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Where to stay

Ackselhaus Berlin In the heart of Prenzlauer Berg, this charming, oldfashioned and idiosyncratic boutique hotel has luxurious themed rooms, some of which have four-posters. Serves delicious home-made jams for breakfast. Rooms from £100. Belforter Strasse 21, Prenzlauer Berg, 00 49 30 44 33 76 33, ackselhaus.de

Hotel Amano Amano opened in January last year and, with its ultra-modern decor, is aimed at the fashion-conscious. It’s a bit pretentious, but is centrally located and comfortable. Its sister restaurant on nearby Torstrasse blends classic French food with Israeli influences. Bike hire available if you fancy a peddle around town. Rooms from £70. Auguststrasse 43, Mitte, 00 49 30 80 94 150, hotel-amano.com

Lux11 apartments Housed in a splendid 19th-century building, sometime hospital and KGB spy station, these are, according to the manager, self catering apartments for the ‘experienced Berlin tourist’. Well-placed for exploring the side streets of Berlin Mitte. From £65. Rosa- Luxemburg-Strasse 9-13, Mitte, 00 49 30 93 62 800, lux-eleven.com

Nhow Hotel The futuristic face of Berlin, with a surreal top floor cantilevered over the river, and headache-inducing decor. Achingly hip but rather endearing. Rooms from £120. Stralauer Allee 3, Friedrichshain, 00 49 30 29 02 990, nhow-hotels.com

Travel Information

Berlin, which is one hour ahead of the UK, usually has cold winters, often with ice and/or snow, and with temperatures falling as low as -3ºC. Spring is mild and pleasant, while summer sees warm temperatures of about 22ºC-25ºC. The currency of Germany is the euro.

British Airways
(ba.com) flies direct to Berlin from London Heathrow.
Lufthansa (lufthansa.com) flies direct from London Heathrow.
Easyjet (easyjet.com) flies from Gatwick, Edinburgh, Bristol and Liverpool.

The German National Tourist Board
(germany.travel) has extensive information about travel in Germany and visiting Berlin, with tips on accommodation, weather, sightseeing, culture, special events and food.
Visit Berlin (visitberlin.de) has tourist information and is where you can buy the Berlin Welcome Card (from £15.50), which gives you unlimited use of public transport for specified periods and discounts on sightseeing.
Finding Berlin Tours (findingberlin-tours.com) has alternative city tours (eg Vietnamese and Turkish Berlin; urban art; culinary walks), and offers bicycle hire from £11 a day. Berlin is largely flat and cycle friendly – with lots of dedicated cycle paths – so a bike is a great way to get around.

The Wall: The People’s Story
by Christopher Hilton (History Press, £12.99) is a readable account of the political situation that gave rise to the Berlin Wall and the effect it had on citizens in both East and West Germany.

Where to eat

Link to a category

Café Anna Blume Range of home-made torten and kuchen, unfussy lunches and suppers. Breakfasts start from £7. Kollwitzstrasse 83, Prenzlauer Berg, 00 49 30 44 04 87 49, cafe-anna-blume.de

Clärchens Ballhaus Gut-busting platters of duck, wurst and salmon served all day in this 19th-century dance hall. Three courses with wine around £40. Auguststrasse 24, Mitte, 00 49 30 28 29 29 5, ballhaus.de

Das Meisterstück Traditional handmade German cuts and sausages cooked over open wood fires. Excellent beer list. Three courses with a craft beer from around £30. Hausvogteiplatz 3-4, Mitte, 00 49 30 55 87 25 62, dasmeisterstueck.de

Fischers Fritz Multi-Michelin-starred cuisine at a celebrated hotel – what’s not to like? It’s old-fashioned, but chef Christian Lohse has an inspired way with simple classics. Three courses without wine for around £40. Regent Hotel, Charlottenstrasse 49, Mitte, 00 49 30 20 33 60 04, fischersfritzberlin.com

Mo’s Falafel Berlin’s master falafel maker. Huge falafel wraps with salad are aromatic and delicious – and they’re cheap as chips. Graefestrasse 99, Kreuzberg, 00 49 30 74 07 36 66

