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Berlin has it all—and that’s not an overstatement. It has hip neighborhoods with personality and culture, high-end entertainment (think: Philharmonic and exemplary theater), poignant museums, and a dining scene that will keep you coming back. Most travelers (or at least, this one) would say that you need more than a guidebook to experience the true essence of a European city. You need a local’s perspective—and nowhere is that more true than in Berlin. So, to gain insight into the local’s Berlin, we tapped Michael Sorgenfrey, general manager at Hotel Adlon Kempinski, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, to point us toward fine dining, luxury shopping, and the city’s must-book dinner reservations. Sorgenfrey has been with the hotel—regarded as the ultimate five-star luxury stay in Berlin—since its reopening in 1997. For guidance on the Brooklyn-esque culture of Berlin, namely art and architecture and the city’s best wine bars and coffee shops, Jennifer Vogel, hotel manager at Orania.Berlin, who has lived in the highly artistic Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin for six years, offered her advice.
Each recommendation here, from where to eat and drink to art, shopping, and entertainment, are from Vogel and Sorgenfrey, whose combined knowledge of the city could fill at least seven coffee table books. With their guidance, here are the best things to do in Berlin, Germany.
Where to Eat and Drink in Berlin
Restaurant Tim Raue
Topping the list of Sorgenfrey’s most-asked-after reservations is Restaurant Tim Raue, which he described as “high-end gastronomic cuisine.” By German chef Tim Raue, who is largely credited with redefining the country’s approach to fine dining, the restaurant has two Michelin stars and has been featured on Chef’s Table.
Also boasting two Michelin stars, Facil is known for “seasonal cuisine,” said Sorgenfrey. In The Mandala Hotel, Facil brings high-concept creativity to their constantly changing, season-driven menus.
Vogel described Five Elephant as a “super high-end coffee shop with single-origin coffee (and amazing cheesecake!)” It’s in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood, which Vogel said is “absolutely the artsy center of Berlin.”
“For me, there is only one wine bar in Berlin: Freundschaft, where the atmosphere is amazing and the people are so welcoming that you feel like you’re at home, and your glass is always full,” said Vogel. Freundschaft is in Kreuzberg as well. “The food is also delicious and perfect for a small bite with your wine.”
Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer
“Berlin is known for its cultural diversity [which] is also reflected in the culinary offerings,” said Sorgenfrey, as he listed out the most-coveted restaurants in the city. “Whether for advocates of the vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, for those who like to travel the world in search of culinary delights, or for very environmentally conscious eaters who prefer to eat regionally and seasonally, everything imaginable is available in the kitchens of the German capital.” In taking us through the “most-requested reservations” in the city, Sorgenfrey also touted twice Michelin-starred Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer, the fine dining restaurant at Hotel Adlon, which has one of the city’s best views of the Brandenburg Gate.
The Kreuzberg hotel offers a X-Berg Duck tasting menu at their restaurant, which, Vogel said, is “insanely popular and makes it a very hard table to get.” The restaurant within Orania.Berlin is for the gourmand who still wants to get a taste of the city’s flair as they dine.
Ora comes with a storied history; “the restaurant itself was originally a pharmacy from 1860 and features original woodwork from 1860 and the 1920s,” said Vogel. But beyond the historical and architectural significance of the restaurant, “it just has a beautiful atmosphere and really good wine and food,” she concluded.
“It’s not fancy, but it is the perfect way to lunch like a local,” said Vogel of the famed, 24-hour currywurst mecca. Currywurst, for the uninitiated, is just pork sausage (typically cut into bite-sized pieces) served with a savory, curry-based sauce. Trying a kebab—Vogel recommends Doyum—or currywurst at Curry36 is a rite of passage in Berlin.
An Introduction to Berlin’s Art and Architecture
Jewish Museum Berlin
There are museums that every first-time visitor in Berlin should visit. The first is the Jewish Museum, which both Sorgenfrey and Vogel recommended, famously designed by Daniel Libeskind.
For those who prefer a self-guided architectural walking tour of Berlin, Bergmann Strasse is a street lined by historic homes. Along Bergmann Strasse, “you will see a lot of old houses that survived the war (similar to the historic building that houses Orania.Berlin),” said Vogel.
Museum goers should also visit Pergamon Museum, “which belongs to the building ensemble of the Museum Island and is therefore a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” said Sogenfrey. Pergamon is considered an essential Berlin museum, along with the Jewish Museum and the National Gallery.
Shopping and Entertainment
Of Berlin’s classical performances, “most famous is certainly the Berlin Philharmonic with its world-famous conductor Kirill Petrenko,” said Sorenfrey. Not only is the performance one of the world’s must-see philharmonic concerts, but Vogel pointed out it’s housed in one of Berlin’s extremely significant buildings: the Haus des Rundfunks radio broadcasting building from 1931.
Kaufhaus des Westens
Welcome to the shopping haven of the city. “If you want to go on a shopping tour in Berlin, you cannot miss the legendary KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens),” said Sorgenfrey. “Berlin's most famous department store in the heart of the City West was opened in 1907 and has always offered all kinds of luxury products.”
Sorgenfrey said ambling along Potsdamer Straße is also worthwhile for a more boutique, under-the-radar style of luxury. On this street, you’ll find “hidden, luxurious boutiques like the Murkudis, Maisonnoée, or Fiona Bennett,” which he said are well worth the trip for the high-fashion connoisseurs.
Staatsoper Unter den Linden
Not far from Hotel Adlon, Sorgenfrey loves to recommend visitors check out Staatsoper Unter den Linden, also known as an opera house dating back to the mid-1700s. He said the performances and programming, “under the direction of Daniel Barenboim is unique.”
Where to Stay
Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Royal Suite
Hotel Adlon Kempinski, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, is, of course, the premier luxury hotel in Berlin, thanks not only to the historic property but the exceptional levels of service and their sweeping views of Berlin’s most-touted landmarks. “Unbeatable, of course, is our unique view of the famous Brandenburg Gate,” said Sorgenfrey. “Because of this, I would recommend suite #312, our Royal Suite, which has an unrestricted view of Berlin's most famous landmark. This room has written history and has hosted many famous personalities, including (as the name suggests) the Royals!”
Orania.Berlin, Orania.60 suite
Orania.Berlin is in Kreuzberg, the cultural epicenter of Berlin. “You will find tons of amazing street art and independent galleries all around the area,” said Vogel. “The area is very open-minded, hip, cool, and trendy; it’s the authentic part of town and not touristy at all.” For guests staying at Orania.Berlin, Vogel recommends their Orania.60 Suite, a top-floor retreat with mod-luxe furnishings.