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Berlin, Germany

A Phoenix on the Rise
Berlin Has Reinvented Itself
Day 1 / Where to Stay
Day 2 / Where to Eat
Day 3 /  What to See & Do

Nikolaiviertel
Nikolaiviertel

DAY 2

Get up early, grab breakfast at the hotel and a cab to the Reichstag (Kurzstrecke tariff suffices if staying at the hotels mentioned above). Completed in 1894, the Reichstag is the historic anchor of Berlin's new federal government quarter and the place where the German parliament hammers out its policies. The reason you're here early is to avoid the long line for the free elevator ride to the top where a glistening glass dome has become a beacon of the New Berlin. Designed by Lord Norman Foster during a complete overhaul of the building in the 1990s, the dome centers on a mirrored and angled funnel and sits right above the plenary hall. Soak up the panoramic views of the city and Tiergarten Park, then head back down and turn south to reach another landmark you might recognize as the Brandenburg Gate, the only relic of Berlin's 18th-century town wall. During the Cold War, the triumphal arch became an involuntary neighbor of the Berlin Wall and the backdrop to Ronald Reagan's famous 1987 challenge to Gorbachev to 'tear down this wall'. Now a cheery symbol of German reunification, one of its wings contains a tourist office, while the other houses a nondenominational contemplation room.

Reichstag
Reichstag

Twenty-four years earlier, in 1963, another U.S. president visited Berlin, famously proclaiming “Ich bin ein Berliner.” This was John F. Kennedy, of course, who still holds a special place in German hearts. That might explain why there's an entire Kennedy Museum right on Pariser Platz, the elegant square guarded by the Brandenburg Gate and the rebuilt 1907 Hotel Adlon Kempinski. Keep an eye out for famous faces as you enjoy a coffee break in the hotel’s grand fountain-studded lobby. Pariser Platz was obliterated during World War II and completely rebuilt after the fall of the Wall. There are many buildings surrounding this square, and the most recent addition is the American Embassy, which is expected to open in mid-2008.

Behind the imposing embassy is the football-field-sized Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in which Germany acknowledges its heavy historic burden. Designed by American architect Peter Eisenmann, it consists of 2711 sarcophagi-like columns rising up in somber silence and buttressed by a heart-wrenching subterranean exhibit about the Holocaust. Bizarrely, the bunker where Hitler met his demise isn't far from here. An explanatory panel in a parking lot at In den Ministergärten and Gertrud-Colmar-Strasse provides further information.

Looking south you'll spot the gleaming towers of Berlin's newest city quarter, the architecturally striking Potsdamer Platz. Built in the 1990s atop the Berlin Wall is"'Death Strip", a cool mix of shops, museums, theaters, hotels and restaurants. In February, it hosts a galaxy of stars during the Berlinale, one of Europe's most important and glamorous film festivals. Easily the most eye-catching of the Potsdamer Platz buildings is Helmut Jahn's Sony Center, whose bicycle-spoke-like roof changes color continuously through the night. Beneath this landmark canopy, the Museum für Film und Fernsehen (Museum of Film & TV) reveals nuggets about actors Marlene Dietrich, Fritz Lang and other German celluloid stars, while the latest US blockbusters screen next door at Cinestar, Berlin's only all-English megaplex. Meanwhile, the recently added Legoland Discovery Center scores big with the tot brigade.

Holocaust Mahnmal
Holocaust Mahnmal

The Potsdamer Platz quarter brims with lunch options. There's a food court in its shopping mall but those with more refined tastes should treat themselves to a meal at Facil, Michael Kempf's French emporium inside the Mandala Hotel. For vitamin-packed, carb-reduced fast food head to Weilands Wellfood with outside tables overlooking a placid pond.

So what's on the agenda in the afternoon? "Art-ficionados" should steer towards the renowned Kulturforum, a cluster of four museums and the world-class Philharmonie concert hall immediately west of Potsdamer Platz. The first museum to open—in 1968—was the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery), an edgy glass temple designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that presents Klee, Picasso, Kirchner and other 20th-century superstars. Nearby, the Gemäldegalerie (Picture Gallery) showcases a European roll call from the Middle Ages to the 18th century: Rembrandt to Renoir, Gainsborough to Goya.

History buffs, meanwhile, might be more interested in visiting the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand (German Resistance Memorial Center) just behind the Kulturforum. The exhibit occupies the very rooms where high-ranking officers led by Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg plotted the ill-fated assassination attempt on Hitler in 1944. Stauffenberg and some of his co-conspirators were executed in the courtyard that same night.

Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie
Vestiges of the Berlin wall
Vestiges of the Berlin wall

Afterwards, catch bus M29 down by the canal at Reichspietschufer for a quick ride to Checkpoint Charlie, the most incendiary of the Cold War-era border crossings between East and West Berlin. To learn more about the divided city, the Berlin Wall and the brave people who tried to escape across it, take a spin around the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, also known as the Mauermuseum (Wall Museum). (If you want to see the longest remaining stretch of the Wall, make a detour to the nearly one-mile long so-called East Side Gallery, which parallels the eastern bank of the Spree River just south of Ostbahnhof train station.)

Not far past Checkpoint Charlie, Gendarmenmarkt is Berlin's most beautiful square bookended by the domed German and French cathedrals with the famous Konzerthaus (Concert Hall) in between. This is the city at its ritziest where streets are lined with elegant hotels, restaurants and cocktail lounges. For dinner you might join the power crowd at Borchardt, known for possibly serving Berlin's best wiener schnitzel. A-list foodies (including Madonna and Matt Damon) also love the perky fare at family-owned Italian restaurant Bocca di Bacco. Call ahead for a table at either place or try scoring one at ultrahip Cookies Cream where you can nibble on gourmet vegetarian fare in a dimly lit industrial space behind the Hotel Westin. If you're here on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, work off those calories on the dance floor of the über-fashionable Cookies night club downstairs. It's so hip; in fact, it doesn't even need a sign. Look for the entrance next to the KPM porcelain shop near the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Unter den Linden. If you just want to wind down with a civilized night cap, head to Newton Bar on Gendarmenmarkt to sip your whiskey against a backdrop of photographer Helmut Newton's famous nudes.

Continue to Day 3

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Photos: © www.visitBerlin.de

P042706
(Updated 06/06/08 SG)

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