No one has ever called me a fashion victim. On Sunday mornings I like to slob around in a tattered dressing gown. On weekdays I write in ancient track trousers and a patched sweater. Only last week did my long-suffering wife finally persuade me to throw out my father’s moth-eaten cardigan (he died way back in 1973).
Most Berliners don’t care how they look or what people think of their look. Just ask any of the ‘forever young’ geriatrics who cycle around Friedrichshain in pink hot pants, smoking cheroots, with a Chihuahua balanced in their bicycle basket.
Berlin – with its passion for grunge -- suits my total disregard for fashion. So it may come as a surprise that one of my favourite strolls is along the city’s catwalk, Alte and Neue Schönhauser Straße.
A Fashion Victim’s Catwalk
Twenty five years ago the streets around Hackescher Markt were grey with crumbling walls and lost hopes. Most old buildings hadn’t been ripped down as had happened elsewhere in the eastern half of the city. The Communist authorities had decided not to seize and demolished the once-Jewish-owned properties so as to deny Western media another chance to liken them to the Nazis.
Hence when the Wall fell, Hackescher Markt retained some of the richest, mixed-use architecture in East Berlin. Squatters and artists moved in, and were pushed out by trendy money, transforming the area into one of the hippest places in town.
The walk starts at Hackescher Markt S-Bahn station. First head north into Hackesche Höfe, a complex of eight interconnected courtyards reached off Rosenthaler Straße. Enjoy the hugely popular ‘New Berlin’ mix of businesses and residences, theatres and cinemas, art galleries, boutiques, bars and restaurants. Now strike out up Neue Schönhauser Straße, past dozens of trendy temples of fashion (and the Goethe Institut Berlin). At the top of the street is Caras, arguably the capital’s favourite café. But to my mind one should stroll on to Tor Straße, turn left to Rosenthaler Platz and indulge in a fantastic latte macchiato at the hilarious St. Oberholz. Now head south down Rosenthaler Straße and back to Hackescher Markt.
On a bike this short circuit could be completed in under ten minutes. But on foot, with stops for coffee and a meal – as well as sufficient lèche-vitrine (or ‘window-licking’), expect it to take at least three hours.