For the past few years, any city that reinvents itself—any spot that appears on the scene as the creative circuit’s next stop—gets called “the new Berlin.” But as it turns out, Berlin itself is still the new Berlin. Like New York, London, Los Angeles, the city is in constant flux: Neighborhoods rise and fall, restaurants and galleries open and close, shops come and go. “The city changes constantly, tremendously so, every year,” says Michael Fuchs, a contemporary art dealer with galleries in Berlin and New York.
And while it’s true that the past has a profound presence here, so much so that one can practically feel it, this history also grants the place a sort of tabula rasa. “After the war, after the Wall, we had nothing left,” say Sam Frenzel, who won the Designer for Tomorrow award at last year’s Berlin Fashion Week. “It’s sad in one way but good in another. No tradition holds us back, so we’re not afraid to take new steps in different directions.”
Indeed, an endless influx of the new—not least of all the rise and gentrification of the former East and the arrival of an international creative class—has continued unabated since the Wall came down, more than 20 years ago. And now the city’s choice restaurants, top hotels, and unique design shops can truly be said to rival those anywhere.
Berlin’s restaurant scene is vast and various, but a few key addresses go far. Among the newest Michelin-starred spots is Reinstoff (dinner, $70; 26 Schlegelstrasse; 49-30/3088-1214; reinstoff.eu) in Mitte, the first and now most gentrified neighborhood in the East. The seasonal tasting menus are exquisite, intensely flavored three-plus-hour affairs combining local ingredients with haute-cuisine technique and hints of molecular gastronomy—a liquid turned solid here, dehydration there. Metallic spheres hang from the ceiling of the sleek gray room; theatrical lighting subtly illuminates diners while spotlighting the food; and the smart service is Berlin’s friendliest.
Not too far away, the more casual Dos Palillos (dinner, $55; 53 Rosenthalerstrasse; 49-30/2000-3413), at the new Casa Camper hotel, does tapas-style Asian. Chef Albert Raurich ran day-to-day operations at Spain’s renowned El Bulli for ten years, and here he’s created 11- and 16-course dinner menus (lunch is à la carte on Saturdays), both prepared by seven cooks working in an open kitchen, with diners watching from a long bar counter.
For lunch and dinner, two of the most beloved spots remain the Paris Bar (dinner, $70; 152 Kantstrasse; 49-30/313-8052) in the West’s tony Charlottenburg neighborhood, and Borchardt (dinner, $75; 47 Französische Str.; 49-30/8188-6262) in Mitte. Both are more about the chic scene—art world and fashion types—than the food (bistro fare at the Paris Bar, Continental cuisine at Borchardt), though Borchardt’s Wiener schnitzel is excellent.
At dinner, a similar crowd fills Mitte’s Grill Royal (dinner, $95; 105B Friedrichstrasse; 49-30/2887-9288; grillroyal.com), which opened in 2007 on the River Spree. (There’s outdoor seating in the warmer months.) Co-owner and fine-art framer Stephan Landwehr’s connections bring in all the right beautiful people, giving the place the air of one of Keith McNally’s New York spots, Minetta Tavern, say. Food tends toward the simple French and American: It’s one of the best places in Berlin for steak, imported from the States and South America; and the shaved fennel salad with pears and pecorino must be had. Decor is late-seventies glam: deep reds and oranges, smoky mirrors, low-slung banquettes, contemporary art on every wall.
Finally there’s Backroom Cantina (dinner, $50; 11 Schiffbauerdamm; 49-30/2758-2070; tausendberlin.com), an underground spot behind the bar at one of the city’s top night spots, Bar Tausend—itself behind an unmarked door underneath the Friedrichstrasse metro stop. The restaurant, in steel and gunmetal gray, does two small, nightly, reservation-only seatings for its Latin and Asian plates (Peruvian ceviche, pork buns). After hours, Tausend, which looks like the inside of a missile and has one of the strictest doors in the city, fills with a mix of twenty- to fortysomething hipsters and more straitlaced types, too. There’s live music and DJs, and the cocktails, designed by scruffy-cool bar chef Mario Grünenfelder (who bottles his own vodka), are old-fashioned and fantastic.
