The legendary Berlin nightclub Bar 25 closed down in 2010, much to the chagrin of the city’s hordes of revellers, but where once feet stomped to metronomic techno beats now stands Holzmarkt 25, an arts, music and food project, the jewel of which is Katerschmaus. Sitting charmingly on the bank of the Spree, Katerschmaus is a cracking lunch spot in the summer, with a hearty contemporary German/European menu: think smoked and cured pork roast with sauerkraut and potato, cod with carrot, leek and rye bread, or Flammkuchen with Mediterranean vegetables. All washed down with what else but German beer. Good luck with doing anything constructive after that.
A foodie fixture since 1996, Einstein is found on Unter den Linden, that iconic vein of lime trees that runs from the Berlin Palace to Brandenburg Gate. The café and restaurant was taken over in 2016 and given a respectful (and needed) facelift, which served it well. From April this year, Einstein has been under the culinary auspices of former two-Michelin-star chef Daniel Achilles, who has gilded the locally sourced menu with gastronomic gold. Breakfast here is charming, allowing you to chow down on delicious hearty dishes such as smoked salmon and eggs every which way as you watch Berlin rub its eyes and begin its day.
Café Frieda is a self-styled “all-day hangout” situated on Lychener Straße. It’s the little sister of a fabulous restaurant called Mrs Robinson’s in the city’s Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood, founded by Ben Zviel and Samina Raza, who met and got together at Berghain nightclub and eventually decided to combine their culinary passions. If Mrs Robinson’s is all lofty ambition (and it hits the mark), then Frieda is their loving pet. The ethos is the same at both: strictly seasonal, local, sustainable and wild produce. The bakery produces mouthwatering naughtiness for sweet breakfasts daily, while the Saturday lunch is to die for, with dishes such as Holstein ox tartar with shiitake tempura, pickled turnip and savagnin vinegar. Coffee heads will adore the Corazón de Jesús they serve up – a honey reposado processed coffee from Costa Rica.
With such a culturally diverse landscape, it’s difficult to know where to navigate when it comes to supper in Berlin, because the city boasts an embarrassment of riches from all over the world. One place that is non-negotiable, however, is 893 Ryōtei, founded by the very impressive Duc Ngo. 893 specialises in a hybrid Japanese-Peruvian that will blow your mind. The sushi is outrageous, the ceviche is sublime (you must try the sashimi taquitos), while the 893 classics are conversation pieces for years to come (the miso cod and grilled octopus are firm favourites). The sake list is both excellent and extensive – in for a penny, in for a pound.
Nobelhart & Schmutzig on Friedrichstraße is not just one of the best restaurants in the world, it’s also a culture. This award-winning eatery run by proprietor/sommelier Billy Wagner and head chef Micha Schäfer lives and dies by what it calls brutal localism – that is, only sourcing ingredients from the immediate vicinity of Berlin. Hence, the 10-course tasting menu, which you experience around a 28-seater wooden table, is incredibly seasonal. If they can’t source food within the greater Berlin area, you won’t find it on the menu. The restaurant’s mission? ‘To tear down the antiquated concepts of fine dining by establishing Germany’s own genuine signature rather than an eternal plagiarism of French haute cuisine.’ It does a mighty fine job of it. It might not look like a world-beating restaurant on the outside, but once you ring the doorbell and get buzzed in, prepare to be amazed.
When you consider that 90 per cent of restaurants today don’t make it to their 10th anniversary, the fact that Borchardt has been standing stoically on Französische Straße since 1853 tells you all you need to know about Berlin’s love affair with this culinary institution. When Herr August F W Borchardt first opened his doors, he gave Berliners something unique – international food and new flavours, such as bitter orange from the Himalayas, and Prussia’s finest ostrich eggs. It attracted nobility, royalty, and it’s even said that Baron Friedrich von Holstein invented the schnitzel à la Holstein here. It held up through wars, was requisitioned a number of times, and still it stands, a palimpsest of history on a plate. Today, it is still one of the most-loved restaurants in Berlin, thanks to its perfectly executed bistro menu (from which, of course, you order the schnitzel and blood sausage).
