Bikini Berlin in Germany’s Capital city describes itself as a ‘concept’ Shopping Mall, and everything about it is unusual - including its seemingly random name. It has a very different feel to most other Malls we have experienced, starting with the completely un-Mall-like exterior, going through its gardens filled with monkeys, and ending with the distinct, raw interior filled with stores of which you’ve mostly never heard. It certainly makes for an unusual Shopping Centre experience.
Bikini Berlin is housed in a heritage listed building and shares the huge space with a church, office high-rise, aquarium, zoo and a hotel. The entire complex, dubbed ‘Zentrum am Zoo’, was built way back in 1957 and was originally used to manufacture and sell textiles and clothing. The building was a buzzing hub until the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, basically ending the industrious space and it soon fell into disrepair. However, Munich-based real estate company Bayerische Hausbau saw potential and scooped up the space.
The Bikinihaus section of the Shopping Centre has been a famous landmark in Berlin since the late 1950's
The structure was dubbed 'Bikinihaus' because of its 'exposed midriff'
After a few years of development and spit-and-polish, Bikini Berlin was opened to the public in 2014, reinvented as a modern Shopping Centre with a difference. The complex is made up of a collection of buildings, the centrepiece of which is the ‘Bikinihaus’ (as it was affectionately dubbed by locals back in the fifties), a long and thin structure which appears to float because it rests on a series of columns; the locals decided this gave the impression of a girl’s bare midriff when she’s wearing the titular two-piece.
The Mall has many famous brands such as Mammut, the North Face and Vans, but most of the stores you will have never heard of, making it a totally unique Mall experience. However, it is the ‘pop-up boxes’ running along the centre of the Mall which really pique ones interest - these temporary spaces look as though they’re built from repurposed wooden pallets and feature up-and-coming designers and purveyors of interesting goodies which rotate on a regular basis, so there will always be new stores when you visit Bikini.
The Mall features a variety of permanent stores
If somehow you get bored of the interior, the Mall’s exterior is also unique - full of green spaces and relaxed seating. Of note is the roof terrace which runs the whole length of Bikinihaus. This stunning elongated oasis in the middle of the city gives you spectacular views of the Berlin skyline, which is particularly stunning if you get a clear evening. This space was inspired by New York’s latest attraction, the Highline, a park which runs along what was once an elevated railway line right in the heart of the big apple.
We can see how many hardcore Mallrats may be put off by the idea of Bikini Berlin, we are creatures of habit after all and don’t like any Mall to have delusions of grandeur. This was indeed a concern of ours - when a Mall attempts to shed the idea of itself being a Mall, things can go awry. However, there is more than enough familiar Mall goodness here. There is a cinema, plenty of traditional permanent stores everywhere, completely normal escalators and a food court - If you spend a day out at Bikini Berlin you feel as though you have had a day out at the Mall. This is the highest praise.
The convivial oustide gardens of Bikini Berlin
The interior of the Mall has an industrial design, softened by pastel colours
Today (January 12th) the Mall has just revealed its brand new food court which it has called ‘Kantini’. It takes up thirty percent of the Mall’s overall space, occupying most of the first level, and is the latest addition to this ever-evolving Shopping Centre. The Kantini features thirteen unique food stalls, two of which are pop-up and will rotate regularly to keep things interesting (unless of course you loved one of the pop-ups - in which case you can hope for a triumphant return!)
Some of the eateries are well-established restaurants within Berlin’s cosmopolitan food community. Djimalaya offers delicious Israeli street food, Chaparro offers authentic Mexican tacos and Pasta Deli offers treats from the old country. Most innovative is Frai, a ‘modular food concept’ which will allow patrons to assemble their own dishes - I’m thinking of something like Korean Bibimbap (then again I think of bibimbap a lot).
The Centre's pop-up boxes are a unique feature of this modern Mall, featuring spaces for up-and-coming designers and merchants who would never be able to otherwise sell their goods in a large Mall
According to the general manager of Bikini Berlin, the idea was spawned from a special event the Mall held in the recent past called ‘Bite Club’ to coincide with Berlin Food Week. It was a street food event which showcased an array of famous street treats from across the world, and the Mall owners decided that they should have something a bit more permanent with the same vibe, and this is just what they have built over this last year, incidentally designed by the same pair who designed the nearby 25hours Hotel, a hugely popular boutique hotel just next door to Bikini.
The space has been divided up well, so you don’t get the feeling that you’re in some massive soviet canteen and the varied pastel furniture gives every nook a unique feel. So once you have decided which food you’re going to try out, you order, take away, find your own little space and munch away. It is cosy and relaxed, and one side of the space is a massive glass window with a stunning view of the gardens around the Mall and the zoo across the way. You wouldn’t imagine you’re in Germany’s largest city with the vista.
Some aerial views of the pop-up spaces
So whether you’re after a unique shopping experience, with enough Mall-y goodness to not seem so alien, after a plethora of delicious international food or just want to relax on the grass and watch some monkeys do their thing, Bikini Berlin is the Mall to check out if you’re local or find yourself in this awesome modern German city. You see modern retail buzzwords such as ‘modular’ and ‘concept’ all over the place these days, but this Centre has nailed the modular concept - you can see exactly what they’re going for and it is great.
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