Easy Escapes: Berlin

25 years after the Fall of the Wall, Nicola Moyne finds the German capital an enticing mix of history, creativity and hedonism

25 years after the Fall of the Wall, Nicola Moyne finds the German capital an enticing mix of history, creativity and hedonism

Why go? A sprawling city that has seen it all, the now united Berlin is undergoing a smart shake-up. Amid its historic landmarks and monuments you’ll find hip bars and gourmet restaurants, urban pop-ups and conceptual art galleries, plus one the best clubbing scenes in Europe. Not to mention some great Christmas shopping…

United we fall: Berlin Wall-inspired art at the East Side Gallery © GNTB/Hans Peter Merten

When? Berlin is fascinating at the best of times, but this month marks the 25th anniversary of the Wall’s demise and the occasion has brought the capital’s turbulent past into sharp focus. Graffiti-covered remnants of this massive barrier still stand today alongside plaques dedicated to the 138 people who died trying to flee to West Berlin, serving as powerful reminders of the Cold War.

It’s the juxtaposition between now and then, east and west, that reveals just how far Berlin – and its once divided residents – have come. In recent years the focus of the city had shifted east, with an avalanche of trendy bars and cafes bringing life to disused warehouses and once forbidden neighbourhoods. Now the west is trying to reclaim its cool crown with concept malls and hipster bars, including the Moroccan-inspired Monkey Bar at 25hrs Hotel Bikini Berlin (25hours-hotels.com), which boasts one of the best rooftop terraces in the capital, overlooking both Berlin Zoo’s monkey enclosure and Tiergarten park. The result is a city bursting with creative energy.

Visit now for some serious festive cheer (and amazing glühwein) and let the miles of twinkling lights guide you round Berlin’s 60 (yep, that’s six-zero) charming Christmas markets. WeihnachtsZauber in Gendarmenmarkt (gendarmenmarktberlin.de) is particularly renown for its unique handmade gifts and decorations.

German sparkle: the Christmas market on Gendarmenmarkt © VisitBerlin/Wolfgang Scholvien

You really must… Bike it. The city is flat and awash with diverse shopping districts, so it’s perfect for exploring on two wheels (from £15 a day; berlinandbike.de). Head to Friedrichstrasse for upmarket boutiques – Galeries Lafayette’s home goods are to die for (galerieslafayette.com). Ku’damm has Berlin’s largest department store (and a heavenly food hall), KaDeWe (kadewe.de). Mitte offers a hip tangle of fashion-forward stores – think Karl Lagerfeld, & Other Stories, and the most intoxicating independent bookshop, Do You Read Me?! (doyoureadme.de).

Don’t miss Rosenthaler Strasse – an arty nook near trendy Hackescher Markt, either. Here you’ll find a seriously cool art-house cinema, an original Banksy and Berlin’s best selection of vinyls. Or make an appointment to visit the Boros Collection (boros-collection.com), a private modern art collection in Mitte, which is housed in a converted bunker – and former fetish club. Filled with contemporary work from the likes of Roman Ondák and Florian Meisenberg, this space has 80 rooms and a history as fascinating as the exhibitions. Tours take place Thursday to Sunday, admission £10.

Five-star comforts: a bedroom at the Sofitel Berlin Kurfürstendamm hotel

Stay at: The oh-so swish Sofitel Berlin Kurfürstendamm (from £97, sofitel.com) is situated in the heart of the City West area – also known as shopper’s paradise thanks to its Oxford Street-like parade of high-street stores. This 17-storey five-star hotel has 267 rooms and 44 suites, making it one of the largest and best-positioned luxury hotels in the city. Boutique it is not, but it does offer comfortable and contemporary interiors, Berlin-inspired artwork by Fabrice Rambert, plus Aveda and Hermès bathroom products and huge lie-in-forever beds. So if you want to be in the thick of things, this is a great high-end option. Plus, its recently restored Restaurant Le Faubourg offers a delicious gourmet menu comprising French cuisine with a twist. Ask for Mathias Brandweiner – at 20 years old, he’s possibly Berlin’s youngest and most talented sommelier, and I guarantee you’ll be taking a bottle of German red wine home with you.

Dine at: Pauly Saal (paulysaal.com). This Michelin-starred new kid on the block was once a Jewish girls’ school. Now it’s famous for serving the best Pomeranian ox ribs in town. And don’t leave Berlin without trying a ketchup, mayo and curry sauce-loaded currywurst. Bier’s Ku’damm 195 (Kurfürstendamm 195, 00 49 30 881 8942) is the sausage parlour to be seen tucking into Berlin’s trad fast-food dish. Popular with locals and celebs alike (it’s rumoured Mr Clooney himself has indulged in a Bier’s sausage or two), you can even wash down your currywurst with a bottle of champagne for around £20.

Shopping on the Spree: the Oberbaum Bridge at night © GNTB/Joachim Messerschmidt

Bring home: Anything from Bikini Berlin (bikiniberlin.de). This new concept shopping centre is packed with carefully curated hip new designer boutiques and innovative pop-ups. Think Italian leather shoes from Riccardo Cartillone, designer furniture from Live Networking Fashion & Art, and sensational tea blends from Kusmi Tea Paris. Don’t miss Makrönchen either. This ground-floor pop-up will be serving delicious macaroons until February 2015 – surely the prettiest sugar rush in Berlin.

Book now: EasyJet (easyjet.com) flies to Berlin from eight UK airports, from £94 return based on two people on the same booking. A cab from Schönefeld Airport to City West costs about £30 and takes approximately 30 minutes. Alternatively, Schönefeld train station has direct links to the city centre: hop on the S-Bahn lines S9 and S45, or take the Airport Express, which travels in 30-minute intervals between Schönefeld Airport and Berlin-Charlottenburg with stops at Ostbahnhof, Alexanderplatz, Berlin Central Station and Berlin-Zoo. It will take you 30 minutes to get into City West and single tickets cost from £2.

Info: Berlin (£8.99; Rough Guides) is a detailed guide, and see visitberlin.de. Get in the mood with some books and films set in Berlin.

Lead image © GNTB/Andrew Cowin

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