Berlin is electric. Two decades after the fall of the Wall, its aftershocks still reverberate through every avant-garde gallery and underground club. While the ghosts of Hitler and Stalin linger in the city’s architectural bones, Berlin’s young generation has chosen to transform the past into something liberating. Everywhere, particularly in the fashionable Mitte district, former fortresses to fascism now shelter art galleries, museums and bars.There are more than 500 galleries in the city—including cool new “pop-up” art spaces—and plenty of chic new boutique hotels, including the Amano, the Casa Camper and the party-friendly Soho House that has decamped in the former East German Communist headquarters. In the past month alone, a half-dozen notable fashion boutiques opened in Berlin, among them Pastpresent, an arty concept store selling vintage finds and Berlin buzz brands like Sleep is Commercial and 24/7 Suits.
Berlin’s creative boom rivals even the smoky jazz club and flirty-flapper cabaret heyday of the early 1920s Weimar Republic. But while the city that embraced the rule-breaking Bauhaus movement may have found a new role as the unofficial art capital of Europe, it’s nothing like Paris or New York: No one teeters around its cobblestone streets in high heels, no one asks what anyone else does for a living or how much they make doing it.
Art collector or starving artist, you spend your days navigating Berlin by bicycle and your nights gliding in and out of parties without lines and insider-y night spots (like the unmarked Tausend, hidden under an overpass). The Berlin party scene is not for the faint of heart, often wrapping up at 5 a.m.
A laid-back feeling hangs over weekends in Berlin, which consist of sleeping late and poking around the flea markets. The weekday social calendar, a shuffle of gallery openings and late-night DJ sessions, makes a visitor wonder if anyone in Berlin ever works. In fact, Berliners are on double duty: Their devotion to sustaining the city’s creative life is matched by a determination to live it too.
Vanessa Von Bismarck
Co-founder of fashion PR company BCPM, descendent of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
Gossip Central: 6 Borchardt. This French-German bistro is Berlin’s version of Michael’s in New York. The social crew dines here, and so do artists and international actors. It’s what Berlin is becoming. Französische Str. 47, borchardt-catering.de
Designer Couture: The Corner. It’s a three-level mini-department store co-created by Joseph Voelk, who’s setting the tone for German fashion. Voelk was buying Proenza Schouler when no one in Germany had heard of them. It’s the Berlin store that gets what’s going on in Paris, Milan and New York. Französische Str. 40, thecornerberlin.de
Supper Club: The Shy Chef. This place is thrilling because you’re actually dining in a circa 1888 private residence. It’s high-end, pan-European cooking, a five-course meal. Underground supper clubs are a bit of a Berlin trend now. theshychef.wordpress.com
Girly Things: Blush. This lingerie boutique in Mitte carries high-end labels like La Perla and Eres. It’s fun to go there with a girlfriend, even make a day of it, playing dress up. Rosa Luxemburg Str. 22, blush-berlin.com
One-Stop Shop: Andreas Murkudis. A concept store focused on avant-garde designers and new German lines, the place has a distinct collection of casual wear and home accessories. Münzstrasse 21, 1 und 2 Hof, andreasmurkudis.net
Vice President of Communications at Hugo Boss.
Seconds-Hand Store: 8 Uhren Bischoff. Despite the hundreds of tick-tocks you hear when walking into this antique watch and clock repair shop, it’s as if time has stopped there. They sell vintage Rolexes and forgotten brands. Pestalozzi Str. 54, uhren-bischoff.de
Luxe Lair: 4 Quartier 206. This department store carries Berlin’s finest womenswear, and also has a wonderful men’s shirt department. You can buy China, jeans, books, even flowers there, or have a tea and cake in the café. Friedrich Str. 71, quartier206.com
Hot Label: 5 C’est Tout. Few of Berlin’s young designers have their own stores, but this newcomer has two. It’s well made but not too formal—mostly jersey and good flows to the cuts. Mulack Str. 26, cesttout.de
Arts & Crafts: 2 KPM. This shop and showroom is expensive but sells small things like egg cups and figurines. The style is traditional and understated, but that counts as “modern” these days. Wegely Str. 1, en.kpm-berlin.com
Place to Get Lit: 7 Do You Read Me. This periodicals shop is a must for finding obscure or rare publications. And the shop’s signature tote bags have become a stylish accessory on nearly every Berliner’s arm. Auguststrasse 28, doyoureadme.de
Author of “Picasso and the Theater”; art curator; board member of Museum Berggruen.
Tiny Treasure: 3 Showroom Céline und Heiner Bastian. Bastian was very close to Joseph Beuys, Cy Twombly and the filmmaker Wim Wenders and it shows in the contemporary art gallery’s selections. Am Kupfergraben 10
Artists-“Inn”-Residence: 9 Askanischer Hof. The late photographer Helmut Newton always stayed at this charming little hotel when he visited Berlin. It only has 16 rooms, but each one is different. The 1920s décor is filled with chintz, old sofas and books. Kurfürstendamm 53, askanischer-hof.de
Gallery That Could: Nice And Fit. This conceptual art gallery is not one of those big, slick galleries. It’s relaxed and it represents Whitney Biennial contenders. Brunnen Str. 13, niceandfitgallery.com
Art Au Naturel: Villa Schöningen. The 165-year-old building has been a contemporary museum since 2007. There’s a lovely sculpture garden in the back of the villa. Berliner Str. 86, villa-schoeningen.de
Verboten No More: The Boros Collection. This bunker’s 1942 construction was overseen by Hitler’s architect Albert Speer. The former banana warehouse now houses Christian Boros’s private art collection. It includes artists like Anselm Reyle, Olafur Eliasson and Damien Hirst and is open to the public. Reinhardt Str. 20, sammlung-boros.de
Founder, SoHo House clubs and hotels, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles; world traveler.
Best Budget Hotel: The Circus Hotel. This arty boutique hotel near Mitte caters to young artists on budgets. The décor is spare, with platform floor beds and colorful walls. Its sister hostel across the street has a basement speakeasy with weekend karaoke. Rosenthaler Str. 1, circus-berlin.net
Watering Hole: Paris Bar. This Charlottenburg bistro is a post-war classic. Its red walls are covered in old and new art, as well as paparazzi shots of actors and famous artists who’ve drank there. Kantstrasse 152, parisbar.de
Model Sighting: 1 Chipps. This corner bistro and bar opened to big buzz this spring from the man behind the legendary Berlin club Cookies. It pulls in a hot, young crowd that doesn’t mind the fact that it’s in a weird district of Mitte, where office buildings and posh townhouses share space. Jäger Str. 35, chipps.eu
Best Dive: Badeschiff. This floating public swimming pool, which hovers over the River Spree, was created out of a ship hull. Deejays play at night, and there’s a bar too. Eichen Str. 4, arena-berlin.de/badeschiff.aspx
Ultimate Scene: Grill Royal. The it-restaurant of Berlin right now. Broke or rich, if you’re cool, you’re there—so long as you know how to dress and talk. Friedrich Str. 105b, grillroyal.com
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