David Bowie once said Berlin is the greatest cultural extravaganza one could imagine. And I couldn't agree more. Thanks to its relatively low cost of living, Berlin attracts countless artists and creatives. Combined with its tumultuous past, the city is a thrilling mix of history, art, music and graffiti. I've been here a few times but it's only during this trip that it dawned on me just how much Berlin is cool and laid-back, progressive and gay friendly, cosmopolitan and multi-dimensional.
Late breakfast at Benedict | Uhlandstraße 49, 10719 Berlin
Berlin is a big city and it has many different neighborhoods that are worth exploring, so I suggest a city trip of three days. Upon your arrival on the first day, a stop at Benedict is just what you need. They offer breakfast all day, every day. They get their inspirations from all over the world, whether sweet or savory, but there is one thing that is quintessentially New York: their killer mimosas that come with most options on the menu (in five flavors!). You've probably guessed they're famous their Eggs Benedict and I can only approve. If you're looking for something sweet, their blueberry pancakes with white chocolate and sour cream are simply divine. And I haven't even mentioned the interior yet: a glorious mix of tropical elements, subway inspired white tiles and old pharmacy counters. A definite must, so be sure to make a reservation.
Shopping at KaDeWe | Tauentzienstraße 21-24, 10789 Berlin
On your first day in Berlin, I suggest exploring the 'City West', a part of town that is really up and coming. With its streets lined with plane trees and its interesting mix of architectural styles, it forms the perfect backdrop for an urban walk. Among the venues you can't miss, there is the shopping haven known as KaDeWe (which stands for Kaufhaus des Westens, or the ‘Department Store of the West’). With its 60,000 square meters of sales floors, it is the largest department store in Europe and although it was original opened in 1906, it is still very relevant today with a mix of international premium and luxury brands presented over seven floors.
Visit of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church | Breitscheidplatz, 10789 Berlin
Standing in the middle of busy city life, the Memorial Church catches everybody's eyes. The Kaiser Wilhelm Church was heavily damaged during World War II, but instead of destroying what was left of it, the ruins were kept as an anti-war memorial, a symbol of Berliner's determination to rebuild after the war. Make sure to enter the ruins of the church tower to discover some amazing, decorated ceilings and floors. As for the octagonal, concrete structure right next to it, it is actually the new church, one that has become known for its signature blue light obtained through the use of stained glass.
Visit of C/O Berlin | Hardenbergstraße 22–24, 10623 Berlin
C/O Berlin is a foundation dedicated to photography and visual medias. They've held exhibitions highlighting the works of Annie Leibovitz and Peter Lindbergh for example and their shows often get international appraisal. Their current show (open 'til 01.07.2018) is dedicated to Irving Penn, a (fashion) photographer considered by many as one of the most influential of the 20th century. I loved rediscovering his extensive work for Vogue, but most of all, I discovered parts of his oeuvre I had no idea off (such as his 'nature morte'). C/O Berlin is housed in the 'Amerika Haus' and boasts a lovely terrace which is perfect for some refreshments before or after your visit.
Shopping at Bikini Berlin | Budapester Straße 38-50, 10787 Berlin
I'm usually not a big fan of shopping malls, but Bikini Berlin is definitely different. Originally built in the fifties, the long building used to have a ground floor dedicated to shops and a first floor housing offices with an open architecture that allowed you to see through the building to the adjacent zoo. This division into an upper and a lower area, as well as the open colonnade in the middle, reminded Berliners of the then revolutionary fashion in swimwear, hence the nickname Bikini Haus (or 'Bikini Building'). Nowadays this complex houses a rooftop terrace, offices, a cinema, a hotel and what they like to call a 'concept mall'. You won't find any of the big chains over here, instead Bikini Berlin gathers pop-up boxes, unique boutiques and flagship stores.
One of those exciting venues is LNFA, a concept store that is dedicated in majority to young Berlin designers. You'll find clothing, jewelry and accessories by local designers and the shop with industrial vibe also welcomes the photography project Shots of Art. Using their vintage wardrobe, you can get your picture taken during a professional photo shoot that won't cost you a fortune. A super fun experience and a timeless souvenir of your German trip!
Stay at 25 Hours Hotel Bikini Berlin | Budapester Straße 40, 10787 Berlin
The hotel I just mentioned as part of Bikini Berlin is actually the 25 Hours Hotel and it is wonderful! The architect in charge of this hotel that opened in 2014 kept the original exposed concrete of the building but enhanced it with many funky elements, such as bicycles, slogans, illustrations and photos. Add some hammocks and lots of greens and you get a fabulous urban jungle! Speaking of which, the 'Jungle Rooms' have epic views over the zoo, whereas the 'Urban Rooms' overlook the spire of the Memorial Church. The choice is yours. The staff is young and super friendly and the hotel counts many surprises, such as a bakery and a book store.
