Dear Fathom: Everybody's always talking about how Berlin is the coolest city on the planet. I'm heading there for New Year's and don't want to feel like a dork. What should I do?
Have your hotel book you a tour at the Boros Collection. It's an enormous Nazi bunker that a private contemporary art collector turned into his personal art gallery and home. The collection is wild, and many of the artists made site-specific works for the concrete space. The English-led tours book out months in advance, but a good hotel concierge can get you in. The Hamburger Bahnhof, an old train station that's been transformed into a modern art museum, is a stunning second choice.
Look into booking a table at the Soviet-era, sepia-toned dance hall called Clärchens Ballhaus (where waiters wear tuxedos and serve schnitzel). There are wonderfully chintzy tinsel decorations that haven't changed in decades and couples of all generations waltzing on the dance floor. The adjacent Spiegelsaal is gorgeous and dilapidated with a precariously hung chandelier, huge candelabras dripping with wax, and rustic flower arrangements. Tuck into a cozy corner to hear a string ensemble and drink spritzers.
The Berlin Philharmonic is consistently recognized as one of the world's leading orchestras, and the concert hall has tremendous acoustics. You can get inexpensive seats on the stage behind the orchestra, which are my favorite. At the very least, try to fit in a free lunchtime concert at the venue.
There's no shortage of great dance clubs and impressive DJ line-ups in Berlin. The city has certainly earned its nightlife reputation. In some cases, parties go on for days; there's plenty of time to check out all sorts of events, provided you have the energy.
Berghain is the big, crazy club (rumored to be the most popular in the world) built inside an old power station. Very naughty things happen in the basement, where ladies are not allowed. Upstairs is a huge thumping sound system and a million kids going nuts. But if you go behind the power station, you'll find the old kantine (cafeteria) where the power station workers used to eat lunch. A great, gay dance party will be happening there on NYE, hosted by the very cool, very costumed, and always over-the-top Pet Shop Bears with Discodromo.
If you want something a little more little-black-dress upscale, The Helmut Newton Bar is where you can go for martinis and cigars and larger-than-life Newton nudes plastered on the walls. Paris Bar in Charlottenburg, where everybody famous (Iggy Pop, David Bowie) used to be seen, is an Old Guard bistro. The fancier clubs are Bar Tausend and Felix — there's nothing particularly exciting about them, but the atmosphere is more posh, less raw. Same goes for the music and cocktails.
Recuperate the next day with a latte and the paper at the original Cafe Einstein, a super classy Austrian-style coffeehouse. And don't forget to check out our Berlin guide for our must-see list of sites, shops, and restaurants.
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