Other top-end favorites, all in Mitte, are Cookies Cream (dinner, $35; 55 Behrenstrasse; 49-30/2749-2940; cookies-berlin.de) for vegetarian, Il Punto (dinner, $65; 6 Neustädische Kirchstr.; 49-30/2060-5540; ilpunto.net) for Italian, and Margaux (dinner, $120; 78 Unter den Linden; 49-30/2265-2611; margaux-berlin.de) for French. The 50-year-old sausage stand Konnopke’s Imbiss (44A Schönhauser Allee; konnopke-imbiss.de), in nearby Prenzlauer Berg, is considered the best for currywurst, a local street-food specialty.
Chef Daniel Achilles, of Reinstoff, is all about details. His duo of veal incorporates three preparations of celery (purée, chips, and braised cubes), plus yuzu—an Asian citrus fruit—as both a jelly and a foam. The veal itself is free-range, milk- and grass-fed, and from a farm just outside Berlin.
Although big brands are squeezing out Mitte’s smaller, more unique boutiques, there are still plenty of choices for those who know where to look. Case in point: Cabinet (71 Friedrichstrasse; departmentstore-cabi.net) opened last September in the basement of Departmentstore Quartier 206 (departmentstore-quartier206.com)—Berlin’s Bergdorf Goodman—and shows off young international labels and lesser-known German brands. Nearby, The Corner Berlin (40 Französische Str.; thecornerberlin.de) stocks the usual established-but-still-avant suspects (Owens, McCartney, Lim) plus traditional names like Givenchy and YSL, as well as relative unknowns Les Chiffoniers and Markus Lupfer. Across the street is Wunderkind (42 Markgrafenstrasse; wunderkind.de), the house Wolfgang Joop started in 2004 after selling his eponymous line. Last June the brand added menswear, sold here exclusively, which smartly mixes Neapolitan and English craft with American style. Women’s looks are more European: juxtapositions of fitted tailoring and flowing volume, many in textiles designed by Joop.
From there, it’s on to the dense streets of central Mitte. Design guru Andreas Murkudis shares his of-the-moment aesthetic at his six shops, all clustered around a small courtyard (21-23 Münzstrasse; andreasmurkudis.net). Murkudis’s joint venture with the Swedish brand Acne specializes in denim; Etage does home; and his four eponymous spots, one just a year old, focus on men’s and women’s clothing from names like Dries van Noten, Raf Simons, and Murkudis’s brother Kostas, as well as exclusive collaborations, like one between Nymphenburg porcelain and artist Carsten Höller. Within a few blocks, the two-year-old 14oz. (13 Neue Schönhauser Str.; 14oz-berlin.com) stocks rugged, very expensive men’s and women’s staples; Lala Berlin (7 Mulackstrasse; lalaberlin.com) is best for women’s scarves and knits; and Firma (1 Mulackstrasse; firma.net) does ultra-minimalist men’s and women’s pieces in black and white. The ten-month-old Frau Tonis Parfum (50 Alte Schönhauser Str.; frau-tonis-parfum.com) decants 20 locally made fragrances and mixes them to create custom blends. And for lunch in the area, people love the casual Vietnamese spot Monsieur Vuong (46 Alte Schönhauser Str.; 49-30/9929-6924; monsieurvuong.de).
In the West, there’s the mega department store KaDeWe (21-24 Tauentzienstrasse; kadewe.de), with its renowned and overwhelming food hall; the two small but expertly curated midcentury modern design galleries of Hans-Peter Jochum (55 Knesebeckstrasse and 41 Bleibtreustrasse; hpjochum.de); and the fine chocolatier Erich Hamann (17 Brandenburgische Str.; hamann-schokolade.de), which has occupied the same little Deco space since the twenties.
Sundays are for flea markets, since most other stores (and restaurants) are closed. Everyone talks about the Berliner Trödelmarkt (berliner-troedelmarkt.de) in Tiergarten, probably the closest thing to Paris’s Clignancourt. But in Prenzlauer Berg, northeast of Mitte, there are two lower-key alternatives: the small Troedelmarkt Arkonaplatz (troedelmarkt-arkonaplatz.de), filled with Cold War–era odds and ends, and the 300-plus stall Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, with its jumble of crafts and secondhand everything. For brunch close-by, it’s the French-ish café and bakery Anna Blume (brunch, $12; 83 Kollwitzstrasse; 49-30/4404-8641; cafe-anna-blume.de).
The design gallery Hans-Peter Jochum specializes in northern European pieces from the 1930s through the ’80s, like a bent-beech plywood and woven-paper Pernilla Lounge Chair ($7,200), produced in 1950 and designed by Bruno Mathsson in Sweden in the mid-1930s.
