City Guide: Berlin
Berlin’s famous unconventionality pervades its multi-ethnic and vibrant all-night, every-night nightlife, its high-design hotels and art scene, and even its city government, headed formerly by out mayor Klaus Wowereit. Unlike so many other gay-friendly destinations, Germany’s capital is relatively inexpensive, with rates at four-star hotels a fraction of what other Euro capitals charge.
This booming city is embracing the 21st century with an energetic zeal unmatched by any other city on the continent. New development, new nightlife, new neighborhoods, new everything almost overwhelms the past — and the unsuspecting visitor — in this dynamic metropolis. But Berlin also respects her beautiful Baroque history; the city is dotted with graceful palaces, soaring cathedrals, and elegant bridges. Though not stuffed to the gills with the old-world splendor found in Rome or Vienna, Berlin has all the charms, modern and classic, to thrill any visitor. Gay and lesbian travelers in particular will find themselves enthralled by a rich variety of clubs, restaurants, and venues — and most important, a tolerance for people from all walks of life.
No matter where you are in the city, you’re only a few steps from a neighborhood pastry shop. There’s probably one in the city’s graveyard so departing souls can have one last strudel and some eye-popping espresso before heading for the great beyond. You’ll need plenty of caffeine to handle the fast-paced excitement of Berlin. So slap on your sensible shoes, grab a little something at that pastry shop, and hit the pavement.
When you’re ready to get off your feet, the excellent U-bahn system is a fast and efficient way to see this immense city (stations are marked by the big “U”). Grab a Welcome Card for unlimited access to public transportation and for discounts to up to more than 200 tourist attractions.
EAT: Get Past the Potatoes
There is great food in Berlin, even if travelers have to wade past the potatoes-and-cream-laden local cuisine to get there. Those who do will find a wonderland of multiethnic delights.
• Muse: This new spot is a perfect choice for lunch, with everything from brisket to poutine. The sandwiches look mouth-watering, and surely don't disappoint. (Immanuelkirchstr. 31, museberlin.de)
• Microsoft Digital Eatery: Taste the future, with this cafe owned and operated by Microsoft. The food is regular cafe fare but you can sample Microsoft's latest technology while munching lunch. (Unter den Linden 17, microsoft.com)
• Neni Berlin: This gorgeous restaurant just opened in the super-hip 25Hours Hotel, overlooking Tiergarten Park. The food is a wonderful mish-mash of Mediterranean styles (Budapester Straße 40, 25hours-hotels.com)
• Letzten Istanz: Berlin’s oldest restaurant, established in 1621, serves up a limited but tasty selection of traditional Berlin fare. German leaders have accompanied a succession of heads of state her to sample specialties such as Eisbein. (Waisenstrasse 14-16; zurletzteninstanz.com)
• Café Einstein: Nowhere in Berlin serves better apple strudel than Café Einstein. Apfelstrudel a la Einstein comes smothered in delicious warm vanilla sauce. Savory options are plentiful, as they also serve breakfast until afternoon. (Unter den Linden 43; CafeEinstein.com)
• Monsieur Vuong: (Pictured) This restaurant in the Mitte district attracts Berlin hipsters for its excellent Vietnamese dishes and its buzzing, energetic atmosphere. (Alte Schönhauser Strasse 46; monsieurvuong.de)
SLEEP: Four Stars for a Fraction of the Price
Unlike many other big cities, Germany’s capital is relatively inexpensive, with rates at four-star hotels at a fraction of what other Euro capitals charge.
