WHAT TO DO
Berlin is the fascinating capital of Germany as well as one of the most vivid and multicultural regions of Europe. Modern Berlin offers a unique experience - the city being a mixture of nationalities, cultures, ideologies, artistic movements and historic consequences. This is a place that staged a revolution, was headquartered by Nazis, bombed to bits, divided in two and finally reunited. It is unpretentious, irresistible and a traveler's dream.
Berlin is best explored on foot and the first spot to start your adventure is in the heart of the city at the landmark Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). Once a symbol of division during the Cold War, it now epitomizes German reunification. Carl Gotthard Langhans looked to the Acropolis in Athens for inspiration for this elegant triumphal arch, completed in 1791 as the royal entrance gate to the city. It stands sentinel over Pariser Platz, a harmoniously proportioned square. The gate is topped by the Quadriga, Johann Gottfried Schadow's sculpture of the winged goddess of victory piloting a chariot drawn by four horses. After trouncing Prussia in 1806, Napoleon kidnapped the lady and held her hostage in Paris until she was freed by a gallant Prussian general in 1815. Nearby at Platz der Republik 1 is the impressive Reichstag. It has been burned, bombed, buttressed by the Wall, wrapped in fabric and finally turned into the modern home of the German parliament by Norman Foster. Dating from 1894, the Reichstag is one of Berlin's most iconic buildings. It has witnessed many milestones in German history - the fire in February 1933 allowed Hitler to blame the communists and helped catapult him to power. A dozen years later, victorious Red Army troops raised the Soviet flag on the bombed out building. During the 1980s, megastars including David Bowie and Pink Floyd performed concerts on the lawn of the Reichstag, which rubbed up against the western side of the Berlin Wall. Today, the building attracts many visitors and its most distinctive feature, the glittering glass dome, provides commanding views of the city. At the top, pick up a complimentary audio guide to learn about the building, landmarks and the workings of parliament while following the ramp spiraling up around the dome's mirror clad central cone. Note: for guaranteed entry, make reservations online and be sure to bring ID. A short walk away is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. Located at Cora Berliner Strasse 1 and inaugurated in 2005, this football field sized memorial by American architect Peter Eisenman consists of 2711 sarcophagi like concrete columns rising in sombre silence from the undulating ground. You're free to enter this maze at any point and make your individual journey through it. For context visit the sobering subterranean Ort der Information, whose exhibits will leave no one untouched. A graphic timeline of Jewish persecution during the Third Reich is followed by a series of rooms documenting the fates of individuals and families. In addition to the Holocaust Memorial, do not miss the Judisches Museum (Jewish Museum), located at Lindenstrasse 9. Housed in a beautiful building by American Polish architect Daniel Libeskind, this museum offers a chronicle of the trials and triumphs in 2000 years of Jewish life in Germany. The exhibit navigates all major periods, from the Middle Ages via the Enlightenment to the community's post Cold War renaissance. Find out about Jewish cultural contributions, holiday traditions and the difficult road to emancipation. Note: the museum is open every day from 10a-8p.
