As Berlin evolves into a cosmopolitan European city, yoga lovers are finding its growing health and wellbeing scene hard to resist.
If ever there was a place that encourages you to live in the now, it is Berlin. For a city with such a complex recent history, evidence of the ongoing process of renewal is everywhere. From the newest fashions and creative trends, the focus is on what is happening right at this moment. For the most part, Berlin is not the most polished and pristine European capital—even its mayor, Klaus Wowereit, referred to the city as “poor but sexy”—but its appeal and seductive qualities will charm you instantly. Basically, it is impossible to visit this city and not leave with a new creative energy flowing through your body.
Berlin has certainly earned a reputation as a cultural centre for artists and creatives. It’s estimated there are 400 art galleries and more than 6000 artists drawing on the city’s uniqueness to produce their work. While many visitors are keen to explore Berlin’s nightlife and historical elements, the surprise is that there is plenty on offer for the yoga-loving, health-conscious person—you don’t have to go far to find an amazing yoga studio, an organic cafe or a beautiful spa.
In many ways, things feel a little more relaxed in Berlin than other busy European capitals. Outdoor cafes are full of chilled-out folk and there are endless locations to be discovered as the city continues to evolve from its post-war state into a once-again iconic location. Berlin attracts people who wish to share new ideas and be a part of the greater energy amassed in these famous locations. When taking a yoga class here, you get the feeling that you’re enhancing the experience of being in such a historically significant city—and that drawing on this energy and incorporating it into your own practice can be energising and revitalising.
In fact, transformation is key to this city. There is probably not a visitor that arrives without expectations of catching glimpses of Berlin’s former self. Taking a group walking tour or bouncing your bike over the many cobbled streets is the perfect way to witness the city’s melding of old and new. The exquisite Berliner Dom (Cathedral) and huge museums are contrasted against the modern, gleaming architecture of Potsdamer Platz. Street art is aplenty, as are hip little bars and cafes serving late breakfasts into the afternoon. Plenty of building projects can be seen throughout the streets, as new apartment blocks and hotels indicate a growing interest in this culturally rich city.
While there is no actual city centre, the area of Mitte is very popular for visitors and offers a central location from which to explore the streets, parks, shops, tourist sites, galleries and Spree River.
A word of advice: Berlin is a very different city depending on the time of year that you visit. With its northerly location, wintertime can be incredibly cold but cosy indoors. Spring, summer and autumn are certainly beautiful months to visit Tiergarten (Berlin’s largest park), the zoo and other outdoor venues.
Berlin has an array of well-located yoga studios that offer a broad range of styles. And thankfully, for the non-German speaker, many of these studios give asana lessons in English.
One of Berlin’s standout studios is Spirit Yoga, with about 100 classes between its two locations in Mitte and Charlottenburg, a suburb in the former West Berlin. The Mitte studio is a haven of wooden-beamed tranquillity, its largest practice room with a view to the famous Fernsehturm (TV tower), one of the iconic postmodern Berlin images. But getting distracted by views is not too much of an issue when class begins—the teacher’s focus on breathing and alignment soon has everyone deeply concentrated inwardly.
Owner Patricia Thielemann opened Spirit Yoga in 2004 after several years of teaching yoga in Los Angeles. She says Spirit Yoga’s teaching aims to bridge the gap between traditional Eastern yoga and styles popular in the West. The result is a powerful vinyasa flow yoga with Ujjayi breath. There are two things that stand out after a class here: one is the neck massage with an aromatic essential oil lotion that the teacher gives during Savasana, and the other is the hot chai and cut fruit awaiting participants at the end of each class. There is an inclusive feeling as students stand around for a post-class chat as a reward at the end of a solid practice. The Mitte studio also has a shop with yoga paraphernalia for sale, as does the Charlottenburg location, which houses a wonderful spa. www.spirityoga.de/en/about_spirit_yoga/spirit_studios
Jivamukti Yoga Berlin
Jivamukti Yoga Berlin specialises in the conscious-living focused Jivamukti style at two locations. At Brunnenstrasse, you will find three large studios with shower facilities, a vegan cafe and shop, while Kreuzberg has two studios, shower facilities and a boutique offering organic yoga clothing among other items. Director Anja Kuehnel opened the school in 2008 after completing her training in New York.