Knowing that Buck and Breck is on Brunnenstraße is only half the battle. This legendary Berlin speakeasy is hidden between a police station and a bistro, behind an unmarked door with a flickering “Closed” sign hung from it. You need to ring a bell to gain access, but once you’re in, you’ll realise why this Kreuzberg drinking gem has earned so many plaudits. Designed by Zurich-based architect studio Bask, the positively tiny space with room for only 14 guests could be described as “futurist cosy”, with matt black walls and a single large black table about which the cocktail appreciation takes place. Owners Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro and Holger Groll have earned a cult reputation among the bartending world for pushing the envelope in terms of concept and creation, and it’s certainly different. This is not the place for Berlin bustle, but rather a temple of discerning design wherein the cocktail is God and you are a disciple.
For a city that isn’t particularly vertical, Berlin is not short of rooftop bars. Berliners love nothing more than a pint of sundowner while catching up with friends, surveying their city from an elevated perch. One such nest is the home to a crane – the Klunkerkranich – a cultural rooftop garden on the top of the garage of the Neukölln Arcaden mall. Apart from the views, and the amazing selection of beer, what makes Klunkerkranich so cool is the variety of events they put on, from world-class DJs, live music and poetry slams to art exhibitions, markets and a cinema. You never quite know what you’re going to get, but can be guaranteed a super-friendly atmosphere, like-minded souls, and plenty of chill-out and deep-house vibes (check out their excellent Soundcloud account).
It’s wild to think that the Roaring Twenties were a century ago, but the bar at Provocateur Berlin does an excellent job of transporting you back to the period of Josephine Baker and Marlene Dietrich. A stone’s throw from Kurfürstendamm and what was back then the epicentre of excess and artistic expression in Berlin, Provocateur is both a modern design hotel and a love letter to more lascivious times. Indeed, the stunning bar, with its blood-red booths and black mirror-like countertop, hints at an atmosphere of unbridled seduction. Blades of amber light bounce off the parquet flooring, while an ornately decorated ceiling urges you to look up at the stars. But what of the drinks? The Barkarte is itself a work of art, revealing 12 house cocktails, one for each of Berlin’s districts, from the Three.Five, featuring Balvenie 14 scotch whisky, grapefruit and champagne with hints of Szechuan spice, to the epitome of ’20s hedonism, the Sassy Precious – a heady concoction of Ferrand Cognac, Lillet Blanc, Pink Pepper, and Gentian (the latter of which had this writer in a state of what can only be described as “hilarious mania” in the Alps many years ago, but that is another story entirely).
If luxury megastores aren’t your thing, then you’ll want to make a beeline for VooStore, a ‘culturally empowered, creatively driven concept space’ located in the heart of Kreuzberg, boasting some of the best contemporary menswear and womenswear in the city. Looking on to a wide courtyard space from the sparsely designed, minimalistic former locksmith’s, it’s clear to see that Voo is no ordinary boutique. A champion of new and upcoming designers, as well as brilliantly curating well-known names such as Dries van Noten, Acne, Prada and Miu Miu, Voo also has a superb edit of home goods by the likes of Loewe, Lrnce, Trudon, Vyrao and many more, plus one of the best fashion-magazine stockpiles we’ve seen anywhere.
Interior-design heads will be in minimalist heaven at the aptly named Minimum – with stores in Charlottenburg and Kreuzberg. At the former, you can expect furniture from the contemporary masters, such as USM, Vitra, Cassina, B&B Italia and Knoll, whereas the Kreuzberg store has more of a Nordic bent, with sophisticated understatement coming courtesy of the likes of HAY, Muuto, Gubi, &Tradition, Northern, Menu, Vitra and many more. Regardless of whether you purchase anything, an hour or so wandering through these stores is like an education in good modern design taste.
For something entirely quirky and decidedly less polished, head over to Oderberger Straße in Prenzlauer Berg where you’ll find Goo, the little luxury sibling of the famous Paul’s Boutique, a well-known outfit that has been supplying Berlin’s creatives with vintage clobber for an age. Goo is where you’ll find vintage fashion pieces from the likes of Alexander McQueen, Acne, APC, Miu Miu, Dior, Chanel, Marc Jacobs, YSL, Helmut Lang, you name it… It’s an Aladdin’s cave of fashion’s who’s who, so if quirky styling is your handbag, you’ll find lots to love here.
