Ker & Downey’s Michael Jackson’s journey through Berlin and Hamburg reveals that the future of luxury travel in Germany is all about the unexpected: the Michelin-starred cuisine, the cultural rebirths, and the old stereotypes finding new identities in a country ready for its breakout moment.
I expected to love Berlin.
Its creativity, character, and flavors always held more appeal to me than the typical Paris or Rome European gateways. The city did not disappoint and impressed me more than I thought possible.
The magnitude of Berlin’s history alongside its cosmopolitan progressiveness leaves in its wake a unique drive to usher tradition into the modern era.
I see it during a private visit to the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktu (KPM) porcelain factory, which has been producing porcelain since its founding by King Frederick II of Prussia in 1763. These miniature masterpieces and their detailed decorations are still created by hand. They’re coveted not only for their exquisite quality, but also for their sustainable reputation within the home.
I see it in the neighborhoods like those surrounding the Hackesche Höfe, where a private guide reveals traces of the old Jewish quarter. The meandering streets of the Scheunenviertel act as a canvas for Eastern European immigrants who have transformed the heart of Berlin into a visual color explosion. It’s on display from the gravesite of Moses Mendelssohn to the places of Jewish Renaissance that blossomed here during the Weimar Republic.
I also see it in the food. Sausage, pretzels, and beer are overshadowed by fresh, regional cuisine found in trendy hotels and bars scattered across the city, as well as family-run Riesling farms and gin distilleries popping up around the peripheries. My favorite examples are all sugar-filled: the 133-year-old chocolatier, Sawade, with its thoughtfully-made hazelnut and champagne truffles, and the charmingly deconstructed Black Forest Cake of Hotel Adlon Kempinski.
Of course 21st-century Berlin would turn something as familiar as chocolate cake into magic.
If Berlin exceeded my expectations of luxury travel in Germany, Hamburg shattered them completely.
Though Hamburg is a modern city, it feels as though it has one foot in the past. Its position on the river Elbe fortifies its role as the third largest container port in Europe while also inundating the streets and shops with new spices, flavors, and ideas.
Around 9,000 ship calls and 136.5 million tons of cargo per year have transformed what could have been a simple port town into a metropolis of immense wealth and global influence.
The ornate exterior of City Hall, the 1920s Chilehaus, Marco Polo Tower, the UNESCO-honored Speicherstadt warehouse district, and the blocks upon blocks of historic merchant meetinghouses are all reminders of Hamburg’s open-door policy to affluence and innovation. They are feasts for the architectural eye.
There is also an immense respect for seafood I never saw coming.
The Hamburg Fish Market, an institution since 1703, is a Sunday tradition along the shores of the Elbe. Market barkers out-scream each other. Shoppers are coaxed with the promise of free salmon as they stroll from stall to stall. Late-night revelers gorge themselves on early morning fish sandwiches. And some, like me, are just there to enjoy the lively atmosphere with views across the harbor.
The most memorable surprises for me are the velvety eel at Fischereihafen, relished as the boats floated by my window; and the elevated Japanese-Peruvian cuisine of the Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten’s Nikkei Nine restaurant. The culinary mash-up as executed by Executive Chef Ben Dayag and Sushi Master Yuki Hamasaki introduce me to my new favorite sashimi.
Knowing Hamburg’s history of global trade, it makes sense that a restaurant like this would exist. But to the average visitor, it’s the last thing you might anticipate from German cuisine.
The synthesis of old and new, tradition and innovation, is what makes my time in Germany so unique. If you dive deeper beyond the stereotypes and one-size-fits-all tours, you might just find yourself like me — with shattered expectations.
Pro Tip! Vegan travelers will still find plenty of elevated dining options — Berlin is Europe’s #1 city for vegan cuisine. – Michael Jackson, Operations Manager
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