouting the area, looking at shops, taking photos, and strolling along the riverside. At the end of the day we walked back through yet another courtyard near my apartment – and found it full of people painting van Gogh inspired works of art! I stopped in the nearby cafe to find out what was going on, and discovered that there is a thriving Russian community in my neighborhood that gathers once a week for art workshops and other events. Who knew? The things you learn when wandering around a city…
And that concluded my first Berlin exploration day.
The vintage dressing-up and art gallery weekend
The photography and quirky art galleries my friend and I had discovered really inspired me – though never very proficient at it, I’ve long had a passing interest in art and photography – and this really sparked that passion into flame. So the following weekend I planned an art gallery day with my mom and brother.
This time I employed the app differently – although it didn’t list any art galleries near my area, I did my own research and saved a number of places in the “My Spots” section. I personally find the map shown in the app very aesthetic and useful. Simple, clear icons show shops, restaurants and attractions nearby and make it easy to find good spots.
In preparation for our gallery walk, my family found a fun nearby vintage store and purchased colorful and funky clothing. Then we spent an entire Saturday walking around the plentiful art galleries in our neighborhood. It was one of the most fun weekends I’ve had this summer – we talked to art gallery owners, stopped for snacks at little cozy cafes, and I even discovered a new artist that I fell in love with: a little-known but talented German painter named Ulrich Neujahr.
This weekend really inspired me to indulge in my artistic interests more often, and I now plan to do a gallery walk at least once a month. This is a tradition I hope to continue back in London as well.
A Berlin institution – Clärchens Ballhaus
I’d like to give a shout-out to one final, special location. The district of Mitte is also home to Clärchens Ballhaus, a “Ballhaus” ( the word could be translated as “ballroom house” or dancing parlor) that first opened in 1913, and a quintessential Berlin institution. On our gallery walk we passed it, as we have many times before, but our exploratory mood inspired us to look closer than usual and we discovered a flyer advertising guided tours around the beautiful old building.
The tour we attended was more engaging and fascinating than I could have imagined. I knew the Ballhaus was old, that it had a history, but that it had such rich and intricate history had escaped me.
The lovely woman who gave us the tour spent years researching the history of the place, and had dozens of anecdotes to share – about the Ballhaus tradition in early 20th century Berlin, and its importance to women; the many romances that were sparked while dancing there; its destruction and resurrections during and after the wars.
It really made me appreciate anew how chock-full cities are of history, especially Berlin. What an eclectic tapestry of people and events have lived and loved in every wall that we inattentively walk past. Our guide told us that the first time she came to Clärchens, she felt like she was dancing alongside the memories of couples from every decade of the past, from its founding in 1913 to today. I haven’t always appreciated those shadows lingering in cities – but I’ve been inspired to start trying.
What I learned
I found the Spotted by Locals app very useful in my Berlin explorations. It is well-made and straightforward to use, and the map itself is aesthetic and clean-looking. I have favorite-ed about 15 more spots that I’d like to check out eventually, as well as adding some of my own. It definitely has an added value over simply using the blog – it’s convenient, offline, and the map provides a great overview of nearby spots.
For me, the main take-away of using the app actually was the fact that I set aside a day to explore. I used it as a starting point, both for finding specific places and general inspiration. The local recommendations were useful, but most of all I found my own new favorite spots, which I added to the app as a reminder to visit again in future.
I know that many people who live in cities like Berlin already appreciate the rich cultural urban jungle they are a part of. I do think the app will still be useful for those, helping them to find new restaurant recommendations, or other spots they haven’t come across. But personally, I’d say it’s even more valuable for people like me, who haven’t found that connection to their city yet.
In summary, I would particularly recommend the app to someone who has moved to a new city recently and wants to discover its secrets, as well as long-time locals who want to forge a deeper connection to their surroundings. Let your fellow locals give you some fresh insights into new places in the city. And if you are in Berlin, have a wonderful time exploring our beautiful, poor-but-sexy capital!
While using the app, I was also inspired to write another article about Top Remote Working Locations in Berlin. If you are a digital nomad based here, feel free to send me some recommendations on your favorite spots at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any other feedback or comments are also welcome!