There are several classes taught in English, also by Australian teacher Kirileigh Lynch. Each month Jivamukti has a different focus, be it music, mantra or detoxing—a beautiful way to deepen the connection with your physical practice. There’s kirtan every week on Sunday evening, which is also a brilliant way to renew your sense of calm after a day of discovering the city. www.jivamuktiberlin.de
For a smaller, intensive opportunity to practise, try Iyengar-based Yoga Klub. With one practice room, an attentive teacher will guide you calmly and thoroughly into the poses. For visitors on the Kreuzberg side of town, visit Yoga Studio Berlin for quality classes in a beautiful old warehouse building.
Germany is known for its natural healthcare. In Berlin, you can try one such method, Kur machen (“taking the waters”), which involves drinking or bathing in special mineral waters to facilitate healing. Head to Liquidrom for the ultimate opportunity to relax in thermal waters while listening to soothing music. Here, in this magical water world, you will find several options to unwind. Try the warm saltwater pool, which is the centrepiece of the otherwise minimally designed Liquidrom, and lie back in the water while coloured lights sparkle below you and views of the sky, or moonlight, stream through the circular window above. Or try one of the many saunas and enjoy the “infusion phases”, such as the honey embrocation in which honey is infused through the sauna, promoting circulation and anti-inflammatory healing. www.liquidrom-berlin.de
After taking a yoga class, visit the lovely Beauty Spa located on the top floor of The Weinmeister Hotel. While awaiting your appointment, relax on the rooftop deck with great views to Berlin’s beautiful old buildings. Beautician Sarah Arndt spent a year in Melbourne where she learned to perfect an airbrush tanning technique, and both herself and her mother Anna, who owns the spa, have extensive experience in the beauty business. Sarah is also a certified Pilates instructor and offers private tuition. For a treatment that will soothe your entire being, try the Tibetan Bowl massage: after a 30-minute massage, Tibetan bowls are placed on your body and the vibrations complete an extremely relaxing treatment.
If you’re drawn to Ayurvedic treatments, there is a small but lovely shop called Sri Dhanvantari in Prenzlauer Berg that specialises in a variety of Ayurvedic massages. Try the full body Abhyanga massage (60-minute, 90-minute and four-hand options available) and follow up with an Ayurvedic herb-filled steam bath. Thai yoga massage, Reiki and life readings are also on offer to complete the balanced feeling.
Although Germany is not traditionally known for its vegetarian fare, it is certainly progressive when it comes to offering both reasonably priced and upmarket organic options.
