Ask Berliners what they love about the German capital and some will talk about the joys of post-Communist freedom, others about Kreuzberg’s throbbing nightlife, others about Friedrichshain’s exciting young designers. Berlin can fill you with wonder, contemplating the future in the crystalline Reichstag and high-rise Potsdamer Platz, and with horror, revisiting the past at the Jewish Museum and remnants of the Berlin Wall. The nostalgic, the party lover, the trendsetter, today’s Berlin is one city, many characters different every time you look but never looked at indifferently. Berlin is a monster-size capital, eight times the size of Paris. Plan wisely. First, head up to Norman Foster’s panoramic glass-domed Reichstag (German Parliament), and join photographers for the obligatory twilight snapshot of the glowing Brandenburg Gate. You can spend days roaming Tiergarten park’s lake-dotted woodlands and UNESCO-listed Museum Island‘s galleries, where Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti hides. Trace Berlin’s turbulent past at the Libeskind-designed Jewish Museum and walk the artiest stretch of Wall at the East Side Gallery.
Individuality defines free-spirited Berlin. Go beyond the big-name designers on stately Kurfürstendamm to its quieter specialty stores, like L. & M. Lee with its German-made porcelain and glass. Poke around hip Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg for urban, young designers and quirky boutique shopping. The Hackesche Höfe‘s Art Nouveau courtyards make for a leisurely stop, with their upscale shops and people-watching cafes. The fall of the Wall was the party of the 20th century, and even today Berlin still hasn’t run out of steam. Glitzy 1920s cabaret lives on along Friedrichstrasse, while classical music rings out of Mitte‘s lavish concert halls like the neoclassical Staatsoper. Canal-side bars with alternative attitudes and industrial-style techno clubs draw revelers to Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. Summer evenings are best spent chatting and sipping foamy wheat beer under chestnut trees in Prenzlauer Berg’s Prater Garten beer garden.
Berliners love lazy brunches in Prenzlauer Berg‘s bohemian cafes and fun street food. Join the queue in muticultural Kreuzberg for mustard-slathered Currywurst, pan-fresh falafel and shawarma. Foodies dine at Mitte‘s Michelin-starred restaurants and enjoy French food by candlelight in Charlottenburg‘s intimate bistros. For a real taste of Berlin, feast (as Napoleon once did) on fat pork knuckles with lashings of sauerkraut at the wood-paneled 17th-century tavern Zur Letzten Instanz.