Mogg & Melzer Housed in an old Jewish girls’ school, this bright deli serves New York-inspired pastrami, barbecued brisket and pickles. Delicious. Around £9 for a large sandwich. Auguststrasse 11-13, Mitte, 00 44 30 33 00 60 77 0, moggandmelzer.com

Sage Ultra-trendy, dramatic urban-industrial chic, Sage comes with its own beach on the River Spree. Classic German cuisine with a modern twist. Three courses without wine around £50. Köpenicker Strasse. 18-20, 00 49 30 75 54 94 07 1, sage-restaurant.de

Tim Raue Michelin-starred Asian fusion of the very highest order, complemented by a comprehensive wine list with 20 different sakes. Lunch menus from £25. Six-course tasting menu £122. Rudi- Dutschke-Strasse 26, Mitte, 00 49 30 25 93 79 30, tim-raue.com

Volt Industrial-chic venue in an old power station. Chef-owner Matthias Gleib specialises in radical interpretations of old-fashioned dishes. Four-course menus from £43. Paul-Lincke-Ufer 21, Kreuzberg, 00 49 30 61 07 40 33, restaurant-volt.de

Weinbar Rutz Michelin-starred; one of the best wine lists in Berlin. Try the wine bar downstairs for a taste of old German wurst-based cooking, and head upstairs for chef Marco Müller’s ‘experiences’ menus. Wine bar: three courses with wine from around £45. Restaurant: tasting menus from £95. Chausseestrasse 8, Mitte, 00 49 30 24 62 87 60, rutz-weinbar.de

Witty’s Popular currywurst with branches around Berlin but the flagship is near KaDeWe. Wurst from around £2.50. Wittenbergplatz 5, Schöneberg, 00 49 30 21 19 49 4, wittys-berlin.de

Food Glossary

Armer ritter
Sweet eggy bread or French toast, often topped with cinnamon.
Berliner weisse mit schuss
Cloudy, sour wheat beer served with ashot of syrup. Better without the syrup.
Generic sausage made from pork.
The ubiquitous curry sausage with skin (mit darm) or without (ohne darm).
German ice wine, considered among the world’s finest sweet wines.
Fast food, snack.
Sweet pancake from Bavaria.
Potato salad.
Lamb kebab.
A sweet pastry studded with pearl sugar.
Pumpernickel brot
A traditional Westphalian wholegrain bread that is made from rye flour and coarse rye meal.
German pinot noir. The best are highly regarded.
Sweets, lollipops.
‘Dried berries selection’: wine made from raisined grapes. Another exceptional sweeter German style.

Food and Travel Review

At Tim Raue’s Michelin-starred restaurant in Berlin’s oncedilapidated but now thriving Kreuzberg district, a stone’s throw from Checkpoint Charlie, a large picture by the artist Olivia Steele dominates the lobby. It’s a classic technicolour nuclear mushroom cloud with the words ‘The End’ picked out in red neon, movie-credit style. The decor is a bizarre (and oddly relaxing) mix of Prussian blue and fulgent pink. The floor is made of a specialised, ultra-durable vulcanised compound, more commonly used for warehouses and industrial complexes.

If you’re getting the impression that Raue pays attention to detail, you’re right. Even the fly-swats in the kitchen are colour-coordinated pink. Raue, born and raised in Kreuzberg (his CV includes a violent stint in a street gang – the area, with high immigration in the 1970s, was notorious for poverty and instability) has the compelling focus and eccentricity common to most top chefs. His publicist cheerfully told me his sous-chefs regard him with a mix of ‘fear and respect’.

While Raue is typical of the new generation of Berlin chefs in that he strives to create a new style while paying respect to tradition, there’s nothing typically German about his food. It is Asian-inspired, a mix of Thai, Chinese and Japanese culinary traditions. Raue says he wants to ‘attain the purity’ of eastern cuisine, and eschews wheat, gluten and starch. Dishes like crayfish with tangerine and smoked pepper, or jasmine pigeon with peanut and fig, have an intensity of flavour combined with a lightness and elegance you seldom find, however many Michelin stars are on the door. Each dish is created around ‘spiciness, acidity and natural sweetness,’ he says. ‘I’m not looking for quantity but for this rollercoaster of sensations.’

