Chugging into 2023 is the much-anticipated London-to-Berlin sleeper train, loaded up with revellers wishing to let off some steam, the art crowd, and Wiener schnitzel pilgrims.
They’ll be jumping aboard the raver express from May 25, if they’re crafty enough to navigate the first ticket release round. So with gloriously gritty, hip, and happening Berlin falling back on our radars, here’s a fast-paced romp through the experimental German capital and its thrumming, counter-culture energy (Berlin’s years are dog years to us Londoners, with new restaurants, bars, concept stores, coffee shops, and bars tirelessly popping up in the most gloriously obscure spots across the city).
The city’s swanky legend, which was graced by 20th century silver screen icons, has classically fashioned rooms that have been given a lick of Hollywood glamour. This is where the glam crowd settle in for martinis in velvet sofas, or for rooftop champagne, with views over Berlin’s splendid-to-scruffy skyline.
Hotel de Rome
The refined modernist, Hotel de Rome occupies the old grand bones of a 19th century bank in a prime spot overlooking the Bebelplatz. A spa has moved into the old bank vaults and a plush, plugged-in aesthetic prevails – a Rocco Forte trademark.
A reimagined 19th century bathhouse in the city’s easy-going Prenzlauer Berg district. Several of the building’s original elements are artfully encased in glass to preserve them, while the 20m Wes Anderson-ready pool steals the architectural spotlight.
Known for its superlative restaurant and a steady flow of global artsy types, Michelberger Hotel is well-placed for Berlin’s legendary nightlife and even puts on its own indie gigs in a convivial beer garden during summer.
A fancy (though not fusty) Charlottenburg hangout for Europe’s literati, where a dark, brooding canvas is given the contemporary treatment with Art Deco flourishes. Artworks lining the walls gently nod to Savignyplatz’s literary soul and The Butcher continues to pull rank as the best burger joint in Berlin.
A trendy launchpad for exploring Mitte, this is fertile ground for a self-catered apartment, with a labyrinthine restaurant and wine bar scene to scurry down for below. Two cavernous penthouses wind up to a private roof deck – a privileged vantage point over Mitte’s smart-and-shabby mosaic.
Towing the New Nordic seasonal line, with ingredients foraged or plucked a few hours from Berlin and creative spins on traditional German dishes, Rutz is a 3 Michelin-starred maverick, without the frothy French culinary pomp, with a solid wine list to boot.
Buya Ramen Factory
Sit inside or in the courtyard in this canteen-style paean to the deliciously warming and deeply nourishing ramen. Buya Ramen Factory is a redemption spot for Berlin’s party people, who come to splurp nourishing turmeric broth with spicy pork or tantan broth with peanuts and chilli oil amid the cosily dimmed, hipster interiors.
Elevated Thai sharing plates from star chef Dalad Kambhu’s heirloom recipes. Food is unapologetically home-spun, without the fussy gloss of the city’s swish restaurants, while artfully understated interiors strike a casual note.
A panoply of radically seasonal small plates lands along the pale wooden tables of Mrs Robinson’s – a neighbourhood hangout with produce-first street cred and delectable Asian-inspired dishes, such as fried chicken and caviar baos and wood-grilled octopus skewer and pumpkin yuzu.
Let’s be honest, you’re not here for the food but the fanfare at Big Mamma’s Berlin outpost, with the same Instagrammable maximalism as London’s Circolo Popolare and Gloria. You’ll be too busy absorbing the buzz and lacquered overload to notice the delicious osso bucco or their famous truffle pasta.
Melbourne’s brunch culture meets Berlin, this Boxhagener Platz hotspot dispenses proper, specialty coffee, like daily medicine to its loyalists and whips up a mean truffle mushroom and eggs on toast.
Smack bang in the middle of Kreuzberg, coffee and tea snobs alike coalesce at this multi-roaster in the hip Voo concept store. Companion is particularly proud of their speciality teas, which are best nursed with a cake or cookie.
A small-but-mighty hole-in-the-wall (a former janitor’s office) in Kreuzberg, Concierge boasts superlative artisan-roasted coffee, from frothy matcha lattes to pitch-perfect iced-flat whites. This is Berlin’s grassroots coffee community at its rustic best.
This is where Concierge’s co-founders started. It’s the new-age coffee original, dating back to 2006, when coffee froth and provenance began to define Northern European culture. Coffee geeks scan filters and bags of beans from Ethiopia before ordering a slow-roasted Arabica cappuccino to sip on the sun-trap terrace.
