What to See and Do in Berlin
Berlin has a polished new edge. T+L takes a closer look.
“Poor but sexy” is how mayor Klaus Wowereit described Berlin five years ago. Today he might add “grown-up”; the once achingly hip Mitte is now borderline bourgeois, full of modern hotels and gastronome temples, while the city’s artistic hub has migrated to a formerly rough-around-the-edges stretch of Potsdamer Strasse. Kreuzberg—with its pint-size cafés, one-off boutiques, and designer-stroller brigade—has taken over from Prenzlauer Berg as the elite’s stomping ground of choice. And just a little farther south, Neukölln is newly on the map thanks to the quirky, albeit stylish, Hüttenpalast B&B.
Five new (and über-stylish) boutiques that are worth a visit.
Voo Store makes a sehr Berliner first impression with a near-invisible entrance off a gritty Kreuzberg courtyard. But inside is 3,000 square feet of emerging labels—along with vintage vinyl and a lovely tearoom. 24 Oranienstrasse; 49-30/6165-1119.
The one-room Süper Store, on the Landwehr Canal, stocks Genovese soaps, handblown glass vases, and more—all arranged on Midcentury tables. 92E Planufer; no phone.
A three-level fantasy of every art, architecture, and design tool imaginable, Modulor sells exquisite papers and textiles, paint palettes and pen sets. It also has an extensive library of art magazines and books. 85 Prinzenstrasse; 49-30/690-360.
Dries van Noten capelets. Hammered-metal espresso makers. Pink shearling toddler’s gloves. Berlin style maven Andreas Murkudis recently upgraded his namesake boutique—and his flawless eye for the well-made product is now present across 12,000 square feet. 81E Potsdamer Strasse; 49-30/680-798-306.
Berlin’s fashion-forward set heads to Happy Shop for Christopher Kane stilettos, teeny cocktail blazers from Maison Kitsuné, and gold sunglasses by local stylist Mykita. 67 Torstrasse; 49-1577/847-3620.
Before You Go
Listen: Berlin Stories American expat novelist Anna Winger’s clever ongoing radio series for NPR gives travelers an insider’s look into Berlin life.
Watch: The Lives of Others A brilliant Cold War–era story of an East Berlin Stasi agent’s emotional attachment to a couple he spies on.
Run Lola Run Tom Tykwer’s adrenaline rush of a film makes a protagonist of Mitte’s gritty, fantastically cinematic open streets.
Read: The Beauty of Transgression: A Berlin Memoir Danielle de Picciotto, an American artist, shares vivid memories of the vibrant creative capital in its post-punk years of the 1980’s.
See + Do
T+L’s six-stop art itinerary.
Plan your day around the most in-demand contemporary art experience in town: a private tour of the Boros Collection (by appointment only), housed in a World War II railway bunker restored by Polish-born Christian Boros to hold works by Wolfgang Tillmans, Olafur Eliasson, Elizabeth Peyton, and others.
Next, swing by Potsdamer Strasse, where local gallerists such as Martin Klosterfelde (93 Potsdamer Strasse; 49-30/283-5305) and international names like London’s Blain/Southern (77-87 Potsdamer Strasse; 49-30/644-931-510) have cropped up over the past two years. The able guides at GoArt! Berlin (from $91 per hour for half-day tours) lead look-ins and intimate studio visits in the area. Don’t miss Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie, which is showing “Gerhard Richter Panorama” through May 13. Finally, take a quick cab ride to Museum Island to view architect David Chipperfield’s renovation of the Neues Museum.
Detour: In Potsdam, a 30-minute drive southwest, the 300th anniversary of former king of Prussia Frederick the Great is being celebrated all year long at Sanssouci, the Rococo residence he commissioned in 1745; “Friederisiko,” a retrospective of his life, opens April 28.
The best of Berlin’s latest hotel openings.
Great Value The warehouse-like property, with reclaimed 20th-century furniture and brass light fixtures, has seriously spacious rooms and a top-notch restaurant, House Kitchen, which specializes in comfort dishes.
Best For: Creative types who disdain ties but obsess over the cuffs on their selvage denim. Doubles from $170.
Great Value Cognac leather settees, polished macassar, black glass, and green marble accent the stylish and centrally located Hotel Mani. There are laptops and iPads for rent—and, of course, bikes (this is Berlin).
Best For: Jet-setters and Berlin regulars who love high-design hotels. 136 Torstrasse; 49-30/5302-8080; doubles from $149.
Housed on 25 floors of the gleaming Zoofenster Building, the soon-to-open Waldorf will have a Pierre Gagnaire restaurant and Germany’s only Guerlain spa.
Best For: Travelers who are happy to explore “emerging” neighborhoods—as long as they can repair to unadulterated luxury later. 28 Hardenbergstrasse; 800/925-3673; doubles from $390.
Great Value Choose from a refurbished “caravan,” a cozy-chic cabin, or a regular room (with eiderdown-swathed beds) at this tongue-in-cheek homage to trailer parks.
Best For: Value-conscious globe-trotters with limited reserves and an eye for stylish bargains. 66 Hobrechtstrasse; 49-30/3730-5806; doubles from $85.
Berlin’s hot new restaurants cater to any craving.
For Over-the-Top Indulgence: Restaurant Tim Raue serves an Asian-influenced tasting menu—caviar with wild herbs and wasabi; jamón with parsley and choy sum; Peking duck three ways—echoing flavors from his first venture, Ma, at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski. Dinner for two $232.