Berlin has a number of excellent art museums and the place to begin is Museumsinsel (Museum Island). It is the city's most important treasure trove, spanning 6000 years worth of art, artifacts, sculpture and architecture from Europe and beyond. Spread across 5 grand museums built between 1830 and 1930, the complex takes up the entire northern half of the little Spree Island where Berlin's settlement began in the 13th century. The first repository to open was the Altes (Old) Museum - which presents Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities. Top draws include the Praying Boy bronze sculpture, Roman silver vessels and portraits of Caesar and Cleopatra. The Neues (New) Museum showcases the Egyptian collection - most famously the bust of Queen Nefertiti, along with mummies, sculptures and sarcophagi. The temple like Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) focuses on 19th century European art. Highlights include landscapes by Caspar David Friedrich, epic canvases by Franz Kruger and Adolf Menzel glorifying Prussia and the Gothic fantasies of Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The island's top draw is the Pergamonmuseum (Pergamon Museum), with its monumental architecture from ancient worlds, including the Pergamon Altar (closed for renovation until 2023), the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, the Roman Market Gate of Miletus reconstructed from the ruins found in Anatolia, as well as the Caliph's Palace of Mshatta Facade. The Bode Museum, at the island's northern tip, is renowned for its medieval sculptures. Another superb museum is the Gemaldegalerie, located at Matthaikirchplatz. This museum ranks among the world's finest and most comprehensive collections of European art with about 1500 paintings spanning the arc of artistic vision from the 13th to the 18th century. The 72 galleries showcase masterpieces by Titian, Goya, Vermeer, Gainsborough and many more Old Masters - don't miss the Rembrandt Room (room X). German, Dutch and Flemish masters dominate the east wing where standouts include the Fountain of Youth by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Dutch Proverbs. The west wing is dedicated to the Italians with such top canvases as Caravaggio's Amor Victorius and Boticelli's Madonna with Child and Singing Angels. Note: the museum is open from 10a-6p and is closed on Monday.
Located on Museum Island in the Mitte borough is the majestic Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). This Italian Renaissance style former royal court church, dating from 1905, does triple duty as house of worship, museum and concert hall. Inside it's gilt to the hilt and outfitted with a lavish marble and onyx altar, a pipe organ built by Wilhelm Sauer and elaborate royal sarcophagi. Climb up the 267 steps to the gallery for glorious views of the city and River Spree. The church has great acoustics and is often used for classical concerts, sometimes played on the famous Sauer organ. Close by at Karl Liebknecht Strasse 1 is the very cool DDR Museum. This museum does an insightful and entertaining job of pulling back the iron curtain on daily life in socialist East Germany. A perennial crowd pleaser among the historic objects on display is a Trabi, the tiny East German standard car. The more sinister sides of daily life, including the chronic supply shortages and surveillance by the Stasi (secret police) are also addressed. Note: the museum is open every day from 10a-8p. Next, make your way over to the western part of town and the magnificent Schloss (Palace) Charlottenburg. This palace is one of Berlin's few sites that still reflect the one time grandeur of the Hohenzollern clan, which ruled the region from 1415 to 1918. Originally a petite summer retreat, it grew into an exquisite baroque pile with opulent private apartments, richly festooned festival halls, collections of precious porcelain and paintings by French 18th century masters. The palace's oldest section, the Altes Schloss, is an extravaganza in stucco, brocade and overall opulence. Highlights include: the Oak Gallery, the lovely Oval Hall and the fabulous Porcelain Chamber. Charlottenburg's most beautiful rooms are the flamboyant private chambers of Frederick the Great in the Neuer Flugel extension, designed in 1746. Standouts include: the White Hall banquet room, the mirrored and gilded Golden Gallery and the paintings by 18th century French masters. Take a stroll around the sprawling palace park with its shady walkways, flower beds and manicured lawns. Across the carp pond is the 1810 neoclassical Mausoleum, where various royals including Kaiser Wilhelm I and his wife are entombed in ornate marble sarcophagi. Note: each building charges separate admission; it's best to invest in the palace day pass for access to everything.
