“Paris is always Paris, but Berlin is never Berlin,” said Jack Lang, former French Minister for Culture in 2001. A city that’s constantly reinventing itself, this still rings true.
Berlin’s Mitte district, the backdrop for much of Europe’s tumultuous 20thcentury history, is now dubbed ‘Silicon Allee’ for its thriving tech-start-up scene.
Despite a population of 3.7 million and a landmass nine times the size of Paris, Berlin maintains the intimacy of a village, with each ‘kiez’ offering a different feel.
Mitte is lined with upmarket boutiques and ivy-draped coffee houses, Turkish bakeries sit next to hipster bars in Neukölln, and in Prenzlauer Berg, rows of colourful terraces defy the German capital’s ‘grey city’ label.
The city’s creative economy is booming, with thousands of international artists lured by its cheap rents and ample studio space. As the locals say, ‘Kreativität braucht Platz’ (creativity needs space).
And space there is. The city is teeming with bucolic green stretches, from the Central Park-like Tiergarten to city forests like Grunewald, plus a staggering 80 lakes.
Despite its evolution, Berlin remains a place for oddballs and anarchists, their presence felt in lively protests and socially-charged street art. Just like everything else, business is done here with more than a hint of rebellious freedom, and it looks like that’s here to stay.
WORD OF MOUTH
Coffee pit stop: Röststätte
Led by German barista royalty Nicole Battefeld (who took out the 2018 national championship), the love for coffee at Mitte’s Röststätteruns deep. Weather permitting, enjoy your ‘kaffee’ al fresco with a dose of people watching along leafy Ackerstraße. True coffee nerds can fuel their addiction with books and beans to take home.
Breakfast meeting: Commonground
Sink your teeth into a taste of home at Commonground, a popular Aussie-owned breakfast spot in a chic warehouse-style space in Mitte. Try the avocado on sironi toast with beetroot relish and hummus, washed down with their house-roasted Fjord coffee. They take bookings for groups of 8 or more, but with ample space you won’t have any trouble nabbing a spot.
Dining alone: CODA Berlin
Opened by René Frank, formerly of three-Michelin starred La Vie in Osnabrück, CODA is a dessert bar with a twist. The chef eschews sugar and produces lighter concoctions, turning traditionally savoury dishes on their head. Try the mouth-watering eggplant done four ways, which is slow cooked in oil, pickled, dehydrated and cooked in its own sugars. With a long concrete bar and small plates, it’s ideal for solo dining.
Business dining: Pauly Saal
With velvet green couches and exquisite Murano chandeliers from the 1920s, Michelin-starred Pauly Saal is without doubt one of the city’s most spectacular dining experiences. Led by celebrated chef Arne Anker, expect visually stunning concoctions from Tiergarten crayfish with pigs head peas and Beurre Blanc to scallops with zucchini, black garlic and yuzu. Set in a former Jewish girls’ school, the setting is just as memorable as the food.
Drinks with client: Ora Berlin
Located in an old pharmacy in Kreuzberg, Ora is a sleek all-day bistro and cocktail bar perched on a historic square. Cosy up at their long wooden bar - housing an array of bottles and potions from the building’s heyday – and savour a ‘Trident’, a twist on a traditional Negroni with Aquavit, Oloroso, artichoke and peach bitters.
A couple of hours: Museum of Photography / Helmet Newton Foundation
A few months before his death in 2004, the prolific German-Australian fashion photographer Helmut Newton founded this museum in a former Prussian officer’s casino. Here, you can see many of his signature black and white portrait, as well as temporary exhibitions. On show till May 2019 is Saul Leiter. David Lynch. Helmut Newton: Nudes, featuring rare and never before seen photography of the female form.
Half a day: Neukölln
Along the graffitied boulevards of this buzzing southeastern borough, you’ll find some of the city’s most exciting cafes, bars and art galleries. Rub shoulders with locals at plant filled café Roamers, then wander over to KINDL Centre for Contemporary Art, a lesser known gallery in the old Berliner Kindl brewery. If the sun is shining, head to Tempelhofer Feld, an airport turned public park popular with picnickers, joggers and rollerbladers, and cap off your visit with a beer at rooftop bar Klunkerkranich.
