Since everyone we know has already moved, will move or is thinking about moving to Berlin, because it’s cheaper, younger, cooler, more expansive, historically more loaded, totally rogue, more German, and has better social welfare and baked goods, let’s look into what this city has to offer before you pack your bags.
When our pal JFK announced in 1963 “Ich bin ein Berliner,” half the world (well, half the German speaking world, smart alecks that they were) responded that JFK has unwittingly called himself a jelly donut. A “Berliner,” it went, is a deep-fried, sugar-powdered and jam filled yeasty bread product. What they failed to recognize is that only in Northern Germany – in Hamburg for example – is this morsel called a Berliner. In Munich it is a Krapfen and in Berlin it is in fact a Pfannkuchen. This should give you an indication of the German spirit: generally knowing everything a little better than you do, even when they don’t… And obsessed with carbs.
What Berlin has, aside from Berliners (of the bread and human variety) is a plethora of stores, museums, galleries, and wonderful restaurants you can spend all your time exploring. And because Berliners have a —shall we say— more relaxed attitude to work, you really can!
The most iconic and arguably one of the best luxury stores in the world is Andreas Murkudis. At this point Murkudis has a cluster of different shops around Berlin that cater to different customers and desires, but this 11,000 square foot concept store in the former offices of the Berliner Tagesspiegel is an exhibition space, design store, one off luxury purveyor and chocolate merchant. Most retailers are brought to their knees by Murkudis’ spectacular eye, unwavering taste levels and quietly forceful demeanor.
A former Murkudis manager opened MDC Kosmetik, a perfectly curated and lovely beauty shop tucked away on a side street in the still-hip neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg and carries some of the best and hardest-to-find beauty products in the world, some of which I’ve written about on this blog. Beauty treatments are also available, and if there’s something we all know about us Germans it’s our meticulousness.
Berlin is known for the tiny, specialty stores that line its streets. DSTM, which stands for Don’t Shoot the Messenger, is the brainchild of expat Jen Gilpin, whose husband Maxime Ballesteros is the wonderful and cheeky Purple Magazine photographer. Everything in the store is black, and Jen works black leather and silk experimentally to create a sculptural and sensual collection of pieces you can wear privately or publicly. Under a wrap dress her daring tights are just the thing.
Of course, if you’re running out of DVF, there’s always French department store Galeries Lafayette, where the stunning resort collection is just waiting for you to give it a home.
One of my favorite home stores ParkHaus, also in Mitte, has a stunning selection of useful and useless home goods. Beautiful and unusual antiques are dotted through the store alongside taxidermied crows, porcelain cobras, hand-carved chopping boards, miniature pianos, a highly curated section of children’s books and mustard yellow macraméd poufs. It is about as eclectic as the city itself and I never leave the store without finding at least one essential item to take with me (see: porcelain cobra).
Since we’ve done enough shopping for one lifetime, the second most important thing to do is eat.
Berlin is home to some of the most adventurous restaurants in Germany that you’d almost forget the real stalwarts like Borchardt. Reopened in 1992 this 150-year-old former delicatessen purveyor to Kaiser Wilhelm is now the only place one might ever consider for an honest Schnitzel, people watching and a four-hour lunch. The simplest meal is often the best. This isn’t a Viennese Schnitzel, this is the real Berlin deal, hammered paper-thin and served with a spoonful of currant jam and roast potatoes, it is truly irresistible (unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case there is a chocolate shop across the street).
On the newer end of the spectrum is Crackers. Open for little more than two months in the legendary Cookies nightclub space, it promises to be everything one could hope for and more: local food in brave new iterations, excellent music and NO CLOSING TIME Tuesday through Saturday. Berlin at its finest.
If you, like me, are primarily concerned with the excellence of German bread, go no further than the Hofpfistere (literally: the Royal Baker) where you will find the holy Berliner/Krapfen/Pfannkuchen and the finest, most organic, sustainable and TASTIEST bread in the known universe.
If Berlin has anything in abundance, it’s museums. It even has a MUSEUM ISLAND! It’s hard to pick favorites but two museums I never miss visiting even if I am only in the city for 24 hours are the Pergamon Museum and the Kupferstichkabinet.
The Pergamon Museum houses two of the most impressive artifacts: The Pergamon altar, excavated by German archeologist Carl Humann and then transported piece by piece from Greece to Berlin between 1878 and 1886, the structure is 35.64 metres wide and 33.4 metres deep. It is one of the most breathtaking monuments of Ancient Greek civilization to behold. Once you leave the alter room you move through a reconstruction of the Gates of Ishtar, the 8th Gate to the inner city of Babylon, a wonder in blue, and equally breathtaking. The scale of both pieces makes this museum a never-dulling experience.
The Kupferstichkabinett, the museum of drawing and prints, is an altogether less overwhelming experience, featuring drawings by the great German artist Albrecht Durer, Sandro Botticelli’s illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy and a host of others including Kirchner, Rembrandt, Breugel and Warhol.
If you’re after contemporary art, and its purchase, no better place to go than Blain Southern. Harry Blain and Graham Southern, former CEO and director of London’s Haunch of Venison gallery, opened this Berlin outpost in 2010 in the same compound as Andreas Murkudis. With an arsenal of artists and estates that include Lucien Freud’s and Lynn Chadwick’s as well as living artist Mat Collishaw and artist duo Tim Noble and Sue Webster, you will want to make sure to save enough money after your AM spree to get your hands on at least one or two spectacular pieces.