Berlin: a city marked by its divides and war-torn stories across modern history is a landlocked wonderland that has overcome its dark days and has long been a favorite for both artistic expats and now, entrepreneurial start-ups. Here’s a tourist’s guide for travelers who have only 48 hours to spend in the German capital.
Make your stay seam free by staying in one of the city’s hot spots: Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg or Charlottenburg. Kreuzberg is the punk-arts district for city dwellers that don’t mind the sight of graffiti, litter and countless kebab joints amongst the austere altbau buildings. Prenzlauer Berg is the original bohemian neighborhood where artists settled following the fall of the Berlin Wall; it still has beautiful 19th century apartment blocks and is now noted as being the ‘yummy mummy’ district of high-end restaurants, trendy coffee houses and boutique shops, all within extremely close vicinity to the city center.
If you’re leaning more towards staying in Kreuzberg, I vote for the newly opened “Orania.Berlin” boutique hotel on Oranienplatz. This sumptuous, cozy place has a huge cocktail bar and German-world fusion restaurant with a Steinway being played nightly, along with a literary salon and a small theatre stage upstairs where special events are held. Check out ORA nearby for cocktails and candlelit dinner, and head to nearby Weserstraße in Neukölln for bookstores, cafes and natural wine bars galore.
Despite Kreuzberg’s cool and lively feel, however, I’d recommend staying in Prenzlauer Berg if you’re only in town for 48 hours. Stay at Hotel Oderberger – if not for its stunning 19th century walls and renovated, ornate swimming pool and spa, then for its prime location smack in the middle amongst the city’s loveliest restaurants and most prized museums and galleries in central Mitte. Head on the tram or by cab to Museum Island and marvel at the wide collections of the Altes and Neues Museums, plus the Nationalgalerie and the Pergamon on the Spree. Check out the smaller contemporary galleries close by on Auguststrasse, and taste various wines and cheeses at the Mozzarella Bar. For dinner, make reservations at Angelina Jolie’s favorite Italian restaurant, the exceptional Al Contadino Sotto Le Stelle Ristorante. Although if it’s traditional German cuisine you’re craving, the Oderberger Hotel has an onsite restaurant, “The School,” which offers fantastic schnitzel, amazing Rieslings and reds from the Rhine Valley.
For an old-Berlin style stay, the famed Hotel Zoo in Charlottenburg is definitely for you. Here you’re right in the west, near Tiergarten, amongst affluent pre-war buildings, excellent shopping, the Palace and the Opera. Check out the nearby Bauhaus Museum and the historic Savignyplatz, before ducking into KaDeWe at Wittenbergplatz for the department store experience of your dreams. The food hall on the top floor outdoes Harrods and Selfridges, London. You’re also right next to the famous Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and the city’s best cinema, Zoo Palast, where the red carpet is rolled out and bulbs pop during the city’s film festival in February. If the decadent elegance of Grace – Hotel Zoo’s in-house brasserie – doesn’t appeal (though make sure you experience the breakfast), go for schnitzel in Schoneberg at Sissi and cocktails at Green Door: very Cabaret.
Should you have any time to spare, a trip to one of the hundreds of lakes in summer (or any other month if you dare) is worth it, highlighting Berlin’s natural beauty and among its vibrant urban sprawl. ■