When it's time for some R&R, head to the massive Tiergarten. Berlin's rulers used to hunt boar and pheasants in the rambling Tiergarten until garden architect Peter Lenne landscaped the grounds in the 19th century. Today, it is one of the world's largest urban parks - popular for strolling, jogging, resting, picnicking, frisbee tossing and sunbathing. It is bisected by a major artery, the Strasse des 17 Juni. Walking across the entire park takes at least one hour, but even a shorter stroll has its rewards. Be sure to check out the Siegessaule (Victory Column) at the Grosser Stern roundabout in the heart of the Tiergarten. This monument celebrates 19th century Prussian military triumphs and is crowned by a gilded statue of the goddess Victoria. The column originally stood in front of the Reichstag until the Nazis moved it here in 1938 to make room for their Germania urban planning project. From the Tiergarten, walk along the popular boulevard Unter den Linden. It translates to 'under the linden trees' and is named after the linden (lime) trees that line the attractive avenue. Post stroll, hit Potsdamer Platz - an entire city quarter once divided by the Berlin Wall. The rebirth of this historic area was Europe's biggest building project of the 1990s, a showcase of urban renewal masterminded by such top international architects as Renzo Piano and Helmut Jahn. Today, Potsdamer Platz houses offices, cinemas, hotels, apartments and museums. Highlights include the glass tented Sony Center and the Panoramapunkt observation deck. Just down the road from Potsdamer Platz at Kothener Strasse 38 is the legendary Hansa Studios. This recording studio is where David Bowie made his monumental album Heroes (part of his Berlin Trilogy in 1977) and where Depeche Mode recorded Black Celebration in 1986 - both in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Hansa is now used as an event location and the only way to get inside this famous building is with the highly recommended Berlin Music Tours. Also included in the tour is a visit to where Bowie lived with Iggy Pop (from 1976 to 1978) at Hauptstrasse 155 in the Schoneberg district.
Nearby at Niederkirchner Strasse 8 is Topographie des Terrors. In the spot where the most feared institutions of Nazi Germany (including the Gestapo headquarters and the SS central command) once stood, this compelling exhibit chronicles the stages of terror and persecution, puts a face on the perpetrators and details the impact these brutal institutions had on all of Europe. A second exhibit outside zeroes in on how life changed for Berlin and its people after the Nazis made it their capital. To complement the exhibits, a self guided tour of the historic grounds takes you past 15 information stations with photos, documents and 3D graphics, as well as a stretch of the Berlin Wall. Not far from the Topography of Terror is Checkpoint Charlie. Located at the corner of Zimmerstrasse and Friedrichstrasse, it was the principal gateway for foreigners and diplomats between the two Berlins from 1961 to 1990. Unfortunately, this potent symbol of the Cold War has become a tacky tourist trap. The adjacent Checkpoint Charlie Museum, aka Mauermuseum is located at Friedrichstrasse 43. The Cold War years, especially the history and horror of the Berlin Wall, are engagingly documented in this privately run tourist magnet. Open since 1961, the exhibit is still strong when it comes to telling the stories of escape attempts to the West. Original devices used in the process, including a hot air balloon, a mini submarine and an armored getaway car are crowd favorites. Note: there is a fee for taking photographs. Down the street at Zimmerstrasse 14 is the totally rad Trabi Museum. If you were lucky enough to own a car in East Germany, it would most likely have been a Trabant (Trabi) - a tiny box on wheels whose name (Satellite in English) was inspired by the launch of the Soviet Sputnik in 1957. This small exhibit displays a wide variety of Trabis, including rare wooden and racing versions as well as a van model. The museum is open every day from 10a-6p. Another historic place that draws crowds is the Site of Hitler's Bunker. Berlin was burning and Soviet tanks were advancing when Adolf Hitler killed himself on April 30, 1945. Today, a parking lot covers the site - revealing its dark history only via an information panel with a diagram of the vast bunker network, construction data and the site's post World War II history. The bunker was blown up and sealed off by the Soviets in 1947.
