Berlin

Berlin

James Fancourt

Trying to sum up a city as diverse as Berlin in one paragraph seems like an effort in futility. Not many places have gone through such a turbulent period of history as Berlin has done in the past century, reminders of which can still be seen today in the bullet hole-ridden façades of Mitte, or the remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall. When the sun goes down, the laidback character of the city gives way to a hedonistic, non-stop nightlife that is second to none. Hearing a call for last orders is rare, and it’s one of few places where you could conceivably enter a club on a Friday night and re-emerge Monday morning. Perhaps what makes Berlin so fascinating to explore though is that each district is like a town in itself, all of which exhibit their own style and quirks. Although forming stark contrasts, these idiosyncrasies complement each other and combine to form one of the most vibrant, exciting cities of the world.

Stay

Tucked away in the trendy district of Prenzlauer Berg is a hotel of two halves, Ackselhaus & Blue Home. Ackselhaus is the more eclectic of the two, featuring thirteen creatively-themed rooms that range from the bold colours of ‘Picasso’ to the reserved elegance of ‘Cairo’. Its sibling next door, Blue Home, is a more typical boutique hotel, but one that evokes a sense of tranquillity by virtue of its soothing colour palettes and carefully selected furnishings.

At the other end of the stylistic spectrum, you have the exuberant Hotel Zoo Berlin, which was flush with film stars and celebrities during the fifties. Its most recent renovation encapsulates the glitz and glamour of this decadent past, combining it with animal motifs—a nod to nearby Berlin Zoo. Each of the 131 rooms and 14 suites is unique in design and layout, with many boasting alluring features such as freestanding bathtubs and floor-to-ceiling windows.

The Mandala Hotel is a 5-star hotel that exudes luxury. Centrally located at Potsdamer Platz, it puts you within walking distance of sights such as the Brandenburg Gate. Here you can expect rooms that are both opulent and spacious (and even the smallest rooms, at 40m2, have suite-like qualities). The indulgent experience of this elegant establishment is rounded off with the sensuous ONO Spa and the fine dining of restaurant FACIL, which boasts two Michelin stars.

Positioned on the edge of Berlin’s biggest and arguably most beautiful park, Tiergarten, the 5-star Das Stue offers stylish accommodation in a gorgeous building that was once the Royal Danish Embassy. It features interiors designed by the world-renowned Patricia Urquiola and provides Michelin-starred cuisine courtesy of Cinco restaurant.

Das Stue

Das Stue

Shop

The long avenue of Kurfürstendamm is perfect for those seeking upmarket shopping, with an abundance of boutiques and designer brands to explore. Aside from this popular area, you’ll find that the city has a plethora of unique, independent stores to explore. Harry Lehmann, for example, is a veritable Berlin institution. Operating since 1926, they sell around fifty perfumes ranging from modern scents to classics that have been a staple of the shop since the thirties.

For a shop focusing purely on high-quality menswear, visit SOTO. Encompassing designers from America, Europe, and Asia, its wide range of attire ensures you can find the perfect threads for any occasion. And if you’re looking to compliment your wardrobe with a snazzy pair of shades, be sure to pay a visit to MYKITA. Not only are they based in Berlin, but it’s also here that they hand-assemble their innovative eyewear from start to finish.

The concept stores of Berlin provide the perfect opportunity for discerning gentlemen to browse and shop curated collections of the most refined objects. Notable establishments include the chic Voo Store, ultra-stylish The Store, and beautifully minimal AM, where you can find carefully selected articles ranging from designer fashion to stationary.

If you’re looking to enhance your home’s interior, the area around Ku’damm has many outstanding showrooms such as NORR11, which sells a range of exquisitely designed Scandinavian furniture and home accessories.

Harry Lehmann | Photo: James Fancourt

Harry Lehmann | Photo: James Fancourt

Eat

Berlin has an abundance of great restaurants producing cuisine from around the world, reflecting the multikulti character of the city. Dóttir is an Icelandic restaurant that features dishes crafted with hallmark ingredients such as mountain herbs and Scandinavian moss. The experience is rounded off with a typical Berlin-style interior—exposed plaster and a mix of retro and antique furniture.

One of the hidden gems of the city is Le Saint Amour. This cosy French bistro is so tucked away that even if you happened to pass by you might not notice it. Step inside, however, and you’re rewarded with delicious, authentic Lyonnaise cuisine paired with fantastic wines.

La Soupe Populaire is an outstanding choice for those seeking fine dining with an edge. It was created by Berlin’s gangster-turned-Michelin-star chef, Tim Raue, and serves delectable food including some modern takes on traditional Berlin dishes. Occupying part of a former brewery gives it its striking industrial interior, the walls of which are adorned with artwork from world-renowned artists and photographers.

