Getting to Know Berlin, Germany’s Capital of Cool
A look at Berlin’s art, culture and food scene
Photo: Stephan Lemke for 25hours Hotels
Photo: Stephan Lemke for 25hours Hotels
Over the past decade, Berlin has firmly established itself among the world’s cultural capitals. Germany’s largest city—both in terms of size and population—offers art, culture and food scenes that lure visitors from all corners of the globe. As the years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which divided the city from 1961 to 1989, new waves of transplants have helped make Berlin one of the least traditionally German cities in the country.
Today, visitors are just as likely to overhear young Berliners speaking English, French, Turkish, or Arabic rather than the traditional Berlin-German dialect. Given the city’s large footprint, it helps to know where to go if you want to explore the sights and bites that make Berlin one of the continent’s most vibrant cities.
Berlin has always been a magnet for artists, and the city’s present-day art scene is unquestionably one of the most dynamic in Europe.
Situated in the bustling Charlottenburg neighborhood, C/O Berlin is one of the city’s most important spaces for photographic art. The exhibition venue, which is housed in the Amerika Haus Berlin building, presents works by famous photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, Nan Goldin, Anton Corbijn and Sebastião Salgado. Photography and film workshops are offered to children, teenagers and adults.
Neukölln, quickly becoming one of Berlin’s trendiest districts, is home to the KINDL–Centre for Contemporary Art. This sprawling museum, which is housed in the former Kindl brewery (an imposing complex built in the style of 1920s Brick Expressionism), presents international contemporary art, mostly from emerging artists. In warmer months, be sure to check out the stylishly dressed locals who relax in the center’s stylish beer garden.
A renovated Nazi-era bunker in the wickedly posh Mitte district houses Sammlung Boros (The Boros Collection), a private collection of contemporary art dating from 1990 to the present. Expect to see sculptures, paintings, photographs and installations by international visionaries such as Ai Weiwei, Tomás Saraceno and Olafur Eliasson. Guided tours, which are required and should be booked in advance, take visitors across five floors of displays while also detailing the long history of the bunker, which was once a Nazi air raid shelter and later became an underground techno club.
Fans of street art should visit one of the city’s newest museums, the Urban Nation Museum For Contemporary Art. Housed in the always lively Schöneberg neighborhood, the complex is dedicated to showcasing colourful and imaginative works from local and international street artists. In addition to the conventional museum, the exterior surfaces often serve as canvasses themselves, turning the building into an artwork in its own right. A catwalk stretching across the two-story interior allows the exhibited works to be observed from up close.
Photo: David von Becker
Cultural offerings, from classically continental and high-brow to quirky and youthful, are never in short supply in Berlin.
To see locals at play, head just southeast of the city center to the site of the old Tempelhof Airport, which closed in 2008 and has been transformed into Tempelhofer Feld (Tempelhof Field), one of the city’s most beloved public parks and event spaces. Spread across nearly 400 acres, the park welcomes an eclectic assortment of native Berliners and expats, many of whom are drawn by the six-kilometer cycling, skating and jogging trail, as well as massive areas for barbecuing, dog-walking, picnicking, urban gardening and more.
The Silent Green Kulturquartier (Culture Quarter) is a prime example of how Berlin’s younger generations have been injecting new life into old, historic facilities. Housed in the Wedding neighborhood’s atmospheric crematorium, which dates to 1911, this independent complex places a focus on interdisciplinary art and culture.
A typically diverse cross-section of Berliners fill a number of offices, studios and event venues, while visitors enjoy an eclectic program of music, film, art shows, open discussions and lectures, many of which take place under the imposing dome of the beautifully restored ceremonial hall.
For a little retail therapy along with some culture, head to Germany’s first concept mall, Bikini Berlin. In addition to interesting boutiques, flagship stores and trendy restaurants, there are around 20 wooden “pop-up boxes,” where established shops and new start-ups temporarily present their products.
Those looking for a quick bite visit the Kantini, home to roughly a dozen hip food stalls. Shoppers often stop along the mall’s large terrace to look out over Zoo Berlin’s monkey enclosure; for an even better view, head next door to Monkey Bar, one of Europe’s coolest hotel bars, located on the 10th floor of the uber-artsy 25hours Hotel.
Photo: Dagmar Schwelle
Photo: Wolfgang Stahr
Photo: Wolfgang Stahr
First-time visitors expecting dirndl-clad servers bringing around steins of beer and large chunks of pork knuckle will likely be disappointed; traditional German restaurants and beer halls are vastly outnumbered by Middle Eastern sandwich shops, Asian noodle houses and stylish global bistros that wouldn’t be out of place in New York City, Paris or Tokyo.
For fine dining, a smart place to start is Restaurant Tim Raue. The eponymous flagship restaurant from Germany’s most famous chef sits near Checkpoint Charlie in the buzzing Kreuzberg district. The Michelin-starred restaurant features an attractive interior that’s often filled with global travelers who come to sample Chef Raue’s Asian-inspired creations.
For a less formal but no less stylish option, head to Mitte for Katz Orange. The team of young, creative Germans behind this restaurant go to great lengths to share the kitchen’s vision of merging sustainability with gastronomy. This translates into a detailed menu that lists the local supplies, farmers and growers whose seasonal products make up the bulk of what’s served. Polyglot diners fill tables to feast on whole roasted cauliflower, fresh-cut French fries cooked in organic goose fat, and duroc pork that's slow-cooked for 12 hours and billed on the menu as "candy on bone." Completing the on-trend experience is a varied wine list that features numerous natural selections.
And during its recent renaissance, Berlin has become one of the continent’s leading destinations for vegans and vegetarians. Colorful, veggie-packed falafel sandwiches can be had on seemingly every-other corner, but for something more substantial, fashionable types flock to Cookies Cream, one of Europe’s most stylish vegetarian restaurants. Hidden away in an industrial loft that’s reached via the Westin Grand Hotel’s service alley, the dining room lures both vegetarians and meat-eaters drawn to inventive dishes such as corn porridge with coriander, spring onions, pepper, and chili, or fennel ice cream with pear, oats, and vinegar. The ever-changing, seasonally-focused menu is constantly influenced by what the restaurant’s own farmer has at hand, with other regional products incorporated as well. Carnivores looking to enjoy heartier fare (wild boar stew, filet of free-range Charolais beef) can head to sister restaurant Crackers, located downstairs in a former cinema.
Photo: Katz Orange