I'm fascinated by the Cold War era in Berlin and there are a few additional places from that chapter in history that are not to be missed. The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. The Communist East German authorities built it overnight on August 13, 1961 to keep East Germans from fleeing to the democratic West. The Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) extends for 1 mile along Bernauer Strasse and integrates an original section of the Wall, vestiges of the border installations and escape tunnels, a chapel and a monument. Multimedia stations, panels, excavations and a Documentation Center provide context and explain what the border fortifications looked like and how they shaped the everyday lives of people on both sides of it. The Stasimuseum is located at Haus 1, Ruschestrasse 103. The Stasi was East Germany's secret police who put millions of citizens under surveillance in order to oppress internal opposition. This exhibit in the original headquarters of the Ministry of State Security, as the Stasi was officially known, illustrates the structure, methods and impact of the secret police. Marvel at cunningly low tech surveillance devices, a prisoner transport van and holding cells. The Stasi Prison is located northeast of the city center at Genslerstrasse 66. Victims of Stasi persecution often ended up in this grim prison, now a memorial site officially called Gedenkstatte Berlin Hohenschonhausen. Tours - often conducted by former inmates - reveal the full extent of the terror and cruelty perpetrated upon thousands of suspected regime opponents, many utterly innocent. A permanent exhibit uses photographs, objects and a free audio guide to document daily life behind bars. The Tranenpalast can be found at Reichstagufer 17. During the Cold War, tears flowed copiously in this glass and steel border crossing pavilion where East Berliners had to say goodbye to family visiting from West Germany - hence its 'Palace of Tears' moniker. The exhibit uses original objects (including claustrophobic passport control booths), photographs and historical footage to document the division's social impact on the daily lives of Germans on both sides of the border. Finish up at the totally awesome East Side Gallery, located at Muhlenstrasse between Oberbaumbrucke and Ostbahnhof. In 1989, after 28 years, the Berlin Wall - that grim and gray divider of humanity was finally torn down. Most of it was quickly dismantled, but along Muhlenstrasse, paralleling the River Spree, a 1 mile stretch became the East Side Gallery - the world's largest open air mural collection. In more than 100 paintings, dozens of international artists translated the era's global euphoria and optimism into a mix of truly artistic visions. Birgit Kinder's Test the Rest, showing a Trabi bursting through the Wall - My God, Help Me To Survive This Deadly Love by Dmitri Vrubel, which has Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev locking lips, and Thierry Noir's bright cartoon faces are all Instagram favorites.
There is so much to see and do in Berlin and I have a few more recommendations. Located at Panoramastrasse 1, the Fernsehturm is Germany's tallest structure - soaring 1200 feet to the sky. Built in 1969, this TV tower was supposed to demonstrate the GDR's (German Democratic Republic or East Germany) engineering prowess, but ended up being a bit of a laughing stock when it turned out that, when hit by the sun, the steel sphere below the antenna produced the reflection of a giant cross. West Berliners gleefully dubbed the phenomenon 'the Pope's revenge'. On clear days, views are stunning from the observation deck. Next, head to the lovely Gendarmenmarkt. This graceful square is bookended by the domed German and French cathedrals and punctuated by a grandly porticoed concert hall - the Konzerthaus. Built in 1821, this classical music venue is one of Berlin's finest buildings. The daily tours last 30 minutes and are free of charge. One more magnificent music venue is the Berliner Philharmonie, home base of the prestigious orchestra - the Berlin Philharmonic. A masterpiece of organic architecture, Hans Scharoun's 1963 iconic, honey colored concert venue boasts supreme acoustics and excellent sight lines from every seat. If you wish to purchase music, Berlin has several dynamite record shops. Space Hall is located at Zossener Strasse 33 and specializes in electronic music. Another solid spot for techno and house (all the rage in Berlin, along with Rammstein) is Hard Wax. This well hidden outpost is located at Paul Lincke Ufer 44a in the Kreuzberg district. If you fancy flea markets then be sure to visit Flohmarkt im Mauerpark at Bernauer Strasse 63. Join the throngs of thrifty trinket hunters and excited tourists sifting for treasure at this always busy market with cult status - in a spot right where the Berlin Wall once stood. The market offers retro threads, vintage vinyl, street food stands and beer gardens. To conclude your exploration of Berlin, maybe take a tour of the city. There are 3 different, but equally entertaining options to observe the town. The first is the Berlin City Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours. They cover most of the important attractions and provide audio guides. A second possibility is a relaxing boat cruise on the River Spree. They last about 1.5 hours and cruise past the Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island. Finally, there is the Trabi Safari Tours. You can either drive or ride as a passenger in a convoy of GDR made Trabant cars, with live commentary (in English by prior arrangement) piped into your vehicle. There is a 1 hour and 2 hour tour, both traveling to eastern and western Berlin.
