The German capital is one of the most dynamic cities in the world, mixing historical significance with avant-garde contemporary culture.
Now 28 years after David Hasselhoff’s dulcet tones helped bring down the Berlin Wall, you can’t visit the once-divided German capital without lapping up its history. Stroll (or cycle) from the East Side Gallery — a 1.3km open-air gallery of 100-plus murals covering the sections of the Wall that haven’t been chipped away at — across the River Spree to Checkpoint Charlie, which is now marked by a cheesy reconstruction of the original border crossing which is hard to take seriously with a bustling McDonalds two metres away. Neighbouring the checkpoint is the Topography of Terrors, a haunting museum of Germany’s Nazi atrocities, and you must visit the Holocaust Memorial, an affecting grid of 2711 concrete blocks of various heights that disorientate you as you plunge deeper into its maze.
Berlin’s not short of iconic tourist sites — the Brandenburg Gate (right next door to the Hotel Adlon, where Michael Jackson dangled ‘Blanket’ out the window), the spectacular glass dome atop the German parliament’s Reichstag, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church with its spire still scarred from Allied air raids during WWII, and the five world-class museums on Museum Island (hey, the name delivers what it promises). But if you want to lay your eyes on a museum that’ll make you sigh ‘only in Berlin’, head to the Feuerle Collection in the uber-cool Kreuzberg district — a private collection of out-there modern art housed in an old WWII communications bunker. You won’t find that on Museum Island . . .
Stick around in Kreuzberg for a taste of iconic Berlin fare currywurst at Curry 36, or head to Konnopke’s Imbiss for an authentic East Berlin take on sausage in spicy curry sauce. Burgermeister is another Kreuzberg favourite, enjoying an oh-so-Berlin setting beneath the tracks of a U-Bahn station, but if you’re looking for something a little more up-market, book a table at Bordchardt in the historic borough of Mitte, a Berlin institution since 1853 that serves traditional German food like schnitzel. As you’d expect in such a progressive city, there’s also a vibrant veggie scene — raw vegan Daluma and crepes at Let It Be are two of the most popular meat-free eateries.
Berlin lacks the beer-garden culture of Munich but more than makes up for it with a series of edgier bars. Monkey Bar pours trendy cocktails on the top floor of a hotel overlooking the legendary Berlin Zoo with floor-to-ceiling glass walls perfect for Berlin’s lingering summer nights, while the streets of Kreuzberg overflow with cool small bars oozing the city’s characteristic alternative vibe. Oh, and you can’t talk about Berlin’s nightlife without mentioning Berghain, the mysterious nightclub with an impossibly strict door policy enforced by the world’s most famous bouncer, Sven Marquardt — he won’t let you in but the huge queue is worth it just to catch a glimpse of Sven’s heavily pierced and tattooed face.