Paul Sullivan & Fiona Laughton round-up their favourite cafes for reading, writing, chatting and daydreaming…
As much as we’re fans of the Third Wave coffee movement, there’s something reassuringly timeless and welcoming about certain of the city’s older-school cafes.
Whether favouring a cluttered and homely “flea market” vibe like Wohnzimmer or Cafe Dritter Raum, or a more upscale Viennese coffee-house ambience like Einstein Stammhaus or Cafe am Literaturhaus, these are places that exude character and a certain degree of comfort.
Sure their menus might not extend to immaculately constructed flat-whites or boutique bagels; but then again that means less chance of beard-hair in your food, plus the clientele is likely to more accurately reflect the city’s social demographic.
Most importantly, these are places you can relax in. Many serve up elaborate brunches and have newspapers hanging on the walls. Others offer cosy, lamp-lit nooks that are perfect for reading, chatting, writing – or even some good old-fashioned canoodling and daydreaming.
Die Koppe (Kohlenquelle)
The Kohlenquelle, or Die Koppe, as it’s affectionately known – is a low-key yet legendary cafe/bar located on Prenzlauer Berg’s atmospheric Kopenhagener Strasse. Taking its name from its former role as a local coal cellar, the upstairs is a simple but comfortable two-room space, with vintage couches to lounge on and a bar that serves draft beer, long drinks and pretzels, as well as cheap, hearty lunches and weekend buffet brunches. Downstairs, the former cellar (which once hosted to the famous Mittwoch Club) is now a vast, crumbling room for smokers. In summer, grab a seat or bench outside and watch the people go by while admiring the splendid 1920s architecture of the Hans Heinrich Müller’s Transformer Station.
Kohlenquelle, Kopenhagener Straße 16, 10439 Berlin; Open Mon-Fri from 9am, Sat-Sun from 10am.
Café Dritter Raum
Cafe Dritter Raum (Third Room) has all the makings of the perfect Kiezwohnzimmer. Located just off Sonnenallee, it offers well-stocked book and magazine shelves, vintage board games, a Super Nintendo, a sweet little garden and – yup – weekly screenings of Tatort. There are also regular events such as skill swap evenings, and at weekends the space serves up an inexpensive buffet brunch, with many delicious vegetarian and vegan options.
Café Dritter Raum, Hertzbergstraße 14, 12055 Berlin; 030 5473 7666; Open Tue-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 10am-11pm.
Cafe am Literaturhaus
With its yellow-painted walls, ornate ceiling mouldings and froufrou chandeliers, Café im Literaturhaus occupies a demure little villa just off the swarming Ku’Damm on charming Fasanenstrasse. Comprising part of the eponymous Literaturhaus, which also includes a small, subterranean bookshop and hosts a comprehensive calendar of literary events, the cafe emits a classic Viennese coffee-shop flair with two grand Art Deco rooms that feature leather banquettes and wooden tables and walls decorated with large-scale black-and-white photographs and colourful paintings. Perfect for a morning coffee and read of the newspapers (provided), an extended weekend brunch or an indulgent Kaffee und Kuchen session, in summer you can also sit in the garden and enjoy the sound of nearby birdsong merging sonorously with the distant soundtrack of the city.
Cafe am Literaturhaus, Fasanenstraße 23, 10719 Berlin; 030 887 286 0; Open daily from 9am till midnight.
You wouldn’t expect to find a cafe quite so gemütlich on rowdy Skalizter Strasse. But despite looking directly onto the U-bahn, Salon Schmuck manages to turn the charm factor all the way up to eleven. Inside you’ll find pretty, coloured walls covered in punk rock photos, cute retro furniture and a separate smoking area. The extensive and well-priced menu ranges from student budget to bio-by-the-glass wine. The perfect combination of bar and café, position yourself near the well stocked cake displays and get ready to soak up the Kreuzberg vibes, one laid back hour at a time.
If you keep walking along Schwedter Straße after exiting Mauerpark on the northern side, you’ll soon walk by Café Niesen, an old-school café that serves up affordable food and drinks in a home-from-home atmosphere. With its colourful assortment of second-hand furniture, peeling walls and dash of Berliner Schnauze, this place has a real local community feel – enhanced by the fliers on the walls that advertise anything from lost cats to local jazz evenings, art events and the latest news on the Save Mauer Park campaign.
Café Niesen, Schwedter Straße 78, 10437 Berlin; Open daily 11am-8pm.
Macondo proudly declares itself a Leseplatz – that is, a reading place – and it certainly is a cosy space for getting stuck into your latest tome (or writing one). Though located on the edge of the increasingly hip Boxhagener Platz, Macondo’s living room ambiance seems to suspend regular time, allowing guests to sink into a floral armchair or sofa and just forget the world outside. The 3pm opening times (weekdays) seem also designed to promote a certain laid-back living, though at the weekends they wake up earlier to lay on a Latin American themed brunch (10am onwards) – the perfect starting point before shopping at the local food market (Saturdays) or seeking vintage bargains at the Flöhmarkt (Sundays).
For all the talk of gentrification, Prenzlauer Berg seems to have more time-warp cafes than most. Wohnzimmer on Hemholtzplatz is a veteran of the local scene, and almost certainly one of the longest-running spaces in the area (along with the excellent Ausland venue nearby). Kitted out with GDR-era armchairs, mirrors and faux-Renaissance sofas culled from flea markets, theatres and even – rumour has it – a castle, the venue exudes an aura of cosiness day and night. Coffees, beers and a limited menu of cakes, soups and sandwiches are on offer, and there’s a back room – equally shabby-chic – for the smokers. Tip: if you really want some peace and quiet, duck behind the sliding doors at the back of the main room to find an even more secluded area (which can be hired out for small groups and birthdays).
Wohnzimmer, Lettestraße 6, 10437, Prenzlauer Berg. U2: Eberswalderstr., T: 030 44 55 458, Open: 09–end daily
Nathanja & Heinrich
Before the evening drinkers swarm Nathanja & Heinrich, this cafe is a charming spot for lingering over a cappuccino and hefty slice of cake. It’s the usual Berlin style of mix-matched vintage furniture, but the minimalist layout give it a more refined feel than some of its fleamarket-furnished counterparts. During the evening, live music often takes over from the daytime Soul LPs. The cafe is a favourite with local film makers; you might even spot yourself as an extra in the next indie flick.
Nathanja & Heinrich, Weichelstraße 44, 12045 Berlin; 030 624 911 4; Open daily 1pm-3am