As the European capital of cool, Berlin can seem intimidating at first glance but peer beyond its edgy exterior and you will find yourself embraced by a laid-back attitude that welcomes you to explore all that this city has to offer. While Berlin may be an ever-evolving cityscape, its deep sense of history is ever present. Brace yourself to explore what David Bowie famously defined as a 'cultural extravaganza'. With luggage in tow, you’ll want to steer clear of the trams today. Instead order yourself an Uber to take you to your home from home in Berlin, Soho House. This 30 minute car journey will be your first opportunity to take in the sights of the city, if only at a blur. As you drive past the greenery of Tempelhof on through to the eclectic art-scene of Kreuzberg, you’ll get a first glance at the astonishing diversity that is so integral to Berlin’s unique charm and character.
In true Berlin fashion, Soho House is understated and chic, with accents like bare concrete pillars and its ‘Soho Haus Berlin’ graffiti art attesting to the city's grit. The hotel boasts accommodation of varying sizes from cozy rooms to larger apartments and lofts - all impeccably designed and filled with luxury amenities. After checking in you may be feeling a little lethargic so you’ll want to refresh yourself before the day really begins. Heated to a pleasant 26 degrees all year around, a dip in the rooftop pool is enticing and swimming a few laps above the bustle of the city will pique your excitement for what lies ahead. Alternatively skip the pool and head for your room where an equally reviving walk-in rainforest shower awaits.
It’s time to venture out! Take your time as you walk through the streets of the Mitte neighbourhood towards DISTRIKT, a café serving artisanal coffees to a soundtrack of music that can only be described as ‘Berlin-cool’. Although unassuming and not as picturesque as the Champs-Élysées, Torstraße is home to some of the coolest independent shops in Berlin including the famed 1950s design store, Wilde Heimat.
As you enter the café, you’ll be met with the mouthwatering smell of fresh coffee brewing and a light-infused, clean-but-cool space which mixes wood, metal, brick and concrete in a stylish mish-mash that echoes the eclecticism of the city outside. Pair your coffee with a freshly-made sandwich or in the summer months, opt for an acai and goji berry smoothie bowl.
Only a five minute walk from DISTRIKT is the Dixit Algorizmi art gallery. Here you will find the perplexing exhibition, ‘Five Robots Named Paul’. The brain-child of French artist, Patrick Tresset, the installation consists of five wooden desks on top of which individual pieces of paper rest beneath an automated pencil, with cameras set up looking towards an empty chair. The final component of this unique art piece is you; sit on the chair and watch as the pencils begin sketching away. Powered by a laptop brain hidden beneath the tables, the five pencils sketch according to the image transferred via the camera. What’s more impressive is that each ‘Paul’ has its own distinct artistic style ranging from a realistic approach to one that is more abstract and bleak.
As you wander through Mitte, notice the unmistakable shifts in architecture and atmosphere as you turn corners and stroll down meandering streets. From graffiti-scrawled derelict buildings and stark communist structures to more ornate embellishments of the post-war period, observe the many characters of this multi-faceted city reflected in the diverse architecture that lines its streets.
Situated along the famed Auguststraße, Jüdische Mädchenschule is a fascinating if harrowing destination that you must stop at for a powerful example of how Berlin simultaneously respects its past, while embracing its future. Designed by Alexander Beer in the style of New Objectivity, the building was built in 1930 and was Berlin’s first ever Jewish girls’ school. Only three years after its founding, Hitler's Nationalist Socialist Party came to power and in the years that followed, many Jewish families and children in Mitte were forcibly taken from their homes. One by one, the classrooms of the school emptied until it was closed in June 1942. While the weight of the building's dark history still haunts its halls, today the building serves as a dynamic hub of culture, hosting galleries such as the Michael Fuchs Gallery and combines the experience of history, art and gastronomy in one unique space.
While in Berlin, visiting one of the famous beer gardens is non-negotiable and just a two minute walk from Jüdische Mädchenschule is the ideal one. Once a 19th century Berlin ballroom, Clärchens Ballhaus hosts a gorgeous beer garden at the back of the building where you can enjoy a refreshing pint or two as the sun sets. While at Clärchens Ballhaus, be sure to check out two stunning rooms in the building itself – Ballsaal and Spiegelsaal. Used as movie sets for the likes of Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney, these rooms are filled with an exuberant spirit, holding secrets and stories of their thrilling past from 19th century grandeur to 1920s glamour.
After a short rest, refreshing shower and delicious aperitif at the bustling Soho House bar (we recommend the Penicillina for an energetic kick!), hop in a taxi and make your way to Panama, the incredibly chic backdrop for your first delectable dinner in Berlin. A menu boasting fresh ingredients with an innovative twist, we suggest ordering multiple sharing plates so you don’t miss out on any of these exciting flavours. Thoughtfully prepared and beautifully presented, these dishes are more than instagram-worthy. We urge you not to leave before trying the beef tartare, a dish bursting with flavours that will stay with you long after you depart Berlin.
