25 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, we discover why Berlin is still such an extraordinary city to explore.
For too long East Berlin has been outshining its neighbouring West – a result of the economy shifting focus across due to the Cold War and construction of the Berlin Wall. But 25 years on with the reunification of Germany, the spotlight is firmly back on Berlin’s bustling City West district. Whether you want to delve into Berlin’s history, shop, dine, take in some art and culture or just party, there’s plenty to entertain all. Here are the essentials you need to make your trip worthwhile.
Spending time in Berlin means snacking on the city’s beloved equivalent of England’s fish and chips, the currywurst – fried sausage with a sprinkling of curry powder and chips. Kurfurstendamm (“Ku’damm” to locals) in Charlottenburg is home to Bier’s Ku’damm, where you can enjoy your sausage with a glass of Champagne.
For a more well-rounded and resolutely elegant, albeit more French affair, try Le Faubourg, a beautiful brasserie at the Sofitel Berlin Kurfurstendamm Hotel. Choices are made relatively easier as the sharing-plate starters are all priced the same, so you choose want to eat based on flavour, rather than be dictated by prices. Mains are split into classic or more adventurous choices. The sautéed sea bass with Champagne lentils and potatoes is divine. If you’re after pretty dishes with well-executed flavours, you’ll be very happy here.
For a cocktail or two, the Monkey Bar – an uber-cool rooftop bar atop the 25hours Hotel on Budapester Strasse is a must. With floor to ceiling windows and tiered seating, you can comfortably enjoy the most incredible lush-green, panoramic views over Tiergarten Park and the city. You may find you end up with more cocktails than intended though – the view just does that to you.
The 17-storey Sofitel Berlin Kurfurstendamm (Augsburger Strasse 41, 10789 Berlin, Germany. sofitel.com) is a pretty wise choice. Rooms are smart and generously sized with wonderful, towering views of the Berlin skyline. There’s art on walls too (as well as in the public space) and you may notice a series of curious numbers on each canvas. Rumour has it that the artist, Junior Toscanelli, wasn’t best pleased to be so unyieldingly confined to his strict canvas-dimension instructions, that he decided to paint those very measurements onto his artwork as a one-up on those who commissioned the pieces. Either way, the art works in the space and who doesn’t love a good story behind a piece of artwork?
Back to the rooms, if you’ve forgotten your toiletries, then very well-played – you get to use the Hermes kit provided. There’s even a walk-in-wardrobe-turned-room-divider with a small but fully-stocked bar discreetly fitted into it – very handy indeed. And as difficult as it is to prise yourself from the incredible pillows that create a suction-like effect around your head, you must find a way to do so, as you’ll eat like a king at breakfast.
You really couldn’t have picked a better place to displease your bank manager so terribly. Shopping mecca Kurfurstendamm, a 2.2 mile-long shop-filled boulevard should be your first port of call, followed by Tauentzienstrasse, home to KaDeWe – the “Harrods” of Berlin.
Along Budapester Strasse, you can’t miss Bikini Berlin, a concept mall with plenty of cool boutiques and pop-ups across three floors (offices occupy the three above those). The ground floor even features a stretch of window (with seating) that overlooks Zoo Berlin’s baboon enclosure.
If you do want to venture east, head to the hip Mitte district where you can spend the day discovering gems at Hackescher Markt, or in and out of high-street favourites along Friedrichstrasse and at fashion mega-department store Galeries Lafayette.
1. Sammlung Boros: This one is east, in Mitte, but the Boros Collection here is one of the most extraordinary exhibitions we’ve ever seen. The building, a converted World War II bunker, is just as much of a work of art as the pieces contained within it. (sammlung-boros.de).
2. Berlin Wall tour: Explore the history of the Cold War and the dramatic events surrounding the Berlin Wall as you visit key locations including the Stasi Museum, the Berlin Wall Memorial and Checkpoint Charlie – one of the city’s most famous border crossings. (visitberlin.de)
3. Zoologischer Garten (Berlin Zoo): An enormous zoo (and aquarium) with over 13,000 of all the usual suspects, bang in the middle of a city. Now there’s an urban jungle for you. (zoo-berlin.de)
4. Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church: The only building in Breitscheidplatz Square that was spared by the World World II bombing raid but it still bears the scars today. (gedaechtniskirche-berlin.de)
5. Haus Schwarzenberg: An open house and club, the exterior walls of this bustling nook showcase a mass of incredible street art. It may be in Mitte but it warrants the journey east. (haus-schwarzenberg.org)