Berlin has been around for nearly 800 years, but it still sometimes feels like a young city. The vibrant, occasionally decadent capital that flourished during the first part of the 20th century—when its nightlife was rivalled only by Paris—had been transformed into a city of rubble and bitter memories by the end of the WWII. Although efforts to restore it began almost immediately, the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961 divided the city into two isolated entities that would develop along very different lines.
In the quarter-century since reunification, however, Berlin has not only started to fashion itself into the cosmopolitan capital it was always meant to be, but it has also reestablished its international reputation as the place to go for a good time. And if the city is fated to one day become a more ordinary center of commerce and politics, it has thus far managed to retain the laid-back, licentious demeanor that has long attracted casual pleasure-seekers and permanent transplants.
Berlin’s nightclubs have been famous since the first wave of techno encouraged revellers to dance for whole weekends at a time; and the city—which has somehow circumvented the Europe-wide smoking ban—has never wanted for appealing local dives with good music, inexpensive beer and an unpredictable crowd of artists, leftists, punks and oddballs. In recent years, however, the drinking culture has started to expand into new territories.
Where high-balls used to be the best non-beer option, the city now boasts an increasing selection of dedicated cocktail bars that stand among the finest in Europe; wine lists, too, have improved as sommeliers play a greater role in the dining experience. Beer, of course, remains the lynchpin of German drinking and, while the basic selection of high-quality lagers and wheat beers are incomparably delicious when consumed in a beer garden on a summer’s day, the first rumblings of a craft beer scene are taking the national drink in exciting new directions.
What remains unchanged about Berlin—at least for now—is the unpretentious attitude. So long as you’re enjoying yourself, and letting other people enjoy themselves, it doesn’t matter what you wear, what music you prefer or what you do for a living. In Berlin, bars are plentiful, drinks are (by European standards) inexpensive, people are friendly and “closing time” is the punch line to a joke about drinking in other cities. —Jesse Simon