When people think of Berlin, they may imagine a gray, old, not-so-fun place. After all, for 41 years it was divided into East and West Berlin, and JFK once called it “the farthest outpost of the free world.”
Well, that “outpost” is nothing like it was during the Cold War. Since the Wall fell in 1989, there has been investment and reinvigoration and today Berlin is an energetic, colorful, and affordable world capital. Neither as crowded nor as expensive as New York, London, or Paris, Berlin is every bit as cosmopolitan, with a diverse immigrant community (many newcomers are from Eastern Europe),rich cultural offerings (the Pergamon Museum, Bode Museum, Berlin Philharmonic), and excellent cuisine and shopping.
In April, I traveled to Berlin with about 20 friends for my 45th birthday. We celebrated at the stately yet hip Hotel de Rome on Bebelplatz with cocktails at its Bebel Bar overlooking the square, followed by dinner at Parioli, an Italian restaurant with top-notch service, food, and atmosphere. Other evenings we dined at Aigner, perfect for a taste of Austrian-German fare, and Schwarzenraben, a modern Italian place with a trendy crowd. We also tried Hasir, which has excellent Turkish food.
We rented a private boat (“Berliner Wassertaxi” or water taxi) for a cruise along the Spree river to see some of the city’s finest buildings at sunset. The Barkasse Lord holds 27 people, and is fairly inexpensive. Be sure to order wine and hors d’oeuvres. No trip to Berlin is complete without a guided foot or bike tour (try Fat Tire Bike Tours). The city has a fascinating history and one cannot help but be moved by sites like Checkpoint Charlie (the former crossing point between East and West), the Topography of Terror museum, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Berliners have built an impressive city literally from rubble, and it is constantly changing.
Food, taxis, clubs/bars, and hotels in Berlin are all surprisingly inexpensive. Some of my group stayed at the Westin Grand (a great value near the Brandenburg Gate), while others enjoyed the Hotel Concorde, farther west.
A few additional tips: Don’t miss the wonderful boutiques in the Hackesche Markt area and the larger stores along the Kurfurstendamm. Then, if it’s sunny, walk to the lovely outdoor Capital Beach along the Spree for German beer and schnitzel. Finally, to avoid the line at the Reichstag, book a table at the Roof Garden Restaurant. Those with reservations can move to the front of the line.
From the Summer 2007 Issue of Sherman's Travel magazine.