Berlin's best boutiques
The Murkudis brothers are a design duo with the Midas touch. When Andreas Murkudis opened his cavernous new concept store in a quiet Schöneberg courtyard during Berlin Fashion Week in July 2011, there were whispers in the fashion crowd that his decision to set up shop here could help transform the sleepy neighbourhood into a shopping hotspot. This hasn’t exactly happened, instead he joins the cluster of art galleries that have begun sprouting up in the area, the Berlin-branch of Blain Southern situated in the same ex-Tagesspiegel complex as his shop. The interior is white, stark and immense, with neon strip lighting. Clothes (by brother Kostas Murkudis, Dries van Noten and Maison Martin Margiela to name but a few) are immaculately displayed amongst items of contemporary furniture, porcelain and homeware by brands such as Nymphenburg.
There are plenty of young Berlin designers cutting their chops at boutiques around the city, but Canadian-born Jen Gilpin’s label Don’t Shoot The Messengers is easily the definitive city look. Local influences can be read from all over: shades of Marlene Dietrich’s austere raunchiness and even the complex fastenings of fetish-ware are apparent in the billowy clothing, made mostly in fine black silks and leather. Angular cutouts offer up glimpses of flesh, and sleek shapes are conjured up by inventive draping that proves Gilpin’s skilled technique. Their handsome Mitte boutique is definitely worth a visit, and their line runs from elegant leggings to layered wool overcoats, with surprisingly affordable prices to boot. They even have the Lady Gaga seal of approval: she was spotted wearing little else than DSTM lingerie and a fur coat for her album release party in Berlin.
The Berlin-based glasses label has long been a mainstay for all fashion conscious locals since 2004, but the brand has hit the big time in recent years and some of their more experimental frames have been picked up by the likes of Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas. The slick Hackescher Markt store recently underwent a revamp, and now perfectly showcases their extensive range of eyewear. Creators Philipp Haffmans and Harald Gottschling present their hand-made prescription frames and sunglasses on stark, industrial shelving units in this beautifully lit, ultra-minimalist store. There are a various different style ranges, dainty rimless specs, chunkier vintage numbers and their many collaborative models, like the 50s-inspired Beth Ditto shades or the over-sized sun visors from Bernhard Willhelm.
Recommended independent stores in Berlin
The Voo concept store brings sleek fashions to an area usually associated with punkier looks. The expansive space, discreetly hidden in a courtyard off Kreuzberg’s busy Oranienstraße, is all untreated concrete walls and bold lighting, something typical of Berlin’s beloved industrial aesthetic, while the eclectic designers stocked also maintain a uniform identity of rigid lines and quality materials. They carry well-crafted outerwear from minimal Swedish favourites Acne, classic New Balance sneakers, colourful Kenzo print sweaters and a selection of accessories like Raf Simons' collaboration with backpack brand Eastpak. There’s also an in-store third-wave coffee bar, Companion Coffee, where you can get a fine macchiato while perusing luxury magazines like The Travel Almanac.
You have to know what you’re looking for with this one, tucked away as it is in a disused frame factory in a courtyard just off Schlesisches Tor. Motto is Swiss by origin and Swiss in its super design consciousness. Besides pop-ups all over European art hot spots like Venice and Basel, as well as an outpost in Melbourne, this Kreuzberg branch was the first permanent one, opened in 2008, and remains the most inviting. A softly lit array of fanzines, back-issues, artist’s books, posters, rare print-runs and cult classics are spread in a come-hither way across a long central table; altogether some 3,000 changing titles are carried by the store. Look out for book launches and evening events.
