Berlin’s layers are thrilling, excruciating but always expansive

Berlin’s layers are thrilling, excruciating but always expansive

Trains to Life and trains to Death
Trains to Life and trains to Death

By Sharon Feinstein

Berlin plays havoc with your emotions. The brutalities in our recent history are glaring everywhere. Holocaust reminders, markers, memorials, and the subsequent terror of Communism and the Stasi, are spread amongst the stones of this intelligent, thinking city.

There’s nothing dumbed down about Berlin. I found myself flipping from fascination to tears and despair within Berlin’s mix of creative vitality and the resounding spectre of death.

Night view from my suite at Adlon Kempinski hotel
Night view from my suite at Adlon Kempinski hotel

My suite in the legendary Adlon Kempinski faced the Brandenburg Gate with Norman Foster’s distinctive dome of the Reichstag beyond. Images of blazing Nazi rallies in Pariser Platz below me just 70 years ago, jostled with the wonder of the majestic Brandbenburg Gate lighting up the night sky. 

I relished every day at the grand, charm-filled Adlon Kempinski, which has hosted luminaries like Marlene Dietrich, Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones a few weeks before me.

Frau Merkel holds meetings here, and world leaders choose it for its history, luxury and bullet-proof windows. During the Berlin film festival Brad and Angelina jostle for breakfast tables on the terrace with Spielberg and Matt Damon. Everything works seamlessly, with polished style, and with its special place in Berlin’s history it is a privilege to stay there.

It’s wood-panelled Michelin-starred Lorenz Adlon is serious eating with informed service, softly lit with a library hush and drift of romance in the air.

Biking along River Spree
Biking along River Spree

Don’t ask me how many crunchy, flavoursome courses I ate – but I’m betting you will too.

Summer in Berlin has bikes for hire on every corner, so wind in my hair, handbag in the basket, I flew along the River Spree through the sprawling Tiergarten to take in the city. Those were the thrilling moments, racing round Mitte with its cool, cultural buzz of art galleries, innovative designers, and inventive eateries. That hedonistic Carpe Diem atmosphere of the Golden 20s, so vividly portrayed by Isherwood, has returned to  Berlin’s bars, cafes, music halls and cutting edge fashion. There is a renewed taste for pleasure and excess, which flourished amid the political turmoil of the Weimar Republic, and one Berliner told me- we love to dress up, dance, drink and express ourselves, in Berlin we work to live not the other way around. Bombed out dance halls with bullet holes in the plaster have been left standing, their fading grandeur now thought of ‘Berlin chic’  by new designers who flock here from other capitals to copy it.

Restaurants like Borchard, Grosz, and the Paris Bar draw in an exotic crowd. The food at all three is amongst the best in the city, especially Paris Bar, one of Bowie’s favourite hang-outs. Cordobar is a dimly lit, atmospheric wine bar owned by sommeliers that pair delicate dishes with exceptional wines. Riding through the splendid Gendarmenmarkt, flanked by two Cathedrals, I came upon a hidden gem – the unpretentious antidote to Michelin starred or glitzy restaurants- Chipps -where I returned three times for chef Igor’s delicious, blissful dishes and welcoming service. 

On my birthday the legendary Tim Raue treated us to lunch with his light, fragrant Asian-style delicacies, and dinner was on the terrace at the Adlon, which they made really special- table strewn with rose petals, kitchen staff coming out to sing, and the pleasure of the finest food. For me the shopping here is the best in Europe because of its originality and flair. I bought a soft, lush Gretchen handbag in the lively Hackescher Markt, exquisite handmade shoes at Premiata, and clothes from cool young designers’ at LNFA in the hip new Bikini House overlooking the zoo.

But the long shadow of desperate days is cast across this city, and to their credit Berliners have marked it with ubiquitous evidence of the Reich’s terrible crimes.Holocaust Memorial

 My deeply knowledgeable, vibrant tour guide, Heidi Leyton, and her devoted dog, Daisy, revealed sides and depths to Berlin I would never have discovered.

How do you remember the Holocaust in a city where it was conceived? It’s everywhere, from the 5000 Stolpersteines ( small brass memorial stones amongst the cobbles with named Jews taken to the camps) to Libeskind’s extraordinary Jewish Museum which  swallows you up and hauntingly evokes the void of exile and extinction of so many millions.

The thick deathly grey pillars of the Holocaust Memorial down the road from the Topography of Terror, which charts the Nazis’ march of destruction.

Most painful of all for me was the Room of Names below the Holocaust Memorial, dimly lit and charting the horror of the Holocaust for hand-picked individuals and families. Visitors are greeted by Primo Levi’s quote “It happened, and therefore it could happen again”.

On Sunday there’s only one place to go- Cafe am Neuen. See in the thick of the Tiegarten where you sit in the sunshine beside the lake, eat well amongst the bright hubbub of relaxed families, and then have a blissful, wine-softened slow time rowing out in one of the small boats for hire.

These are the layers of Berlin, thrilling, excruciating but always expansive. I would return in a heartbeat, but hope it’s always to the magical Adlon Kempinski.

Useful Contacts:

Adlon Kempinski Berlin –

Heidi Leyton tour guide –

Chipps Restaurant  –

Café am Neuen –

Premiata for shoes –




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