Travel Diary: Navigating the Charms of East and West Berlin

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city still possesses two very different vibes. As Sarah Treleaven discovers, head west for old-school European charm and east for everything else

Brandenburg Gate
Mitte’s circa-late-18th-century Brandenburg Gate.
(Photo: WOLFGANG SCHOLVIEN)

The scar that runs down the centre of Berlin denotes not just a divided history but also an enduring divergence. You can still think of Berlin as two wildly different cities: the west is prim and sophisticated, while the east remains a magnet for artists and other scenesters who flock to the waffle stands, cheap studio space and all-night parties.

Chocolates and Tchotchkes

For classic western European charm, explore Charlottenburg. Here you can find both international luxury (Chanel, Saint Laurent, Valentino) and smaller bougie boutiques on the Ku’damm—try Leysieffer (leysieffer.de) for handmade espresso truffles and Manufactum (manufactum.com), on a nearby street, for all manner of goods, from olive-oil soap to pocket watches. While the key eastern neighbourhoods of Prenzlauer Berg, Mitte, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are rapidly gentrifying, there are still flea markets galore. If you enjoy the odd bedfellows of Soviet Union–era knickknacks (vintage posters, china dolls) and karaoke, head over to Mauerpark on a Sunday. (While there, check out graffitied remnants of the Berlin Wall.) And don’t miss the east’s emerging fashion scene. Vladimir Karaleev (vladimirkaraleev.com) designs offbeat basics, while Canadian transplant Jen Gilpin’s Don’t Shoot the Messengers (dstm.co) sculpts black leather and silk; Lady Gaga is a fan.

Mauerpark
Visit Mauerpark on a Sunday for its eclectic flea market.
(Photo: Rex USA)
Don’t Shoot the Messengers
A look from Don’t Shoot the Messengers’ fall collection.
(Photo: MAXIME BALL ESTEROS)

Currywurst and Coffee

Berlin isn’t exactly a foodie destination yet; the local snack, currywurst, is a low-rent sausage covered in ketchup and curry powder (that said, I love Curry 36; curry36.de). The west embodies civilized café culture; try Brel (cafebrel.de) for frog’s legs, live piano and Parisian levels of contemptuous service. But much of the vastly improving culinary scene is in the east. I stopped by sunny Alpenstueck (alpenstueck.de) for a freshly baked cinnamon bun, then had an impeccable americano made by a slow-moving American barista at Bonanza Coffee (bonanzacoffee.de). Later, I indulged in fluffy waffles at Kauf Dich Glücklich (kaufdichgluecklich.de), then scored a seat at Schneeweiss (schneeweiss-berlin.de) for wiener schnitzel with warm potato salad. (The Germans have not yet embraced kale.)

Aplenstueck
Hit up Aplenstueck for an ace cinnamon roll.
(Photo: VisitBerlin)
Schneeweiss
In the east, head to Schneeweiss for schnitzel and warm potato salad.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Berlin after dark has something for everyone: classic cafés, cozy bars and 24-7 megaclubs. In the west, engage in one of the city’s oldest activities by whiling away hours in a beer garden. The Tiergarten—a huge park—has the lakeside Café am Neuen See (cafeamneuensee.de), where you can consume vast quantities of pilsner while surrounded by multiple generations of Germans. In the east, try Weinerei’s (weinerei.com) “wine tasting buffet” (you rent the glass and then sample whatever you like), Luzia’s (luzia.tc) shabby-chic vibe, and techno temples Berghain (berghain.de) and Ritter Butzke (ritterbutzke.com)—Berlin is the European capital of EDM.

Berghain
Berghain, which remains one of the top EDM clubs in the world.
(Photo: Getty Images)

Counting Schafe

When it comes to getting your Zs, the coolest kid on the (east) block is the new Soho House (sohohouseberlin.com); the former home to the Communist Party archives is now complete with chi-chi spa and rooftop pool. The west has the glitzy Ritz-Carlton (ritzcarlton.com) near Potsdamer Platz, a former no-man’s land. Expect pillow menus, Asprey amenities and a sleek new bar that offers mixology guided by scent.

Soho House Berlin
The opulent Soho House Berlin in Mitte.

 

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