Twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the former eastern quarter, Mitte, is transforming itself once again.
It has been twenty years since the wall fell, but the former center of East Berlin, Mitte (for “middle”), is in the midst of another transition of its own. Many of the old neoclassical office buildings flanking tree-lined Unter den Linden have been rebuilt, some converted into hotels, like Sir Rocco Forte’s Hotel de Rome, in a 19th-century confection overlooking the Bebelplatz.
Art has also come to Mitte, a blend of 18th- and 19th-century apartment buildings and Communist-style concrete blocks that quickly became a bohemian ghetto in 1989. On historic Museum Island, two institutions damaged during World War II and largely neglected ever since have recently reopened: the Bode Museum, in 2006, after an eight-year restoration, and in October, the Neues Museum. Fresh from a $295 million face-lift, the Neues counts among its treasures a bust of Egyptian queen Nefertiti.
Within this sprawling Bezirk, or district, it is the streets zigzagging between the Alexanderplatz and Hackescher Markt S-Bahn station where the most exciting action is taking place. To see emerging artists, Auguststrasse, informally dubbed Art Mile, is a one-stop shop. Two favorites: international art space Galerie Dittmar (22 Auguststrasse; 011-49-30-2809-8540; galerie-dittmar.de) and, around the corner, DAM Berlin (37 Tucholskystrasse; 011-49-30- 2809-8135; dam-berlin.de), which explores the influences of computers on society.
Fashion is pushed to its outer limits in the small boutiques clustered along nearby Münzstrasse. Tucked into an inconspicuous courtyard, Andreas Murkudis’s superb shops, AM1 for men, AM2 for women and Etage for collectibles (21 Münzstrasse; andreasmurkudis.net; 011- 49-30-3088-1945), are a European designer extravaganza. Included among the fashion-forward ready-to-wear looks are those by Andreas’s brother, Kostas, who worked in the atelier of Helmut Lang; there are also selections of Nymphenburg porcelain and ethereal steel-mesh jewelry by Julia Menthel. A few doors away, pocket- sized Salotto (11B Münzstrasse; 011-49- 30-2472-4014; salotto-berlin.de) stocks a great collection of wearable dresses, jackets and accessories from Italian brands Anna Rita N, Piccimorra and Maliparmi.
Mitte’s newfound pizzazz can be best summed up in the work of milliner Rike Feurstein (28 Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse; 011-49-30-9225-9669; rikefeurstein.com). The scion of a textile- and jewelry-manufacturing family, Feurstein creates daring and adventurous but gorgeous hats in all shapes and sizes and fabrics, from felt or handwoven straw to Italian silk and cashmere. “Mitte used to be so much wilder and experimental,” says Feurstein. “Now it’s just very hip.”