From spy-themed bars to unique shopping experiences, the German capital is packed full of vibrant and exciting attractions. Step away from the tourist trail and you will discover a different Berlin, where being arty doesn't always rhyme with graffiti and underground clubs.
Andreas Murkudis, Shopping
Halfway between a concept store and an art gallery, Andreas Murkudis in the old Tagesspiegel newspaper building on Potsdamer Strasse is a very original space. The black and white showroom, designed by the Gonzales Haase design studio, covers over one thousand square meters. It is so vast you can almost hear echos bouncing off the walls! Key items from fashion brands such as Dries Van Noten and Céline mingle among Aesop's Parsley seed facial cleanser or Byredo's Bal d'Afrique fragrance. In both fashion and beauty, the selection here is always spot on. Understated and original, it is a testament to the talent and vision of Andreas Murkudis, who knows exactly what we want to buy. It is no wonder then that the store has branched out into interior design with Andreas Murkudis Möbel + Architektur. You can now walk out of the store dressed from head to toe, smelling great and ready to refurbish your entire house.
Hotel Zoo, Hotel
In the 1920s, the Berlin intelligentsia used to meet at Hotel Zoo. Today, arty types and media crowds gather there instead. Although the building itself has changed very little since those days, the interior has been entirely redesigned by the American design team Dayna Lee and Ted Berner. It is ablaze of colour from top to bottom. As you walk in, a striking leopard skin rug, created by the fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, sets the tone. The sheer volume of the place is impressive: its vast exposed brick walls, massive lacquered doors and industrial style windows make you feel tiny. The rooms and suites are equally as dramatic: the Panorama Rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning views over Berlin. Head up to Grace bar on the rooftop to soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the city's best sunset while sipping a Hennessy VS Prince of Wales cocktail.
Finding Bless is quite a feat. It comes as no surprise that this innovative shopping concept has emerged in Prenzlauer Berg, an East Berlin neighbourhood that has kept some of its pre-war bohemian and free-spirited influences. The shop is located on the third floor of a traditional Altbau building, in a former flat. The high ceilings, double doors, wood floors, bedroom, kitchen and living room have all been kept. Step in and browse around: the collections are displayed in every available space. T-shirts and well-cut jackets hang directly on the walls. Shoes and bags lie strewn on the floor, almost as though someone had left them there before stepping into the Fat Knit hammock. Everything here feels lived in. What an imaginative way of experiencing Bless's fascinating world...
Italy meets historic Berlin at Cecconi's. Set in Berlin's Soho House - one of the hippest hotels in town - this Italian restaurant is one of a kind. Plush red leather seats and warm lighting emanating from Art Deco-style chandeliers contrast with the minimalist concrete columns and walls. Arty crowds just love the atmosphere - a blend of 'Dolce Vita' with a contemporary twist. The menu offers classic modern Italian cuisine concocted by head chef Alessio Biangini, previously at Cecconi's in Istanbul and Los Angeles. Start with a bottle of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, then try the risotto with salsiccia, radicchio and amarone or the tender veal Milanese with lemon and salt. The cicchetti – the Venetian equivalent of tapas – are a good option for sharing or for those with smaller appetites. The baked gnocchi romana with gorgonzola and fried olives with mortadella and provolone are particularly tasty.
Walking into Crackers is a bit disconcerting: the entrance is through the kitchen. This being said, seeing chefs work their magic first-hand is a good sign for a restaurant. Design is a key element to the Crackers experience. Once past the kitchen, there are more surprises. Enter the dark dining room, and one is reminded that this place was once a popular nightclub called Cookie. The atmosphere, however, is cosy and intimate. Hanging copper lights illuminate the walls revealing different shades of green. A good way to start the meal is by sipping the 'Alt Berlin' cocktail made with basil, lemon, gin and Veuve Clicquot champagne. In the mint green kitchen - the focal point - dishes such as succulent lamb chops and fillet of venison are prepared with gusto. Black Risotto with smoked radicchio and Belper Knolle (a Swiss cheese) is a great vegetarian option to be savoured with a crisp glass of Cloudy Bay white wine from New Zealand. A pure delight.
Spring in Berlin can be a bit nippy, and so heading to Vesper Bar in the western part of town is a great way to warm up. Subdued lighting and cosy seating lend an intimate feel to the place. The three bespoke gold-plated lights floating above the bar are straight out of a sixties film set. A James Bond sixties film set, that is. Indeed everything about Vesper Bar is reminiscent of Ian Fleming's world, even the bar itself was named after the first-ever Bond-girl, Vesper Lynd. It goes without saying that martinis are the drink of choice here (try the original orange-infused Breakfast Martini) but a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne also hits the spot nicely. If cleverness is what you're after, allow yourself be tempted by an Ardbeg Uigedail whisky. It will transport you all the way to Scotland, the land of 007's ancestors.