Most of Berlin’s best hotels are in Mitte. The newest is Soho House (rooms, from $150; 1 Torstrasse; 49-30/405-0440; sohohouseberlin.com), a branch of the London club, which debuted in a Bauhaus-era department store in May. Its 40 rooms, spa, rooftop pool, and Italian restaurant (an outpost of London and L.A. hot spot Cecconi’s) are already proving popular, especially with the young and stylish. A similar clientele, particularly those in fashion, loves Rocco Forte’s 146-room Hotel de Rome (rooms, from $485; 37 Behrenstrasse; 49-30/460-6090; hotelderome.com), a four-year-old spot in a 19th-century bank near the Brandenburg Gate. Here, the contemporary high baroque of the hotel’s public spaces gives way to a certain West Elm–like simplicity in the rooms. At the gate itself is the old-world classic Hotel Adlon Kempinski (rooms, from $300; 77 Unter den Linden; 49-30/22-610; hotel-adlon.de), which opened in 1997 as a replica of a hotel that burned down in this location in 1945. In the last few years the Adlon’s added a spa and redone its lobby and 15 suites, and this fall it will begin renovations of its 300-plus rooms; the Italian, Asian, and Continental restaurants here are all Michelin-starred. Hollywood, meanwhile, favors The Regent Berlin (rooms, from $370; 49 Charlottenstrasse; 49-30/20-338; theregentberlin.com), which took over the Four Seasons’ 195 rooms in 2004; it houses the city’s only Michelin two-star restaurant, Fischer’s Fritz. And the very modern 342-room Grand Hyatt (rooms, from $250; 2 Marlene-Dietrich-Platz; 49-30/2553-1234; hyatt.com), next to the glass-and-steel Potsdamer Platz complex, works for those who prefer something slightly more internationally anonymous in style.
Arts & Culture
With more than 170 institutions, Berlin is one of the world’s great museum cities. Many of them—the Alte Nationalgalerie, with its 19th-century paintings, the Pergamon, with its antiquities—are clustered on Museum Island, where the current focus is on the Neues Museum (38 Genthiner Str.; smb.museum). A bombed-out shell since World War II, it reopened last fall to house the city’s Egyptian and early-history collections. But the visitors lined up outside, clutching timed-entry tickets, are also there to see British architect David Chipperfield’s remarkable light-filled renovation, which sensitively highlights and honors the 1859 building’s wounds, helping to heal more than hide them.
Another new space that’s as much about its design as its contents is Sammlung Boros (20 Reinhardtstrasse; sammlung-boros.de), the private contemporary art collection of German businessman Christian Boros that opened in 2008 in a World War II bomb shelter. Appointment-only tours take visitors through its rooms (though, sadly, not to the penthouse apartment Boros built on top) to examine works by Damien Hirst, Olafur Eliasson, and Anselm Reyle, and to reveal the building’s history. It fit 2,000 people at a time and, after the Wall came down, was used as an illicit nightclub.
There’s museum news in the West, too, at the Mies van der Rohe–designed Neue Nationalgalerie (50 Potsdamer Str.; smb.museum): Its permanent collection of Expressionist, Dada, and Bauhaus works was reinstalled in March after more than a year in storage.
The 6,000-plus artists who call Berlin home, meanwhile, show in more than 400 galleries here and another 200 noncommercial spaces. One of the most important is Contemporary Fine Arts (10 Am Kupfergraben; cfa-berlin.com), which reps Peter Doig, Georg Baselitz, and Chris Ofili and occupies a Chipperfield building near Museum Island. Then there are the Mitte galleries around Linienstrasse and Auguststrasse, notably Neugerriemschneider (155 Linienstrasse; 49-30/2887-7277) and Galerie Eigen + Art (26 Auguststrasse; cgi.eigen-art.com). Over in the West, there’s Klosterfelde Galerie (93 Potsdamer Str.; cgi.klosterfelde.de), Galerie Max Hetzler (16-20 Oudenarder Str.; maxhetzler.com), and Michael Fuchs’s gallery Haas & Fuchs (5 Niebuhrstrasse; haasundfuchs.de).
Key to the City
After 12 years at the hotel, the Adlon’s esteemed head concierge Raffaele Sorrentino recently reduced his hours and started his own service “to make the impossible possible” for his clients. From $300; 49-30/2060-5547; raffaele-sorrentino.com.