City of culture, clubbing and... currywurst
Berlin has busied itself since the fall of its infamous Wall with becoming one of the most stimulating creative and cultural centres in Europe. It is a hub for hedonists, hipsters and history buffs alike – one that truly offers something for everyone. Its slew of art spaces, notoriously tolerant nightlife and burgeoning start-up scene grab the headlines most regularly, but the city is also a welcoming destination for families thanks to a wealth of green spaces, sparkling lakes and a generally child-friendly infrastructure. Luxury travellers are catered for with a slew of five-star hotels, Michelin-starred dining spots and indulgent spas; and for history fans, there's plenty – after all, the city was at the heart of much of the turbulent 20th century.
Alongside world-famous cultural and historical sights – such as the Unesco-protected Museum Island and the domed Reichstag, Alexanderplatz and Checkpoint Charlie – the inner-city neighbourhoods (Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Schöneberg) are huge on local atmosphere and peppered with hip bars and restaurants, as well as independent boutiques and quirky museums.
Hot right now . . .
Paul Sullivan, our resident expert, offers his top tips on the best things to do and the hottest places to eat and drink this season.
Although Kin Dee (Lützowstr 81; 00 49 30 2155 294) opened a couple of years ago, this unassuming but excellent Thai restaurant has been placed firmly on Berlin’s culinary map with a 2019 Michelin star. The cuisine is certainly worth the trip to Schöneberg. In contrast to the simple and sparsely decorated interior, the authentic Thai dishes are spectacular, presented with contemporary twists and made with a commitment to regional ingredients. Try the tasting menu for the full experience. Open Tues-Sat from 6pm.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Berlin inevitably has celebrations lined up. More than 100 events – large-scale 3D video projections, concerts, theatrical performances, readings, film screenings, exhibitions and more – are taking place every night for a week at seven relevant “Peaceful Revolution” sites such as Alexanderplatz and the newly opened Humboldt Forum. From November 4-10.
It's also a particularly resonant time to visit some of Berlin's key monuments from the era. The East Side Gallery is a section of the former Berlin Wall that doubles up as an open-air art gallery. It was originally painted with (mainly) political images and slogans in 1990, right after the Wall fell, and was repainted by 118 artists from 21 countries, including some of the original ones, for the 20th anniversary celebrations in 2009. Today it’s one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The Berlin Wall Memorial is also based around a long stretch of the former Berlin Wall. But rather than offering political murals, this one has been restructured by the city as a deeply informative memorial to all those who died trying to cross it.
As many of Mitte’s bars disappear via gentrification, the trendy and colourful cocktail bar Mr Susan (Krausnickstraße 1; 00 49 160 536 7463) fills a beautiful niche between the hyper-commercial districts of Hackescher Markt and Friedrichstraße. Pull up a blue-seated bar stool at the pink terrazzo bar and choose from the list of classics or try creative concoctions such as the kimchi popsicle Micheladas, or drinks made with fir, sesame and even mushroom reductions.
48 hours in . . . Berlin
Start with a visit to Berlin's most renowned cultural ensemble, the Museum Island (Am Lustgarten; 00 49 30 26642 4242). It’s not really possible to do all five museums in one trip, so be selective; the Pergamon Museum (Bodestraße 1-3; 00 49 30 26642 4242) and the Neues Museum (Bodestraße 1-3; 00 49 30 26642 4242) both offer a vast and incredibly varied array of exhibits, including the famous Pergamon Altar and bust of Nefertiti, respectively.
Take a light lunch or coffee break at the Deutsches Historisches Museum's (Unter den Linden 2; 00 49 30 203040) pleasant Café im Zeughaus, whose pavement terrace looks out over the Lustgarten and Berlin Cathedral (Am Lustgarten; 00 49 30 2026 9152). The dome of the latter is well worth ascending on a clear day, but first explore 2,000 years of German history in the adjacent museum.
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Cross the road for a look inside the distinctively shaped Humboldt Box, the temporary information gallery for the rebuilding of the city’s Prussian Palace(due to reopen at the end of 2019). As well as a history of the palace and the Hohenzollern family, you can see a scale map of its former glory (and how it fit neatly with the broader Museum Island ensemble). Plus, the top-floor has a café with views over the construction site.
