Berlin's West-Side Story

Once overshadowed by the dramatic transformation of East Berlin, the one-time political enclave of West Berlin is burnishing its image as hip galleries, restaurants and attractions take root.

Berlin Memorial Church

Berlin Memorial Church. Image: Sergej Horovitz

With the fall of the Berlin Wall just over 20 years ago, once-cloistered East Berlin has risen to become not only a powerful icon for democratic change, but a coveted stop for world travelers.

Not to be outdone, it’s now the Western sector’s turn, bustling today with stylish boutiques, restaurants and art galleries, which promise to give unified Berlin’s other side its due as a dynamic destination in its own right.

Following is a shortlist of some of West Berlin’s newest highlights:

Berlin Kurfuerstendamm

Berlin's Kurfuerstendamm. Image: Sergej Horovitz

Kurfürstendamm, “KuDamm”, Shopping Boulevard turns 125
Built in 1542 and first mapped in 1685, the “Churfürstendamm” served as a riding path between Berlin’s palace and a hunting castle in Grunewald forest. But its official history as a world-famous boulevard really began in 1886 with its paving and transformation into a grand boulevard that included the opening of the steam streetcar line, Zoo Grunewald.  Throughout Berlin’s turbulent history, the Kurfürstendamm Boulevard has always remained a symbol of the city, and so its 125th could not pass without a celebration. Anniversary festivities are kicking off May 5 with the opening of the outdoor exhibition, “125 years – 125 Stories.” On May 28 and 29, the Boulevard will became a grand spectacle as more than 1,200 vintage cars cruise the wide promenade. To keep the celebration going, more events will follow throughout the year.

Waldorf Astoria to open near the Berlin Zoo
Featuring 242 luxury guest rooms and suites, the newly built Waldorf Astoria Berlin is scheduled to open late this year. Centrally located in West Berlin, the luxury hotel will be in close proximity to the city’s Zoo station, as well as many of Berlin’s other major attractions, including the legendary Kurfürstendamm shopping boulevard and the upscale KaDeWe department store. The 31-floor hotel will feature a spa and wellness area, a stylish restaurant and bar, as well as nearly 12,000 square feet of conference and meeting facilities.

Berlin’s Western Center New Gallery Scene Emerges
Complementing the legendary creative scene in trendy East Berlin, Charlottenburg district in City West has emerged as a new center for Berlin’s gallery scene. Some 30 galleries have recently relocated to the Mommsenstraße, Kurfürstendamm and Fasanenstraße area, which traditionally was known for crafts shops and art dealers. Newcomers include Susanne Albrecht’s gallery for alternative works, and Galerie Buchholz, which recently featured Isa Genzken and Wolfgang Tillmans. Even more edgy is Freies Museum Berlin on Potsdamer Strasse, a collection of studios, archive rooms and exhibition space located in a 19th century factory, and founded by a group of artists in 2009.

Kudamm Shopping

One of Kudamm's haute shops. Image: Sergej Horovitz

West Berlin Shopping
A shopping spree on Kurfürstendamm begins at KaDeWe. Continental Europe’s largest department store just added a wellness area on the third floor, and boasts over 645,000 square feet of upscale retail space on eight floors. Local smaller designers, however, have set up shop along the side streets of Kurfürstendamm, including Nana Kuckuck, Anna von Griesheim and Daniel Rodan. Up-and-coming young fashion designers are also re-discovering the “new” City West, such as Mareen Weden, who presents her classically elegant Mareen Mo label in Fasanenstrasse, or Chelsea Farmers Club, providing British-inspired men’s fashion. Sustainability is the concept of de la Reh, which sells green and environmentally friendly fashion manufactured under fair working conditions.

West Berlin Restaurants and Bars
Fasanenstrasse and Ludwigkirchplatz have recently developed into the epicenter of the West Center’s new dining scene. Esswein at Fasanenplatz serves German classics like blood sausage and Palatinate stuffed pig’s stomach, and attracts a diverse scene of old West Berliners as well as a young, trendy crowd now hungering for regional food. Universum Grill at Lehniner Platz opened last September and features an open grill in the middle of the restaurant where high-quality meats are cooked to perfection. The grilled dishes are served with traditional sides such as Vichy baby carrots and homemade Bernaise. Next door, the Universum Bar in the Erich Mendelsohn-designed 1920s Schaubühne theater features a futuristic spaceship look and is one of the swankest bars in Charlottenburg. Yet another newer venue, Wegner, serves excellent, no-frills specialties in a tiny, minimally decorated dining room.

The big picture: today West Berlin’s menu brims with too much to pass up, and increasingly deserves as much attention as the city’s Eastern area.

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