For “Yeah, We Ate There” Cachet: Ring the buzzer of an unmarked door under an S-Bahn bridge to find the Japanese-Iberian Tausend Backroom Cantina. Chefs Duc The Ngo and Masao Watari serve miso cod and skewered anticuchos inside the industrial, steel-gray space. Dinner for two $65.
For Melt-in-Your-Mouth Tapas: A graffiti-embellished façade on Görlitzer Park gives way to the unpretentious dining room and casual-style seats of Bar Raval. The small plates, such as Ibérico ham and patatas bravas, and all-Iberian wine list are surprisingly refined. 1 Lübbener Strasse; 49-30/5316-7954; dinner for two $33.
For Some Alpine Gemütlichkeit: Alpenstueck, in Mitte, is awash in charm, from the rustic beech walls to the sublime Alpine/Bavarian fare—spaetzle and rabbit, pumpkin-and-beet ravioli, and potato-and-cucumber salad are the next best thing to a mountain getaway. 9 Gartenstrasse; 49-30/2175-1646; dinner for two $92.
Local Take: Kevin Avery of Little Otik
New York–raised Avery and partner Jeffrey Sfire opened Little Otik (71 Graefestrasse; 49-30/5036-2301; dinner for two $79) last year in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, hoping to reinterpret American food for a new audience. Now it’s one of the most sought-after tables in town.
My typical Customer Is... nonexistent, really. On any given night you could have college kids, businessmen, a young family, or older people who have lived here their whole lives. That’s why we love Kreuzberg.
Where I Shop to Jazz Up My...
Apartment: Urbanstrasse, near the restaurant; the road is lined with little antique-and vintage-furniture shops. Try Antik Galerie (No. 126) and Adler Antik (No. 124).
...Closet: Our favorite clothing shop in Kreuzberg is Akeef (18 Wienerstrasse; 49-30/6290-1475). It carries great menswear labels, including Folk from London and Baracuta.
...Kitchen: Kochlust (85D Prinzenstrasse; 49-30/2219-6095), a modern kitchen store with a lovely café (and a cookbook).
Where I Go to Escape: The Botanic Garden (Freie Universität Berlin, 6-8 Königin-Luise-Strasse; 49-30/8385-0100), in Dahlem, which has more than 20,000 kinds of plants. Or the Muggelsee—the biggest lake in Berlin. It’s only a half-hour train ride east from the city center, but you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Maria Shollenbarger is the deputy editor of How to Spend It at the Financial Times.
Just behind Potsdamer Platz—and anchoring the jagged golden twins that are the Philharmonic and the city library—sits the starkly modern glass cube of the New National Gallery, designed in the 1960s by Mies van der Rohe. The building (Mies’s sole museum design) showcases 20th-century art from Germany and beyond: the permanent collection includes works by native sons Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, and Max Ernst as well as Picasso and Dalí. Temporary exhibits are displayed on the museum’s expansive lower level; increasingly, these are big-name shows featuring headliners like Giacometti or Just behind Potsdamer Platz—and anchoring the jagged golden twins that are the Philharmonic and the city library—sits the starkly modern glass cube of the New National Gallery, designed in the 1960s by Mies van der Rohe. The building (Mies’s sole museum design) showcases 20th-century art from Germany and beyond: the permanent collection includes works by native sons Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, and Max Ernst as well as Picasso and Dalí. Temporary exhibits are displayed on the museum’s expansive lower level; increasingly, these are big-name shows featuring headliners like Giacometti or Andy Warhol, or 2007’s New York–based “MoMA in Berlin.”
Slide into a leather booth at this watering hole and you'll be immersed in the chatty camaraderie of the professors, writers, artists, and theater types who live nearby in the streets surrounding the Meseu d'Art Contemporani.
The most famous attraction in the Brandenburg capital city of Potsdam (an easy day trip from Berlin) is the elaborate, Rococo-style Sanssouci castle—Berlin’s answer to Versailles, created by King Friedrich Wilhelm II between 1745 and 1747. The sprawling, ornate palace is surrounded by acres of painstakingly landscaped parklands, which include terraced gardens, an Orangerie, a Chinese Teahouse, fountains and colonnades, the statuary-covered Neue Palais (a smaller castle), and a reproduction of ancient Roman baths. Exploring here can easily take up an entire afternoon.
Tausend Backroom Cantina
Over in Mitte, a mix of fashion and media types frequent this club, built under the tracks of the commuter S-Bahn train.
British architect David Chipperfield’s nimble rebuilding of the Neues Museum was such a feat of renovation and reconstruction that the city admitted the public to the empty building for several days in March 2009 to show off the achievement. After 12 years of painstaking work, the Neoclassical structure reopens with one of the world’s top collections of Egyptian art and a singular beauty, the bust of Nefertiti. The newly renovated Neues Museum in Berlin incorporates traces of the building’s history in brilliantly understated fashion—architect David Chipperfield’s serene galleries inhabit and expand a grand 19th-century building so badly damaged during World War II that East German authorities more or less abandoned the place. Some 60 years later, the museum’s frescoes, columns, and brickwork have been given new life—solemn backdrops for an extraordinary collection of antiquities.
Soho House, Berlin
For years, Berlin’s high-end hotels just weren’t cool. That all changed with Soho House, the London-based members’ club, providing Berlin with a welcome dose of English eccentricity and becoming the overnight choice for the art and fashion set. The restored Bauhaus building bordering the über-hip Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg neighborhoods has 40 guest rooms with wood floors and Midcentury antiques. The lounge, with its red velvet sofas, has become one of the city’s hottest nightspots (business travelers beware: club rules forbid men’s neckties).