Mayor Klaus Wowereit’s description of Berlin in 2003 as “poor but sexy” still holds, but these days the city is much more than shabby chic. Massive construction has brought bright new spaces to the Mitte district, mainly consisting of upscale restaurants and watering holes clustered around Friedrichstrasse. Meanwhile, the latest evolution of Berlin’s cherished cheap-thrills aesthetic is centered in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, where a buzzing, multicultural scene is drawing clusters of creative types. Read on for more on where to find the essential Berlin experience.
Oranienstrasse in Kreuzberg, the former center of radical West Berlin, is now one big sidewalk café spiced with kebab shops and leading-edge, cheap-chic boutiques like Egoiste and UVR Connected. Magazine junkies relish Motto Berlin for its archives of artsy, hard-to-find publications. After dark, the club SO36 hosts an energetic bingo night in addition to bills of see-them-now bands. Over in Mitte, a mix of fashion and media types frequent Tausend, built under the tracks of the commuter S-Bahn train.
Kreuzberg’s upscale local favorite Horváth serves refined takes on standards like duck breast and lamb shank with perfect wine pairings. San Nicci offers modern Italian cuisine and the most flattering lighting in town. But the must-book spots these days are in Mitte’s stately Hotel Adlon Kempinski: Ma Tim Raue and Uma , star chef Tim Raue’s twin restaurants. Uma is more low-key, with an open kitchen and a Japanese-inspired mix-and-match menu, and Ma Tim Raue veers more toward the eccentric (fish maw) and extravagant (diamond-label beef).
The Meliá Berlin hotel sits along the Spree River and has splendid views. German celebs (Boris Becker, movie star Til Schweiger) flock to the Rocco Forte Hotel de Rome and its playful lobby full of giant urns, while Madonna has ducked the paparazzi at the striking Biedermeier-style Regent. Meanwhile, Ackselhaus Blue Home presents an alluring combination of elegance and affordability—as well as the stylish breakfast café Club del Mar—on a tree-lined street in Prenzlauer Berg.
Don’t miss Mitte’s high-end Contemporary Fine Arts, three stories of huge rooms and high ceilings with space for oversize sculptures and canvases by the likes of Georg Baselitz and Chris Ofili. Also now open in Mitte is Christian Ehrentraut, the eponymous gallery of one of the New Leipzig School’s founders, which shows the work of emerging artists. And 032c, the international insider’s magazine par excellence, has opened a compelling shop with a collection of “new, forgotten, anonymous, commissioned, or reissued industrial objects and products”.