Three decades after the Cold War, the once-divided city of Berlin has transformed into a significant cultural centre, with world-class museums and a thriving network of around 450 galleries. Since the fall of the Wall, artists from around the world have flocked to work and exhibit in the city.
Meanwhile, the project to reunify Berlin’s cultural treasures and renovate its museums continues. In 2019 the Humboldt Forum will bring Asian art and ethnography collections to the city centre. Several museums in the historic museum quarter - the Museumsinsel (Museum Island), which was in East Germany until 1989 - have already been renovated: the Alte Nationalgalerie in 2001, the Bode Museum in 2006 and the Neues Museum in 2009. On the west side of the city, the Mies van der Rohe-designed Neue Nationalgalerie (part of the Kulturforum collection of museums, libraries and concert halls built in post-war West Berlin) will reopen in 2019. The Pergamonmuseum, housing artefacts from the ancient world, is undergoing restoration in phases, allowing it to remain open to the public. It should be completed by 2025/2026.
MUSEUMS IN BERLIN
Museumsinsel and Nearby
The Bode Museum houses an exceptional collection of Byzantine and European art, including early Renaissance sculptures.
The Alte Nationalgalerie, founded in 1862, houses one of the world’s finest collections of French Impressionism and early Modernism.
From 1701 until 1918, Berlin was the capital of Prussia, and nowhere is its royal heritage more pronounced than in the striking Neoclassical building of the Altes Museum. Designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel it houses the Antikensammlung Berlin (classical antiquities collection).
Housing such monumental constructions as the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, the Market Gate of Miletus, and the great Hellenistic Pergamon altar, the Pergamonmuseum is home to 270,000 artefacts from ancient Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia.
Kulturforum and Nearby
The Gemäldegalerie first opened in 1830, however the current building was completed in 1998. With a pre-eminent collection of 13th to 18th century European painting, the gallery houses works by Botticelli, Dürer, Rubens, Titian and Rembrandt among others.
The Martin-Gropius-Bau is Berlin’s most important temporary exhibition space.
Across the City Centre
Hamburger Bahnhof — Museum für Gegenwart (Museum of the Present)
In the mid-1980s, the construction magnate Erich Marx offered his private collection of contemporary art to Berlin. This galvanised the city to transform the Neoclassical former railway station into a gallery. The Hamburger Bahnhof now exhibits works from several donated collections, including works by Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Katharina Fritsch.
At the heart of the Museum Berggruen is a substantial collection of works by artists including Picasso, Klee and Matisse, donated by the Berlin-born art dealer Heinz Berggruen over a number of years.
BEYOND MUSEUMS: OUR RECOMMENDATIONS
WHERE TO EAT IN BERLIN
The Paris Bar, its walls covered by dozens of paintings by Martin Kippenberger, has been a meeting place for Berlin’s artistic set for 40 years. Its champagne selection is outstanding.
Kantstraße 152, 10623 Berlin-Charlottenburg
Signore Maselli has brought his native Pugliese cuisine to the heart of Kreuzberg at Maselli Ristorante. Specialities include bombetta, slices of pork wrapped around provolone and charcoal-roasted on a skewer, and the house limoncello.
Nostitzstraße 49, 10961 Berlin-Kreuzberg
With only one option on the menu, Henne has served its milk-roasted chicken to Kreuzberg locals for a century. If it’s too cold to sit in the garden, the tartan 1907 dining room is a cosy alternative.
Leuschnerdamm 25, 10999 Berlin-Kreuzberg
WHERE TO DRINK IN BERLIN: CULTURAL CAFES
Lerchen & Eulen
Lerchen & Eulen is a vibrant, trendy Kreuzberg bar. It is small enough to feel cosy in the early evening but roomy enough to pack in a crowd once the whisky sours start flowing. Return in the morning for the area’s best coffee.
Pücklerstraße 33, 10997 Berlin-Kreuzberg
A Viennese-style cafe, Lebensstern has built a reputation for its cocktails. An illegal casino in the 1920s, the first floor has an oak-panelled library. The bar’s spirits list runs to more than 1,500, including 600 rums and 150 gins, many of which are rarities.
Kurfürstenstraße 58, 10785 Berlin-Mitte
WHERE TO STAY IN BERLIN: ART HOTELS
Das Stue is a boutique luxury hotel based in the former Royal Danish Embassy. It has a Michelin-starred avant-garde Mediterranean restaurant run by chef Paco Pérez, and is renowned for its nine-course Gran Viaje tasting menu.
Drakestraße 1, 10787 Berlin-Mitte
The recently opened Provocateur Hotel received the German Design Award 2018 for Interior Architecture for its exuberant design by Amsterdam-based Saar Zafrir, inspired by inter-war Paris. The hotel’s French-Chinese restaurant is run by renowned chef Duc Ngo.
Brandenburgische Strasse 21, 10707 Berlin-Charlottenburg
For museum lovers, the cosy Monbijou Hotel could hardly be better located, next to the Museumsinsel.
Monbijouplatz 1, 10178 Berlin-Mitte
NAVIGATING THE CITY
Berlin is pedestrian and cycle friendly. Walking between the Museumsinsel and Kulturforum takes only half an hour, for example. There are separate cycle lanes across the city, and daily bike hire is inexpensive.
Public transport is quick and cheap. The easiest way to navigate it is by using the Citymapper app.
The city was one of the first to ban Uber taxis, but a raft of replacements has already emerged, with My Taxi popular with locals. Taxis hailed in the street offer a Kurzstreckentarif (short distance fare) for journeys under 2km.