For a cosy cafe vibe, try Maja’s Deli in Prenzlauer Berg. Here, they cook vegan and vegetarian specials daily as well as superb cakes and desserts made from raw sugar and spelt flour. If you want to grab ingredients to cook at home, try one of the LPG or VIV organic supermarkets dotted around Berlin. www.majas-deli.de; www.lpg-naturkost.de/mitglied-en; www.viv-biofrischemarkt.de
Eve & Adam’s is a popular organic salad bar that also offers delivery. Choose from fresh organic juices and smoothies or select an assortment of delicious ingredients to be tossed into a salad—this is healthy food heaven. Soup, ciabattas and hot drinks are available as well, which are great in the cooler months. My favourite option here is the Edle Zeige goat’s cheese salad and a creamy blueberry, apple and cashew smoothie. Outside, the colourful tables and faux grass will instantly lift your mood. www.eveandadams.com
A good option for a dessert follow-up is to take a short walk for a frozen yoghurt treat at Efa’s. All organic and without preservatives, sweeteners and additional sugars, the yoghurt itself is incredibly more-ish. An array of diced fresh fruits or small sugary treats can be added to sweeten. http://efas.de
For a unique Berlin experience, get your map ready to locate the swish Cookies Cream restaurant, hidden down an alleyway near Unter den Linden (behind The Westin Grand hotel). Exclusively vegetarian, the prices exceed the standard Berlin restaurant meal, but sampling some innovative and creative meals is absolutely worth the pre-booking and location-finding angst (ringing the door buzzer to be let in is another typical Berlin trait). Minimalist and yet highly atmospheric, the restaurant has a set meal that changes weekly. It’s probably the most affordable way to try the delicious food, which is about 80 per cent seasonal. There’s also an à la carte menu with mouth-watering mains, such as parmesan dumplings with braised artichoke. This restaurant is a must for a special night out in Berlin, and you can be assured non-vegetarians will not notice the lack of meat on the menu (nor the lack of pasta, rice or tofu, which chef Stefan Hentschel has left out in order to reinvent expectations of vegetarian food). If you feel like dancing afterwards, Berlin’s renowned nightclub, Cookies, is below. Reservations are best made in advance. www.cookiescream.com
If Cookies Cream is beyond the budget, try another Cookies venture, Chipps. The two ambient and trendy restaurants, Chipps No. 1 and Chipps No. 2, are located in Mitte and focus on seasonal, regional ingredients. Although meat and fish are part of the menu, they are prepared separately as a side dish. Try Chipps No. 1 on a warm day and enjoy sitting on the terrace, or visit Chipps No. 2 and watch the open kitchen as you dine. http://chipps.de
No matter how limited your time in Berlin, there is a variety of ways to practise balance. Either quite literally on a mat, balancing out the effects of travel, or taking the time to relax between crossing off tourist must-see’s on your list. Berlin has a vast history and colourful soul which makes practising yoga here a real joy.
Sascha Wyness is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, who divides her time between Australia and Europe.
Judging by the number of new hotels popping up around the city, there are many options for a good night’s sleep at whatever level your budget permits. For convenience and cleanliness, try Hotel Meininger on Schoenhauser Allee (www.meininger-hotels.com). The Circus Hostel and Circus Hotel (located opposite each other on Weinbergsweg and Rosenthaler strasse, respectively) have single (from 60), twin and double room options as well as apartments and shared dormitory rooms. The decor reminds one of an IKEA showroom, but coming home to a clean location at the end of a long day is never overrated. Each Circus hotel offers a well-priced cafe, creating a comfortable base from which to relax and ponder the day’s itinerary. www.circus-berlin.de
Giant chairs and sofas inhabit the lobby of The Weinmeister Hotel, providing somewhere atmospheric to enjoy a drink. Just a year old, the focus here is on creating an experience to remember. Darkish tones are in full use for the fabrics and decorative elements are combined with unique urban art on the walls to create the desired ambience of being the trendiest new kid on the block. The hotel location in Weinmeister strasse is absolutely perfect for exploring Hackescher Markt’s many cool clothing stores and restaurants. Alternatively, stay in and head to the rooftop to grab a drink and snuggle in to one of the beanbag cushions—sighing over the beautiful views from here is optional.
For an incredible sleeping experience, look forward to the over-sized custom-made bed or spend time on the Apple Mac in each of the 84 rooms. Standard rooms are priced from 109. www.the-weinmeister.com/en/
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Most flights from Australia to Berlin transit via a European hub such as London or Frankfurt. Within Europe, low-cost airlines such as EasyJet, Ryanair, Airberlin and Germanwings provide flights to Berlin.
Berlin’s new international airport is under construction and set to open in 2012, making connections from Australia more direct.
More than 3.4 million people live here and public transport in the forms of trains, buses and trams mean Berlin is easily accessible. In the warmer months the best option is to hire a bicycle (about 8 per day) to see the sights, as most streets have dedicated bike paths.