Dubbed the ‘Louvre on the Spree’, it’s as if this Unesco World Heritage Site keeps its art treasures and unapologetic antiquity guarded by water, from the grittier currents of the city. Throughout the five buildings, marvel at all perfect chunks of its rich and chequered history, from the bust of Nefertiti at the Neues Museum to Bernardino Cametti’s marble Diana the Huntress.
An enthralling spin through a cavernous former railway station with an impressive collection of contemporary sculptures, paintings, and digital art.
Helmut Newton Foundation
An ode to the 20th century’s photography don, this exhibition is a magnet for fashionistas and aesthetes with an appreciation for Newton’s artsy nudes.
The slick, concrete innards of the Konig Gallery serve as a cool, brutalist backdrop for an eccentric blend of contemporary artworks, with prints, paintings, and sculptures from both established and emerging artists.
A Balinese-styled spa oasis in the middle of the city, riffing on Germany’s bathhouse culture, where naked bods are rubbed with honey and scrubs during sauna sessions and sunlounger-fringed pools transport you to the Far East.
Locals piled in to save this historic indoor market from decay, with its mint-iron skeleton remaining a vestige of industrial Europe. Today, it’s a thriving incubator for budding chefs and every quarter hosts a Naschmarkt ‘snack market’ showcasing Germany’s traditional sweets, cakes, chocolate, and honey.
A journey through the history of the Jews in Germany, depicted through artwork, texts, photographs, and objects that delve into the darker side of the country’s history and the Nazi’s persecution of the Jews. It’s a painful, unsettling experience but a formidably important one.
Just north of Berlin lies more than 3,000 lakes, with every Berliner having their favourite, which they return to for summer’s day swims and family picnics or to cleanse their sins following a few nights of revelry.
The East Side Gallery
Yes, it’s a tourist hotspot and you’ll probably see more selfies than wall, but this open-air gallery running along the original east side of the Berlin Wall is a colourful, creative reminder of the city’s tumultuous and divided history and the suffering that was endured until the wall fell in 1989.
A cool concept store with revolving pop-ups right next to the zoo and on the fringes of Tiergarten Park. Coffees on the rooftop garden are often accompanied by exotic animal sightings.
A Kreuzberg classic. The cool kids flock to this locksmiths-turned-progressive concept store which showcases hot-ticket and emerging independent brands with the same minimalist oomph as New York’s Opening Ceremony or Copenhagen’s Storm.
A moody medley of luxy pre-loved Berlin cool and hot-before-they’re-too-hot independent brands. Think square-toe Acne loafers, chunky gold Laura Lombardi chains, and Prada’s cult nylon shoulder bags.
Like much of Berlin, Studio 183’s apparel doctrine is one of inclusivity, with slogan tees that may raise an eyebrow in Hamburg but are par for the course in these progressive streets.
This sprawling Sunday flea market, occupying a former, chequered chunk of the Berlin Wall, is an intoxicating rush of the city’s modern, experimental character, flogging everything from prints to vintage violins, and a mass karaoke area to boot.
A self-proclaimed ‘living gallery’, aptm recalls the trendy friend’s enviable home: Instagrammable from head-to-toe, yet these achingly cool homewares are for sale.
When night falls
The living legend. Berlin’s most famous club remains an inhibition-free techno institution, as well as a dark, graffitied warren of sexual adventure in an eerie former power station. It’s notoriously hard to get in and, while there’s no rhyme nor reason to it, tourists and anyone remotely preppy have fallen prey to the elusive scouters in the queue, well before the cutting ‘nein’ at the door.
Often running from Fridays to Mondays (non-stop), Sisyphos has flown under the radar of the city’s club scene, much to the delight of those in on the summer festival-style techno and house-spree secret.
Reminiscent of the city’s old cabarets, pub-cum-bar Loophole riffs on the same underground culture of its brothel past, hosting an array of cutting-edge DJ sets and live music, with classic Berlin dishes and a notable lack of hipsters.
This Berlin stalwart is a vast subterranean techno kingdom set in the 10 basement vaults of the Warschauer Straße station. Refreshingly, hiphop, reggae, R&B, and the like make regular appearances, and this is a club that never sleeps, no matter what day your train chugs into the city.
Fairly fresh to the Berlin club scene, Oxi Garten opened with a bang in 2020 and continues to attract some top acts, such as Kikelomo and Dr Rubinstein.
A 19th century apothecary reimagined as a wine bar and restaurant – the unfussy menu at Ora shifts to whatever organic treasures arrive each morning ( all wild or ethically raised). Perch at the bar for delectable light bites washed down with wines from niche makers to the big hitters.
Come here to “connect with sound, light and art in a queer space for modern rituals”. This vibey café-bar-gallery is a welcome diversion off the techno trail.