If New York is the city that never sleeps and Paris is the city of love, Berlin is the city that recaptures your youth. The German capital pulsates with a kind of energy that will make you feel like you’re on a non-stop adventure from the moment you hop off your graffiti-sprayed train.
With predominately hard edges and a gritty aesthetic, it may initially lack the rose-tinted hue of Paris or the warm vibrancy of Florence, but don’t be too quick to judge your host city for seeming a little aloof. This is all part of Berlin’s allure: you’re required to dig a little deeper.
This is my round up of Berlin’s hip urban hangouts, cultural attractions and dining spots, as well as where to shop and fit in some pampering.
Celebstagrams: travel edition
Where to sightsee?
East Side Gallery
This open-air exhibition celebrates the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall along the banks of the Spree. By the time the wall collapsed in November 1989, German citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin freely, yet this colourful memorial is a poignant reminder of the drastic separation of East and West Berlin that followed WWII and the hundreds of people who were killed trying to get across it. Today, numerous visitors (with their Instagram accounts) flock to view the work of more than 100 artists from around the world who have enlivened its grey brickwork with declarations of peace and other politically minded murals and dynamic graffiti. Eastsidegallery-berlin.de
Berlin’s Museum Island is a UNESCO world heritage site and home to the city’s most important exhibition centres: the Altes Museum (Old Museum), the Neues Museum (New Museum) the Bode Museum, the Pergamon Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery). The collections in these buildings encompass over 6 000 years of art and cultural history.
Holocaust Memorial’s Field of Stelae
This sprawling maze of 2 500 concrete slabs commemorating the six million Jewish victims of the largest genocide of the 20th century will stop you in your tracks. Holocaust-mahnmal.de/en
Where to shop?
This street in Mitte is a great option for browsing up-market boutiques and intimate gallery spaces and hanging out in its popular cafés. The nearby streets also have a wide selection of boutiques that are brimming with the latest designer trends. If your taste is more posh than punk, you’ll still feel at home amongst the quirky yet high-quality collections of avant-garde streetwear.
Those searching for European high street favourites like Zara and H&M should look no further than the well-known Friedrichstraße – Berlin’s equivalent to Oxford Street.
Luxury department stores
For an upmarket selection of international fashion brands, accessories, books and jewellery stop off at Quartier 206, an elegant department store just off the Gendarmenmarkt plaza, or Galeries Lafayette. Dsq206.com; Galerieslafayette.com
What to wear?
Looking for some new kicks? Leave your heels at home as sneakers are all the rage here with hundreds of concept stores with countless rows of sneaker options to choose your preferred style.
Berlin is laid back when it comes to dress code. We found ourselves in shorts, tees, jackets and sandals when wandering around the city as Berlin seems to favour practicality over beauty.
Don’t be fooled by the seemingly careless anti-fashion vibe in the hip Mitte district or in grungy Kreuzberg – young people have eclectic style that is unusual but well thought out and influenced by current trends.
Where to lunch?
Berlin offers numerous fast, hearty and cheap street food options including the nation’s favourites brats, wursts, schnitzels, sauerkraut, spaetzles – not forgetting a pint of local beer. Try the traditional German sausages – bockwurst, bratwurst and currywurst – with a dash of traditional curry ketchup. When in Berlin, do as the Berliners do.
Mogg & Melzer
Mogg & Melzer is the perfect pitstop after a morning of browsing in Mitte’s Augustraße. This understated artisan deli was opened by two DJs with a shared love of cured beef and its mouth-watering, New York-style pastrami sandwiches are a well-kept secret. Moggandmelzer.com
Oranienstraße in the trendy Kreuzberg district is a street with an eclectic mix of mid-eastern restaurants and quirky cafés offering flavours from Berlin’s diverse ethnic communities – Mexican, Arabic, Vietnamese, Turkish, Italian, Slavic. Café Luiza, with its gold-painted walls, specialist baristas and hipster crowd, takes its coffee seriously. Luzia.tc
Where to dine?