A day: Potsdam
Need some respite from Berlin’s grunge aesthetic? Just 25km southwest of Berlin (an easy hour trip on the S-Bahn), Potsdam is Berlin’s answer to Versailles. Visit Frederick the Great’s exquisite UNESCO listed Sanssouci Palace and stroll through its Italian gardens, then admire the city’s beautifully preserved baroque architecture along Brandenburger Straße, with an array of shops, boutiques and restaurants.
A weekend: Dresden
Just two hours from Berlin by train, Dresden’s striking baroque architecture and gritty, youthful spirit offer a seriously interesting path-less travelled. The old city is a treasure trove of classic art and architecture and just across the river, Dresden's 'Neustadt' (new city) has dozens of buzzing restaurants and bars. Gewandhaus Dresden, a boutique hotel in city centre, is an ideal base from which to explore Dresden’s dual characteristics.
Catching a flick at a traditional ‘kino’ (cinema) is akin to a religion for Berliners. Babylon Kino in Mitte retains much of its old world glamour.Alongside arthouse films, they play silent movie classics with 'soundtracks' provided the old-fashioned way – with a live organ player.
Fusing two of Berlin’s greatest pastimes – hot spas and electronic music – is Liquidrom in Kreuzberg. Designed in the shape of a circus tent, visitors float in a pool of salt water while zoning out to a rotation of guest DJs including techno, electronica and classical music.
Translating to ‘home is where the heart is’, thisboutique cooking school gives visitors a taste of German culinary culture. Their half day tours include a visit to a farmers’ market and other specialty shops, followed by a cooking class and culminating in a long-table home-cooked meal.
DOWN TO BUSINESS
Population: 3.7 million
Language: Berliners speak excellent English, especially in tourist-heavy areas. Although, it never hurts to throw in a polite Hallo or Danke (hello and thank you)
Currency: 1 Euro equals1.63 AUD$
Airport/s: Australian travellers will fly into BerlinTegel Airport, located 14 kilometres from the city centre. After an ongoing (and very un-German) saga with architectural issues, the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt will open in 2020
Airport transport: Head to the taxi rank outside Terminal A. From there, it’ll take approximately 30 minutes to the city centre and cost around 40 euro.
Local transport: Public transport is by far the easiest way to get around the city. The U-Bahn, S-Bahn and trams are quick and efficient, and a one way ticket in zone 1 will set you back 1.70 euros.
o Autumn: 6°C / 13°C
o Winter: -2°C / 3°C
o Spring: 4°C / 13°C
o Summer: 13°C / 22°C
Best SIM card:Germans love their paperwork, and setting up a temporary SIM can be a little unwieldy. The easiest is an ALDI Talk sim, which you buy over the counter at an ALDI supermarket then activate via an app, with prepaid packages going for 5-20€ per month.
Best local app:‘Going Local Berlin’, is a free app developed the city’s official tourist body VisitBerlin, containing more than 700 personal tips and recommendations.
Average price of a cup of coffee:€2-€4, depending on which part of town you are in. An upmarket café in Mitte would be closer to €4
Business-card etiquette: While there is no specific business-card giving etiquette, it is worth nothing that you do not need to translate the rear side of your card.
Punctuality: On the whole, punctuality in German business culture is sacred, so it’s better to err on the side of caution. Plan to arrive at least ten minutes early, especially for important meetings.
Dining custom:German etiquette generally says that the person initiating the meeting should pay the bill.
Tipping culture:Tipping is not obligatory as service industries pay their staff a living wage. Nevertheless, it is very common to leave a tip if you enjoyed your meal and service; 5-10% of the bill is the going rate.
Formal / informal greeting + salutations:Germans are quite formal and like their hierarchies, therefore it’s common practice to use titles and last names when meeting in business settings for the first time. A man should be addressed as Herr (Mr.) and woman with Frau (Mrs).
New hotel:Situated in a landmarked art nouveau building in bohemian Kreuzberg, the Orania.Berlin features a restaurant overseen by noted chef Philipp Vogel, a penthouse literary salon and bar,where you can catch regular jazz, classical and world music concerts from local artists.
Best co-working space:In a cavernous industrial space amongst Berlin’s thriving tech hub in Mitte, Unicorn Berlin is a café and co-working space rolled into one, offering day passes at €16,50, plus a plant-based menu and excellent coffee.