While it may be tempting to stay in Soho House to enjoy their breakfast spread, too many destinations await for you to be hanging around this morning. Ask the concierge to order you a taxi and depart for House of Small Wonder – we promise it’s worth the journey. A sister to its counterpart in Brooklyn, the restaurant sits on the calmer Johannisstraße so you can indulge in a bit of quiet before the city properly wakes up. An enchanting greenhouse of sorts, you’ll find the restaurant is awash in soft morning sunshine, ideal for easing yourself into another day in the hustle and bustle of Berlin. The scent of freshly baked pastries is tempting but we recommend ordering something off the Japanese inspired menu for a mouthwatering blend of flavours - the Wasabi Eggs Benedict is a real crowd-pleaser!
After your breakfast, take a leisurely walk to The Fernsehturm (The Television Tower). Not sure what direction to go in? The sky-scraping tower will guide you – it’s hard to miss! At the bottom of the tower is where you’ll meet the engaging and knowledgable Fat Tire Tour team who will take you for a cycle around Berlin, ensuring that you see all of the key tourist hotspots in the city. While it’s usually preferable to avoid the tourist destinations, in Berlin, many of these are simply too historically important not to go to. Visiting the sites by bicycle allows you to get a whistle-stop tour of these iconic monuments without getting caught up in tourist masses and inflated prices.
Your guide will take you first to Bebelplatz. As you stand in the centre and look up at the beautiful buildings that surround you, your guide will tell you of all the watershed moments that this square has seen, ‘from the bright dawn of the Enlightenment to the dark days of Nazism’. St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, the State Opera Building and Humboldt University – the square is bounded by grand buildings each with a fascinating history of its own. The square itself is the site of the infamous book burning in 1933, during which the Nazi German Student Union threw important works of literature they deemed ‘Un-German’ onto the fire - a striking contrast to the free-flowing creative spirit that characterises Berlin today.
Taking you around Berlin to see the countless historical points of significance scattered around the city, the bike tour will stop at numerous sights, from the Berlin Wall to the Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, and plenty more. Your knowledgable tour guide will weave the story of Berlin’s past as you stand witness at these powerful monuments and get to know the history that makes this city so unique.
You will have worked up an appetite from all the cycling, so it’s a good thing that your bike tour ends at Schleusen Krug, another atmospheric beer garden in the beautiful Tiergarten. Here you can take a seat, rest your legs and refuel in true German style – with a bratwurst and a beer.
Give your legs a rest and take a taxi to the open-air East Side Gallery where you will see powerful politically charged murals painted on remnants of the Berlin Wall. As well as marking a monumental moment in the city’s history, the Berlin Wall is now a testament to the creativity that thrives here. In 1990, over one hundred artists from over twenty countries decorated this stretch of the wall with their art to celebrate the unification of the city. Of course be sure to pause a moment by the famous ‘Fraternal Kiss’, but also take a stroll along the whole stretch and appreciate the numerous works of art that transform this past symbol of division.
Make your way back to Soho House to freshen up before dinner. Before heading out again, stop by The Store. A cool and spacious concept store tucked away in the back of the hotel which showcases a creative edit of fashion, furniture, music and art as well as hosting intimate events. For dinner, it's time to enjoy the best steak frites the city has to offer – or so David Bowie claimed. Since opening its doors forty-one years ago, Paris Bar has been a meeting place for artists and celebrities. Art adorns every inch of the walls, all curated by the German painter Martin Kippenberger. It is said that he paid his tab by trading drawings and paintings for beer and steak frites. Needless to say, it's the steak frites we're recommending.
This morning, it’s time to experience Berlin’s public transport. Hop on the metro from Alexanderplatz to U Hermannplatz and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the Kreuzberg district. A short seven-minute walk from the station is your breakfast destination – Roamers. Serving hearty, handcrafted dishes within a bright space reminiscent of the cafes of California, you’ll eat from rustic wooden boards among lush plants, listening to soothing country music – an ideal way to begin the day.
Cool with a definite edge, Kreuzberg is unpolished in the very best way. The former West Berlin district used to be one of the poorest areas in the city which meant low rent, making it a destination for immigrants, hippies, artists and everything in between. What resulted was a vibrant, alternative neighbourhood and a melting-pot of cultures which still characterises the district today. Kreuzberg is home to some of Berlin’s coolest shops and cafés. Take time to wander around, observe the street art, pop into hidden cafés, and of course, people watch. Be sure to keep an eye out for one of the Photo Automats dotted around the area – taking a photo in one of these is the perfect souvenir to take home with you.
