The Berlin that exists today is actually two cities: East and West Berlin combined. After the wall came down, the result was a vast urban expanse with lots of room for new parks, monuments, pedestrian walkways, cutting-edge architecture, and new businesses – all coexisting with historic sites like the Brandenberg Gate and the Reichstag. There is history everywhere you look here, but Berlin feels distinctly modern, a city with both an intellectual vibe and a great dining and nightlife scene.
Breakfast is a big deal in Berlin – and it doesn’t have to happen before noon, either – more like before 5pm. After a night on the town, D. and I were craving eggs and good German bacon.
Strandbad Mitte, a mellow little spot next to a park with lots of outdoor seating, dished out this spread of fresh eggs and salty, smoky bacon, served with strong coffee and a copy of the local paper. (Since we’re pretty much illiterate in German, we declined the newspaper.) The fresh spelt bread that came with it was as good as any we had in Paris.
For dinner, Bötzow Privat in Mitte has the feel of a 1920s German pub but real food to go with it, including traditional fare like schnitzel and potato salad. If the rich and creamy cheese noodles are on the menu, these are worth trying. Over in Prenzlauer Berg, K. Fröhlich serves a menu of German classics, like roast beef with a rich sauce, red cabbage and potatoes. A mostly local crowd from this now chichci neighborhood fills the high-ceilinged space.
One of the most interesting restaurants we visited was Wirtshaus Henne, aka Henne Schultheiss, above, which was located right next to the Wall. Almost everything that’s happened in Berlin in the last hundred fifty years has happened in or near Wirtshaus Henne, from the rise of the Nazis (who used to take over tables in the dining room) to the killings of East Berlin defectors nearby. Times are tamer now at Wirtshaus Henne, which attracts its share of tourists along with the locals, drawn by the old school atmosphere and the delicious half chicken fried to crispy, golden perfection.
Kleine Hamburger Straße 16
Belforter Strasse 22
Henne Alt-Berliner Wirtshaus Gaststätten
If you’re in Berlin on a Tuesday or Friday – especially if you have access to a kitchen – it’s worth hitting up the open air Turkish market (tuerkenmarkt) along the canal in Kreuzberg and wandering the aisles of fresh fruit, vegetables, dates, nuts, candy and lots of other Turkish specialties. Arrive hungry, because there are several stands here selling fried Turkish street food like sigar bourek.
Another popular outdoor market is Berlin’s version of the Brooklyn Flea, the Flohmarkt am Mauerpark (Flea Market at the Wall Park), which draws crowds every Sunday for its stalls of vintage clothes, antiques, currywurst and beer.
For cool boutiques, head down Alte Schönhausser, where there are several great little shops near Ponybar, towards the AM 1, AM2, and AM 3 concept stores stocked with the latest clothes from local Berlin designers. For cheap and chic clothing, be sure to check out the chain COS on Friedrichstrasse, a higher end version of H&M available only in Europe.
Tuesdays and Fridays
Flohmarkt am Mauerpark
Bernauer Str. 45
Refuel near the Turkish Market at Bierhimmel – that’s right, “beer heaven” – a bar and cafe with German beers like Frankfurt’s Schöfferhofer Weizen on tap. But afternoons aren’t just for beer here – they’re also for coffee and slices of German layer cake.
For drinks, a good place for cocktails in Mitte is the slightly kitschy and fun Ponybar, where the walls are decorated with winning horse race ribbons. And if you want to seek out one of Berlin’s legendary raves, take a disco nap and check out local sites like Berlin at Night for a list of roving parties.
Alte Schönhauser Strasse 44