Known for its vibrant nightlife, Berlin also has a top-notch selection of always-evolving indie boutiques. Phillip Sulke, co-founder of Shopikon Berlin, shares his thoughts on the city's diverse range of independent stores.
Sizing up the scene
"Berlin has a long tradition of rooting for small retailers while being skeptical about new chains," says Phillip. "Not surprisingly, East Berlin has a thriving independent shopping scene that often makes it hard for us to keep up."
Phillip marks out ethically conscious design as a staple of the city, noting "Berlin has an abundance of sustainable and eco-conscious fashion stores. Many, like Umasan, have an international following." Describing their wares as 'vegan fashion', the Umasan founders, twins Sandra and Anja Umann, have created a high-end line of sustainable, innovative pieces, taking inspiration from the simplicity and minimalism of Japanese design.
Although newspaper reports have suggested that Berlin's celebrated status as an alternative, hipster capital is on the wane, Phillip remains assured that independent shopping will continue to thrive in the face of gentrification. Naming Mitte, Berlin's historical center, as a case in point, he says, "Mitte is a good example if one looks at the massive price hikes in the last 10 years. But while some shops are driven out, many more open in up-and-coming neighborhoods." As the site of famed landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag, Mitte is inevitably more au fait with tourists and travelers than locals on the hunt for quirky boutiques and underground clubs. For those, you'll need to head to the cutting-edge Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Friedrichshain neighborhoods.
"Not surprisingly, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg are safe bets", says Phillip, picking out the areas of the city that are best for independent shopping, "but areas in West Berlin and Neukölln are catching up fast."
Located on the south bank of the river Spree, Kreuzberg is known for its youthful, bohemian-punk vibe. Characterized by music venues, vintage shops and cafés, it's less than a 20-minute ride on the U-bahn from our Radisson Blu Hotel, Berlin. The eastern district of Prenzlauer Berg is a haven for students, graduates and young parents, with plenty of boutiques and flea markets to explore, while artsy Neukölln is often referred to as Little Istanbul, thanks to the historic Turkish population.
Phillip's top two
"Everyone has their favorite shops, but I personally like Do You Read Me?! and R.S.V.P.," says Phillip. "They both stand out in Berlin and internationally for their well-curated selections."
Do You Read Me?! houses an impressive collection of unusual magazines and books, with an emphasis on art, architecture and music. If you're in the mood to write yourself, R.S.V.P. is filled with fine stationery, greeting cards and paper from high-quality brands such as Caran d'Ache, Kaweco and Koh-i-Noor.
"Internationally, we certainly note that the Brooklyn hipster-style look of shops is increasingly becoming mainstream," Phillip says. "Think Edison light bulbs, refurbished wood and pipes or branches serving as coat hangers. Luckily, Berlin has always been good at setting new trends rather than copying established ones, so scouting for new shops in Berlin is always very inspiring for us."