Venice may be more picturesque.
London may be more polished.
But nothing compares to the raw energy of Berlin.
Here, in Europe’s undisputed capital of contemporary art, the grit and graffiti have an appealing allure. And yet, Berlin is growing up. Sure, you can still party hard in the techno clubs in bombed-out warehouses, but you can just as easily find expertly crafted cocktails at boho rooftop bars and moody speakeasy-style joints. Foodies, take note: Berlin now has more Michelin-starred restaurants than Copenhagen, with talented young chefs redefining German cuisine, making the city’s culinary scene more dynamic than ever.
Ahead, our guide to unwinding, indulging, and getting cultured like a Berliner.
Where to stay…
A grande dame opened in 1909 and overlooking the Brandenburg Gate, the Hotel Adlon Kempinski (from $335 per night) survived World War II only to burn to the ground shortly after. It was rebuilt to the original exacting standards in 1997 and continues to innovate. The rooms may be traditional in style, but the restaurant Sra Bua by Tim Raue—Germany’s hottest chef—is contemporary in both concept (e.g., pan-Asian dishes prepared with haute cuisine techniques) and design.
Sophisticated travelers, including A-listers like Tom Hanks, check into Rocco Forte’s Hotel de Rome (from $385 per night) for a chic pied-à-terre away from the crowds but still centrally located in Mitte. This five-star property, which occupies the landmarked Dresdner Bank across from the Staatsoper Opera House, boasts a modern design and contemporary art. On a warm evening, the rooftop bar is the place to be.
Located in Charlottenburg, on the city’s more commercialized west side, Hotel Zoo (from $245 per night) is eye-catching. Whimsical touches abound, from birdcage chandeliers in the restaurant to elevator art depicting paparazzi whose cameras flash when you enter. The attention to detail extends to the in-room rotary phones and bathrobes by Maison Margiela.
Where to play…
A T-shirt in the window of this Michelin-starred restaurant near Checkpoint Charlie reads “Who the fuck is Paul Bocuse?” That pretty much sums up the cheeky attitude at Nobelhart & Schmutzig, where vinyl albums spin as diners, seated at an L-shaped counter, sip biodynamic wine and watch the chefs prepare hyper-local dishes in an open kitchen.
The Michelin-starred Pauly Saal was once a Jewish girls’ school, and it retains the original tiled walls from the gymnasium, in interesting contrast with the Murano glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. But the real reason to go is Arne Anker, the talented chef who’s creating truly artful New German cuisine.
Come happy hour, you’re likely to find Berlin’s creative types at the Monkey Bar, located on the rooftop of the 25 Hours Hotel Bikini Berlin, gathering for craft cocktails with views of the west side. Order a refreshing Garden & Tonic (gin, maraschino liqueur, celery bitters, tonic water, fresh cucumber, and mint) and watch the sunset.
For a post-dinner nightcap, head to the acclaimed speakeasy-style Buck & Breck. Ring the bell to gain entry, then appreciate the intimate vibe inside, where expert bartenders stir and shake some of the city’s best cocktails.
Pocket guide… Mitte District
- The magnificent Staatsoper opera house, originally commissioned by King Frederick of Prussia, recently reopened after a seven-year renovation, ushering in a new era for opera in Berlin. The retouched hall has better acoustics, improved visibility of the stage, and a fresh gloss.
- The Pergamon Museum on Museum Island may be closed for renovation, but a temporary building housing a panorama and 3-D simulation of the Pergamon Altar will open in April, giving visitors an overview of this ancient wonder.
- For a taste of the city’s world-famous contemporary art scene, head to the KW Institut for Contemporary Art, where a series of exhibitions by emerging and established artists are spread out over several floors. The leafy courtyard is a pleasant place to sit and sip a coffee after viewing the art.
- Prominently located in the heart of Mitte near the Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by American architect Peter Eisenman serves as a somber reminder of Germany’s dark history. Walking through the rows of steel-gray stelae, you feel claustrophobic—and that’s the point. It’s worth taking time to reflect on what happened here.
Berlin according to… Kimia Kline
The Brooklyn-based painter and curator at Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel spent last September in Berlin doing a residency with 68Projects. She shares her favorite places to see art, eat, and unwind.
“Berlin is one of Europe’s best cities for art. If you can visit during the last weekend in April, you’ll be able to catch Gallery Weekend and see some world-class exhibitions. My favorite galleries are Philipp Haverkampf, 68Projects, Contemporary Fine Arts, and König Galerie.”
“In addition to galleries, the museums are filled with incredible art collections. The Neues Museum is home to one of the most impressive Egyptian collections in the world, and also houses the exquisite bust of Nefertiti. For German Expressionism at its best, visit the Käthe Kollwitz Museum in Charlottenburg and the Brücke Museum.”
“Public spaces are taken seriously in Berlin, with beautiful parks scattered throughout the whole city. Visit Görlitzer Park for an afternoon picnic or nap in the grass, then head over to Admiralbrücke Bridge to feed the swans and take a boat ride down the river.”
“My favorite restaurant in the whole city is Der Goldene Hahn. It has a rotating seasonal menu and great atmosphere. Think speakeasy meets Italian pasta house.”