Dinner at Neni | Budapester Straße 40, 10787 Berlin
The hotel's restaurant on the 9th floor is called Neni and quickly gained fame for its top-notch East Mediterranean cuisine. The setting is amazing with an industrial structure filled with hanging plants and open views over the City West. As for the food, the four sibling founders with Israeli, Romanian and Spanish roots wanted it to reflect their passion for family and friends, so the menu is composed of multiple small dishes that are meant to be shared. For example, they have a great selection of mezze (humus, falafel, babaganoush, etc). Prices are decent and the restaurant is immediately adjacent to the Monkey Bar, the hotel's rooftop bar that has become the place to be! On the weekends, its DJ sets are so popular people are actually waiting in line to get there. Luckily for you, guests of the hotel get direct access. Don't forget to make a reservation!
Stroll under the Brandenburg Gate | Pariser Platz, 10117 Berlin
Your second day in Berlin starts with breakfast at the hotel, one that is particularly delicious. The buffet is composed of cold and warm dishes, a fine selection of teas, all the cereals you can imagine, various spreads, multiple juices, and so on, and so on... Perfect to boost you for the rest of the day! A first sight I want to highlight is the Brandenburg Gate, one of the most iconic monuments of the city. The reason why this former city gate in Greek Revival style is so famous is because it is so strongly linked to the city's history. When the Wall was erected in 1961, it became inaccessible for locals and visitors, turning it into a symbol of Berlin's cold war division into East and West. When the Wall came down in 1989, hundreds of thousands of people came to celebrate under the gate. Ever since, it has been a symbol of reunified Germany and peace.
Visit of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe | Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin
Standing in the middle of the city is the Holocaust Memorial, a monument composed of 2,711 concrete blocks of different heights, that commemorates the nearly six million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust. This memorial strikes by its sheer size, its soberness and its abstract form (although the concrete blocks inevitably recall tombstones). The setting really fosters contemplation and it has touched me every single time I visited it.
Stop at Gendarmenmarkt
Gendarmenmarkt is known as the most beautiful square of Berlin and that is for good reason. This public square is surrounded by the German and the French Cathedrals (which aren't actual cathedrals but instead house museums) and the Concert Hall in the middle. There are numerous terraces around here where you can sit and relax, but my favorite place to unwind are the stairs of the Concert Hall. Sitting there, you have the best view over the people passing by (over one million a year).
Lunch at My Goodness | Brunnenstraße 24, 10119 Berlin
Lunch at My Goodness Café is equally delicious as it is healthy. Pick one of their signature smoothie bowls or an avocado toast and you'll enjoy it as much as your body will. You'll do so in a simple yet beautiful interior composed of marble and light wood, and afterwards you might want to try one of their energy balls (I should have piled up a stock of their 'Forever Beautiful' ball). Oh and if you're a fan of tequila shots (but no so much of what it does to your body), order their ginger shot: instant energy and immunity boost guaranteed!
Shopping on Brunnenstraße & Torstraße
There are many hip food places on Brunnenstraße, as well as a few unique shopping addresses. Studio 183 first strikes with its eye-popping facade. Once inside, you'll discover a fine selection of designs by local creatives in a crisp white space. A little further on your way towards Rosenthaler Platz, you'll encounter S-Wert (at nr 191), a shop held by graphic designer Sandra Siewert whose graphics are inspired by Berlin's architecture. She uses these to make posters, cushions, mugs, etc. A great idea for souvenirs, don't you think?
Once you reached the lively Rosenthaler Platz, go left on Torstraße. This is where you'll find the über cool shop No74, Adidas' first select store worldwide, an edgy place when it comes to fashionable sportswear. Located right next to it you'll find Soto (at nr 72), a concept store for stylish men with prêt-à-porter from brands such as Raf Simons, Acne Studios and Marni. Continue all the way to the end of this street to reach The Store (at nr 1). Housed inside the Soho House, The Store aims at providing an innovative retail experience and they're very good at it. They offer a mix of fashion, furniture, music, art and books in a space that feels inspiring yet laid-back. Make yourself comfortable and have a drink in one of their couches while you enjoy the playlist and wonder on what item you might want to splurge...
