Fast becoming the hippest place to be in Europe, the German capital is an exciting fusion of old and new, perfect for foodies and culture-lovers alike, says Sally Coffey
The fashionable city of Berlin is now firmly on the radar of in-the-know European travellers thanks to its ever-evolving cultural scene and vibrant nightlife that can see you dancing in a 1920s ballroom one night and drinking cocktails on the roof of a shopping arcade the next.
There’s good reason for this spiralling change: Berlin is determined to escape its troubled past, remnants of which can be found almost everywhere you look, from the arresting Holocaust Memorial to Cold War relics such as Checkpoint Charlie, where residents once crossed the Wall that divided East from West.
When the Wall came down in 1989 Berliners were finally free to rebuild their city the way they wanted it and now over 25 years later is as innovative and vibrant a place as you can imagine. Whether you want a cultured evening at the opera followed by fine-dining or something grittier, Berlin has it all.
The two most identifiable landmarks are probably the modern TV tower, the Berlin Fernsehturm, which greets you as you arrive in the city by train, and the neoclassical triumphant arch of the Brandenburg Gate, both of which are symbolic of the city’s reclaimed freedom.
Germany’s parliamentary building, the Reichstag, (or at least the fire that destroyed it) was pivotal in Hitler’s rise to power. Today it has been reborn thanks to a major redesign in the 1990s by British architect Sir Norman Foster, who introduced a remarkable glass dome that offers great views of the city (you must book in advance).
For a more humbling experience, visit Bebelplatz, the square where the first book burning under Nazi Germany took place, a fact remembered by a simple but moving exhibit of a room of empty bookcases in the ground of the square; all the more poignant when you realise it’s in the shadow of Humboldt University, where Albert Einstein taught.
What to eat
We’re almost convinced that you can’t have a bad meal in Berlin – we certainly haven’t. For traditional German dishes such as schnitzel, meatballs and pork knuckle, you can’t go wrong with Max und Moritz, an elegantly tiled diner in Kreuzberg that has served locals since 1902.
For a more sophisticated experience try Fischers-Fritz, the Michelin-starred restaurant inside the five-star Regent Hotel, or at the other end of the scale stop off at one of the many street stalls such as local institution Currywurst 36, which serves straight-up sausages in baps, German style.
It’s an unwritten rule in Berlin that on Sundays everyone goes to the Mauerpark where a huge flea market winds its way past food and drink stalls, while musicians play to lazy crowds, many of whom are trying to recover from the excesses of the night before. At the end of the day everyone climbs the hill opposite the market, beer in hand, to watch the sunset. This is what being a Berliner feels like.
There are lots of boutique shops in über trendy areas such as Kreuzberg and lively farmers’ markets such as Markthalle Neun scattered across the city. For luxury brands and exciting new designers you should head to the exclusive roads in and around Gendarmenmarkt, which is considered the prettiest square in Berlin and is home to two domed cathedrals and an exquisite opera house and is generally a lovely place
to stroll around.
A Berlin WelcomeCard will give you unlimited access to public transport, plus discounts of 25-50 per cent on over 200 attractions as well as a useful map of the city. Prices start at 19.50 euros for a 48-hour pass (berlin-welcomecard.com). The city is easy to navigate with well-connected U-Bahn (tube), S-Bahn (tram) and trains. You could also take a bus tour to take in more of the sights or hire a bike and lose yourself in Berlin’s huge park, the Tiergarten.
Where to stay
The resplendent Regent Hotel, set back from the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt, is classically styled with sophisticated touches that hark back to an older, more refined era, but with every modern convenience.
From the majestic lobby, ornately decorated with floor-to-ceiling marble and a huge chandelier hanging over an enormous flower arrangement; to the sumptuous bedrooms, furnished in soft pastel shades with luxurious fabrics; and the marble-clad bathrooms with walk-in showers and L’Occitane toiletries, the attention to detail is seriously impressive.
The incredible (and expansive) Presidential Suite has accommodated the likes of Barbara Streisand in the past, as well as Tom Cruise and his then-wife Katie Holmes, who stayed here for three months. The view from the balcony of the historic square is splendid.
Once you have checked in, the first thing you should do is to pop downstairs for tea in the iconic Meissel Tea Lounge or sit back and treat yourself to a cocktail in the bar before planning your evening ahead. Superior Rooms are available from 265.50 euros a night including taxes (regenthotels.com).
For more tips on making the most of your visit to Berlin, go to berlin.de/en.
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