By Jill Gleeson
It’s almost impossible not to love Berlin, Germany.
It should be disappointing—after all, it’s been the epitome of European cool for at least a couple decades and that’s a hard reputation to live up to! The sprawling capital, which is geographically nine times larger than Paris yet united by excellent public transportation, is celebrated for its incredible culture, kicking food scene, mega-tolerant acceptance of…well, pretty much everything…and cheap cost of living. When the Wall fell three decades ago (as of this year) it opened the gritty/glamorous city to the world, and the world came calling. Today, Berlin remains the place where the hip go to sip.
The only problem is that there is so much to do in Berlin—you might visit a chunk of its some 170 museums, for example—unless you’re planning a three-month sojourn you’re barely going to make a dent in your must-do list. Depending on how much time you actually have, your best bet is to start with The City of Freedom’s most iconic goodies, sprinkling in a bit of edgier fun, too.
Things To Do In Berlin, Germany…
There is no better symbol of Germany’s capital than the remainder of the Wall that once divided the east and west sections of the city. Any Berlin first-timer’s initial stop should be East Side Gallery, the longest open-air art installation on the planet. Right after the Wall came down, 118 artists representing 21 countries swarmed over the nearly mile-long section still standing. Among the highlights are murals like Dmitri Vrubel’s Fraternal Kiss, which illustrates former General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany Eric Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev, once the leader of the Soviet Union, smacking lips.
After taking in East Side Gallery, walk over to Thai restaurant Khwan, located in East Berlin’s free-spirited Friedrichshain district. It’s more or less a permanent pop-up tucked away in RAW-Gelände, just maybe the city’s hippest entertainment complex/cultural center. The entire area, which sits behind high brick walls at the site of an old train shop complex, hums with the energy of the offbeat creatives who fill its derelict warehouse and ramshackle outbuildings. Clubs, art spaces, beer gardens, even an indoor skatepark and a climbing wall can all be found in RAW-Gelände.
Plan on spending the evening in its environs, beginning with a meal at Khwan, which specializes in wood-roasted, regional Thai fare renowned throughout the city. If you’re a seafood fan, opt for the smoked oysters; while not always on the menu, they seem to be available if you know to request them. And the Som Tam—a traditional Thai green papaya salad with shrimp and peanuts—is good enough to compete with anything made in the Land of Smiles.
While the city is chock full of culture from high art to low brow, little else dazzles like the Berliner Philharmoniker. Considered by many to be the finest orchestra in the world, it’s now under the guidance of new chief conductor Kirill Petrenko, who is already winning raves from music critics. But the sweet sounds he’s eliciting from his 128 musicians are not the only reasons to visit the stunning Philharmonie hall.
Built in 1963, with a design by modernist architect Hans Scharoun, the concert hall is a sleek, Bauhaus-inspired dream, with a tent-like exterior that glimmers golden in the sun and an innovative interior that encircles the performers. Watching your wallet while visiting Berlin? Every Tuesday at 1 p.m. the Philharmoniker offers a 45-minute concert free with a donation to the UNICEF Children’s Fund.
If you’re going to spend an evening at the Philharmoniker, you might want to dine after (not before) at Joseph-Roth-Diele. A cozy, wood-paneled eatery named for the Austrian Jewish writer who lived next door in the 1920s, it exudes old-timey glamour and features classic German cuisine. You need to have schnitzel at least once while you’re in Berlin, and this is the place to do it. If you really want to indulge, order spaetzle noodles alongside thinly-breaded, fried pork and a Berliner Pilsner, a sweet, slightly hoppy beer made locally since 1902. It’s a meal worth the carb coma.
The best way to combat those notoriously starchy German dishes is by strolling the city. Head first to Kreuzberg, located along the river Spree. Home to a large immigrant population, it’s long been a haven for everyone from new wavers and punk rock aficionados—David Bowie and Iggy Pop used to frequent clubs in the area—to the LGBTQ community. Still plenty gritty with a large squatter population, it’s also boasts a vibrant arts scene.
Or, book a Bauhaus tour and visit stunning examples of the German design movement known for its clean lines, bright, primary colors and geometric shapes. If you’re a Bauhaus fan like Bowie was (and Lady Gaga is), celebrate the 100th anniversary of its birth this year with “Original Bauhaus” at Berlinische Galerie. Opening September 6, it will feature 1,000 Bauhaus art and design objects.
East Side Gallery
Revaler Str. 99
Tel: +49 152 59021331
Tel.: +49 30 254 88-0
Potsdamer Str. 75
Tel.: 030 26369884
“Original Bauhaus” at Berlinische Galerie
Alte Jakobstraße 124-128
Tel +49 (0)30-789 02-600
– Photos by Jill Gleeson
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.