Stroll on Alexanderplatz
Berlin's biggest square is also one of its most famous. It is an important transport junction, which explains why about half a million people pass by here everyday. Among the things to look out for there is the World Clock that displays the time in 148 cities around the world. If you've seen the movie 'Goodbye Lenin', this place will surely look familiar to you (and if you haven't seen it, put it on your to do list). This is also where you'll first behold the Fernsehturm or 'TV Tower'. Inaugurated in 1969, it was considered by the GDR (German Democratic Republic) a symbol of the communist system' superiority. Since German reunification, it has become a key component of Berlin's skyline and its viewing platform draws many crowds for its panoramic views.
Dinner at Kopps | Linienstraße 94, 10115 Berlin
It says on Kopps' website "You have never eaten vegetables like this before" and although that is a strong statement, I can only agree. This vegan restaurant is one where creativity is at the heart of what they do. Using mainly ingredients from regional, seasonal and organic farming (and serving German wines), Kopps combines a sustainable approach with fine dining, not using any animal product. An exceptional culinary experience, yet for a reasonable price. So book your table!
Visit of Museum Island
One of the many things unique about Berlin is that the city has an actual island in its midst. One that is dedicated to the arts and education by means of five world-renowned museums: The Altes Museum that's all about antiquities, the Neues Museum where you'll find Egyptian, prehistoric and early historic artifacts (among which the famous bust of Nefertiti), the Alte Nationalgalerie dedicated to 19th century art, the Bode-Museum where you can see sculpture and late antique and Byzantine art, and last but not least (since it is Berlin's most visited museum) the Pergamonmuseum devoted to historic architecture (with the Ishtar Gate as definite highlight). Not only do these museums house exceptional art and antiquities collections, they are architectural masterpieces themselves. That, combined with the beautiful gardens and columned walkways, make Museum Island a splendid place to wander through. I leave the difficult choice of picking one museum to visit up to you!
Visit of the Berliner Dom | Am Lustgarten, 10178 Berlin
Another famous Berlin landmark is of course its Cathedral! Its magnificent dome is a sight you won't easily forget. Although the Cathedral is already very beautiful and intricate from the outside with its High-Renaissance Baroque style, it is definitely worth entering it. The dome is even more impressive from the inside and is complemented by ornamental mosaics, lots of gold and impressive statues. The visit of the Cathedral also includes the possibility to climb up to its top. You will have to face 270 steps to get there, but believe me when I say the panoramic views from the dome's outer walkway are totally worth it! On Sunday, the Berliner Dom can be visited as off 12:00.
Lunch at The Bowl | Warschauer Str. 33, 10243 Berlin
I'm not vegan myself, but Berlin has lots of restaurants to suit people who are. And even if you're not, there's no reason why you shouldn't try it. The Bowl is all about healthy food that is mostly served, as you've probably guessed, in bowls. Whether you're in the mood for curry or vegan shrimps (yes indeed, that is a thing), I'm sure you'll love it! And they have an interesting offer in terms of drinks too: colorful homemade lemonades and different kinds of lattes. Why not go healthy all the way and try their turmeric latte?
Stroll on the Oberbaum Bridge
Berlin's most picturesque bridge is without a doubt Oberbaumbrücke (personally I think it would perfectly fit into Games of Thrones). The bridge over the River Spree was built in 1895 and is a popular spot for taking pictures. Fun fact: the bridge served as crossover between East and West when Germany was divided.
Stroll along the East Side Gallery
You can't mention the Berlin Wall without a little bit of history (and God knows I need it since I forgot everything I learned in school). To understand its origin, we have to go back to the end of World War II, when it was decided to split Germany into four zones: the eastern part went to the Soviet Union, whereas the western part went to the United States, Britain and France. Berlin, although located in the eastern part, was divided in a similar manner: that is how a capitalist regime 'coexisted' with a communist one in the same city (in West and East respectively). Over the years, thousands of people left the communist 'GDR' to reach the West, until Soviet leader Khrushchev gave the order in 1961 to stop the flow of emigrants by means of a wall. Subsequently, the Berlin Wall became known worldwide as a symbol of oppression, a physical testimony of a nation of divided citizens. It wasn't until 1989 that the wall was destructed and Germany was reunited.
What is known today as the East Side Gallery is actually the longest connected piece of the former Berlin Wall still standing today (1,3 km). In 1990 it was decided to turn it into a blank canvas for more than 100 artists from over 20 countries, turning a painful reminder of Berlin's tumultuous past into an open air gallery for everybody to enjoy.
By plane it will take only 1h30 to get from Brussels to Berlin. If you decide to go by car, it will take you approximately 9 hours (I did it in the past, but it's exhausting). The Berlin Welcome Card is a great bargain because it gives you free access to all public transport (starting with the bus that will take you from the airport to the city center) and discounts at most of the cultural places. You can get your Berlin Welcome Card straightaway upon your arrival at the airport. Should you want even more information than I already gave you, you can go to Visit Berlin!