Raue insists he is traditional – ‘Chinese cuisine is the most ancient in the world – they were using sous-vide 2,000 years ago’ – just not German traditional. ‘I’m not looking to cook “German”,’ he says, miming the quotation marks. ‘I love Asia but I am a native of Berlin. You can see [that] in these dark blue Prussian colours, and in the way I work, which is very precise.’

This combination is fitting for a city that fosters creativity. Berliners are open to new things. There’s no huge industry here, while the banks are in Frankfurt so there is no downtown financial district. There are, though, plenty of advertising creatives and artists. And, as Raue points out, ‘there are a lot of people who are wealthy and who need an audience, and places to entertain themselves’.

For all its radical self-consciousness (much of Berlin is a riot of graffiti and scruffy, hippyish chic) there’s something touchingly oldfashioned about the city’s refusal to leave the past behind. History is set into the stones here. The route of the infamous Wall is marked out in a double row of cobblestones; cemented into doorways all over the city are tiny brass plaques commemorating their former Jewish occupants. ‘Here lived Elsa Guttentag, born 1883,’ reads one, ‘Deported 29.11.1942. Died in Auschwitz’. Older Berliners talk about the upheavals the city has experienced – the Nazis, the Communists – and the young are fully aware of their city’s legacy.

Berliners are mindful, too, of their rich gastronomic heritage. This is what makes the city’s restaurants so compelling – they refuse to leave it alone. They adjust, tinker and reinvent. ‘We’re not going to forget our history, good or bad’, Berlin cooks seem to say, ‘but we’re certainly not going to let it get in our way’. One chef, Marco Müller at the Michelin-starred Weinbar Rutz, makes this explicit: written at the top of his menu are the words Die rettung der Deutschen esskultur – ‘the rescue of German cuisine’.

Müller says his mission is ‘to make everything new but classic’. He explains: ‘People like going back to what they know, finding flavours they cherished when they were young. So we’re open to new things but we’re looking back to what is comfortable. But this is not your grandmother’s kitchen.’ Indeed it’s not. In contrast to the menu, the setting is ultra-modern, and each dish is delicate, tiny, the essence of modern Michelin style. Müller serves starters of neuköllner schinkenknacker, hambel-leberworscht (Neukölln sausage and liver sausage) and schweinebauch (pork belly), and main courses of blutwurst (blood sausage), Holstein ox shoulder, and other classic German cuts – all accompanied by one of the best wine lists in Berlin. Contrast is everything: pork belly and blood sausage may sound classically, heftily German, but the meat is reduced to its essence. A mouthful of leberworscht is intense and flavoursome, but it’s only an echo of the great platefuls Müller’s grandmother would have served up.

German wine is the perfect foil for this kind of food. The climate, the slate soils and vertiginous sloping vineyards of the country’s finest wine regions produce wines with abundant minerality, bracing acids, rich fruit and low alcohol levels. Chefs resolutely promote their country’s wines: in a week’s worth of dining in Berlin, I hardly saw a non-German wine. At Volt, the industrial-chic restaurant in a former electricity sub-station in Kreuzberg, every German wine region is represented on chef Matthias Gleiss’ list. With one of his signature dishes – a succulent grey mullet with artichoke risotto – he serves an aromatic, spicy grauburgunder (pinot gris) from Weingut Klostermühle in Nahe. He matches a tranche of char with peas, mango and horseradish to a silvaner from Weingut Wagner Stempel in Rheinhessen. The pungent saltiness of the fish is offset by the wonderful contrast of sweet mango and delicately hot horseradish pannacotta, the whole complemented by the very same flavours in the wine: tropical fruit anchored by brisk acids.

Tradition and modernity, radical nostalgia: again and again in Berlin one finds the contrast between the enthusiastic embracing of new flavours and foods, and the urge to hold on to the past. ‘It’s in sync with the economic crisis,’ Gleiss notes; people want to hark back to better times. But there’s a desire to look forward as well. At the trendy Restaurant Mani in Prenzlauer Berg, in old East Berlin, chef Martin Schaninger describes his cuisine as ‘a virtual voyage from Tel Aviv to Paris’ and serves everything from tapas to spiced lamb patties. But he still has to deal with that conservative streak: some Berliners aren’t quite ready for tapas. ‘Shared dishes are quite a new idea here. Germans can be a bit picky about sharing,’ he says.