• 25Hours Hotel: As mentioned before, 25Hours is the hottest new hotel in Berlin. Located in the City West neighborhood, the hotel is already reknown for its rooftop terrace and gorgeous views. (Budapester Straße 40, 25hours-hotels.com)
• Steigenberger Hotel Am Kanzleramt: This hotel is efficient and clean in the way you'd expect a German hotel to be. But it's also centrally-located and near bike and jogging paths. (Ella-Trebe-Straße 5 10557, en.steigenberger.com)
• Titantic Comfort Hotel Berlin: This trendy and affordable hotel puts you in the center of everything. Rooms start at 54 Euros a night (only about $72!). (Elisabeth-Mara-Strasse 4 10117, titanic.com)
• Hotel Adlon: Located adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate, the Adlon is an opulent experience that blends modern features with classic style. A fully equipped spa is a perfect way to end a long day of sightseeing. (Unter den Linden 77; kempinski.com/adlon)
• Hotel de Rome: Alongside Humboldt University and minutes from Museuminsel, Alexanderplatz, and the Brandenburg Gate, this ultra-luxurious hotel has the best location in town. The building used to be the headquarters of the Dresdner Bank and, until the 1930s, it’s where Berlin’s society ladies would come to collect their jewelry from the vault before heading to the opera. (Behrenstrasse 37; HotelDeRome.com)
• Hotel Kuenstlerheim Luise: (Pictured) Well-known artists have decorated every room in this 19th-century building. Care to sleep in a suite with murals, space suits, or painted bananas? This is your place. (Luisenstrasse 19; luise-berlin.com)
SEE: Museums and More Museums
Berlin is home to more than 100 museums, including institutions devoted to dogs, sugar, and hairdressing. Many of the best are part of the vast Museum Island complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
• Bauhaus Archive Museum of Design: This architecture school, called the most influential of the 20th-century, houses a very impressive collection of sculptures, ceramics, furniture and architectural models. Lovers of design, this is your place. (Klingelhöferstrasse 14, bauhaus.de)
• Topography of Terror: This museum is dedicated to real-life Nazi horrors and is located on the site of former Gestapo and SS headquarters. This museum may leave you shaken, but it's worth it. (Niederkirchnerstraße 8, topographie.de)
• Currywurst Museum: If you need a less-heavy activity, head to the Currywurst Museum. This place explores one of Germany's favorite edibles and also looks at the history of fast-food. (Schützenstrasse 70, currywurstmuseum.de)
• Museum Island: The northern end of Spree Island is home to five world-renowned museums, including the Pergamon Museum (classical treasures), Bode Museum (sculpture and Byzantine art), Neues Museum (Egyptian art and classical antiquities), Alte Nationalgalerie (19th-century art), and Altes Museum (ancient sculptures). Museum Island is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
• Schwules Museum: (Pictured) Situated in the Kreuzberg district, this small museum houses a fascinating archive and temporary exhibits of Germany’s tumultuous gay past. The only drawback is the lack of English translations. (Mehringdamm 61; SchwulesMuseum.de)
• Queen’s Meadow: For a little R&R, go to the Tiergarten, the lovely park at the center of the city. In warm weather, be sure to check out the Tunten Wiese or "Queen’s Meadow," where many gay people sunbathe (as Germans often do in public places). The meadow is just southwest of the golden, angelic Victory Column.
PLAY: Underground and Unconventional
Berlin’s nightlife is jumping every night of the week. Bars are clustered around Schöneberg’s Nollendorf Plaza, Kreuzberg, Tiergarten, and Prenzlauer Berg.
• Möbel Olfe: The drinks are cheap at this bar, which may qualify as a dive bar. But it's almost always packed! Give it a try if you like good beer and rowdy, friendly crowds. (Reichenberger Str. 177, moebel-olfe.de)
• Neues Ufer: This bar has been a mainstay since the 1970s, when people like David Bowie frequented it. (Hauptstraße 157, neuesufer.de)
• Betty F***: You've heard Berlin is so hip and cool: experience it here. The best part, the crowd is friendly, not snobby. (Mulackstrasse 13, bettyf.de)
• Roses: The fake-fur lined walls and ceiling and the kitsch interior of this Kreuzberg institution attract a mixed male/female crowd of chatty, friendly folks most nights of the week. (Oranienstrasse 187, Facebook.com/TheRosesBerlin)
• Schwuz: One of the city’s best club venues. Depending on the night, join an upbeat, easy-going crowd for almost any kind of dance music. The last Friday of the month is L-Tunes, a party for the ladies (Mehringdamm 61; schwuz.de)
• So36: (Pictured) A lively, funky, and super-fun dance club popular on the weekends. Also famous for its gay Turkish dance nights, where straights, gays, and drag queens alike belly dance the night away. (Oranienstrasse 190; so36.de)
MY CITY: BERLIN
Artist Martin von Ostrowski paints a portrait of boho Berlin.
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