Stroll west along historic Unter den Linden, pausing to look into Friedrich Schinkel’s neoclassical Neue Wache (Unter den Linden 4; 00 49 30 2500 2333), with its poignant sculpture by German artist Käthe Kollwitz; linger on Bebelplatz square to admire the opera house Staatsoper (Unter den Linden 7; 00 49 30 2035 4555) and Mischa Ullman’s Bibliotek installation, a memorial to the Nazi’s 1933 book-burning. Afterwards, and enjoy some shopping along the elegant arcades of Friedrichstrasse, which hosts high-end shops like Galeries Lafayette department store (Französische Straße 23; 00 49 30 209480).
Further along you can also find the Checkpoint Charlie museum (Friedrichstraße 43-45, 00 49 30 253 7250) which explores the Berlin Wall years.
At the western end of Unter den Linden you’ll find the Brandenburger Tor (Pariser Platz), which has an interesting museum. Around the corner is the historic Reichstag (Platz der Republik 1; 00 49 30 2273 2152), whose dome can be climbed for memorable sunset vistas. Pre-book a table at the Reichstag’s rooftop Käfer Dachgarten restaurant (Käfer Dachgarten; 00 49 30 226 2990), which offers decent German cuisine and the chance to jump the queues, or head to Cookies Cream (Behrenstraße 55; 00 49 30 2749 2940) for inventive, Michelin-star quality vegetarian cuisine.
Round the night off with some classy cocktails at the Crackersbar below (Friedrichstraße 158; 00 49 30 6807 30488), or take a taxi to the more intimate Buck & Breck (Brunnenstraße 177). If you’re in the mood for a classic Berlin techno party but don’t want the trauma of long lines and almost-certain door rejection, try Watergateor Tresor.
Begin at Potsdamer Platz. One of Europe's busiest squares in the Weimar era, and a derelict wasteland during the Berlin Wall years, today it’s the boldest symbol of contemporary – or at least commercial – Berlin, complete with looming skyscrapers and swish shopping malls. The distinctive, peat-fired brick Kollhoff Tower (Potsdamer Platz 1; 00 49 30 25 29 43 72) offers a viewing platform (and a café) at the top, while the Deutsche Kinemathek museum (Potsdamer Str. 2; 00 49 30 300 90 30) gives an impressively modern and thorough overview of German television and cinema.
Though well-known for its sights and shopping, decent restaurants are thin on the ground; best to grab a quick and healthy lunch at Weilands Wellfood, (Atrium Tower, Eichhornstraße 3), which has poké bowls, salads and tasty vegan, vegetarian and meat dishes, and overlooks a pleasant pond with a sculpture by Mark di Suvero (lunch from €8/£7).
After lunch, explore the neighbouring Kulturforum (Matthäikirchplatz; 00 49 30 26642 4242,) which hosts the architecturally flamboyant Philharmonie (Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße 1; 00 49 30 254880) as well as the excellent Gemäldegalerie(Matthäikirchplatz; 00 49 30 26642 4242), with its Rembrandts, Caravaggios and Botticellis.
The LP12 Mall of Berlin(00 49 30 2062 1770) at nearby Leipziger Platz has a wealth of mid-range and high-end stores, but hipper is the the Bikini Mall (Budapester Str; 00 49 30 5549 6455), a 15-minute S Bahn ride from Potsdamer Platz to Zoologischer Garten, which offers Berlin/German brands such as Blutsgeschwister, Closed and Mykita. Nearby sights to explore when you’re done browsing are the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Breitscheidplatz) and Berlin's Zoo and Aquarium (Hardenbergplatz 8; 00 49 30 254 010), Germany’s largest and oldest.
The nearby 25 Hours Bikini hotel’s Monkey Bar (Budapester Str; 00 49 30 120 2210) has great aperitif options and a pleasant wrap-around terrace that overlooks the zoo and the church. Its classy in-house restaurant NENIalso has very good Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine – and great views. Afterwards, catch a cabaret show, comedy or drama at the legendary Theater und Komödie am Kurfürstendamm (B2 14; 00 49 30 8859 1188).
Afterwards, walk to the small but convivial Rum Trader(Fasanenstraße 40; 00 49 30 8811428) for some of the most sophisticated drinks in town – don’t try and order a Moscow Mule or a Basil Smash or you’ll be met with righteous indignation.
Where to stay . . .
The Waldorf Astoria is a classic Berlin hotel in the upmarket City West district. It more than earns each of its five stars for its convenient location and excellent service. Elegant and sophisticated, the interiors seamlessly blend Art Deco and contemporary touches, while the staff are eager and obliging. The first – and only – Guerlain Spa in Germany is located on the fifth floor of the hotel, and is one of the best in town.