Slap bang in the ever-elegant Charlottenburg and only a short walk from Kurfürstendamm, The Hoxton only opened in March this year, but has already turned heads, attracting Berlin’s sophisticates over to the west side. Boasting a beautiful lobby bar and a North Indian chophouse, The Hoxton has 234 rooms that tastefully reference the area’s Art Nouveau history, with lots of smooth curved lines, textural upholstery, and an understated colour palette kissed with dusty pinks and pastels. The area couldn’t be better either, with Einstein Unter den Linden and 893 Ryōtei just around the corner when you taste buds need entertaining, plus a plethora of contemporary-art galleries and book shops.
Mitte is not short of cool design hotels and iconic grand hotels, but the new kid on the block – Château Royal – somehow manages to combine the two with aplomb. The hotel evolved from the excellent Grill Royal restaurant, which opened its doors in 2007. Don’t expect a quiet lobby to greet you as you walk in – instead, you’ll find a buzzing vibe, thanks to the classic cocktail bar and Dóttir restaurant, all couched in design touches riffing on ’20s glamour – colourful marble, herringbone parquet and handmade craquelé tiles. But it’s in the 93 rooms that Château Royal truly excels, incorporating artworks from 93 separate contemporary artists with ties to Berlin.
Situated right on the edge of the Zoologischer Garten, 25hours Hotel Bikini might indeed be a mouthful to say, but it’s an absolute joy to stay at. The hotel slogan is “open for monkey business”, which in one sense references the amazing views of the zoo (from the ninth-floor sauna you can see the monkeys and elephants), but in another is also suggestive of the kind of vibe here – fun with a capital F (note the hammock lounge in the lobby). The creative minds at Studio Aisslinger have converted this listed building into a riot of quirky design that just puts a smile on your face. With a rooftop bar and restaurant boasting some of the best views of West Berlin (as well as some excellent regional cuisine), 25hours Hotel Bikini is a breath of fresh air and perfectly situated for exploring this amazing city on two wheels.
If you haven’t managed to eat yourself into oblivion (easily done in Berlin), then you simply must venture out to some of the city’s many clubs. Techno is still a mainstay in Berlin and there’s no shortage of gritty all-night-and-dayers to go wild at. Berghain is still the place to go if you’re a serious techno head, but the queues can be longer than the comedown – if you know someone who knows someone, then bite their hand off. But for something more accessible, head over to Watergate, another techno pioneer that has been one of Berlin’s most-loved venues since the early Noughties. Over two floors (the downstairs Waterfloor has a floating deck terrace on the Spree), it regularly hosts world-class DJs and local legends, but can get pretty busy at weekends.
Excuse us if we have a little tourist moment here, but you really can’t visit Berlin without a walk along the East Side Gallery, for what is effectively the largest open-air exhibition in the world. Consisting of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world daubed on a 1.3km stretch of the Berlin Wall, it is a stunning reminder of the city’s tough history, and a monument to the creative culture it has since nurtured. The best way to go about visiting is by exploring Kreuzberg in the morning, before strolling across the Oberbaumbrücke, the bridge that once divided East from West, which will take you to the Hinterlandmauer inner walls.
Whether you’ve been on a two-day Berlin bender and need to replenish your mind, body and soul, or you just want to have a digital detox and get away from it all, Liquidrom is a must visit. It is, in a nutshell, an urban spa and wellness centre, but forget what you associate with those terms, because Liquidrom breaks the anodyne mould. Float in the 36ºC thermal saltwater pool housed in a dark, stark architectural dome, where coloured light dances underwater and chilled-out electronic music is piped in (Tuesdays and Thursdays for you house heads). If you go in the evening (it’s open until midnight), you’ll be accompanied by a single bar of moonlight that slides through the porthole window in the roof. With a sound pool, Finnish sauna, Himalayan salt sauna, Kelo herbal sauna, outdoor Japanese onsen pool, aroma steam bath, as well as myriad spa treatments, Liquidrom is Berlin bliss.
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