WHERE TO EAT
Berlin has many great places to eat, drink and indulge. Start your day at Silo Coffee, located at Gabriel Max Strasse 4. Beans from Fjord coffee roasters ensure possibly the best flat white (espresso based coffee with microfoam) in town, while bread from Sironi bakery adds scrumptiousness to the poached egg avocado toast. Another excellent spot is Bonanza Coffee Heroes at Oderberger Strasse 35. The first shop to put a flat white on its menu in Berlin, Bonanza supplies countless restaurants in the city with beans and its shop near Mauerpark remains one of the best places in town for a cup of coffee. For some darn good breakfast, head to nearby Engelberg at Oderberger Strasse 21. A visit here is a great way to experience a proper German breakfast, which traditionally consists of sourdough bread and rolls served with loads of charcuterie, cheeses and spreads. If you have a sweet tooth like yours truly then Kuchenladen at Kantstrasse 138 is a must. This classic cafe's homemade cakes are works of art - from cheesecake to carrot cake to the ridiculously rich Sacher Torte, it's all delicious down to the last crumb. Be prepared to line up at Zeit fur Brot (located at Alte Schonhauser Strasse 4) because the hype about this place's cinnamon buns - the richest, most indulgent ones in Berlin - has pushed past the borders of the Mitte district. It's also an excellent pit stop for a German breakfast stulle (full grain bread roll with cheese or ham) and a solid cup of coffee. You might not be planning to visit a French bakery in Berlin, but Du Bonheur's eclairs and pastries are so exquisite in terms of texture and flavor that you just might have to reconsider. It can be found at Brunnenstrasse 39 in northern Mitte.
There are a large number of spots for lunch and a midday snack in Berlin. Begin at the impressive Markthalle Neun, located at Eisenbahnstrasse 42. The undisputed culinary epicenter of Berlin's food scene, this beautiful market hall is home to the city's most famous butcher (Kumpel & Keule), Italian baker (Sironi), fish smoker (Glut & Spane) and craft beer brewer (Heidenpeters). Apart from that, Markthalle Neun is the home of the weekly Street Food Thursday and the monthly Breakfast Market (every third Sunday), which are by far the best street food markets in Berlin. There is a large Turkish community in Berlin and with it some tremendous places to eat. Adana Grillhaus at Manteuffelstrasse 86 is the most iconic Turkish grill in all of Berlin and the go to choice for local Turkish residents. Grab a seat so you can watch the chefs grill spectacular lamb chops and adana (minced) meat skewers over sizzling hot charcoals on an open fire. The kofte sandwich is a sublime creation of several grilled minced meat sausages layered with fresh herbs, sauces and radishes into a Turkish flatbread baguette. The best version can be found at Konak Izmir Grill (Reichenberger Strasse 10), where customers devour sandwiches from lunch until at least 3 in the morning. The Turkish Market is a little piece of Istanbul along the canal banks of the Neukolln district - it runs every Tuesday and Friday. Find Turkish delicacies in the form of jalapeno boreks (filled phyllo dough), freshly made gozlemes (a savory pastry) and home cooked stews.
