Ich Bin Ein Berliner! Words made famous by John F. Kennedy as he proudly proclaimed himself a citizen of Berlin. Should you ever get the chance to visit this wondrous city, you may find yourself making similar proclamations! Strolling through this European epicenter while enjoying a beer on a cool summer day, shopping the back streets of the KuDamm, making your way through the Tiergarten hand-in-hand with the one you love, nothing on your mind but what to do for dinner; these are all incomparable experiences that offer just a small taste of what Berlin has to offer.
Sure, I am a little biased having been born just a few miles from the Mitte(downtown) district of this capital city, but I am not alone in my enthusiasm for Berlin. Among the major cities of Europe, Berlin ranks at the top for partygoers. With its high energy, exotic night life, all night bars and eclectic culture that welcomes tourists and locals alike, the city has something for everyone. Berlin has now officially passed London and Paris as Europe’s cultural mecca! I would be remiss to not encourage you to schedule a trip to the New Berlin as soon as possible.
Berlin ranks at the top for partygoers with its high energy, exotic night life, all-night bars, and an eclectic culture that is welcoming to tourists and locals alike.
– TIM, HE WINES
For those of you who love food (and if you don’t love food then why are you here?), I have some advice: take a few steps off the beaten path and enjoy more of what the city has to offer than just a street sausage and an expensive beer in the tourist areas. Lucky for you, I’m here to make you aware of the some of the best spots with some of the best food! Grab your keys and a rail pass, we’re going on a journey to the best of Berlin!
If you go to the German capital for business or to see the sites, you will surely find yourself in Mitte, the downtown sector of the city, where the restaurants are abundant. There are so many places to eat in Mitte, many of them are incredible, but be aware, they usually come with a heftier price tag than the spots on the back streets. A great place in Mitte to hit by day or night is Sagrantino (http://www.sagrantino-winebar.de). It is located just steps from the Gendarmenmarkt, a few blocks from the US Embassy and Brandenburg Gate. This little Italian gem is tucked away on the Behrenstrasse across from the Westin Grand Hotel. During the day, they have a great patio and a staff that all speak Italian, serving the “Business Lunch”. They always know how to make you feel welcome! Try any of the handmade pastas, the raviolis that change daily, and the salads that are as generous as the pasta is filling. There are no bad choices at Sagrantino. They are open until around midnight most days, which is rare in Mitte. The dining room is dark, lit by candles, and perfect for a great dinner with friends or a romantic evening. This is my stomping ground, I’ve stayed on this street for years and it has become my go-to after a long day. Comfort food, great wine, and really reasonable prices!
There are endless choices in Mitte for food of all styles and price points, but let’s face it, when in Germany we want Beer, and more beer, oh and maybe some sausage , a pretzel, a pork knuckle…and oh yeah, more beer! There is a “German” restaurant on every corner trying to entice you with the typical fare, but do yourself a favor and skip the hot blonde hostess and head to where the men sit you down: The Augustiner! (http://www.augustiner-braeu-berlin.de) Located on Charlottenstrasse in the Gendarmenmarkt, this place boasts some of Germany’s oldest and most famous beers. The bartender has been tapping kegs since he was a kid and the beer is phenomenal tasting, ice cold, and nicely priced. While at the Augustiner, try the sausage plate with sauerkraut or their amazing pork knuckle. This is Bavarian food served in an authentic environment by passionate professionals with a real love for beer! While we are on the subject of Bavarians, I should also mention Maximilian’s, located on the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Kronenstrasse.(http://www.maximilians-berlin.de). Max serves my all time favorite beer, Paulaner; and the bartenders are serious purists!
Depending on the time of year, grab a seat outside at any of my Mitte favs and watch the tourists as they stroll by. After a few liters of beer, stop by the French department store Galleries LaFayette (think Neiman Marcus in Europe), just across the street on the Friedrichstrasse. Sure you can pick up a cool shirt here to wear to the club tonight, but I always stop in the lower level to pick up a Steak Hache and a cold Radeberger beer! For around 10 Euros your tastebuds will be in awe. You also might run into the German President, who is so down to Earth she frequently shops the wines and cheeses at the Lafayette by herself, with only one trailing security person.
We stay in Mitte on our trips, and when it gets late and you’re hungry I suggest a short but scenic walk to the Spree River bank and a look in at all the restaurants. You will find street bands, vendors and the obligatory Starbucks along the way. Most of the restaurants here have a riverside patio with a delightful view and an equally delightful menu. The standout for me is Berliner Republik, (http://www.die-berliner- republik.de) where they have a virtual stock market of beers, where prices fluctuate based upon what’s being bought at the moment (gimmicky but fun) and the food is out of this world. This throwback to the old DDR (or Russian Sector) has a cool vibe and is open late into the night (and morning)to catch after-bar crowds and hungry Americans with jetlag. If this is your first trip to Germany try the Rinderroulade. It’s a roasted beef flank prepared with mustard and pickles inside, then smothered in gravy! I crave it like a hot fudge sundae.
