Whilst Berlin is undoubtedly a fantastic place to be a writer, there is one thing we can all agree on – distractions abound! From the constant lure of the city’s many lakes to the techno music pumping incessantly from your next door neighbours, it can be hard to find the right space to stay focused on your writing. Luckily, the city also has a whole host of great spots for you to hunker down with your pen, paper or laptop and finally bash out those priceless words!
But what makes for a great place to write? It can mean different things for different writers. Stephen King’s relentless fingers were spurred on by the anthems of AC/DC in his early days. Roald Dahl preferred a shed, a comfy armchair and an infinite supply of cigarettes. J.K. Rowling famously penned Potter in the cosy cafes of Edinburgh, whilst Cyril Connolly stipulated that the enemy of art was the pram in the hall!
To help you out, we Reader Berliners thought we’d share our favourite places for when working from home just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Sophie’s Cellar – Another Country
Kreuzberg’s Another Country bookshop is already a much loved treasure by the international writing community in Berlin, what with its abundance of English language books, regular reading nights such as Queer Stories (currently on hiatus) and the Friday night dinner parties that draw a lively crowd week after week. But did you know the basement is open and waiting for you to come and write during the week? This cool and quiet space surrounded by books is the perfect little island away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and it’s easier to lose track of time here than perhaps anywhere else in Berlin. Before you know it, you’ll have bashed out four chapters, at which point you can head upstairs for a beer and a chat with the enigmatic owner Sophie Raphaeline.
The Stabi – Potsdamer Platz
The Staatsbibliothek, affectionately known as ‘The Stabi’, is not only a great place to write, but a quintessential Berlin experience in itself. A favourite haunt of Reader founder Victoria, together with its sister site over at Unter Den Linden, The Stabi forms one of the biggest libraries in the whole of Europe. What makes the Potsdamer Platz location stand out, however, is the innovative modernist architecture. Part of the ‘Kulturforum’ collection of buildings built on the West side of the wall, The Stabi still retains something of a retro pre-Wende vibe, nowhere more so than in the canteen, where the grumpy mitarbeiters serve up classics like bulletten and piccolo bottles of rotkäppchen for when things get dire. Air-conditioning makes the Stabi highly popular in the summer months. To use the wifi you have to register, which may prove just the obstacle you need. We recommend getting a one year library card for 30 euros, which gives you access to the best workspaces and an extraordinary variety of books (mainly in German) for when you’re seeking inspiration/distraction.
The Berlin City Library
Less well known and certainly less snazzy than the Stabi, the Berlin City Library in Mitte is a great little secret for writers. You don’t have to be a member to work there, and there are plenty of tables and chairs to settle down and get into the writing groove. It’s a popular choice for the many students living in the city, and sharing a silent space with a whole room of academics furiously scribbling away can be great inspiration to write. Yes, the decor isn’t exactly chic, but there’s an affordable cafe (try the scrumptious Mohnschnecke!) and an open courtyard for when you have to beseech the gods to help you overcome writer’s block. It’s also conveniently centrally located within a stones throw of Museum Island and the Spree, so there’s plenty of history to absorb during writing breaks.
Bars & Cafes
If libraries and bookstores aren’t your cup of tea, try a cafe! Berlin is positively heaving with cafes and bars just waiting for you to come and pen your masterpiece.
For the Neuköllners amongst you, Muted Horn is a great space for writers, with craft beer on tap, cosy tables and armchairs in smoking and non-smoking areas and even a collection of board games if you feel like getting sociable after hitting your word count. Whilst it can get packed in the evenings, weekdays are fairly relaxed, and its distinctive ‘only in Berlin’ vibe is sure to unleash your inner prolific writer.
The Apotheken Bar in Kreuzberg is a former pharmacy turned cafe/bar (natürlich). Not only do they have delicious cafes and top notch coffee, but the polished dark wood, leftover apothecary paraphernalia and squishy furniture perfect for creating your own little writing nest makes it a winner, particularly in winter.
For all beer lovers with an anarchist streak, Cafe Morgenrot in Prenzlauer Berg is a delightful alternative to the spick and span cafes flooded with chatting out-of-towners that pervade the area. Not only does it tick all the right Berlin boxes (covered in graffiti, alternative art on the walls, excellent veggie food) it’s surprisingly quiet in the daylight hours, meaning you can scribble your diatribes of ‘taking down the system’ in this old anarchist favourite and then enjoy a crisp German beer on the terrace outside as a reward.
Sticking with the bar theme, those of you in Friedrichshain should head to Fitchers Vogel on Warschauer Straße. With its bare walls, candlelit tables and mismatched furniture, it’s a great place to hunker down and write over a dangerously cheap hausbier. Arrive early evening and take a seat towards the back, and enjoy the absence of distracting music before the crowds spill in from 8 or 9 onwards.
The district of Mitte has two bookstore/cafe combinations you’ll want to check out. Shakespeare & Sons on Warschauerstrasse has bookshelves on every wall and great bagels to keep you fuelled whilst you write. On the other end of the spectrum is the mighty Dussmann on Friedrichstrasse, which is a bookstore so vast you can literally get lost in it. A pleasant surprise is the subterranean cafe with a gigantic living rainforest waterfall wall, ideal inspiration for fantasy writers. Arrive before the lunch rush or mid afternoon to take advantage of the lulls.
If you prefer to scribble with the open sky above you, there are some nice places to take a pew on a picnic bench around the city. Search out Cafe Hasenschänke in Hasenheide park, the huge beer garden at Cafe am Neuen See in Tiergarten, or the endearingly retro Restaurant Schoenbrunn in Volkspark Friedrichshain for great writing spots surrounded by greenery. Or take a trip to the community gardens in Tempelhofer Feld, where you can grab a spati beer, take a seat amongst the flowerpots and gain inspiration from watching kite-surfers and rollerbladers at this enormous fascistic former airport. Only in Berlin!