Everywhere you look though, there is something new. It might be the Nhow Hotel, all mirrored glass outside and pink decor within, designed to attract the international music crowd (so far they’ve had Katie Melua and Public Enemy). Or it might be the Jüdische Mädchenschule in the heart of the former East Berlin. A Jewish girls’ school, under the Nazis it became desperately overcrowded as Jewish children were forced to leave the state schools (the walls are lined with poignant photos of little girls squashed three to a desk) before it gradually emptied as families were deported. Today, the handsome, airy 19th-century building is home to galleries and restaurants. At the fast-food end is Mogg & Melzer, whose pastrami sandwiches are made in authentic New York style with beef imported from America. They are superb, the meat meltingly tender, accompaniments such as cucumber pickled in salt (not vinegar – it gives a sweeter flavour) spot on.

Along the corridor is Pauly Saal, whose chef, Siegfried Danler, explains his fusion of old-fashioned German cuisine with lighter, modern touches: ‘In Germany after the war the important thing was to feed people, so food was as filling as possible – as much sausage, meat and potatoes as you could get.’

One of Danler’s signature dishes is, put bluntly, meat and potatoes: pot-roast beef with purée potatoes and steamed herb-mushrooms (for recipe, see page 125). But that’s all it has in common with stolid post-war fare. The beef is thin-sliced, garnished with a sauce of mushroom, walnut oil, chives and shallots – it’s robust yet delicate.

But what of real German cooking? Forget delicacy and starchfree Asian fusion – where are the lederhosen-stretching, buttonpopping, cheek-reddening platefuls that have to be washed down with steins of cold beer rather than sips of riesling? Where’s the currywurst, that strange and ubiquitous modern hybrid of hotdog, ketchup and curry sauce, best eaten standing up at one of the dozens, hundreds, of imbiss (fast food) kiosks around the city?

Well, you can get currywurst on any street corner – or at self-consciously downmarket emporia like Curry36 in Kreuzberg (cheerful, cheap, and about as genuinely German as a Soho fish and chip shop is British). For a more authentic street feel, locals flock to Burgermeister’s stand-up tables under the arches at Schlesisches Tor station. Here the sauce is homemade and arrestingly piquant. The finest example is considered thecurrywurst and crispy shredded potato at Witty’s, across the road from the KaDeWe department store in Wittenbergplatz. I’m not a currywurst connoisseur, but Witty’s did seem to have an edge, with its meaty sausage (often it can seem to have a higher percentage of rusk filler than protein) and deliciously hot and crispy potato.

Even currywurst has had a modern, upmarket makeover though. There are places like the brand-new Meisterstück, just off Freidrichstrasse, which sources its hundreds of organic, handmadebrats and wursts from all over Germany, and has an ever-changing beer list that covers a dozen pages of the menu. Here you can choose your sausages from all over the country: nürnberger, irschenberger, coburger, duck, salmon or turkey. The currywurst comes with a range of different mustards, and there are a selection of cabbage dishes, from sauerkraut, the classic pungent cured cabbage, to Bavarian coleslaw and white cabbage with wasabi – hot enough to need several swallows of beer to wash it down. Each variety of meat is cooked over wood burners, and the large, barn-like building is filled with the enticing aromas of wood smoke.

Berlin has myriad means of gastronomic seduction, and one of the most compelling is the magnificent food hall at the KaDeWe department store. To say it is an Aladdin’s cave of food is to undersell the broadness of its appeal. Under the soaring glass roof on the sixth floor of the huge building there are aromatic acres of cold cabinets groaning with every type of German and international delicacy, from Serrano ham to foie gras; a cornucopia of wursts; close-packed trays of florentines, petit fours and törtchen; chocolates, pralines and truffles in a hundred different flavours; pungent cheeses in crowded profusion; fruits and vegetables; oyster bars and wine bars. It makes Selfridges Food Hall look like a village store.