When I think of Berlin street food, a few things come to mind and I start to drool. Currywurst is a fast food dish of German origin consisting of steamed, then fried pork sausage typically cut into slices and seasoned with curry ketchup. Day after day, night after night - a motley crowd wait their turn at Curry 36. Located at Mehringdamm 36 in the Kreuzberg district, this popular snack shop has been in business since 1981. Other sausage varieties (bratwurst, wiener and bockwurst) are also available. One of my favorite things in this life is a perfectly executed Doner kebab - a type of kebab, made of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Berlin has a plethora of doner joints and I would like to share some of the best. Next to Curry 36 at Mehringdamm 32 is the cult favorite Mustafa's Gemuse Kebap. Yes, it has been called a tourist trap and yes the lines are usually super long, but it is something special - and they do say the best things in life are worth waiting for. Make some new friends as you wait for Mustafa to blow your mind. Nearby at Adalbertstrasse 10 is Hasir Kreuzberg. Mehmed Aygun, the founder of this local family emporium, claims to have invented the Berlin style doner kebab (served in a pita pocket) back in 1971. The original Hasir branch is still packed at all hours with patrons lusting after grilled meats, velvety hummus and lentil soup. Ruya Gemuse Kebap is located off the grid at Hauptstrasse 133. It is outside the city center, but its extraordinarily delicious chicken doner - a crispy flatbread filled with tender chicken, grilled vegetables and a fistful of fresh herbs is quite good. Located at Karl Marx Strasse 75 in the Neukolln district is Imren Grill. Here's a Turkish kebab joint that does everything right: the flatbreads and sauces are made in house and the giant, rotating kebab - beef layered with lamb fat - is stacked and freshly skewered by hand. The result is the best beef doner kebab in the city and the undisputed choice for Berlin's quintessential late night snack. For some tasty treats, try Damaskus Konditorei at Sonnenallee 93. Of all the baklava (a sweet dessert pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup or honey) shops in Neukolln, Damaskus stands out for its truly artistic and rave worthy pastries.
If you are in the mood for a tasty burger, in a unique location, hit up Burgermeister at Oberbaumstrasse 8. Standing underneath the Schlesisches Tor U-Bahn station in the middle of a busy street to order a cheeseburger out of a former public toilet may not sound like gastronomic bliss, but the line for this joint persists for a reason - tasty burgers. If you crave noodles then Cocolo Ramen is your place. Located at Gipsstrasse 3, Cocolo's rich tonkotsu broth and housemade, perfectly chewy noodles are well worth standing in line for a seat at this tiny restaurant in Mitte. PS, don't miss the homemade pork gyoza. Located at Sonntagstrasse 28 is the hip Transit. Sit beneath the colorful birdcages at this beloved Thai and Indonesian tapas joint and order by marking cheekily named dishes on a tear off menu pad. There's great variety, from papaya salad to spicy salmon soup. If you fancy authentic Indian cuisine, be sure to visit India Club at Behrenstrasse 72. The curries are like culinary poetry, the chicken tikka perfectly succulent and the stuffed cauliflower an inspiration. For a late afternoon pick me up, stop in at Grosz, located at Kurfurstendamm 193. This high ceilinged symphony of marble, brass, mirrors and glossy wood does a masterful job of recreating the elegant aura of a cosmopolitan 1920s cafe. The perfect setting for some coffee and cake - be sure to get a slice of the Princess Victoria tart (white chocolate and pistachios). Another wonderful spot to indulge is Coda Dessert Bar, found at Friedelstrasse 47. Hidden between graffiti scrawled apartments in the Neukolln district, Germany's first dessert restaurant serves six course tasting menus of modern desserts escorted by craft cocktails. If you haven't fallen into a chocolate coma by now, Rausch Schokoladenhaus will surely induce you. Located at Charlottenstrasse 60, this emporium of truffles and pralines is heaven. It features chocolate replicas of Berlin landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate and Fernsehturm (TV Tower), while the upstairs cafe delivers views of Gendarmenmarkt along with sinful drinking chocolates and artsy handmade cakes and tarts.
