Berlin's majestic Reichstag glows at sunset

It’s been 20 years since the Wall came down, but Berlin is still very much a tale of two cities. Few European capitals can boast the distinct, bipolar split of its DNA as much as Berlin – East and West, gritty and gourmet, laid-back and raucous – paired with its never-ending stream of cultural and creative offerings.


First Timers

Berliners know how to do breakfast, so keep with tradition at the handsome, 19th century-style Café Einstein (Kurfürstenstrasse 58) – order coffee and the Viennese breakfast. Afterwards, take a quick taxi ride to the Holocaust Memorial (Cora-Berliner-Strasse 1), a homage of 2,711 undulating stone monoliths, which is at once sobering and beautiful. From here you can walk to the impressive Brandenburg Gate (Pariser Platz) and the parliamentary Reichstag (Platz der Republik 1). Take the lift up to the mirrored, glass dome for panoramic views and to skip queues, book in for a sunset meal at the Dachgarten Restaurant.

Holocaust memorialBerlin's Holocaust Memorial is a poignant sight
Thinkstock / iStockphoto

Old Hands

The once-rundown Prenzlauer Berg is now an affluent, arty neighbourhood. Have a long brunch in one of its many cafés, such as florist-cum-eatery Anna Blume (Kollwitzstrasse 83) – their three-tier breakfast platters are a force to be reckoned with – before browsing the boutiques along Kastanienallee. On Sundays, head for the vibrant Mauerpark fleamarket (Bernauer Strasse 63-64) where you can pick up everything from antique furniture and bric-a-brac to cheap vintage buys. You can also check out the remaining 30m (100ft) strip of the Berlin Wall. A different Sunday-morning must is Austrian café Nola’s Am Weinberg (Veteranenstrasse 9) for its excellent buffet spread (a tip: get there early). Find an Automat photobooth too – there are plenty in this area – for a fun keepsake.


First Timers

Mitte’s “Museum Island” is, quite literally, an island of treasures, housing five, architecturally stunning museums that span styles from baroque to neoclassical. If you’re pressed for time, choose the Neues Museum (Bodestrasse 1-3), which re-opened in 2009 after 70 years to great acclaim, and houses classical antiquities including the bust of Queen Nefertiti. A camera stop is required at the majestic Berliner Dom (Am Lustgarten). You can even see the 60s TV Tower peeking out behind. Nip into commercial Mitte for a coffee break at Kaffeemitte (Weinmeisterstrasse 9a) and a browse of high-end boutiques, including ultra-hip Wood Wood (Rochstrasse 3-4).

Old Hands

Shopping in BerlinShopaholics will love browsing through Scheunenviertel
Creative Commons / Citta Vita

Onto a little retail therapy in Scheunenviertel, Berlin’s independent shopping hub. Münzstrasse, Alte Schönhauser Strasse and Neue Schönhauser Strasse are the main streets, but go off-piste down the side lanes for more unique finds. Concept store 14oz (Neue Schönhauser Strasse 13) stocks up-and-coming international brands and has a good denim selection. For avant-garde Berlin designers, try tiny boutique Konk (Kleine Hamburger Strasse 15). Then head to 1. Absinthe Depot Berlin (Weinmeisterstrasse 4), which sells over 60 types of the green fairy, or alternatively visit the progressive galleries along Auguststrasse. Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art (Auguststrasse 69), for example, houses radical, contemporary art in a former margarine factory. If you’re feeling peckish, there are plenty of cafés around Hackescher Markt, and a farmers market every Thursday and Saturday.


First Timers

Checkpoint Charlie, the old gateway between the two Berlins, is unfortunately a tacky tourist spot. Instead, see the East/West divide first-hand by bicycle, using an operator such as Fat Tire Bike Tours. Start East in the hip area of Friedrichshain, taking in the Stalinist aesthetics on Karl-Marx-Allee, before making your way to Kreuzberg. An anomaly in the past – it was the poorest basin of West Berlin – it’s now an edgy, multicultural neighbourhood. Choose from the many Turkish dönerias for lunch, or Burgermeister (Oberbaumstrasse 8), underneath the U-Bahn tracks. Once you’re well fuelled, visit the emotional Jewish Museum (Lindenstrasse 9-14) for some 2,000 years of Jewish history, housed in a dramatic, iconic, silver building. Round off the day by pedalling through the leafy Schöneberg, stopping off at Berlin’s answer to Bloomingdale’s, KaDeWe (Tauentzienstrasse 21-24).  

Old Hands

BadeschiffDay or night, a swim at Badeschiff is always fun
Creative Commons / mini joan

Come rain or shine, Berliners love a good swimming pool. In the winter, book into Liquidrom (Möckernstrasse 10), a Scandinavian-style day spa. Float in the saltwater pool where, if you submerge your head, you can hear soothing music. Then, test drive the many saunas and steam rooms, before sending your circulation into overdrive in the plunge pool and outdoor Jacuzzi. In summer, join the bronzed bodies at Badeschiff (Eichenstrasse 4), a pool on an old moored barge on the River Spree, complete with sand, a bar and, if you stay ‘til late, DJ-fronted parties. In winter, they add saunas and cover the heated pool with a blow-up, glowing cocoon. 


First Timers

Prepare yourself for a long – and wild – night. Things start late so take your time with dinner, perhaps a traditional currywurst from famed Curry 36 (Mehringdamm 36), before heading to Friedrichshain for some drinks in GDR-style bars like Babette (Karl-Marx-Allee 36), a 1950s ex-cosmetic salon.

Cafe KulturfabrikGet involved in Berlin's famously hedonistic nightlife
Creative Commons / Hans Richter

From here it’s a short walk to techno temple Berghain (Am Wriezener Bahnhof), an ex-power plant considered to be one of the world’s best clubs, with a door policy to match (a tip: don’t speak English). If you can’t get in – hundreds are turned away every weekend – try Watergate (Falckensteinstrasse 49), which overlooks the river with floor-to-ceiling windows and a funky LED installation.

Old Hands

If you’re au fait with the super clubs, try some of the other party places on Berlin’s thriving circuit. Begin at bar Honolulu, located in quirky hotel Michelberger (Warschauer Strasse 39-40) for an international crowd and fun cocktails, before Prince Charles (Prinzenstrasse 85f), a chic bar set in a former 1970s swimming pool where the crowd dance under a 600-bulb light installation. End at fashion-forward club House of Weekend (Alexanderstrasse 7), housed at the top of the retro, Soviet tower block Haus des Reisens.

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