30 years after the Berlin Wall came down, Damien Gabet pays a visit to a city which is vibrant, cosmopolitan and has settled perfectly into its post-modern maturity.
Nora Durstewitz, a life-long Berliner, remembers her parents saying to her: ‘You don’t know how lucky you are, you can go anywhere — we were stuck!’
Today, it’s hard to think of Berlin as anything other than open — politically and socially — but, until the Berlin Wall came down, 30 years ago this month, the opposite was entirely true for those living in East Germany. The anniversary is an emotional one for the city and its residents intend to commemorate and celebrate accordingly, with some knock-out events and exhibitions.
Although there’s much to learn about Berlin’s chequered past, a long weekend should also be about exploring everything this remarkably laid-back capital offers today.
Of all its districts, Kreuzberg best represents the city’s post-modern maturity. Once a ‘dead-end for squatters, freaks and punks’, according to Berlin Cityguide Alex Strauch, it’s now the coolest part of town. Anarchy has settled into creativity, ushering in galleries and independent shops, characterful cocktail bars and hip restaurants.
A short walk from its centre, you’ll stumble across the beautiful Oberbaum Bridge, once a checkpoint between East and West. The longest-remaining stretch of Wall, at 1.3km (just under one mile) and now the canvas of the open-air East Side Gallery, stands on the other side of the bridge.
British Airways flies from London to Berlin from £39 each way www.ba.com/berlin; Visit Berlin can arrange guided Berlin Wall tours www.visitberlin.de/en
Where to stay
The newish Hotel Orania Berlin, in the aforementioned Kreuzberg area, is the place to stay. The hotel is wonderfully sophisticated and there is substance as well as style, in the form of a carefully curated cultural programme.
Sit down to drinks or dinner (the signature Peking duck is a must) any night of the week and you’ll hear fantastic-quality live music spanning multiple eras.
Rooms from €270 (about £236) per night, including breakfast and tickets to all concerts at the hotel — www.orania.berlin
What to eat
If nothing but Michelin-level dining will do, book into Le Faubourg on Kurfürstendamm: new chef René Klages conjures up plates of superlative modern European food.
If you’d rather dine in jeans, try Max Und Moritz for authentic German cuisine. Steak lovers will swoon for the menu and decadent interiors at The Grand, in Mitte; street-foodies should try Markthalle Neun, where vendors sell specialty bites spanning Tibetan momos to Mexican tacos.
Things to do
The East Side Gallery murals, painted directly onto the Berlin Wall remnants, are a fantastic place to start.
Move on to the Berlin Wall Memorial for an elevated view of the inter-wall Death Strip and don’t miss the Stasi Museum, where knowledgeable guides will lead you through the murky world of East Germany’s secret police.
Want more? Visit Die Mauer, where artist Yadegar Asisi has created a 360-degree, 50ft-high panorama piece, depicting an autumn day in 1980s Berlin.
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