Berlin has a number of excellent spots for dinner and after dinner. Zur letzten Instanz is located at Waisenstrasse 14. Records show it has been in the same location since 1621, making it Berlin's oldest restaurant. Over the years, this two story iconic eatery has purportedly hosted countless famous faces including Napoleon, Charlie Chaplin and Michael Lichtstein. Whether or not that's true, since the modern incarnation opened its doors in 1924, iconic dishes like the pork knuckle Eisbein have made it one of the best places for traditional Berlin cuisine. One of the top restaurants in Berlin is Horvath, found at Paul Lincke Ufer 44a in the Kreuzberg district. At his canal side eatery, Sebastian Frank performs culinary alchemy with Austrian classics - fearlessly combining products, textures and flavors. The stunning results have earned him 2 Michelin stars and the title of Best Chef of Europe 2018. One of Frank's groundbreaking signatures is the 'Young and Old Celeriac'. For this, he bakes the celery root vegetable in a salt crust and leaves it to age for an entire year, during which all the moisture evaporates as the flavor intensifies. The golf ball sized celeriac is then grated like a truffle over freshly steamed celeriac slivers bathing in a thickened chicken bouillon. Despite the fanciful cuisine, the ambience in the elegantly rustic dining room remains relaxed. Note: reservations are recommended and the restaurant is closed on Monday and Tuesday. The definition of modern bistro dining in Berlin, Industry Standard opened in 2015 at Sonnenallee 83 in the historically Turkish neighborhood of Neukolln. The restaurant's casual yet incredibly delicious fare is well paired with natural wines. Be sure to try the beef tartare, it's the best in the city. Max und Moritz is an old school gastropub at Oranienstrasse 162. Since 1902, it has packed hungry diners and thirsty drinkers into its rustic tile and stucco ornamented rooms for sudsy home brews and granny style Berlin fare. A menu favorite is the Konigsberger Klopse (veal meatballs in caper sauce). A Berlin institution, Lokal - located at Linienstrasse 160 - was the first place in the city to embrace nose to tail cooking and heavy use of regional ingredients. A refreshingly simple restaurant with an unpretentious seasonal menu and a casual vibe - it is one of the exemplars of modern, terroir focused German cooking. Last but certainly not least, there is the killer Cordobar at Grosse Hamburger Strasse 32. It features a carefully curated list of over 1000 different wines which has made it the prime after hours hangout for Berlin's chefs. Cordobar's Lukas Mraz also cooks some of the city's most innovative bar food. He has a habit of incorporating Asian flavors into bar staples which is most notably showcased in his signature blood sausage pizza with beetroot and wasabi.
Berlin has many cool places to have a drink and see a cabaret show - I would like to share a few of my favorites. Being that you are in Germany, start off with a visit to a beer hall / garden or two. Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt is an authentic Bavarian beer hall, located at Charlottenstrasse 55. Soak up the down to earth vibe right along with a mug of full bodied Augustiner brew straight from Munich. Prater Garten can be found at Kastanienallee 7 - Berlin's oldest biergarten becomes Prenzlauer Berg's busiest bar during the May through September open season. Make some new friends and enjoy the home brewed Prater Pils while sitting at this idyllic watering hole. Cafe am Neuen See is located at Lichtensteinallee 2 on the shore of a lake in the Tiergarten. It is quite possibly the most beautiful and pleasant biergarten in Berlin. To change things up, head to Buck & Breck at Brunnenstrasse 177 in Mitte. This speakeasy is only accessible by ringing a tiny doorbell - if you are let in, you're in for one of the best and most exclusive cocktail experiences in Germany, where both classic and innovative drink creations are perfectly executed. Note: it's often packed to capacity, but you can leave your number and someone will call you when space opens up. Schwarze Traube is a pint sized drinking parlor at Wrangelstrasse 24. There's no menu, meaning each drink is calibrated to the taste and mood of each patron using premium spirits, expertise and a dash of psychology. Becketts Kopf does some serious drinks - located at Pappelallee 64, the art of cocktail making is taken very seriously here. Settle into a heavy armchair in the warmly lit lounge and take your time perusing the extensive drinks menu. All the classics are accounted for, but it's the seasonal special concoctions that truly stimulate the senses. Note: reservations are recommended as there is no standing allowed. Both vintage and industrial elements contribute to the dapper ambience at Bryk Bar. Found at Sredzkistrasse 65, this darkly lit cocktail lab whips unusual ingredients into such experimental liquid teasers as the rum based Kamasutra with a Hangover topped with white chocolate horseradish foam. Also on the hit list: a gin tonic made with Bryk Gin, a potent juniper juice created by the bar's founders and bottled in charcoal gray ceramic. Tucked away along a quiet street in the heart of Schoneberg at Nollendorfstrasse 27, Stagger Lee is certainly a special place. Belly up to the polished wooden bar or plop down on Chesterfield sofas at this sophisticated cocktail saloon. Barkeeps mix and pour both the tried and true and the adventurous experimental with wild west abandon and a focus on bourbon and tequila. Just around the corner at Winterfeldtstrasse 50 is the totally rad Green Door. A long line of renowned mixologists have presided over this softly lit bar behind the eponymous green door - a nod to Prohibition era speakeasies. Amid walls sheathed in gingham and '70s swirls, you can choose from more than 500 cocktails including some potent house potions. Finish up at the late night hangout August Fengler. Located at Lychener Strasse 11 in Prenzlauer Berg, this local institution scores a trifecta on key ingredients for a good night out - a fancy pants free crowd, wallet friendly drinks and a chill vibe. DJs kick into gear after 10p playing an eclectic sound mix from '80s to electronica, indie to rock. Note: the bar stays open until 6a on weekends for all you vampires out there.
