Destination: Germany: Berlin
No Berlin trip is complete without an evening at this old-school dance hall. Clärchens Ballhaus opened in the 1910s and feels out of another era. Tiny wooden tables line a well-used parquet dance floor, the walls are clad in golden tinsel and the whole thing is presided over by a friendly wait staff who heroically continue serving cocktails and snacks as the place fills to the brim (a small metal sign asks guests to please not bring food, drink or cigarettes onto the dance floor).
It’s open every night of the week, featuring a different style of dancing, from tango and cha-cha to swing and pop. And it’s packed. Everyone from teenagers to retirees mingle here, making Clärchen’s a must-visit for dancers and anyone eager to see a slice of roaring twenties Berlin. Incidentally, Clärchen’s is on one of the prettiest streets of Berlin, close to the Hackesche Höfe, Eigen + Art Eismanufaktur. Open daily from 10 a.m. until (at least) midnight.
Pauly Saal was clearly the place to be on a drizzly Friday night in July. From larger tables filled with cool young Berliners to parties of grey-haired diners wearing black and discussing politics, the who’s who of Berlin was at the sophisticated new restaurant located between Berlin Mitte and the hip Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. Housed in a former Jewish school for girls, the restaurant shares the building with three impressive art galleries, a happening bar, a retro deli and a kosher dining hall.
Pauly Saal’s décor recalls the prewar era of the former schoolhouse. The spacious room has rich green banquettes, tall brick wainscoting and white walls leading to a high ceiling, which supports several smoked glass chandeliers. The inexplicable red-and-white missile over the kitchen window adds a touch of drama.
The food, expensive for Berlin standards, is a refined take on classic German fare, with starters like warm cauliflower salad with almonds and such main dishes as exceptionally tender milk-fed lamb or delicate dumplings of pike perch served in a rich broth with fresh pea ravioli. The service is excellent, and the desserts, including a strawberry tart with basil sorbet, are superb.
If the weather is nice and you crave some down-time from touring in a truly local spot, head to Sage, a restaurant, bar and man-made beach lounge right by the Spree River. It’s housed in a former factory (of course) in a part of town that really only comes to life late at night. It’s a fun spot for cocktails and people-watching if you’re out and about exploring eastern Kreuzberg or the more gritty Friedichshain district across the river.
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