Double rooms from £240. Hardenbergstr. 28; 00 49 30 814 0000
If you're looking for a hotel that seduces from the off, pick Monbijou. This intimate boutique hotel enjoys a wonderfully central location, a welcoming (even romantic) aesthetic, friendly service and an impressive array of on-site amenities that span a bar, lounge, roof terrace and small fitness area.
Double rooms from £90. Monbijouplatz 1; 00 49 030 616 20 300
The Michelberger hotel yells youthful creativity. It has a buzzy bar and a courtyard for concerts, both popular in their own right, one of the best restaurants in the neighbourhood, plus a range of funky, idiosyncratic rooms to choose from. It’s also close to Friedrichshain’s nightlife scene. Dorm-style rooms are also available.
Doubles from £88. Warschauer Str; 00 49 30 2977 8590
What to bring home . . .
If you’re a fan of interior design, architecture and art, this book by website Freunde von Freunden (Friends of Friends) combines interviews with local creatives with top-notch photography of their immaculately designed apartments. It's available from Dussmann, the main bookshop (Friedrichstraße 90; 00 49 30 20 25 11 11).
For a uniquely fragrant gift, head to Harry Lehmann, a charming timewarp shop inconspicuously located along Kantstrasse (Kantstrasse 106; 00 49 30 3243582). Open for almost a century, it offers vintage and contemporary scents – some of which are Berlin-themed; all of which are handmade and unique.
When to go . . .
Tales of Berlin’s notoriously long and harsh winters used to send shivers up the spines of visitors before they'd even arrived – but these days the truly cold snaps (which can still see the mercury drop right down to -20) don’t last so long, with temperatures usually climbing back above zero by mid-February. In any case, the endless museums, galleries and indoor attractions – not to mention the excellent array of cafés, bars, clubs and restaurants – provide plenty of stimulation to combat the cold and dark.
Springtime and autumn are pleasant months to visit thanks to the many attractive gardens and parks, though it’s during summer when the city really comes into its own, as locals hit the streets, rivers and lakes and partake in the many outdoor events that take place across the city.
Know before you go . . .
• Service in Berlin is generally OK, but when it’s bad it makes nonchalant Parisians look positively proactive. You’ll likely fall victim to the occasional delay, arrogant waiter/waitress or even a withering glare, but don’t take it personally. It’s just the Berlin way.
• Berliners, like all Germans, take their rules seriously, especially things like jaywalking and recycling. Littering the streets or crossing at a red light is likely to provoke stern looks or even public admonishment.
• On the plus side, Berliners are generally very tolerant and “anything goes” – an attitude that perhaps manifests most in the city’s nightlife scene, where establishments don’t tend to close until late or when the last guest leaves, and where even in the wee hours there’s a discernible lack of tension in the air.
• In some bars and clubs, a pfand (deposit) is added to your bottle or glass (anything from €0.20 to €1/18p to 90p), which is reimbursed when you return it to the bar. Sometimes you will also be given a token, which you again return at the end to claim your deposit back.
• Public transport in Berlin operates on an honesty system. There are no barriers at train, tram or bus stops, though underground inspectors will fine you up to €60 (£54) on the spot if they catch you without a ticket. Make sure your ticket is also validated (stamped) before boarding a train (there are usually validation machines next to the ticket vendor).
• Service is sometimes included in bills, but it’s customary to round up snacks and drinks to the nearest euro or leave a slightly larger tip for meals and larger bills.
Telephone code: From outside Germany, dial 00 49 30; from inside Germany, 030 – then the number
Time difference: +1 hour
Flight time: London to Berlin is around 90 minutes
British Embassy: (00 49 30 20 45 70; ukingermany.fco.gov.uk/de), Wilhelmstrasse 70, Berlin. Open Mon-Fri, 9am-5.30pm
Police (Polizei): Dial 110
Ambulance (Rettungswagen): Dial 112
Tourist office: There are several official tourist offices (run by visitberlin.de) around the city, the main ones being at Brandenburg Gate, Kurfürstendamm 22 (Neuen Kranzler Eck) and the main train station (Hauptbahnhof)
Paul moved to Berlin in 2008 and still finds it one of the best cities in Europe. He enjoys serendipitous meanders through the city and exploring off-the-beaten track neighbourhoods and abandoned sites.
Experience Berlin with The Telegraph
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