A luxury travel guide to Berlin: Where to stay, eat and what to see and do
We all know about decadent Berlin of the 1920’s and later in the 80’s – with its influx of punks, outsider artists and nothing-to-lose musicians – but 2018 Berlin is an altogether different beast.
The steady tread of progress has transformed it into one of the most vibrant cultural centres in Europe. In essence, Berlin is a spirited city, a bright, energetic and sexy place to be. The sexiness isn’t a garish reveal, though, more a subtle seduction exposing its secrets one layer at a time.
Day 1 – Parklife
After breakfast, Danni and I take a tram to Alexanderplatz, where we join a group (approx. 12) for a guided cycle tour. Berlin is one of Europe’s most bike friendly cities, thanks to a distinct lack of hills and its patchwork of cycle paths crisscrossing the city.
We chose a ‘Berlin City Bike Tour’, with Fat Tire Tours which was both entertaining and enlightening. Our guide Jamie is a born storyteller, giving us the lowdown on everything from Prussian Berlin to the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. The surprising thing is… Jamie is from Dublin and has only been in Berlin for 2 years.
We go at a regular cycling-for-softies pace, so there’s plenty of time for snapshots and questions. We even stop for a spot of lunch at Schleusenkrug beer garden in the middle of Tiergarten, Berlin’s most popular inner-city park.
Seated in a beautiful outdoor area under the trees, we enjoy a large German beer with our lunch. Food such as Lentil Soup, Meatballs and Bavarian cheese noodles sets us up for part 2 of the bike tour. The whole tour lasts approximately 4 hours and was totally worth the energy – both physically and financially.
I don’t remember exactly what we did after the bike tour. Probably walked a little, jumped on a tram and slowly made our way back to the hotel. (More of which later.)
After regrouping and freshening up, we head out for dinner. When I say ‘dinner’, this doesn’t even begin to describe the evening. The food and the drink, the service, the ambience…everything aligned perfectly.
What’s really surprising is that Le Faubourg – Augsburger Str. 41 – is part of Sofitel, Berlin. Everyone knows hotel restaurants are a bit hit and miss, right? Well, not quite…sometimes you find one that shatters the myth.
Berlin-born chef Felix Mielke became a French-cuisine votary while working first at the Ritz Carlton, then at Le Provençal. Using locally sourced ingredients, he’s certainly causing a stir here at Le Faubourg.
The menu is small, but dynamic. Dishes such as Venison Tartare, Scallop with Fennel and Pepperoni, and Sea Bass with Barley Risotto were delicious. The blending of flavours and textures was ‘alchemy’ of the highest order.
Danni reckons a Pecan Nut and Manjari desert was nothing short of tongue-gasmic. Officially, she says the whole thing was “a very special experience”.
Food was skilfully paired with wines such as a Peter Jakob Kühn Riesling and a Francois de Nicolay Ladoix Les Vris. Those with a taste for culinary adventure won’t be disappointed. Opening hours: 12.00 – 23.00
Where To Stay
i31 boutique hotel is hipster chic, pure and simple. The hotel’s location in the Mitte district is a welcome distance from the beaten tourist path.
It offers a moderately stylish interior combined with friendly service and some rather greenish amenities. (An electric BMW car and 2 e-scooters are available for guests, at no extra cost.)
All rooms come with courtesy smartphone, complimentary water and soft drinks and (in Superior rooms) a Tassimo tea and coffee maker for that crack-of-dawn fix.
Breakfast in the light-filled, bistro-style lobby-bar, offers a bottomless buffet of breads, croissants, pastries, yogurts, cheeses, hot and cold meats, and eggs (mango and porridge to kick-start the day, anybody?)
The breakfast room leads directly onto a large courtyard-cum-garden, where guests can relax beneath Japanese maple trees, within earshot of a fishpond.
i31 also packs a` ‘wellness suite’, with sauna and 24-hour gym. The high-end shops and restaurants of Friederichstrasse are just a short stroll away, as are several U- and S-bahn stations. Gold medal for location goes to…
To Do List
Get to grips with Berlin on a sightseeing river cruise. You’ll pass landmarks such as the Reichstag, Bellevue Palace, Museum Island, and much more.
One fascinating place is the DDR Museum, by the river Spree, opposite the Berlin Cathedral. The museum – on Karl-Liebknecht-Straße -brings the German Democratic Republic into sharp focus.
With hands-on exhibits, you’ll learn about Stasi surveillance techniques, the history of East Germany, and about everyday life on the ‘wrong’ side of the Berlin Wall. History at school was never this cool. However, I did get a feeling the museum presented a rather loaded, one-sided view…from the west.
Just south of the Brandenburg Gate is Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, with its 2,711 concrete slabs, or stelae. Designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, this modernist monument provides a chance to reflect on the city’s turbulent past.
From bleak wasteland to fashionable shopping and nightlife district, Potsdamer Platz is where you’ll find Kulturforum, a great place to soak up the Berlin vibe.
It houses countless institutions such as the National Gallery designed by architect Mies van der Rohe, and also the Philharmonie and Chamber Music Hall – home to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
Along with the Staatsbibliothek (State Library) with its glorious reading room, it also includes the Gemäldegalerie featuring one of the most comprehensive collections of old masters in the world.
Eats An’ Treats
From one gourmet feast to another, tonight we find ourselves in The Grand, No 4 Hirtenstraße. With a combination of restaurant, bar and club, The Grand is an increasingly popular spot with locals and visitors alike…a good sign. A former primary school, this 1,000 Sq m2 building is full of quirky details merging contemporary design with industrial chic. Of particular note is the dazzling chandelier, in the dining room.
The ambience is upbeat and the decor somewhere between private members club and literary salon. The restaurant is famed for its dry-aged prime beef, cooked on a specialist American Soutbend heavy-duty grill. Our meal of mainly French-German cuisine is pleasant and the building itself is impressive, with spacious rooms and a delightful patio.
Proceedings began with starters of stuffed artichoke with zucchini and pumpkin salad and a Porchini and Fig Terrine – a hit and a miss, respectively. A tasty duck consommé was more promising. Delicious, in fact.
For the main event, we ordered Filet Mignon with ratatouille, and a fish dish of Yellowtail Amberjack with focaccia and black aioli. All in all, a very happening place with a lengthy menu, perhaps too lengthy.
Not quite in the mood for nightclubbing, we opt instead for a cocktail and a tour of this artfully dilapidated building. As you might expect from a former school, some of the rooms can hold up to 800 people.
It’s a perfect party pad, but it’s also a top spot for seminars, conferences, product launches and even photo shoots. Decent food, great setting, cheerful vibe….happy days.
Access All Areas
Don’t forget to grab your Berlin Welcome Card. This ‘magic’ pass gives access to the city’s comprehensive transport system, in addition to up to 50% discount at many of Berlin’s iconic venues. Starting at €19,90 for 48 hours, it comes with a handy pocket-sized Guide Book and map.
One thing we discovered about Berlin is that it takes more than 3 days to peel those layers back. We shall return.