We had lived in the Zehlendorf neighborhood of Berlin for half a year with our young children in 1972, when the Berlin Wall separated East from West, during a period of détente. This visit was our first to unified Germany under the outstanding leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel. She spoke to a huge cheering crowd, estimated by the BBC at 5,000 people, at the Brandenburg Gate during our visit, which was thrilling for us. She began her speech by saying the 100,000 Jews living in Germany were a “national treasure. . . . Jewish friends, neighbours and colleagues, consider yourselves at home here,” she told the crowd.
Berlin is an exciting, bustling, culturally rich city, filled with music, art, architecture, and food for every palate and budget (see photo of appetizing deli below). The omnipresent currywurst is a treat. We stayed at the Westin Grand (using our points for seven nights, with a bonus eighth night compliments of the Westin), an attractive hotel next to the Komische Oper, a block from Unter den Linden, and a short walk to the Brandenburg Gate. The only drawback of the Westin is their high charge for wifi, about $100 per week, which seems out of step with current trends at other hotels. Fortunately, there is free wifi at many coffee shops and restaurant chains in Berlin, such as Starbucks and McDonalds, and T-Mobile offers economical short-term plans for visitors in the city.
Our favorite sights were:
- The Brandenburg Gate (see photo below)
- Unter den Linden, the glorious shopping street in what was East Berlin before the Wall came down
- The Bundestag (see photo below), tickets should be purchased in advance online to ensure entry, visite.bundestag.de
- Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (see photo below)
- Checkpoint Charlie (which memorializes the gate that formerly separated East and West Berlin)
- The magnificent Jewish Museum, designed by world-class architect Daniel Libeskind
- The Pergamon Museum in Museum Island, which houses the exquisite Pergamon Altar (now removed for restoration until 2019) and the Ishtar Gate, the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon constructed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II in about 575BC, tickets should be purchased online in advance to avoid long queues
- Museum Berggruen, an intimate gallery opposite the Schloss Charlottenburg, with more than one hundred works by Picasso and many works by Braque, Matisse, Klee, and Giacometti (easily accessible by U-Bahn); extension across the street has a fine Klee collection
- Neue Nationalgalerie, near the Philharmonie, with a handsome contemporary building and an extensive collection of modern art (closed for several years starting January 2015)
- The Boros Collection, housed in a converted bunker in the Mitte neighborhood, requires advance booking through their website, http://www.sammlung-boros.de
Our favorite musical performances were at:
- Berlin Philharmonie, Sir Simon Rattle Conductor (see him conducting below)
- Komische Oper, Artistic Director Barrie Kosky (when we lived in Berlin the General Director was the great Austrian Walter Felsenstein who reconstructed and renamed the old Metropol Theatre the Komische Oper); in 1944 the Nazis closed all theaters in Germany, including the Metropol Theatre, which was destroyed in 1945
- Don’t miss the great department store, KaDeWe, on the Kurfurstendamm, with a fantastic food hall that may even surpass the food hall at Harrods in London, with marvelous dining options; they also offer a wide array of mouth-watering chocolates and other confections
Our favorite handmade jewelry:
For one-of-a kind contemporary designer jewelry made with 18 karat gold and gems, visit this small gallery run by the sister and brother team Sabine and Andreas Treykorn, goldsmiths and jewelry designers, with exceptionally beautiful jewelry: GALERIE TREYKORN, Savignyplatz 13 – Passage 10623 Berlin, in the Charlottenburg district and served by the S-Bahn lines S5, S7 and S75.
Our favorite restaurants are:
- Katz Orange, a charming former brewery in Mitte with welcoming indoor space and an inviting outdoor garden for dining in warm weather
- The Pantry, on Friedrichstrasse in Mitte, walkable from the Westin Grand, comfortable tufted leather benches, yummy food
- Volt, an exciting contemporary restaurant in Kreuzberg, formerly an electric relay station, dramatic setting, delicious food, stellar service