While it may conjure images of graffiti-splattered walls and booming techno music, the cultural scene in Berlin has developed dramatically over the past decade. Still basking in the triumphant air of liberation that settled on the city when the wall came down, Berlin today is a place of creative freedom, where urban glamour goes hand-in-hand with its grittier edge.
Where to stay
Five-star hotel Das Stue is nestled in Tiergarten Park’s greenery. Once home to the Danish Embassy, its 1930s architecture boasts period features complemented by contemporary touches – the vision of Patricia Urquiola. Her exuberant flourishes, including a crocodile head and the odd gorilla sculpture, are a celebration of the hotel’s proximity to Berlin Zoo (from £215 per night).
In the Charlottenburg district – the city’s unofficial literary quarter – Sir Savigny offers an edgier kind of stay. To get to the entrance, walk through a passage covered in artwork by street artist Dome. Its 44 rooms are decorated by Amsterdam-based designer Saar Zafrir in leather and velvet (from £112 per night).
Breakfast & Lunch
For a traditional start, head to Engelberg, a bustling café on Oderberger Strasse, where you can partake in a classic German breakfast. Try the speciality of Bavarian white sausages with sweet mustard – with a coffee, of course.
For lunch, there’s Markthalle Neun – built in 1891 the market’s now a microcosm of global gastronomy and the best local producers. Its weekly ‘Street Food Thursday’ is especially popular – try the Königsberger Klopse (Prussian meatballs in white sauce), sushi burgers and oysters.
Wine & Dine
Pauly Saal in Mitte is the go-to for a refined, Michelin-starred dinner. Relax on one of the green velvet banquettes and watch the chefs at work creating elaborate, cutting-edge dishes in the glass-cubed kitchen. Save some space for a late-night trip to Coda, a one-of-a-kind dessert bar, where experimental sweet concoctions (such as cacao, banana, pear vinegar and corn) are paired with imaginative cocktails.
Finish a memorable night with a brandy, tequila, gin or rum flight at Lebensstern, a library-style bar which lines its walls with around 1,500 bottled spirits.
Art & Culture
Museum Island in Mitte, a UNESCO heritage site in the Spree river, houses five grande-dame institutions dedicated to art and ancient artefacts. For lovers of the modern, the Hamburger Bahnhof should be top of the list. An iconic former railway terminus, it’s now filled with one of the largest public collections of contemporary art in the world. The city’s striking Bauhaus Archive is currently closed for construction works, but due to reopen later this year.
Be sure to gaze up at the contemporary dome of the Reichstag parliament building, and pay homage to the capital’s history in any number of institutions and memorials. Note, too, the ever-present echo of the tumbled Berlin Wall, which is now marked by a double row of cobblestones weaving through the streets.
Biscuit China is an ode to everything ceramic, from tableware and vases to jewellery, as well as a platform for up-and-coming potters, while Schee sells limited-edition prints from its store nearby. For a change of pace, stop by Paper and Tea, a shop dedicated to tea from around the world.
Hallesches Haus proffers everything from rustic furniture to cookware, and has a great café. Design fans should also visit lighting brand Bocci’s showroom, ‘Bocci79’. Inhabiting a former 19th-century courthouse, it has flocks of blown-glass pendants sweeping across its ceiling.
Escape the City
Embark on the 45-minute drive (or take the S-Bahn) to Potsdam – once the summer residence of the Prussian kings and, until 1918, the Kaiser, it’s now the country’s largest World Heritage Site. Dubbed ‘the Versailles of Germany’, its Sanssouci Palace, built in the 18th century, is a vision of opulence. Also explore Sanssouci Park to uncover the Roman Baths, Chinese House and Antique Temple.