The innocuous Moritzplatz roundabout was always a no man’s land, but there have been a fair few high-profile shops opening around there, including a high-end kitchen appliance shop, a banh-mi café and the Prince Charles nightclub. One of the first, though, was Modulor, a paradise for the crafty, with absolutely anything and everything an artist or designer might need. Over a number of floors, everything is logically laid out – rolls of bizarre synthetic materials stacked up for use by product designers or experimental fashion students, but also more traditional art supplies: row after row of coloured pencils, markers, chalks, charcoals, oils and acrylics. They also offer services like cutting, laser etching and rental of tools. It’s also a great place to come for decorative ideas for the more DIY-minded, as they sell shaped objects, metallic papers, printed wallpapers and plastic models which can be used around the house.
Gourmet shopping in Berlin
A recent addition to Berlin’s patisseries, it’s already become one of the best, knocking out all sorts of fine French pastry, freshly-made croissants and a fabulous array of colourful macarons. All of these require extremely long hours, most places just buying in frozen dough and even bread from industrial bakeries. Here it’s all lovingly overseen by Anna Plagens, who trained under Pierre Hermé himself, the man credited with fetishizing the macaron at Fauchon, Ladurée and now under his own brand name. Unsurprisingly Du Bonheur’s macarons are pretty spectacular, with fillings like orange, salted caramel and liquorice, bite-sized morsels of pure joy. Their buttery croissants are made daily for a satisfying crunchy flake, and they also do classics like Paris-Brest, a circular choux ring filled with praline cream, or elegant birthday cakes with raspberry, chocolate cream and meringue.
Dong Xuan Center
For a taste of Saigon in Berlin, head out east to the massive Dong Xuan Center, a sprawling industrial zone in Lichtenberg. The Center is situated within four cavernous warehouses on the former site of an enormous coal and graphite processing plant (it was demolished in the 1990s and underwent extensive ground 'detoxification'). Tradesmen hawk all sorts of wares for businesses affiliated with the Vietnamese community, from wholesale nail salon supplies to glitzy chandeliers, but, most importantly, there are enormous food halls catering to trade. Butchers proudly display bowls of various animal by-products, including tongues, sweetbreads and blood sausages made to order with bottles of fresh blood for those wanting to try their hand at home. The powerful smell of Thai basil, coriander, lemongrass and other south-east Asian herbs wafts up from the fresh produce sections while bags of rice form solid walls (watch out for sneaky sparrows, who swoop down from the rafters for a nibble). If hungry, stop off at Duc Anh in Hall 3 for bun cha: a towering pile of fresh herbs and salads, served with steamed rice noodles and a chunks of marinated, roast pork in a delicate broth of sweetened fish sauce.
Soluna Brot und Öl
True to German form, their bread is dense and healthy, usually involving rye, seeds and made from sourdough: no pasty white sliced loaves here. You can find some of the best in town at this unassuming Kreuzberg bakery that even supplies some of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants. Sadly, their master baker Peter Klann passed away in 2013, but his legacy lives on and they continue to produce a vast array of organic breads in the traditional style. Their signature loaf is the Rundling, a hard-crusted country bread made from rye with a little wheat flour. There are a number of small tables where you can also sit with a coffee and pastry to let the gentle aroma of baking bread waft over you from their wood-fired dome oven.
Whereas most countries have tawdry televised MasterChef competitions, in France the title of ‘Maître’ really means something and can be applied to many culinary arts, from roasting meats to storing cheese. The chef-proprietor, Phillipe, along with his daughter Anaïs, make this a family affair, selecting only the best cheeses France has to offer, as well as a few from further afield. For a dairy-loving country, Berlin is lacking in its cheese availability, most of it the industrial and pre-sliced variety. Here there’s a wealth of cheesy goodness, of all three major milk varietals, like nutty Ardi Grasna sheep’s cheese, crinkly-skinned Chavignol goat’s cheeses or dense aged Comté from cow’s milk. These are all sourced from small producers, usually farming collectives working under EU-controlled AOP certification, using traditional methods that respect their local environment and terroir. Most importantly, they take real care with delivery and storage, as goat’s milk cheeses are particularly prone to spoilage. High-grade tinned fish, charcuterie and wines are also stocked.