Carlijn Potma takes a stroll around Friedrichshain’s Boxhagener Platz…
When mentioning the words “fleamarket”, “Berlin” and “Sunday”, most people instantly think about the weekly happenings down at the Mauerpark or nearby Arkonaplatz. But these are not Berlin’s only places for bargain hunters – nor are they the only places with a pleasant Sunday-style atmosphere.
Friedrichshain, the Eastern borough known for its rugged atmosphere, squats and underground clubscene, also has a pleasant place to spend your Sunday afternoon: Boxhagener Platz, or “Boxi”, as the locals call it.
True, the fleamarket is not as extensive and fashion-minded as the one at Mauerpark, but there’s a surprisingly versatile selection of stalls: antique dealers selling curiosities, young creatives offering artwork, unique t-shirts or jewellery, gypsies hawking just about everything, locals selling second hand clothes…
Books, old records and vinyl are in high supply – you can even find a broad selection of retro compact cassettes at some stands. Real bargains are not so easy to find, but a bit of haggling will definitely help. A smattering of coffee and snack stands provide basic “keep-it-real” sustenance, and there’s also a small pavilion café run by the Karuna Verein whose staff are young offenders fullfilling their ‘community work’. It can be pretty crowded on a sunny day, but the atmosphere is very friendly.
The market stalls circumnavigate the actual Boxhagener Platz, a central square that features a children’s playground, paddling pool and a small park with plenty of benches to chill on. Being one of the most gentrified parts of a district that prides itself on fighting gentrification, the square generally attracts an especially interesting and broad mix of people: families, students, punks, buskers and hipsters all congregate here to drink coffee or beer, lounge in the grass or shop.
Not quite as peaceful are the rumours about one of the square’s old trees. The story goes it was used to hang people during both Wolds Wars, though verification is naturally difficult to obtain.
A hundred years ago the square was fulfilling a similar function as it does today: a central recreation area, meeting place, playground and marketplace. Its name refers to the former hamlet of Boxhagen, a manor farm that was located just north of the present-day square. In 1903, the area was renewed and two years later a weekly farmers market was set up to provide food for the local community – that market still takes place here every Saturday.
After the Second World War, large parts of Friedrichshain were destroyed and rebuilt, but the Eastern area of the district, including Boxhagener Platz, was spared the Plattenbau makeover. After the fall of the Berlin Wall squatters were a decisive influence in the area. Many collective housing projects remain today, especially in nearby Rigaer Str., though many have been controversially evicted or are under threat.
The streets spiraling out from the square – in particular Grünberger Straße, Krossener Straße, Gärtnerstraße and Gabriel-Max-Straße – host a wealth of cafés, boutiques, bars and restaurants. The nearby Russian café Datscha serves an excellent brunch during the weekend, though it’s so popular that finding an unoccupied table won’t be easy. Café Macondo, a so-called ‘leseplatz’ (reading café) located on Gärtnerstrasse, serves a Latin American brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Further down this street, you’ll find café Kaufbar (Buy Bar) where you can not only buy drinks and snacks but also the crockery its served on, the seats you’re sitting in and more.
Sweet-tooths will want to drop into Cupcake, Berlin’s first store dedicated to these American-style cakes (vegan versions available), while families will no doubt enjoy Knilchbar, a boutique style childrens café with Sunday brunches, great food and plenty of play areas and toys for the kids.
For a taste of older Berlin, check out the nearby Knorrpromenade, located South West of Boxhagener Platz. The houses here were built in 1911-1913 to attract wealthier residents to the working-class neighbourhood. Today it’s the last bourgeois housing complex in the area, featuring a jumble of architectural styles, crumbled entrance gates on the southern side and an abundance of pretty foliage bursting from gardens and balconies in summer.
Another oddity worth a mention is the square’s public restroom. The historic cast-iron toilet house, located next to Café Pavillon, is one of only 30 19th century public restrooms left in Berlin. It was burned down in 1992, but restored a couple of years later and has now been refurbished in local “grunge” style by graffiti, stickers and party posters.
Also nearby is ‘Intimes’, a charming cinema on the corner of Boxhagener- and Niederbarnim Strasse, which was established around 1915 and still screens movies (with an anticipated bias on independent productions) for reasonable prices.
Farmer’s market: Sat, 8-15:30
Fleamarket: Sun, 10-18