In a whirlwind tour of Germany, Berlin and Munich look as fresh as ever.
GERMANY – Scenic landscapes, historic landmarks, cutting-edge art, enviable vintage shopping, lively beer gardens, and Michelin-starred restaurants — there's a lot to love about Germany.
I recently spent a week exploring Munich, the scenic German Alps, and Berlin. As a first time visitor, I was blown away by the exciting cultural offerings, from the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin to the Lenbachhaus in Munich, where I discovered the work of Gabriele Münter, Kandinsky's partner and noted painter who saved a treasure trove of artworks from the Nazis by hiding them in a farmhouse.
Perhaps what impressed me most is how progressive and open-minded Germans are. It seems that the country as a whole acknowledges its sins and refuses to tolerate hatred and bigotry. Visiting historically charged sites and speaking with young Germans gave me a new perspective on the world.
First stop: Munich, the capital of Bavaria. Unlike many German cities, which look much more modern, Munich’s historic center was rebuilt in the old style after WWII. The city’s streets are full of candy-colored buildings that look straight out of a fairytale.
For lunch, I stopped by the beautiful restaurant Sophia's Restaurant & Bar inside The Charles Hotel Munich, a member of Rocco Forte Hotels. It’s a popular spot for the editors of Condé Nast’s German editions, whose offices are nearby.
Munich is known for its many breweries and beer gardens, which are popular year-round — not just for Oktoberfest. Wirtshaus in der Au is a classic beer garden in the Bavarian tradition. Along with your brew, order a cheese and sausage platter with pickles, peppers, pretzels, paté, and mustard.
Munich is surrounded by some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes and quaint villages, which I highly recommend exploring. I sped down the Autobahn at 200 km/h, drove along winding country roads, and ended up on this quaint lake in the Alps where locals like to vacation.
Next stop: Berlin. Upon arriving, I checked into Hotel De Rome, a member of Rocco Forte Hotels in a renovated bank building in East Berlin. The hotel juxtaposes modern style with classic architectural details, and the location overlooking the quiet Bebelplatz just a few blocks from the Brandenburg Gate couldn’t be better. (No wonder it’s a favorite of celebrities like Tom Hanks.)
Whenever I visit a new city, I like to wander around and get the lay of the land. People often compare Berlin’s Mitte to New York’s SoHo. Strolling the streets with their urban grit and sidewalk cafes, I could see why: Mitte is filled with tons of cool bars, restaurants, galleries, and shops.
I’m really drawn to street scenes like this — there’s something about that vintage car parked in front of two contrasting old buildings in Mitte that captures my imagination. The red brick building on the left is a former Jewish girls’ school that was abandoned for a long time after WWII. It was recently restored and converted into a complex housing Museum The Kennedys (which contains one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of memorabilia from the Kennedy family) and the Michelin-starred restaurant Pauly Saal.
I loved Pauly Saal so much I ended up going twice: once for an informal al fresco wine tasting event promoting small vineyards in Germany and Austria, and again for a more formal dinner with my boyfriend. Chef Arne Anker has won many accolades (including a Michelin star ) for his thoughtful tasting menus that up the ante on German cuisine.
Yes, Checkpoint Charlie is a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s interesting to see where the American troops were stationed on the border of East and West Berlin. You can learn more at the Wall Museum, but to get a broader overview of the city, I recommend doing a Trabi safari with Trabi-World Berlin & Dresden, located near Checkpoint Charlie. A tour guide leads a little caravan of people driving Soviet Trabis and narrates the sights via walkie talkie, stopping at a few key points, including the East Side Gallery.
If Mitte is like SoHo, then Kreuzberg is akin to Williamsburg. This East Berlin neighborhood where Germany’s most famous chef Tim Raue grew up used to be a no-go zone full of crime and gangs, but it’s now considered one of Berlin’s coolest neighborhoods. Despite the gentrification, it’s maintains a gritty edge, with lots of street art, indie cafes, bars, and thrift shops. It’s also home to a large Turkish population, so it’s easy to find great kebabs.