August 8, 2012

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You thrive in the echoing halls of museums and feel at home in the plush seats of concert halls. You love architecture, from Schinkel to Le Corbusier. Here’s where to find real culture that will enrich your mind but not deplete your wallet.

In the words of Marc Chagall, “Great art picks up where nature ends”, so why not start out in leafy Berlin West at the GEORG KOLBE MUSEUM, the functionalist villa once home to the eponymous German artist. Ring the doorbell and pay the €3-5 entrance to walk through rooms filled with Kolbe’s work. But the real gem is the sculpture garden and its CAFÉ K. Come when the rhododendrons are in bloom and enjoy a strong cappuccino and biscuit for €2.50. Tip: the first Saturday of every month offers sculpting classes for children.

When it’s time to go, stroll down SENSBURGER ALLEE for house watching, keeping your eyes peeled for the apartment building built by design god Le Corbusier. Proceed further and you’ll end up at the massive, neoclassical OLYMPIASTADION, Hitler’s sports arena and host of the 1936 Summer Olympics.

As the big houses take their summer break (Berlin Philharmonic’s free Tuesday Lunchtime Concert returns in September), classical music goes al fresco: the BOTANICAL GARDENS treat you to two-hour Friday night concerts for €15 (Jul-Aug). As for Schloß Köpenick, Zitadelle Spandau and the Französischer Dom, they place chamber music in regal surroundings from €22 with the PERLEN DER KLASSIK series (programme online at But classical aficionados’ favourite summer festival is YOUNG EURO CLASSICS (Jul 26 - Aug 13), when the stars of tomorrow tour the grand halls of the Konzerthaus for tickets as cheap as €6-16. On Wednesdays, lose the baton and bum a stool at Mitte’s B-FLAT for free grade-A contemporary jazz.

If you prefer your food with a bit of queenly ceremony, head to HUDSON’S. On Sundays they serve High Tea for €8 – think bottomless pots of tea and a buffet of quality cakes, brownies and scones to smear with clotted cream and jam. Or dine like a Hapsburg at the stylish Viennese-style coffee house CAFÉ EINSTEIN, the original on Kurfürstenstraße, of course. Their Plat du Jour is a picture of refinement at only €10.90-12.90.

To dream in pre-war style, head to HOTEL BOGOTA. Here the flair of Weimar decadence can be relived for a mere €40 for a single, €64 for a double. The photographs of former tenant Yva, legendary mentor of Helmut Newton and victim of the Nazis, haunt the fourth floor. Downstairs in the foyer, the authentic 1950s ashtray, vintage  cheap as leather chair and gentlemanly library implore you to sit and lose yourself in a free newspaper – cognac and cigar not included.

For the frugal traditionalist who still likes a good old-fashioned ink-and-vellum book, BÜCHER on Schönhauser Allee is a wise place to start. If you’re up for some spelunking you might find a treasure in its small, cluttered used-book-filled rooms. There are also vintage magazines and boxes bursting with GDR postcards and discarded family snapshots. A handful of goodies might only set you back €2.

ANOTHER COUNTRY in Kreuzberg also sells second-hand books, but mostly functions as a library. When you return a store-bought book, you get the cost of the book back minus €1.50. On Fridays the owner serves delicious homemade grub for €5, and afterwards there’s a free film, like Groundhog Day or another ageing cult. Rather not pay for books at all? Declare wallet independence at the AMERICAN MEMORIAL LIBRARAY with its efficient (aka not so charming) atmosphere. If you find some sheet music by Ravel or Bill Evans, you might even be lucky enough to score a piano in one of the library’s practice rooms.    


August 8, 2012

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