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, Hamburg shattered them complete
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 Chile- haus, 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
The Ultimate Gourmand’s Guide
Move over, beer and bratwurst. During the last decade, Germany’s culinary scene has blossomed, making the country one of Europe’s most exciting foodie destinations distinguished by international influences, innovative chef-driven eateries and hyper-regional cuisine.
Sure, beer is firmly cemented in Germany’s cultural history — as evidenced by the country’s 1,300 breweries and the weeks-long beer worship at Oktoberfest (the world’s largest folk celebration). But the land of poets and thinkers is also home to 13 wine-growing regions and 300 Michelin-starred restaurants. Only France, the birthplace of haute cuisine, has more epicurean temples to its name.
Germany’s spectrum of gastronomic experiences is as vast as it is surprising, whether it's centuries-old traditional dishes unique to each region, internationally-lauded menus in cosmopolitan hubs, locally-produced beverages in rustic inns, seasonal food festivals catering to the world travelers or food-themed tourist routes for the adventurous at heart.
Delve deeper into Germany with Ker & Downey’s quintessential food-lovers guide and explore every corner of the country.
In Stuttgart savor Maultaschen, miniature ravioli-style pasta parcels filled with meat, spinach, onion and parsley. Legend has it they were invented by monks who didn’t want to go without meat during Lent, so they secretly encased the forbidden luxury inside pasta.
Dive into the land of lederhosen along Bavaria’s Beer and Castle Route, which introduces travelers to Germany’s history and countryside, as well as several local breweries, some with secret recipes dating back 500 years. With over 40 beer varieties and 1,000 brands each with its own unique flavor, it’s no wonder why Bavaria is known as the land of ever-flowing amber nectar.
While in Brandenburg, be sure to gobble up the gherkins, the most famous export of the Spree Forest. The beautiful Gherkin Cycle Route is an especially thrilling way to learn about this crunchy snack, as it leads cyclists on a 160-mile journey following the entire production process from field to fork.
Enjoy a private tour of one of Bremen’s many roasting houses. Ever since 1673, when the first coffee house in a German-speaking country opened in Bremen, the city has exhibited an undeniable passion for the caffeinated drink and is now considered one of Europe’s premiere coffee-trading capitals.
Head to one of Frankfurt’s local cider houses for a sip of Ebbelwoi cider, the signature drink of the Hessen region. Traditionally served in a blue earthenware ‘bembel’ pitcher, the cider is best enjoyed alongside hearty dishes such as pork chops, blood sausages or the regional specialty of 'Grie Soß' (green sauce).
Visit Rügen Island to witness the regional sea buckthorn harvested off the coast. This thorny shrub is rich in vitamins and minerals and its orange berries are often found in local oils, juices, teas, preserves, liqueurs, wine and grog.
Embark on an epicurean tour through asparagus country. Known as the royal vegetable, this white delicacy dominates the Lower Saxony landscape, especially from March through June during asparagus harvesting season. Highlights of this route include the medieval asparagus-producing town of Burgdorf, the Asparagus Museum in Nienburg and a tour through the beautiful city of Hannover.
North Rhine-Westphalia produces an extensive range of beers, including kölsch from Cologne and altbier from Düsseldorf. Take part in a beer workshop and visit the brewery museum in Dortmund to learn everything there is to know about brewing beer.
Follow the German Wine Route from the famous Dürkheim Barrel in Bad Dürkheim to the German Wine Gate of Schweigen-Rechtenbach. In the country’s ancient wine region, visitors will find Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Dornfelder wines flowing on the side of the road, in tasting rooms and in numerous wine bars along the way — especially during wine festival season between mid-August and early October.
You can’t visit Saarland without tasting the popular delicacy of Dibbelabbes, a hash of grated potato, leek, bacon and herbs and served with homemade apple sauce.
Attend Dresden’s Christmas Striezelmarkt in December for a taste of Christstollen, possibly the most famous holiday pastry in the world. This geographically protected fruit bread is produced by just 130 Dresden bakeries, each with their own top-secret family recipe.
Take a detour to a local dairy in Saxony-Anhalt for an introduction to Harz cheese. High in protein and low in fat, these healthy morsels have been a favorite in this region for several hundred years.
Home to more than 120 different varieties of artisanal cheeses, Schleswig-Holstein plays host to the Schleswig-Holstein Gourmet Festival, a 30-year old event known for attracting international Michelin-starred chefs to northern Germany between September and March each year.