Berlin Guide: Highlights for the Curious Business Traveler
Arriving in Berlin, you feel a duality unlike that of most capital cities. Sure, London has its West End and the City, New York has Wall Street and Midtown, but only in Berlin do you sense a city that hasn't quite decided between the West and East it rejoined only 25 years ago. It's still very much a city recovering from war: building, growing, changing and adapting to its place in the international community — in Europe and in Germany itself.
It's that duality that makes the culinary scene here so exciting. Don't believe those who tell you food in Berlin is an afterthought. These stereotypes are as unwarranted and uninformed as those who still snigger about food in post-war Britain. Berlin's core food and wine principles are based on a renewed dedication to the indigenous ingredients of central Europe with influences from all over the world. Every restaurant I visited had at least one dish that was entirely original, flecked with a hint of Turkey or Indonesia.
Newly fashionable areas like Mitte and Kreuzberg sprout restaurants, pop-ups and markets almost daily. While there are complaints of rising prices, cooks can still afford to experiment. And that's a good thing: it keeps an old city feeling brand new.
Lavanderia Vecchia: This red and white tablecloth storefront trattoria hides an old fashioned courtyard where you eat perfect Italian fare among the hanging sheets. In the middle is an elegant formal restaurant/private dining room. Beyond chic.
Borchardt: This is where Chancellor Angela Merkel and other politicos are to be seen handling affairs of state while enjoying reliable German/French fare.
Pauly Saal: Michelin-starred German food, which is excellent enough. The real star is the art-strewn former Jewish-girls school where it's housed, the select bar and and huge outdoor terrace.
Le Bon: A modern-European bistro near the canals that lead to the Spree. A great place to experiment with German wines.
Monkey Bar: Atop the Bikini Building, this is like New York's The Ace and London's Sushisamba combined. Neni, a very good seasonal restaurant, shares the space. Best way to get a seat with a view? Stay at the 25hours Hotel downstairs.
Soho House Berlin: This may be the coolest of the chain. Incredible roof bar is under the strobe-lit Fernsehturm TV tower.
Das Stue: The cocktail bar in this boutique hotel puts you in mind of Kronenhalle in Zurich. It oozes quiet sophistication.
The Tier: In the heart of Kreuzberg, this is one of many languid, hipster cocktail bars that populate the city.
Michelberger: A hotel, a lounge, a restaurant, an opium-like den for schnapps, a Fountain of Youth (really) and a bar.
It's bigger than you think: Berlin's transport system gets you almost everywhere. S-Bahns travel above ground and U-Bahns below. It's easy to work out. Taxis are plentiful but expensive and don't accept charge cards. I discovered MyDriver in place of Uber.
Carry cash: Very few restaurants in the cool areas accept American Express, or any plastic at all.
The club scene: Berlin intentionally positions itself as Europe's Sin City. Every night of the week there's a club with something you'll like. Few start work before 10 a.m. so they stay out late. Post-club is the time to experiment with currywurst and food stalls.
Classical music is cool: There are three opera houses. Your friends who dragged you to Berghain at 4 a.m. and looked unperturbed when people had sex in front of them probably have the Philharmonic on their iPods.
Memorials and museums: Do all of "Museum Island," from David Chipperfield's restored Neues to I.M. Pei's German Historical Museum. Peter Eisenman's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is breathtaking. Take the time to see Berlin's modern art scene (see the Berlinische Galerie) and the neighborhoods that host them. There's always a place to stop for coffee or drinks.