For delicious northern Italian cuisine, try Cecconi’s, which you’ll find on the ground floor of Soho House Berlin. The restaurant itself is gorgeous (sumptuous red leather seating, an open plan kitchen, and Art Deco-inspired chandeliers are among its chief highlights), providing a delightful setting in which to enjoy the excellent food.

Art & architecture

Designed by acclaimed British architect Norman Foster, the iconic glass dome that sits atop the Reichstag is an incredible feat of design. Visiting requires booking an appointment in advance, but it’s worth it to see the stunning architecture up-close and enjoy 360-degree views of Berlin.

Make time for a day trip to nearby Potsdam and you won’t be disappointed. An idyllic city steeped in history, this former Prussian royal seat is adorned with spectacular gardens and breath-taking palaces, earning it a place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

When looking to get your culture fix, Museum Island is a good place to start. Here you’ll find five internationally acclaimed museums, including the Alte Nationalgalerie and Pergamon Museum. For something off the tourist trail, you’ll want to check out Sammlung Boros. This private modern art collection is housed within the imposing confines of a former World War II bunker and features works from the likes of Ai Weiwei and Klara Lidén. The only way to see it is by booking a tour (and the waiting list is often weeks-long) but it’s certainly worth the effort.

Those who appreciate photography are well catered for. C/O Berlin delivers first-rate exhibitions, and the Museum of Photography is particularly enjoyable if you appreciate fashion—it houses a vast, permanent collection of Helmut Newton’s work.

Voo Store | Photo: James Fancourt

Voo Store | Photo: James Fancourt

Kaffee und Kuchen

Be sure to drop by one of Berlin’s many third wave coffee establishments. Five Elephant roast their own beans for the freshest brew, and are regarded by many as the home of the best cheesecake in Berlin (a reputation that is well deserved). Companion Coffee also ranks highly. It’s situated inside the aforementioned Voo Store and produces a fantastic range of ethical teas. Concierge Coffee is a tiny coffee shop located on the Landwehr Canal, making it ideal for grabbing a coffee zum mitnehmen (take away) and enjoying a stroll along the waterway. If you find yourself in Neukölln, the minimal and airy Dots is an excellent choice. If you seek a more elegant experience, Café Einstein on Kurfürstenstraße is a Viennese-style coffee house where you can expect the highest of quality and service. It’s a great place to have brunch, but be sure to try the apfelstrudel, an Austrian speciality.

Hit the town

When it’s time to explore the city’s nightlife, you’ll find there’s an almost overwhelming choice of bars and clubs. Berlin is a far cry from the clichéd lederhosen and dirndl look that you see during Oktoberfest, but if it’s a quintessential beer garden you’re after, Prater fits the bill and is superb during the summer months. Germany is, of course, well known for its excellent beer, but go beyond the standard fare of pils and weissbier by exploring the city’s burgeoning craft beer scene, with a visit to Hopfenreich.

If you’re more partial to a cocktail, you can try one of the many bars practicing the fine art of mixology. There’s the Southwestern-themed Stagger Lee, the clandestine Becketts Kopf, and the industrial-chic Le Croco Bleu, to name but a few.

Landwehr Canal | Photo: James Fancourt

Landwehr Canal | Photo: James Fancourt

Markets

Berlin is full of vibrant flohmärkte (flea markets) that take place each weekend. The most well known is the flea market at Mauerpark, and although there’s a lot of junk, those with a keen eye can find some real gems. Adjacent to the market, the hugely popular Bearpit Karaoke takes place. Members of the public perform songs (some superbly, others appallingly) in front of huge crowds, providing great entertainment and the perfect reprieve from navigating the many stalls.

Nowkölln is another excellent flea market, which takes place every other Sunday next to the Landwehr Canal (except in winter). The preferred choice of Berlin’s hipsters, here you can expect to find all manner of objects, ranging from vintage clothing to vinyl. For something more refined, explore the market outside the Bode Museum, or the one on Straße des 17 Juni, which are more geared towards antiques and artwork.

Off the beaten path

The vibrant district of Schöneberg was once home to David Bowie, and it’s not hard to see why. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, and there are tons of cosy cafés, great restaurants, and lively bars to explore. Berlin is known for being a gay-friendly destination, and although this is true throughout the city, it’s Nollendorfplatz (and the surrounding area) in Schöneberg that has been the centre of Berlin’s gay scene since the early 20th century.

Neukölln is an area of Berlin that barely gets a mention in most guidebooks, but its shabby-chic establishments are ideal for the intrepid traveller seeking a less conventional experience. Weserstraße and the adjacent streets are home to fantastic restaurants and bars, such as the flamboyant Silver Future and the intimate Kachel Lounge 54.

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