It is not an exaggeration to say that there is something of everything in Berlin for everyone. Historical monuments that bear testimony to the storied history of Germany‘s capital over the last few centuries are on every corner of the city. Art spaces, nightspots and F&B establishments that run the gamut from hipster food markets to cosy speakeasies are scattered all over town. Surrounding Berlin and coursing through her are green belts and meandering rivers that make up about 40 per cent of her surface area. And when it comes to food, there’s definitely much more than currywurst.
This fall, I trawled the streets of Berlin – from the boulevard of Unter der Linden along the graffiti-covered remains of the Berlin Wall, and through the labyrinth of alleyways in Hackescher Markt – to suss out the best it has to offer for all of you who love food, nature and history.
Nestled between the Berlin Zoo and Tiergarten, Berlin’s green lung – flush with shaded ponds, lush lawns and bountiful gardens spanning all of 5.17 sq km – is the former Danish embassy in Berlin. The 1930s Modernist building in the heart of the city was given a new lease of life when it reopened as the So/Berlin Das Stue hotel in 2009. If you are an animal lover who’d consider seeing grazing deer from your hotel window one of the best things that could happen while on holiday, book a room in the modern wing, as it faces the zoo.
Just an hour away from the city centre, the picturesque garden of the lakefront Liebermann-Villa makes the former home of Max Liebermann (one of Germany’s most famous Impressionist painters) wildly popular with Berliners. Within walking distance is the Wannsee beach, filled with sand from the Baltic coast (and many leisure-seekers, especially during summer).
Since travel to many countries is still complicated, why not visit them through their representations at Berlin’s Garten der Welt (Gardens of the World)? Whether it’s Japan, China or Bali you miss, take your pick from among 19 themed gardens. Also check out the Jewish Garden, which just opened in October 2021.
The Mandala Hotel scores on many fronts: warm service, a stellar location – it’s just a short stroll from the Brandenburg Gate, The Reichstag, and Berlin’s largest shopping centre, Potsdamer Platz – and stylish interiors (designed by one of the owners) that make it worthy of being a Design Hotels member.
But if I had to pick just one reason for staying here, it would be the food – the breakfast buffet selection is small but exquisite. Co-owner Lutz Hesse (who did the interiors) has curated every item on offer. The croissants are the fluffiest I’ve ever eaten, and the salmon cured in-house is just the right balance of salty and sweet. Stay in for lunch or dinner: The team led by culinary director Michael Kempf at the in-hotel two-Michelin-starred restaurant Facil turns out beautifully plated German produce with French inflections. And save room for dessert, because patissier Thomas Yoshida’s creations are worth every calorie.
I knew I was onto a good thing when I walked into BRLO Brwhouse on a Saturday afternoon. The three-in-one microbrewery–bar–restaurant was packed with both locals and tourists. They are here for the small-batch brews (opt for a flight of five with food pairing) and the establishment’s novel take on vegetables served grilled, roasted, stuffed or fermented.
Some of the best representations of regional German cuisine can be found at Charlotte & Fritz at the Regent Berlin. The interiors channel Prussian pomp, but the largely traditional menu is prepared with modern ethos. Local and sustainable produce is used as much as possible. The succulent seared sea bass is from a small fishery less than 90 minutes away from the hotel.
If, like me, you are the Asian traveller who misses warm soupy Asian food after a few days in the West, Monsieur Vuong is one place you’d be grateful to discover while exploring the hip part of Mitte. The first Vietnamese restaurant in the German capital serves up one of the best beef pho I have had.
If you’d love to lay your head to rest in a building steeped in history, Hotel de Rome is the place for you. Completed in 1889, the building once housed the former Dresdner Bank HQ. It faces Bebelplatz, where Nazis burned more than 20,000 books in 1933, and is a stone’s throw from the famous Gendarmenmarkt. Another historical spot, Rocco Forte Hotels melded modern hotel facilities with original details during its restoration. The underground vault, for example, is now a swimming pool. Decor is tasteful, with dramatic flourishes to reflect the Italian ancestry of interior designer Olga Polizzi. (For posh Italian nosh with a Japanese twist executed by celebrity chef Tim Malzer, drop by the in-hotel Chiaro).
The terrors committed in Nazi Germany by the Third Reich are not a pleasant subject, yet the sacrifice of countless lives would be meaningless if people do not remember them and learn from history. The vivid narratives and photos in the outdoor and indoor exhibitions at the Topography of Terror – on the former site of buildings occupied by the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945 – bring their stories to life.
The Nikolai Quarter is an underrated but pretty witness to Berlin’s birth. The area by the Spree River was established around 1200 and is home to St Nicholas Church, Berlin’s oldest church; the neo-Rococo-styled Ephraim Palace; and the Knoblauch House, which provides a glimpse into the life of the affluent in Berlin in the 18th century, as it was owned by an illustrious family. You can also expect to find antique shops, old bookshops and quaint cafes nearby.
While it is nice to take a break in a country with less stringent Covid rules (for one, you can go mask-less outdoors), bear in mind that travel during Covid is unique. Besides being mindful of safety and hygiene, work in extra time for delays and plan your itinerary ahead.
Factor in more airport time: Due to ever-changing document requirements of different countries, you’ll find yourself spending more time in queues. While the German capital has a lot to offer, the year-old Berlin Brandenburg Airport has frustrated travellers with delays due to teething problems.
With Covid restrictions, operating hours (and even days) for some tourist attractions have changed. Check for the latest updates before heading out. Social distancing means a tight cap on capacity, so pre-booking a time slot for visiting is a must at the more popular museums.
For massive savings on public transport and museum visits, buy a Berlin Welcomecard online, at the Berlin Welcome Centre at the airport or at any of Berlin Tourist Info Centres located in the city. To cover even more museums for less, buy a three-day Museum Pass Berlin.