Living in Weißensee

Weissensee is a quarter of Berlin located in the district of Pankow which derives its name from the White Lake. The White Lake is located near the Berliner Allee and is one of the deepest bodies of water in Berlin which also serves as a bathing beach. Around the lake there is an expansive park that is a popular walking spot amongst Berliners. Until 2001 Weissensee was an autonomous district, and also the district of Berlin with the lowest population density. Nowadays, together with the areas of Prenzlauer Berg and Pankow, it represents the district of Pankow.

Whilst Weissensee is popularly thought to be "off the beaten track", it's not really the case, given that you can get quickly into Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Gesundbrunnen as well as to the eastern districts of Friedrichshain, Hohenschoenhausen and Lichtenberg with public transport - trams M4, M13, 12 and M2 - as well as via the Ringbahn. This means nights out are flexible and it's not necessary to wait until 4:30 in the morning for the S-Bahn and U-bahn to open.

The People


Despite its low rents, Weissensee is not amongst the most popular areas of Berlin, such as those in which students, artists and creative freelancers congregate. In Weissensee the population of Berlin in the days before reunification can be seen: manual workers, the unemployed, pensioners and middle-class families. There are many Berlin "originals" and very few newcomers; however, in recent months there seems to be more young people than before, so perhaps it is a Friedrichshain in the making.

Housing


The rental prices for apartments in Weissensee have remained very humane; gentrification has not yet taken hold yet. You can certainly rent one-room apartments for €200. Bigger apartments are also cheap to get, and are generally equipped with a bathtub and a balcony. When you go to an apartment viewing, it's possible you might be the only candidate and will be awarded the apartment without much fuss. One of the biggest renters is the GESOBAU, which rent for really cheap, but requires a high investment of shares in the co-operative.

Overall, Weissensee can be divided into five "quarters": the founding quarter, the composers' district, the old tow up to Berliner Allee, the municipal quarter and the so-called Taut-settlement Buschallee.

The composer district is located south of the Berliner Allee and is not so-called because it is or was home to composers, but rather because of its street names (such as Chopinstraße, Smetanastraße and Gounodstraße). This district consists mainly of blocks of flats.

On the other hand, the founding quarter, located west of Berliner Allee on Langhansstraße, has a number of commercial/industrial buildings, and the architecture of the surrounding houses is rather depressing, because they are closely built together and the facades are more often than not dark grey tones of concrete.

The old town of Weißensee remains very much the centre: Berliner Allee. Here you can do a little shopping and live well, since the houses are often very well preserved old houses. From here it's also only a small hop to the White Lake and to Prenzlauer Berg, as soon after Antonplatz Berliner Allee crosses Greifswalder Straße.

Those who like to live a bit more upmarket can rent somewhere on the Woelckpromenade, with its buildings from the last 19th century designed by the architect Carl James Bühring.

Finally, you can live really cheaply in the Taut-settlement (named after Bruno Taut) with its prefabricated buildings reminiscent of Hohenschoenhausen; the district was created in order to offer more housing to the area.

Shopping


In Weissensee you can only really shop on Berliner Allee, but the selection is not really targeted at young people - more like the 35- to 6-year-olds who live in this part of the city. So you don't necessarily get the latest fashions, and the secon-hand shops are pretty mediocre; for such things it's better to travel to Kastanienallee in Prenzlauer Berg. Berliner Allee is good for everyday essentials and things such as fresh bread rolls. here are also flower shops and banks, and a Kaiser's supermarket has recently opened. The main hub is definitely Antonplatz, where the M4, 12 and M13 trams stop. If you need electronic goods, luckily Media Markt is not far away at Greifswalder Straße/Ostseestraße where there are more shops in the direction of Mitte.

In contrast, the rest of Weissensee is swarming with supermarkets, with pretty much one on every corner, and the locals treasure this, as you can get whatever you need, right on your doorstep. However, Weissensee is missing a proper shopping centre like the Ringcenter on Frankfurter Allee or the arcades on Schönhauser Allee.

Eating Out


It's a similar case with restaurants: the most famous is Osseria on Langhansstraße, which does hearty German fare; if you're not such a fan of local food then Gustav-Adolf-Straße has Asian alternatives. On the corner of Lehderstraße there's a late shop - open until 9 o'clock - and doesn't have a bad selection. Like apartments, the prices here are pretty low, adapted to the budget of the Weißensee population.

Nightlife


You guessed it: the nightlife in Weißensee is pretty thin on the ground! There are a few dodgy pubs which are said to have an "attitude" and which are best avoided. These are easily spotted: just look for the drunken locals with their bottles of beer standing outside the entrance in their unfashionable clothes and singing! It's better to take a tram and head into another part of Berlin - much more comfortable and safer to do so. At nighttime in Weißensee there are some characters that even encountering in the day would make you shudder. Having said that, violence is rare and despite skepticism about other you can confidently make your way along the streets.

Culture


There's culture in Weißensee, but again, it's rather limit to individual institutions such as the "Bread Factory" which combines a stage, cinema, gallery and a pub. The location is also not bad: Prenzlauer Allee/Gustav-Adolf-Straße, easily reachable by trams and worth a visit. Then there's Wallywoods, an alternative (gallery) location on Berliner Alleee, in which exhibitions and concerts often take place, which would certainly attract a large audience if Weißensee were not so, well, "off the beaten track". If you like to do photography, you can take the M13 tram to the ruined infants/children's hospital at Weißensee, a place for the daring and also a hangout for bored teenagers.

People who have never been to Weißensee often still know of the School of Art, which has been around since 1946 and at which you can study all manner of different things, including sculpture, fashion design, painting, stage and costume design and many more artsy subjects.

Anne Hennies