A perfect day in Berlin
Elegant Gendarmenmarkt square is bookended by domed cathedrals. (Martin Moos/LPI)
In Berlin the past is always present, and the present is on the fast-track to the future. Confident, sassy and irreverent, the German capital buzzes with giddying energy and a zest for experimentation infused with an undercurrent of grit and roughness. To soak up the vibe, base yourself in the Scheunenviertel, the old Jewish quarter in the central Mitte district and a charismatic maze of lanes lined with indie stores, cafes and designer boutique hotels catering for all wallet sizes.
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Amano (Auguststraße 43) and Circus Hotel (Rosenthaler Strasse 1) are top budget choices, while Casa Camper (Weinmeisterstrasse 1) and the brand-new The Weinmeister (Weinmeisterstrasse 2) offer more comfort at a steeper tab.
0900 Local time
Have breakfast at your hotel or join Mitte's goateed on-the-go professionals at Oliv (Münzstrasse 8) for potent java and energy-supplying egg dishes and fruit salads.
1000 Local time
The ultimate brain candy, Museumsinsel is a Unesco-recognised cluster of five museums filled with 6,000 years of treasure from Europe and beyond. Doors open at 1000 local time, meaning you most likely will not have to contend with thronging coach tourists or screaming school kids. Focus your time on two repositories: the Pergamonmuseum (Am Kupfergraben 5) with its head-spinning ancient Greek Pergamon Altar and radiantly blue Babylonian Ishtar Gate. Next, prepare for an audience with Egyptian queen Nefertiti, whose beautiful bust is the undisputed star at the recently reopened Neues Museum (New Museum, Bodestrasse 1-3), brilliantly reconstructed by David Chipperfield.
1130 Local time
Process the morning's impressions on a leisurely Spree river cruise through historic Berlin. Board just outside the DDR Museum (Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 1), next to Museumsinsel, and relax as you glide past grand old buildings, beach bars, the government quarter and central train station.
1300 Local time
Cab it over to Fischers Fritz (Charlottenstrasse 49), Berlin's only two-Michelin-star restaurant, where Christian Lohse jazzes up fish and seafood, and a three-course lunch is practically a steal at 47 euro. Or order just two courses (35 euro) and get something sweet at nearby Fassbender & Rausch (Charlottenstrasse 60), an old-timey confiserie famous for its chocolate models of Berlin landmarks.
1400 Local time
Take a post-prandial stroll around Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin's most graceful square that is bookended by the domed German and French cathedrals and anchored by the grandly porticoed Konzerthaus (concert hall). A hop skip and jump away are the Friedrichsstadtpassagen (Friedrichstrasse, between Französische Strasse and Mohrenstrasse), a trio of strikingly designed luxury shopping complexes. Do not miss Jean Nouvel's shimmering glass funnel at Galeries Lafayette (Friedrichstrasse 76).
You could detour to Checkpoint Charlie (the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Zimmerstrasse), a key Cold War site, but be warned that it has degenerated into a tacky tourist trap. Alternatively, head north on Friedrichstrasse to Unter den Linden, Berlin's grandest boulevard, then swing left towards embassy-framed Pariser Platz and the landmark Brandenburg Gate. Nearby, the 2,711 sarcophagi-like columns of the massive Holocaust Memorial (Cora-Berliner-Strasse 1) rise up in sombre silence.
Make your way back to the Scheunenviertel whose web of winding lanes is a hotbed for local fashions and accessories such as specs at IC! Berlin (Max-Beer-Strasse 17) and bags at Milk Berlin (Torstrasse 102). Art aficionados will hit the jackpot on Auguststrasse and Linienstrasse, home of bleeding-edge galleries like Eigen+Art (Auguststrasse 26).
At dinnertime, fuel up on pork and beer at earthy Schwarzwaldstuben (Tucholskystrasse 48) or go lighter with Vietnamese pho (noodle soup) at trendy Chi Sing (Rosenthaler Strasse 62). Then, for your evening entertainment, time travel back to the Roaring Twenties at the Chamäleon Variete (Rosenthaler Strasse 40-41), where cabaret gets a sassy revival in an Art Nouveau ballroom in the Hackesche Höfe courtyard ensemble.
If you want to continue riding the retro wave, steer towards Clärchens Ballhaus (Auguststrasse 24), a 19th-century dance hall where hipsters to grannies hoof it across the planks to tango, swing and disco. More the house and techno type? Hit Weekend (Alexanderplatz 5), a stylish club in a GDR-era high-rise. Do not forget your shades to watch the sunrise from the breezy rooftop lounge, open in summertime.