A different kind of profusion can be found in the markets. The city is home to the largest Turkish community outside Turkey, and no place paints a better picture of this than the Tuesday and Friday Turkish market at Maybachufer in Neukölln. Stretching for hundreds of metres along the canal, with the heady, bustling atmosphere of a souk, the Türkischer Markt has aromatic Turkish breads, olives, vine leaves, heaving mounds of watermelons, cherries, a dozen different kinds of pepper, forests of dill and coriander, and whatever else is in season. There are shoes, umbrellas, beads, garish tee-shirts and every kind of ethnic gewgaw. It’s a wonderful place to spend an hour or two, but thirsty work, so we searched out a beer on the terrace of the eccentrically nautical AnkerKlause bar. On the opposite side of the canal, market-goers sit with coffee and newspapers at tables set out under the trees. There’s nothing more charming than a canalside café in the sun – and it’s a peculiarity of Berlin that the most popular spots appear uncrowded, even on a fine day.

It’s even more notable when you consider how Berliners love café culture. In Prenzlauer, the district of East Berlin that was colonised by artists and buskers and is now rapidly gentrifying, places to eat and drink lie cheek by jowl. A stroll down Prenzlauer Allee and its side streets reveals what this part of Berlin was, is and will be. Here you will find Indian fish thali restaurants, milk-and-yoghurt bars and delectable cake shops, like Patissier Guido Fuhrmann where you can learn to make süssigkeiten (wonderful lollies of which Willy Wonka would be proud) or avant-garde hochzeitstorten (richly decorated wedding cake). This is progress: just off Knaackstrasse is a branch of Robert Lindner, the expensive, upmarket delicatessen, which looks absolutely in the right place. No wonder rents have doubled in the past few years.

The kind of people who can afford higher rents also invest in their neighbourhood. They want clean parks and friendly cafés, places like Café Anna Blume, where locals sit with mutschel, the sweet, star-shaped roll that goes so well with strong hot coffee.

The Danish architect Jan Gehl measures a city by its public spaces: the more pleasant it is to walk around, the happier the city. In Berlin, one strolls. In Görlitzer Park, couples sit cross-legged, their faces towards the sun. Dog-walkers amble and joggers pad by. The tress, still fresh and early-summer green, overlook a collection of ramshackle riverfront dwellings. You can barely hear the traffic on the three-lane Stralauer Allee a hundred yards away. But you can see the future: the mirrored sides of the penthouse of the Nhow Hotel, high in the sky, dazzlingly bright.

Don’t Miss

Badeschiff at Arena Berlin Vibrant, decadent club complex in rundown riverside warehouses, with fine swimming pool on an artificial beach. A reminder that Berlin is still the capital of seedy glamour. Eichenstrasse 4, Treptow, 00 49 30 53 32 03 40, arena-berlin.de

Hackescher Höfe Labyrinthine shopping and arts centre in splendidly restored art deco buildings. Hackescher Markt, Mitte

Holocaust Memorial More than 2,500 concrete blocks – a disorienting and claustrophobic ensemble – commemorate the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The underground museum tells individual families’ stories. Free entry. Cora-Berliner-Strasse 1, Friedrichstadt, 00 49 30 26 39 43 36, holocaust-mahnmal.de

KaDeWe Europe’s second-largest department store (after Harrods) with a vast food hall. A gourmet’s paradise. Tauentzienstrasse 21-24, Mitte, 00 49 30 2121 0, kadewe.de

Reichstag Superb views to be had from the glass dome that tops the symbol of re-unified Germany. Free, but booking online compulsory. Platz der Republik 1, Mitte, 00 49 30 22 70, bundestag.de

Tiergarten Berlin’s wonderfully green and sprawling city park. Start at the famous Brandenburg Gate and head west – and don’t miss the rather grand memorial to Bismarck, who started it all by unifying Germany. Strasse des 17 Juni 100, Mitte

Türkischer Markt This is a home from home for Berlin’s enormous Turkish population. A place where you can pick up Tunisian copper kettles, colourful beads and cheap sandals – and every kind of vegetable that’s in season. Tuesdays and Fridays, 11am to 6.30pm. Maybachufer 1-13, Kreuzberg, tuerkenmarkt.de

Winterfeldtmarkt Huge, chaotic, vibrant – everyone’s idea of a city market, where you can purchase a kilo of olives, pumpkins and roast chestnuts (in the autumn), blueberries, raspberries, succulent lamb kebabs, strings of garlic, books, antique candlesticks, a complete human skeleton, and a hundred different kinds of retro tat. Saturday 8am to 1pm, Wednesdays 8am to 4pm. Winterfeldplatz, Schöneberg

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