Two neighborhoods once split by the wall—the fashionably gentrified Mitte and the gritty, bohemian Kreuzberg—are brimming with creative energy, a thriving arts scene, and stylish hotels.
For an affordable alternative to the luxury palaces off Potsdamer Platz, check into one of Berlin’s new boutique hotels, such as the Dorint Sofitel am Gendarmenmarkt (50-52 Charlottenstrasse; 49-30/203-750; www.dorint.com; doubles from $375), whose central location, stark but elegant rooms, and excellent restaurant make up for its charmless exterior. A more intimate option, the dainty and provincially decorated 32-room Hotel Hackescher Markt (8 Grosse Präsidentenstrasse; 49-30/280-030; www.loock-hotels.com; doubles from $210), is situated in a quiet courtyard near the city’s Museumsinsel, or Museum Island; the 22-room Hotel Riehmers Hofgarten (83 Yorckstrasse; 49-30/7809-8800; www.hotel-riehmers-hofgarten.de; doubles from $168), a handsome 19th-century building near Kreuzberg’s galleries, has spacious white interiors with cheerful red accents, and an ivy-lined garden.
Even though it has earned a Michelin star for its nouvelle German cuisine, Vau (54-55 Jägerstrasse; 49-30/202-9730; dinner for two $210), like most Berlin restaurants, has a relaxed and unpretentious vibe. Pair the decadent borscht with lobster with one of the more than 250 Teutonic wines from the cellar. Set in a nearby neo-Gothic brewery, Restaurant Maxwell (22 Bergstrasse; 49-30/280-7121; dinner for two $90) serves seasonal dishes, such as poularde breast with cabbage, trumpet mushroom, and onion casserole, to a lively crowd of locals. At Lutter & Wegner (56 Charlottenstrasse; 49-30/202-9540; dinner for two $79), succumb to traditional favorites like Wiener schnitzel (fuel for Berlin’s notoriously rollicking nightlife) before heading off to the swanky Victoria Bar (102 Potsdamer Strasse; 49-30/2575-9977; drinks for two $24), where expert mixologists deftly pour cocktail classics. Try the brandy Alexander.
No trip to Berlin would be complete without a visit to the Gemäldegalerie (4-6 Matthäikirchplatz; 49-30/266-2951; www.smb.spk-berlin.de) for Holbeins, Rembrandts, and Brueghels. Next stop: the Museumsinsel, for Byzantine art at the Bode Museum (1-3 Bodestrasse; www.smb.spk-berlin.de). Cross the river to the impressive four-year-old I.M. Pei-designed German Historical Museum (3 Hinter dem Giesshaus; 49-30/2030-4444; www.dhm.de), then venture north to the KW Institute for Contemporary Art (69 Auguststrasse; 49-30/243-4590; www.kw-berlin.de), the engine behind the Berlin Biennale, and break for lunch at Café Bravo, a glass cube inside KW’s leafy courtyard. Some of Berlin’s finest galleries, including Max Hetzler (90-91 Zimmerstrasse; 49-30/ 229-2437; www.maxhetzler.com) and Barbara Weiss (88-91 Zimmerstrasse; 49-30/262-4284; www.galeriebarbaraweiss.de), have moved to the northern edge of Kreuzberg. Down the street, the Martin-Gropius-Bau (7 Niederkirchnerstrasse; 49-30/254-860; www.gropiusbau.de) hosts visiting exhibitions of contemporary art—a must for design aficionados.
Berlin’s best shopping has slowly migrated east from Kurfürstendamm to Friedrichstrasse, where an impeccably edited selection of designer clothes, cosmetics, and housewares fills the shelves in the Calvin Tsao-designed Departmentstore Quartier 206 (71 Friedrichstrasse; 49-30/2094-6800). Worth a visit for the architecture alone, the Hackesche Höfe, a cluster of Secessionist buildings with Jugendstil elements, houses restaurants, galleries, and boutiques such as Trippen (Hof 4 & 6 40/41 Rosenthaler Strasse; 49-30/2839-1337), makers of whimsical, environmentally conscious shoes. Amble along Schönhauser Strasse (Alte and Neue) to find retro home furnishings, and visit Pro qm (48 Alte Schönhauser Strasse; 49-30/2472-8520), one of Berlin’s best bookstores for art, design, and pop-culture tomes. Finally, to honor the city’s rich artistic past and present, head west to the gift shop at the Bauhaus Archive (14 Klingelhöferstrasse; 49-30/254-0020)— the perfect place to score a Modernist souvenir.
In Mitte and Kreuzberg, the S-Bahn (above-ground rail) is the easiest and most reliable form of transportation.
Best Time to Visit
From March 16 through 25, the MaerzMusik Festival (www.maerzmusik.de) draws a collection of musicians ranging from classical to experimental.
To sample Kreuzberg’s picturesque café culture, take a stroll down Bergmannstrasse to Marheinekeplatz, one of the city’s last covered markets.
