Evidence of the German capital’s troubled past stands alongside examples of its thrilling present, finds Jenny Southan.
This vast 630-acre park, known as the “green lung” of the city, can provide an opportunity for relaxation or sightseeing depending on your mood. It’s split in two by Strasse des 17 Juni and a good place to start is at the golden Victory Column – Barack Obama addressed a crowd of 200,000 people here in July last year. Head north along one of the many winding paths and you’ll stumble across modern sculptures and historical monuments, such as the striking Soviet War Memorial.
If you skirt along the banks of the River Spree, which runs along the edge of the north side of the park, you will also see Germany’s ultra-modern, glass-shelled government buildings. These include the Bundeskanzleramt (chancellery) and Paul-Lobe-Haus (parliamentary office), which are part of the relatively new government district.
Feeling peckish? Pick up a bratwurst (sausage sandwich) from a street vendor and eat it on the grass. Beware, though – while the Berlin Wall might be gone, the East German tradition of stripping off when enjoying leisure time hasn’t, so you might see more than you bargained for.
2. GALERIES LAFAYETTE
From the Tiergarten, cross the line marking where the Wall once stood and walk a couple of blocks to Friedrichstrasse. At number 76-78 you will see a curved glass and steel building called Quartier 205, which is home to the art deco-style Galeries Lafayette, a branch of the iconic French department store. Here you will find everything from perfume and designer clothes to high-quality champagne, cheese, seafood, foie gras and wine. But it’s worth visiting for the gleaming futuristic interior alone. Designed by Jean Nouvel, the central atrium comprises two giant glass-panelled cones (one stretching up from the ground floor to the roof, the other inverted and spanning four floors below) that together form rainbow-tinted walls, through which you can see people walking around. Open Mon-Sat 10am-8pm; galeries-lafayette.de
Exiting Quartier 205 on Charlottenstrasse, you will emerge on to the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt. Dating back to the 18th century, the square earned its name from the cuirassier regiment of gens d’armes (mounted cavalry in the army of Frederik the Great of Prussia) that was deployed here until 1773.
The neoclassical building in the centre of the square is the Konzerthaus Berlin. Badly damaged during the Second World War, it was completely restored by 1984 and now hundreds of events take place in its four halls. To the left sits the terracotta-roofed Franzosischer Dom, a Protestant church that houses an exhibition devoted to the history of French Protestantism and the Huguenots in Berlin (open 12pm-5pm, closed Mondays, free entry). To the other side of the Konzerthaus stands the Deutscher Dom – a victim of fire in 1945, it was reopened in 1996 as a cathedral and a museum of German political history (open 10am-7pm, closed Mondays, free entry). Visit konzerthaus.de, franzoesische-kirche.de, bundestag.de
4. FASSBENDER AND RAUSCH
Cross the street and you’ll come to a truly decadent shop offering not only a mouth-watering array of handmade truffles, nutty pralines and slabs of marbled chocolate, but a few of Berlin’s most famous sights recreated in edible form. Even if you are not looking to buy, it is worth popping in to see the chocolate constructions of Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.
The company came into being in 1999 when two chocolate-making families – Fassbender and Rausch – joined forces, and is a great place to stop for a creamy cup of hot chocolate or even a cocoa-themed dinner in the restaurant. The shop is open daily from 10am-8pm (Sundays from 11am), while the café and restaurant are open from 11am-8pm. Charlottenstrasse 60; fassbender-rausch.de
This year is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and if you walk a short way to Zimmerstrasse, you will see a row of bricks in the road marking where East was once divided from West. From here you will easily spot the huge Hi-Flyer “Die Welt” balloon, located right on the border in what was once a no-man’s land between the two sides. Attached to the ground by a steel cable, it can take up to 30 passengers 150 metres into the air for sweeping views of the city. Open 10am-10pm in summer (until 12.30am Fri-Sat), and 11am-6pm in winter (7pm Fri-Sat). Tickets €19. Visit air-service-berlin.de
6. ANHALTER BAHNHOF
If you don’t have time for a balloon flight, continue left down Wilhelmstrasse into West Berlin to the ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof, located in an open area opposite the Topography of Terror, an outdoor exhibition dedicated to the Nazi Party and its crimes.
The Anhalter Bahnhof, built in 1841, was once one of Europe’s most important railway termini – by 1930, trains carrying an average of 44,000 people every day departed for destinations such as Rome, Athens and Naples.
However, during the Second World War, its purpose was far more sinister – many thousands of Jews were deported from this station to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, in what is now the Czech Republic. By 1945 the station was devastated by allied bombing, leaving only the façade of the main entrance, restored on several occasions since, as a reminder of its former legacy.
Berlin is famed for its thriving and often hard-to-locate dining and clubbing scene, but if you know where to go, you will be in for a treat. From Anhalter Bahnhof, cross the road to a modern tower block in a courtyard just off Stresemannstrasse at number 76. When you enter, you will be shown to a glowing red glass lift, which ascends on the outside of the building. On the 16th floor is Solar restaurant and on the 17th is a lounge bar with live DJs – this retro-chic venue offers panoramic views of the city (you can’t miss the Berlin TV tower) and a tempting German and international fusion menu.
The waiting staff are young, glamorous and confident, and the dishes are tantalising – choose from frappé of avocado soup with Tabasco sauce (€5) or wels catfish with Serrano ham, risotto and peas (€9) to start, or wiener schnitzel with potato salad (€18.50) or beef tenderloin with chanterelles and potato gratin (€28.50) for the main. Call Solar on +49 163 765 2700 as reservations are recommended. Open Mon-Thu 6pm-2am, Fri-Sat 6pm-4am, Sun 10am-2am. Visit solarberlin.com