Well, every visit has been charming. I love Berlin, and I realized my latest visit was my 6th time there. . . I think it’s about time I just stay permanently. This past weekend I and two friends dragged ourselves out of bed at 6 am on Saturday to catch an early train and enjoy a full day of siteseeing. We dumped our bags at the hotel, Arcotel John F in the Mitte district, and made a beeline for a mid-morning indulgence – hot chocolate at Fassbender and Rausch, the famous German chocolatier. Choose your chocolate percentage – milk or dark, and your “add-ins” – options include chili, orange, espresso, or straight-up. I went for a little shot of espresso in mine, and man it was good. The second-best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, beaten only by City Bakery in NYC.
With sugar and caffeine in our bellies we walked a loop to Checkpoint Charlie, then along the remaining piece of the Berlin Wall, with a brief stop at the Topography of Terrors Museum behind the wall. Next up, we did an eerie walk through the Jewish Holocaust Memorial – as the last time I went through it, I get the sense of isolation and claustrophobia, despite the sunny day around us. We emerged on the other end and headed towards the Brandenberg Gate, then down into the Subway to get over to Kurfurstendamn, the Berlin shopping street and home to the must-see Kadawe department store. However, the first stop was & Other Stories – my favorite store since I stumbled upon it in Berlin last year. Beautiful displayed cozy sweaters, retro jeans, oversized scarves, leather boots, and simple minimalist jewellery are scattered around on wooden tables, clothing racks, and stacked on wooden crates. Upstairs is a mammoth beauty section, with delightful-smelling candles, all manner of makeup and accessories, lotions, potions, more clothes, more jewelry, and ever-present beautiful staff members, dressed to kill in the stores’ neutral oversized garb and looking far too chic. Very Scandinavian (the store was founded in Sweden).
We each settled on a few pieces, wishing we each had a money tree at our disposal. Next, the required stop at the KaDaWe, and then back to the hotel to put our feet up for a couple hours, before heading out to Kreuzberg/Neukoln – the trendy bar and restaurant district South of the city center. We stumbled into Ein Laden, a very cozy-looking place which was packed to the gills, save for one table for three- just for us! The menu was simple, cheap, and largely vegetarian – all delicious. We ordered a ginormous stuffed roll of mozzarella and the antipasti platter. Wine by the glass is 2 euros and comes in little tumblers- several times I mistook my wine glass for my water and ended up having to gulp down a huge swallow of wine.
Some friends joined us at the restaurant and then we all headed over to “Das Hotel” – another hot spot and perhaps the most-packed bar I’ve ever been in. It was shoulder-to-shoulder, noisy, smoky, cramped, and super fun. A couple rounds of drinks and we headed home – realizing we were going to smell like an ashtray the next day.
We woke up late and then jumped around the corner to CHIPPS – once again getting very lucky and snatching the last free table in the joint, close. Two of us ordered No. 6, The Dancing Queen (Eggs Florentine) and one No. 8, Walk of Shame (tomatoes, feta, chili, coriander, and cashews on toast) – awesome names! The service was great and the coffee was too.
We then headed to the Ritter Sport factory to have custom-made chocolate bars done up, and then went for a stroll across museum island to check out the Van Gogh Alive exhibition. This exhibition uses “Sensory 4” technology – you enter a black room which is scattered with giant bean bag loungers and chairs, settle in to a comfy spot, and slowly the screens on the walls around you come alive, showing various “movements” of Van Gogh’s artistic career, and accompanied by musical scores of the same era. It was the most interesting exhibition I’ve been too – you are totally immersed in the paintings, which are ordered by era and location, and the music fits the mood perfectly. At certain points some of the paintings come “alive” – birds flying, leaves falling. . . it was a really a beautiful and unique way to experience Van Gogh.
We had a beautiful walk through the fall colors on the way to our last stop – Kimchi Princess – a very cool Korean bar/restaurant in Kreuzberg, surrounded by equally cool-looking bars and restaurants.
The staff were incredibly friendly and welcoming and happy to help explain the menu to us. We tried meat dumplings and the traditional “Bibimap” – a hot stone bowl filled with rice, marinated meat or tofu, vegetables, a spicy sauce, and a fried egg. Mash up everything together when it arrives, and keep pressing the mixture against the sides of the bowl – the stone stays incredibly hot and therefore your food does too. We looooooovvveed our bowls, but they are not for the faint of heart- to say the sauce is spicy is an understatement. We quenched the heat with Korean beers (Hite) and a Kimchi Princess cocktail (for me). Lastly, we tried some typical delicious Korean tea – Ssanghwacha.
I must say, Berlin is really killing it with this funky hipster scene – every place we checked out had a little something special to it – long gone are the days of white tablecloths, waiters with wine lists, and stodgy formality. Now it’s all about the funk.