Walter Gropius’s 1919 Bauhaus Manifesto championed the synergy of art and craftsmanship in design—and the sleek, beautifully made merchandise offered here reflects that marriage. Many of the shop’s housewares and objets are iconic representations of Bauhaus design—like Marianne Brandt’s 1926 ashtrays and bowls, or Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s classic domed lamp—but there are more contemporary pieces too. Profits from the shop are used to maintain the Bauhaus Archive museum and produce exhibition catalogues.
Founded by Michael Oehler and Angela Spieth in 1992, Trippen is committed to producing and selling sustainable, environmentally-friendly, and functional footwear. The company's footwear is crafted from vegetable- and chrome-tanned leather and beech, poplar, and alder woods, and shoes are produced in the company’s factories in Berlin and northern Italy. The store’s socially conscious philosophy and quality products have resulted in an expansion to over 450 stores around the world. Because Trippen shoes are crafted from natural materials, they require special care and can easily be damaged by water and excessive heat.
Departmentstore Quartier 206
Located in Friedrichstraße 71, Departmentstore Quartier 206 was founded by Anne Maria Jagdfeld in 1997 and has become one of Berlin’s premier shopping destinations. A lifestyle store, Quartier 206 sells men’s and women’s fashions, as well as books and music, accessories, and even flower arrangements. The store’s inventory includes luxury products from Milan, Hong Kong, and other destinations around the globe. Designer brands for sale include Dolce & Gabbana, Bottega Veneta, and Missoni. A bar and café serves coffee, tea, and wine.
Located in Tiergarten, the Gemäldegalerie is one of the most highly regarded museums in Germany. The museum’s collection, founded in 1830, contains European art dating from the 13th through the 18th century. Works from German masters, including Dürer and Holbein, occupy seven rooms, while other rooms are reserved for Italian and Dutch masters, including Botticelli, Titian, Van Eyck, and Bosch. The museum also has a Rembrandt Room, which displays 16 works by the famed painter, composing the world’s second-largest collection of his art. Visitors to the museum’s main gallery can view more than 1,000 works.
Located near Potsdamer Platz, the retro-inspired Victoria Bar has become a favorite haunt for locals looking to escape the harried city life. Inside the decor includes dark walnut tables, green booths, and dim lighting. Bartenders serve up wide selection of cocktails, including drinks made with Mexican tequila, as well as Caribbean-inspired concoctions. A dining menu is also available and has sandwiches, salads, and small plates. Happy hour is held daily from 6:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. and includes reduced price drinks.
Lutter & Wegner
A popular, Austrian-themed eatery overlooking the Gendarmenmarkt, Lutter & Wegner serves a menu largely composed of Austrian cuisine, including game dishes, specials like lamb medallions and entrecôte with béarnaise sauce, and the traditional wiener schnitzel served with potato salad. The restaurant was one of the first places to sell wine in the city, and an extensive wine list is available. Lutter & Wegner’s dining room is reminiscent of Austria in the 19th century with its dark wood accents and bright lighting.
Hotel Hackescher Markt
Located just five minutes from the city's famous Museum Island and in the midst of the bustling shopping and dining district of the same name, the Hackescher Markt Hotel is a boutique-style property with 29 guest rooms and three suites. The hotel is housed inside a British-style townhouse, and the British theme carries over into the guest rooms and public areas, which are decorated with light woods, floral patterns, and shades of blue. Guests can sip on cocktails at the lobby bar and enjoy access to the wellness facilities at the neighboring Hotel Alexander Plaza.
A Michelin Star recipient, VAU opened in the Mitte district in 1997. The restaurant, located near the Gendarmenmarkt, serves the traditional German and French cuisine of chef Kolja Kleeberg. Seafood and game dishes are menu highlights, and selections such as venison chop from Brandenburg with barley, savoy, and pickled rosehip showcase fresh ingredients. Housed inside the historic Gründerzeit building, which once hosted Rahel Varnhagen’s salon, the restaurant has an interior design created by Meinhard von Gerkan, the architect responsible for Berlin Tegel Airport, and the walls are lined with paintings by Cologne-based artist Oliver Jordan.
Sofitel am Gendarmenmarkt
Berlin’s first boutique hotel sits in what proprietor Tini Countess Rothkirch says is “the most beautiful spot in the city”—directly across from Gendarmenmarkt square. And although the Sofitel occupies a GDR-era building, the interiors here (all brushed steel, gleaming glass, and polished black marble) are up-to-the-minute modern. The 70 rooms and 22 suites are small yet luxurious studies in minimalist chic: white walls, fluffy white featherbeds, chrome fixtures, Bose sound systems. Some have intimate balconies overlooking the square and the ornate dome of the French Cathedral. The hotel’s fantastic wood-floored attic spa/wellness center and ground-floor breakfast room both have soaring ceilings that keep things airy and light.
Room to Book: For stunning views of the square’s Concert Hall, ask for an upper-story balcony room on the Gendarmenmarkt side.
Doubles From $447.