Cabaret may have been born in 1880s Paris, but it became a wild and lustful adult in 1920s Berlin. In those whimsical Weimar years, creativity and decadence blossomed despite raging inflation and political instability. Cabarets provided a titillating fantasy of play and display where transvestites, singers, magicians, dancers and other entertainers made audiences forget about the harsh realities of daily life. In this new century, cabaret has made a big comeback - thanks in large part to post reunification euphoria and a renewed unleashing of creativity. More mainstream and less lurid than in the Roaring Twenties, today's shows are mostly a series of snazzily choreographed variety acts. There are 2 places that I recommend to enjoy cabaret and 2 spots to take in its burlesque cousin, if you will. Start at Bar Jeder Vernunft, located at Schaperstrasse 24. Life's still a cabaret at this intimate 1912 mirrored art nouveau tent theater - one of Berlin's most beloved venues for sophisticated song and dance shows. Sip a glass of bubbly while relaxing at a candlelit table or in a curvy red velvet booth bathed in flickering candlelight reflected in the mirrors. Located at Rosenthaler Strasse 40 is the Chamaleon Theater. An alchemy of art nouveau charms and high tech theater trappings, this intimate venue in a 1920s style old ballroom hosts 'contemporary circus' shows that blend comedy, acrobatics, music, juggling and dance - often in sassy, sexy and unconventional fashion. You can sit at the bar, at bistro tables or in comfy armchairs. Note: there is table service before the show and during intermission. For some burlesque fun, make your way to Kleine Nachtrevue at Kurfuerstenstrasse 116. This venue is cozy and charming and it offers a variety of acts that depend more on wit than eroticism, but can offer both. Prinzipal is Berlin's hottest burlesque bar, located at Oranienstrasse 178 in the heart of Kreuzberg. It is totally cool and has a terrific jazzy and nostalgic vibe. The burlesque shows on Saturday nights are particularly entertaining.
WHERE TO STAY
Berlin has plenty of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations that provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is Hotel Adlon Kempinski, located at Unter den Linden 77. This elegant hotel, opened in 1907, overlooks the Brandenburg Gate and is close to the historic Berlin Wall. The impressive lobby with its signature elephant fountain is a mere overture to the full symphony of luxury that awaits you. Posh rooms with marble bathrooms include flat screen TVs, free WiFi and iPads, plus minibars and separate living areas. Other amenities include a top notch spa with an indoor pool, a lounge with a piano and a double Michelin star restaurant.
A second option is Hotel am Steinplatz, located near the Tiergarten at Steinplatz 4. This boutique property is the ideal mix of classic and contemporary, with original Moorish arches and floral embellishments inspiring the glamorous 1920s style interiors. Offering flat screen TVs, the modern rooms have super comfy beds, iPod docks, complimentary WiFi, plus minibars and balconies. Added perks include a rooftop spa, a stylish restaurant with an open kitchen and an excellent bar that was crowned 'hotel bar of the year' in 2016 and 2017.
Berlin has a vibrant culture, a fascinating history and amazing art. It treated me very well and I look forward to returning. Danke schon Berlin.