Berlin is my favorite German city, far and away. I’ve been lucky enough to visit several times, taking advantage of tips from friends that live or used to live there, and I’ve written about it more than any other city on this site (I’m sorry, beloved NYC; I will get to you someday).
In the excitement of sharing what’s new, sometimes you neglect to share what you know and love most (i.e. it’s not personal, Big Apple). On a return trip it became blatantly obvious how loyal I’ve become to my favorite haunts (I arranged hotel stays and skipped half a trade show just to return to them), and I was also introduced to some new favorites. Without further ado:
Monsieur Vuong (Alte Schönhauser Straße 46)
It goes without saying that Berlin has more culinary offerings than the famous currywurst. This particular Vietnamese joint is a local favorite (recommended by not one but two unacquainted locals prior to my first city visit), so get there early to snag your seat.
Located in trendy Mitte, this perfect lunch venue somehow combines modern cool with fantasies of Indochine-gone-by, and with a fresh menu that changes every two days, you’ll never grow bored. The lemongrass-ginger-lime-honey tea, served in a bowl with a wooden stirrer, is a must.
This same block is also home to my favorite boutique shopping, so if your eyes just lit up, be sure to set aside extra time.
KaDeWe Food Emporium (Tauentzienstraße 21-24)
Visitors think I’m crazy when I suggest eating at KaDeWe – or Kaufhaus des Westens – possibly the ritziest department store in Berlin. But ascend to the packed 6th Floor on a Friday night (when opening hours extend to 9 p.m.) and you’ll find the place packed.
Imagine a gourmet food megastore, filled with cheese and charcuterie and chocolate and prepared food counters. Then insert actual gourmet restaurants of varying specialties, tiny little preparation areas surrounded by bar stools for patrons. Next, make sure that each one has large ice buckets filled with great champagnes and wines by the glass, and you’ll realize why KaDeWe outings can become quite addictive.
Favorite lounges and bars
The Black Lodge (Sanderstrasse 6)
I love speakeasys. Pretty much any speakeasy will do, but the ones that hide excellent cocktails (like my all-time favorite PDT in New York) take the cake.
What makes this one special is its laid back vibe (once you locate it, locate the buzzer, and are admitted inside), dark noir interiors, and the quality mixology within. It doesn’t hurt that it’s just blocks from Clärchens Ballhaus (below). Try the Russian Mule (recipe), which is the latest sensation storming Berlin nightlife at the moment.
It’s not the name of a venue; I’m actually talking about Berlin’s public transportation, which in many places uses elevated trains.
The warehouse spaces below the tracks have been converted into restaurants and bars, with different neighborhoods contributing as befits their circumstances. By Humboldt University you’ll find pizza joints and pubs packed with – what else? – university students (always a brimming source of information for what’s happening NOW and where). Near the Savignyplatz station near the chain-store and designer shopping mecca of the “Ku-damm” (or Kurfürstendamm street), you’ll coffee shops, gift stores and outdoor cafes.
Then, in summer, head down to the Kreuzberg stations on the U-1 line, where locals grab beers at small kiosks and huge outdoor impromptu meet-and-greets form. It’s a quintessential Berlin experience that lets you feel that energy everyone raves about.
Favorite dance hall
Clärchens Ballhaus (Auguststraße 24)
Doesn’t everybody have a favorite ballroom dancing venue?
This one isn’t a trendy newcomer; it has history. Pre-war, its central position made it a popular meeting place for people from both sides of the city, and it was known for its grandeur. Post-wall, it became part of East Berlin and fell into disrepair. It has been lovingly recreated – if not to its former glory, then at least nostalgically reminiscent of its glory – without erasing its history; bullet holes are still visible on the outside façade.
Don’t expect to see too many non-locals in this eccentric dance hall, whose huge space and long tables lends it a biergarten feel, but it won’t mean that everyone looks similar. There are people of all ages, in all kinds of dress, who share a love of ballroom dancing.
Need to brush up on your fox trot? No problem. Clärchens offers free dance classes several times a week. Check the site for details (via GoogleTranslate).