London and Paris may be the hubs of Europe’s art market, but Berlin has the artists. In the 1990s and early 2000s, affordable spaces and a free-spirited cultural scene in the reunified German capital attracted artists in droves, including international stars like Anri Sala, Tomás Saraceno, and Olafur Eliasson. More recently a diverse array of creative-sector professionals and tech firms has been arriving, accompanied by smart hotels and shops and ambitious restaurants.
The mix of culture and innovation seems to be woven into the fabric of Berlin, which is also home to some decidedly unique arts institutions, notes Joey Lico, curator for the Cultivist, a members-only club that provides insider info and special access to museums, fairs, and art events around the world. Here, she highlights some of the go-to spots that make this boundary-pushing city such a compelling destination to explore.
Where to stay
The Soho House Berlin is an art-world favorite, its blend of creative and stylish energy perfectly mirroring the city itself, says Lico. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Soho House is in a gorgeous Bauhaus building in the central Mitte neighborhood and features a rooftop with a buzzy bar and a pool that’s open year-round. Stay in a hotel room, or book one of the haute-bohemian apartments for an intimate, at-home feel.
Hotel Adlon Kempinski. The legendary Adlon, just steps from the Brandenburg Gate, was one of the most famous hotels in Europe before it was badly damaged during World War II and later destroyed in a fire. The current building, opened in 1997, recaptures the old-world feel of the original.
Where to eat
Berlin’s restaurant scene is livelier than ever, with still- humming classics like Borchardt joined by great casual spots such as Yam Yam, where Lico likes to order the kimchi and a Carlsburg. Some of the city’s best Thai food can be found at Transit, which has tables in an inviting backyard when the weather is right. After a day of visiting galleries on and around Auguststrasse, Lico says she can’t resist dinner at Pauly Saal, which serves seasonal dishes in a handsomely appointed former gymnasium, or at Pantry, where fashionable crowds in tufted leather seats order from an ever-changing menu of regionally sourced ingredients. And the lively family-style dinners at the trattoria Lavanderia Vecchia are also a must.
For a taste of the Prenzlauer Berg district before it started gentrifying, head to 8MM, a very local, authentic drinking spot, while nearby Neue Odessa serves cocktails in a chic setting that reflects the area’s increasingly upscale identity. Bar 3, near Alexanderplatz, is a low-key hangout where Lico often meets up with artist and curator friends.
Where to shop
“My shopping in Berlin is very specific,” Lico says. “I tend to hunt for things I can’t find in the States.” To that end, she recommends École Boutique, where owner Viola Jaeger showcases emerging designers she discovers. Jaeger also has a sister shop next door called Très Bonjour, an haute couture latex boutique that offers edgy fashion and accessories. Another essential stop on Lico’s list is Alex Eagles’s concept shop, the Store, inside the Soho House Berlin. She likes to grab a coffee—try the “deconstructed latte”—and browse the tightly curated selection of music, books, and furnishings as well as fashions that are nearly impossible to find anywhere else. If art and fashion books are your thing, Do You Read Me?! will be your new favorite shop, says Lico, noting that “they always seem to have exactly what you’re looking for”—or didn’t know you wanted.
What to see
And then there’s the art. By all means, go to the Pergamonmuseum on Museum Island, but only after you’ve planned your visit to the Hamburger Bahnhof, a museum Lico calls underrated, with its world-class collection and temporary shows that never fail to wow. Another must-see is the Boros Collection, a selection of contemporary works owned by Karen and Christian Boros and housed in a converted bunker (book tickets in advance, as tours sell out). The Martin-Gropius-Bau always has great exhibitions, with an emphasis on performance art. And a personal favorite of Lico’s is Urban Spree, the city’s only space dedicated to street art and urban culture. “It’s unlike any other art venue—it always feels current and alive,” she says. “Plus, friends like Klone, Zero Cents, and Rylsee have murals in the courtyard, so I feel at home there.”