La Soupe Populaire
With two Michelin stars to his name, celebrated chef Tim Raue heads up the kitchen at this secluded gem, located in an old brewery disused since 1949. The space has been converted into a gallery, which hosts changing exhibitions that inspire Raue’s menus. The codfish with tarragon purée and braised cucumber is exquisite. Lasoupepopulaire.de
Tausend/Cantina is a bar/restaurant combo not to miss. Located inconspicuously under a railway bridge, this sophisticated hot spot is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Bar manager Dominic Bruckman mixes exquisite cocktails that will get your evening started before heading behind the bar to the exclusive and intimate sister restaurant, Cantina, which boasts a light installation by Robertneun architects and a bustling open kitchen. Cantina’s high-end clientele matches its exquisite Asian and Ibero-American menu created by talented chefs Daniel Feldsmann and Masao Watari. Tausendberlin.com
Spend a dreamy summer’s evening drinking chilled Riesling on the outdoor terrace of Michelin-starred Pauly Saal restaurant on Mitte’s trendy Auguststraße. Inspired by the classic German cuisine of the 1920s, Austrian chef Michael Höpfl’s dishes include the irresistible salmon with citrus fruits and ravioli filled with ricotta and violet artichokes. Enjoy cocktails on the outdoor terrace and ensure you try the succulent Pomeranian ox ribs. Paulysaal.com
Where to party?
With the growing popularity of daytime clubs, it is now even possible, if you so desire, to grab a full night’s sleep (or not) then head down to begin your night at 6am. The best spot for this is Watergate, a high-octane riverside club with two floors, panoramic windows and a floating terrace overlooking the Oberbaumbrücke where DJs keep electro-hungry hipsters sweaty well past sunrise. Water-gate.de
Another of Berlin’s hottest party spots is the multilevel Club Visionaere, located on the bank of the Spree in Kreuzberg. Clubdervisionaere.com
Where to sleep?
Arte House Luise Hotel
Described as ‘a gallery where you can spend a night’, this unique hotel opened as an authentic art project in 1995. The 50 individually designed rooms are great for guests looking for an easy lock-up-and-go base without the need for doting service or lavish touches. Look out for the horse’s nose in the 24-hour reception area. Luise-berlin.com
Ackselhaus & Blue Home
This charming boutique hotel combines traditional architecture with modern furnishings. Snag the beautiful Summerhouse – with its spacious terrace and plunge pool – where you can turn up the tunes on the surround sound system in your own stylish living room, complete with a fireplace, walk-in closet, freestanding bathtub and Bretz sofas. They offer a great continental breakfast and the service is delightful. Ackselhaus.de
If you’re looking for a practical hotel with unfussy décor and the swift efficiency of a business hotel, consider the boxes ticked. Spacious and comfortable, the suites include a heavenly king-size bed, all the desired room amenities and a private balcony with stunning views of the city skyline. Cosmo Hotel’s helpful staff will even prepare a breakfast-to-go for early morning airport transfers. Cosmo-hotel.de
Where to pamper?
Ono Spa at Mandala Hotel
Serenity sets in the moment you step into this environment of tranquility. Opt for the one-hour body massage, which uses a soothing combination of aromatherapy oils to iron out knots and soothe sore muscles. After a busy day, you will practically float off. Onospa.de/en
Cowshed Spa at Soho House Berlin
Check out the Damien Hirst artwork in the lobby before indulging in some sociable grooming at this über-chic wellbeing sanctuary, with its newspapers, herbal teas and plasma TV screens. For pedicure, the lovely Sidney uses an electric drill to slough off dead skin before soaking, exfoliating and preening feet to glossy perfection. And the Cowshed’s 45-minute facial will leave your skin so radiant you’ll literally turn heads. Sohohouseberlin.com/cowshed