Edgy, arty and perpetually in flux, Berlin is not merely a spectator city. A postwar consciousness pervades here as creative minds push the boundaries of public and private, replacing Soviet drabness with parks, municipal buildings with nightclubs and graffitied city streets with catwalks. Sure, you could just look, but you’re encouraged to touch.
Check in to the Dude, a simultaneously design-minded and masculine boutique hotel in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg neighborhood. The Dude himself (a German businessman cum hotelier) has a fondness for New York steakhouses, so he opened his own on-site: the Brooklyn Beef Club, tricked out with a whiskey bar that serves 150 varieties of the brown stuff. Berliners go crazy for the adjacent Schmidt’s Deli, where you can order a rejuvenating postflight pastrami sandwich.
Flughafen Berlin-Tempelhof, the city’s defunct commercial airport and site of the Berlin airlift, is now one of the largest unconventional playgrounds in Europe. Its motto is “Freedom of movement,” and visitors have the run of the place. Bike or take the U-Bahn, sling beers near the terminal, grill sausages on former airstrips and watch skateboarders tear up the runway. In this city of galleries and museums immemorial, the hottest is Hamburger Bahnhof, a contemporary art space in a former railway station.
Thirsty for more culture? Drinking in one of Berlin’s many beer gardens will give you insight into how the locals live to the fullest. Do yourself a favor and visit at least two: Prater Garten in the Prenzlauerberg neighborhood is the city’s oldest; the canalside beer garden in the Tiergarten, Berlin’s central park, is by far its most bucolic.
Photographer Helmut Newton was born in Berlin, and his nude portraits (which have graced the pages of many a Playboy) are celebrated at Newton Bar. Sophisticated patrons, Cohibas balanced between their lips, mingle among leather chairs, marble walls and larger-than-life photographs of supermodels. Get dinner, then dance at Cookies, the club to beat, where the Cookies Cream restaurant swings late into the night.
Holy shit, you’re starving. Currywurst (sliced pork sausage served hot with fries and curried ketchup) is the Berlin stoner-food staple. Happily, 24-hour kiosks are all over the place. You could use a good schvitz. Recoup at Badeschiff (translation: “bathing ship”), a swimming pool in a recycled cargo ship floating on the river Spree. To keep things social, there’s a DJ, a bar and—come winter—a coed naked sauna.