Multi-story department stores rule the roost in the Berlin shopping scene, yet plenty of small and quirky specialist shops still thrive. The city’s main credit card trails run along Charlottenburg’s glitzy Kurfürstendamm, where a glut of international designers has set up camp. Versace, Jil Sander, Gucci, Sonia Rykiel are among them, while more unusual boutiques—Annette Peterman and Nanna Kuckuck—lie on the adjacent Bleibtreustrasse. Friedrichstrasse, at the center of Mitte, offers much the same, though mainly in malls such as the Friedrichstadtpassagen and Galeries Lafayette (with its great gourmet food court). The fashion district with dozens of stores selling street wear lies northeast of here in the maze of streets around Weinmeisterstrasse. The shopping streets of Berlin’s central residential districts tend to have more interesting small shops. In Kreuzberg, concentrations of students, hippies and Turkish immigrants have determined the kinds of shops there. Quirky specialty shops are concentrated along Oranienstrasse and the less scruffy Bergmannstrasse. Both have small bookstores, alternative clothing stores, ethnic grocers and funky gift and household supply stores. But shopping in Berlin skews to its most interesting with browsing and foraging that can be found at its many flea markets, which mostly take place on Sundays. Besides the usual stock of second-hand books, clothing, records and bric-a-brac, keep an eye out for Eastern Bloc relics. One long-running and reliably good flea market takes place on Strasse des 17 Juni (Saturdays and Sundays, 10AM-5PM), while that on Boxhagener Platz in Friedrichshain on Sundays (10AM-5PM) is smaller, less formal and more low-budget. Central Berlin’s large shops generally stay open Monday to Saturday, 10AM to 8PM, while smaller shops or those outside the centre often close two hours earlier. Some department stores stay open until 10PM on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Credit cards are slowly becoming more widely accepted, but don’t rely on being able to use them everywhere. Sales can occur at any time of year, but traditionally the main sales times can be found in late-January (Winterschlussverkauf) and in late-July.
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This showcase for more than 30 local designers is a bit of a trek from the core of Berlin’s fashion district (just west of Hackescher Markt), but worth the walk for the design conscious. Find the assortment of clothing, accessories and unique souvenirs to be large, varied and urbane in a very typically Berlin way. Local labels include ic! berlin (eyewear designers, sunglasses), T-shirts from Hasipop and GDR-style sneakers from Zaha. There’s even some designer furniture, and many pieces are surprisingly affordable. The shop café with homemade pastries and fruit juice is a good place to review your newly-bought treasures.
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Until reunification with the West, the chubby traffic-light man named Ampelmann, with his ambitiously long stride and old-fashioned cloth hat, gave signals to East German pedestrians. But once the two countries were joined Ampelmann was at risk of replacement by a thinner West German counterpart, an event sparking all sorts of protests and a campaign to save him. Now saved, he’s become a bit of a cult object and a virtual mascot for all those possessing a certain nostalgia for East Germany. This shop sells almost nothing but Ampelmann memorabilia. Pick up T-shirts, mugs, lights, bottle openers and the like as eye-catching souvenirs.
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This old-fashioned department store is Europe’s largest and is to Berlin what Harrods is to London and Macy’s is to New York. A sense of timeless style reigns throughout. A large number of additional services are offered, too, from umbrella repair to tailoring, but overall the prices aren’t bad considering the quality of the luxurious items for sale. A particular strong point are the top floors, where dozens of deli counters invite you to settle on bar stools and wash down pieces of exotica with a glass of wine or champagne. Fantastic, too, is the roof-top cafeteria: certainly one of the classiest cafeterias in the world and with city views to match.
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