In Mitte you will definitely want to see all the historical sites, but eventually, you have to travel west to experience the best of Berlin. The most popular spot in Berlin to shop ‘till you drop is the KuDamm, or local lingo for Kurfurstendamm. The Ku Damm is essentially the German version of 5th Avenue or the Champs-Elysees. It’s just over 2 miles of shopping, dining and various other money pits that most tourists can’t resist. Brands like Seven, Bottega Veneta, Bvlgari, Burberry, Boss, Rolex, Prada, Hermes, Kors, Versace and hundreds of others all have store fronts ready to welcome you and your deep pockets! I recommend starting in the middle, jump on the U-Bahn train system to Wittenbergplatz or take a taxi to the KaDeWe, or Shop of the West. (http://shop.kadewe.de) Don’t worry; every single form of transport in the city knows this place! It is Berlin’s original department store and was made famous during the Cold War as a place where you could find all things western culture! Today it is a massive 7-story department store with every brand and style you can think of.
We don’t want to tell you where to shop, just where to eat! So if you love to eat and drink like we do, head to the 6th floor and walk every inch of it. Here you will find chefs stationed at every cuisine counter your stomach has the capacity to crave. Fish, burgers, sandwiches, gourmet bakeries, chocolatiers, as well as wine and champagne counters from all the favorite brands. We stopped at the Vueve Clicquot counter for a glass of the Vintage Rose, 2004, 14 Euro a glass, and stayed for three! Ask to enjoy it in the Grande Dame glass. This wide bottom flute glass will help you unlock the aromas of the vintage champagne and really smell the berry and hints of jam locked into this glass of perfection. We opted for the anti-pasti counter where we enjoyed a Buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes or Caprese Buffel salad at the counter with a beer. As you watch your chef prepare the salad in front of you, you’re sure to have an appreciation for the artistry put into your dish and the quality available at this famous department store. When it’s time for dinner, take a short walk to Petrocelli’s (see review here), but pass the one in the KuDamm in favor of the Savigniplatz location.
If you are in town as a tourist it’s hard to pull yourself off the normal grid, and most people will tell you La Malga is too far. Don’t listen to those people! Trust me, it’s worth every Euro on a taxi (or you can grab an hourly car from DriveNow) because La Malga is my favorite Italian restaurant in the city and maybe the best I have ever dined in period (read review here).
Another non-touristy spot where you can enjoy a liter of the finest man made liquid gold Germany has to offer requires a quick ride to Potsdam. It’s about 50 minutes by S- Bahn(city train) or a little quicker by car, and you will arrive in the Capital of the State of Brandenburg and former home of the Prussian Kings. The amazing castle at Sanssouci will keep you entertained as you walk through the endless gardens, tree orchards and castles on the property. After this scenic stroll, you will be hungry, and that’s when it’s time to head to the Gasthaus Brauerei (http://www.meierei-potsdam.de). Any taxi driver can take you there. It is situated on a beautiful lake in a neighborhood lined with trees and multi-million dollars homes that host an old world, mystic, and a medieval charm. The beer is outstanding. The Pilsner is a classic German brew, but if you want a treat go for the Berliner Weisee, a wheat beer that tastes very similar to a Blue Moon in the States. The Pretzels are authentic and the Sausage and Kraut compliment the fresh brewed ale to perfection, and because this place is out of town, it will only set you back about $40 for 4-5 beers, two entrees and a load of pretzels!
Finally, it’s time to really go where the locals go for an afternoon beer when the weather is nice: The Tiergarten (Germans the to get outdoors when they can, probably because when it gets cold and rainy the country can be more depressing than a summer in Seattle). The Tiergarten is their version of Central Park and it may be just as spectacular if not better; this 520 acre park was once a hunting ground, now an urban park and the home to the German President, various historical markers, and Embassy row. If you are staying in Mitte or anywhere close, rent a bike and take the short trip to Café am neuen (http://www.cafeamneuensee.de). If you hit Berlin in the spring or summer do not miss it! This classic, giant Biergarten is home to a lake, hundreds of communal tables, and all the beer you can drink, along with food so good it makes it hard to choose one entree. They have massive pretzels to go with beer, as well as handmade pizzas, sausage (of course) and many other “beer foods”. For the snobs in the bunch, there is a white table cloth/fine dining section, complete with waiters and overpriced drinks, but the same views and ambiance all under a canopy of hundred- year-old trees. It’s a great place for couples, families, and groups of guys who want to meet girls, or girls who want to meet guys (look, it’s great for everyone). This place is not on the tourist map, but trust me, just find your way there and thank me later.
We hope you use our feature as your roadmap to all the delectable foods and stunning locales that Berlin has to offer!