The Jewish Museum is a haunting and harrowing experience. It is a place to learn, understand and reflect on Germany’s Nazi history. The museum is an architectural feat itself. The building zigzags with sharp angles in titanium and zinc, in a design that recounts the horrific German-Jewish experience. Enter through the Kollegienhaus entrance before choosing which of the three divergent corridors to walk through first, each symbolic of Jewish life in Germany: exile, Holocaust and continuity.
A number of works and installations line the walls – take the time to peruse them all. Personal artefacts like someone’s diary, a pair of children's shoes or a dress, bring Germany’s traumatic past out of history books and into reality. Before you leave, enter the Garden of Exile as well as Shalechet (Fallen Leaves) and be sure to read the metaphorical meaning behind both exhibits.
Walk 15 minutes from the Jewish Museum to the Topography of Terror, an outdoor site of remembrance poignantly built on the site of the SS central command. This documentation centre is a place to remember the horror that Jewish people endured under the Nazi regime. Walk through the centre and read the exhibition panels which tell the story of Berlin in the Weimar republic, the methods of terror and persecution that the SS and Gestapo utitlised during Hitler’s reign and the devastating consequences.
For lunch, make your way across the Landwehr Canal to Hallesches Haus. Clean, slick and a little rustic, the interiors are very Kreuzberg-esque. The menu features wholesome comforts, all freshly prepared and served with a smile. The Ploughmans Board is perfect for sharing or if you’re feeling more than a little peckish, order the chicken roasted on the bone for a more hearty meal.
Bypass the city traffic and take the U-bahn from Bahnhof Hallesches Tor to Berlin Friedrichstraße station. From here, take your time and stroll along the Spree until you reach the Reichstag Building, one of Berlin’s most significant historical sites. The impressive architecture stands second only to the building’s turbulent history; The Reichstag Fire of 1933 was a huge turning point for Germany’s history, an event which allowed Hitler to play on public and political fear and consolidate his power, arguably setting the stage for Nazi Germany. The roof terrace and glass dome are open to the public and offer incredible views of Berlin, however be sure to book ahead as spots fill up very quickly. Head up to the viewing point at sunset for a breathtaking panorama of the city below. Alternatively take a seat on the vast gardens and enjoy Berlin at dusk from ground level.
Dinner tonight is an early meal at the iconic Borchardt Restaurant. Since its opening in 1895, Borchadt has established itself as a Berlin institution almost as renowned as the Reichstag. The classic and stylish decor is the perfect setting for delicious German-French dining. The menu boasts contemporary dishes alongside the traditional. We suggest ordering the Wiener schnitzel for a truly authentic culinary experience of this German favourite.
If you wrap up your early dinner before sunset, hop in a taxi or take a 20 minute stroll across the Spree to the Dorotheenstadtischer Cemetery. An interesting spot to spend your evening, the cemetery’s memorial chapel is the site of prolific artist, James Turrell’s light installation. For two hours around dusk (9 pm during Berlin's summer), the chapel’s LEDs unfold a mesmerising one hour light show that complements the sunset outside. With lights of radiant blues, magentas and ambers, Turrell plays with the natural light streaming in through the chapel’s windows to create a visual experience that is truly spectacular.
Your final breakfast in Berlin is at Type Hype, a concept cafe and store that brings the art of typography to life with a collection of quality products and designs inspired by the alphabet. Vintage industrial lights, lead letter cases and a humming printing press set the scene for a unique breakfast in Berlin. The milk bar serves fresh organic milk and coffee specialties from Brandenburg so ordering a coffee here is a must - we suggest going for the cold-brew for something different! A follower of the slow food movement, all the food at Type Hype is lovingly hand-prepared using natural ingredients from local partners. Order a sandwich, grab a seat by the window and take in your last morning in the city.
Housed in a converted bunker that was originally built to protect German civilians during bomb raids, the Boros Bunker now houses a private collection of contemporary art. The space itself has a fascinating history, having been used not only as a bunker but also a prison, refrigerated storage space and hardcore techno nightclub in the late 1990s – evidence of which is still visible on the neon graffiti marked walls of the bunker's interiors.
The collection owned by Karen and Christian Boros includes works by international artists spanning from 1990 to the present, with the current exhibition featuring works by Martin Boyce, Sergej Jenssen and He Xiangyu to name but a few. A visit here is only possible in small groups and for an in depth understanding of the space and the work, we highly recommend booking a private tour well in advance.
It’s time to check out and say goodbye to Berlin. Once again, watch city life whizz by as you drive to the airport and reminisce on the incredible sights you’ve seen, food you’ve tasted and stories you've heard. In these past four days, you will have experienced Berlin as two sides of the same coin, a fascinating blend of remembering the past and embracing the future. A home to so many creatives, Berlin is a place you come for inspiration and upon departing you will feel truly invigorated.