TO DESCRIBE THEIR city of 3.6 million people, Berliners love the quip “poor but sexy,” coined by Mayor Klaus Wowereit. The German capital may be financially poor, but almost 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is riding high on a wave of cultural prominence. The city has always been a place where locals get along, with their brisk sense of humor and energetic embrace of life. And thousands of students, artists, and free spirits have turned this bustling European metropolis into a unique, at times even wild, laboratory of 21st-century art, culture, and entertainment. June is the perfect time to dive into life here, as the streets in this surprisingly green city pulse with summertime activity.
Author Jürgen G. Scheunemann Photography Olaf Hauschulz
DAY THREE / Get up early and grab a quick breakfast at your hotel—your final day will require some traveling. The morning starts with a visit to one of the city’s most interesting, if sobering, museums, the Jüdisches Museum in Kreuzberg. You can choose to walk there from Hotel de Rome in 30 minutes (this is Europe) or else take a cab. Designed by Daniel Libeskind (whose plan is being used to redesign the World Trade Center site) and shaped like a broken star of David, the museum explores Jewish-German culture from the Middle Ages to the present.
Your next stop is western Berlin’s major boulevard, Kurfürstendamm, simply called “Ku’damm” by locals.
Take the U1 metro, leaving just a few steps from the museum, and disembark at Wittenbergplatz. Walk down the elegant shopping avenue, but also savor the quietude of hidden side streets such as Fasanen-, Meineke-, and Bleibtreustrasse, whose magnificent city mansions were home to many prominent, often Jewish, figures in the 1920s.
On bustling Breitscheidplatz, pause for a look at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche. The church, built from 1891 to 1895 in memory of Kaiser Wilhelm I, was heavily damaged in World War II and was left standing as a reminder of the horrors of war. Its nearby 1960s counterpart is a peaceful oasis—the heavenly blue light inside is most beautiful in the late afternoon.
After a thoughtful morning, head back to Wittenbergplatz and the Kaufhaus des Westens. The “KaDeWe” is to Berlin what Macy’s is to New York or Harrods to London. As continental Europe’s largest department store, it is also world-famous for its gourmet floor, where you can set out on a culinary trip around the world. Grab a seat at one of the show kitchen counters and order bouillabaisse, sushi, or just about anything else.
Next you’re off to the beautiful Prussian palace of Sanssouci, in Potsdam. The palace is an easy 30-to 40-minute ride via S-Bahn line 7 (from Zoologischer Garten), and it takes you into the mind and heart of 18th-century Prussian King Frederick the Great. In this palace, called Without Sorrow, he tried to escape his troubles with the Seven Years’ War (and his wife, for that matter). Take a walk through the lovely manicured gardens and tour the playful rococo palace, where the king once spent time with Voltaire, reading and playing the flute.
Don’t linger too long; you’re expected at one of the world’s epicenters of classical music, the Philharmonie. The golden tentlike structure is known for superb acoustics and concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, considered by many to be the best on the planet. Conductor Sir Simon Rattle will deliver an unforgettable experience.
Afterward, get some fresh air while walking to Hugos, where you’ll savor French-German nouvelle cuisine in the city’s only intimate gourmet restaurant with stunning views of the glittering skyline. Later, grab a taxi for some dancing at the hip bar/restaurant/club combo Spindler + Klatt. Finish the night relaxing on the sofas at Bangaluu, in the Mitte district, looking back on three days of the real-life adventure called Berlin.
Jürgen G. Scheunemann, a longtime HEMISPHERES
contributor, has lived in Berlin for 20 years. He is the author of several travel and history books on the city.
Berlin has a mild but wet Northern European climate, with long winters and pleasant summers. The city gets most of its precipitation in the spring and late fall. June is a perfect time to visit, with temperatures in the mid- to upper 70s and rain limited to the occasional thunderstorm. You may need a light jacket at night, when lows can dip into the lower 50s. July and early August can be humid and hot; September and October feature a wealth of cultural events and great weather.
Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more Berlin climatological details, visit weather.com.
Tegel International Airport is 25 minutes from downtown by cab ( 20, US$31). Bus TXL or X09 from Tegel costs less. For getting around town, the public network includes the metro, S-Bahn trains, trams, and buses. The Welcome Card covers all the public network and gets you 50 percent off at many attractions. A three-day pass for Berlin and Potsdam for one adult and three children is 24.50 (US$38). Cabs are safe and easy to find; for short distances (up to 2 kilometers or about 1¼ miles), ask for the Kurzstreckentarif, or short-distance fare, costing 3.50 (US$5.50).
A Zoologischer Garten and Aquarium (Tel: 49-30-254020) Knut the polar bear and 14,000 other animals
B Deutsches Technikmuseum (Tel: 49-30-902540) Old trains, planes, and machines
C Filmpark Babelsberg (Tel: 49-331-7212738) A film park in Potsdam with special-effects and stunt shows