Conductor Rafael Payare Shows Us Around His Favourite Berlin Spots

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The newly appointed music director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal shares his favourite sights, sounds and tastes in Berlin.

Rafael Payare, the newly appointed music director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, first visited Berlin in 2013. It was love at first sight: “My wife and I arrived during a freakishly early spring, and it felt magical. We knew we needed to call Berlin our home.” In the past seven years, Payare served as music director for the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast and most recently for the San Diego Symphony, but kept an apartment in Berlin’s Mitte district. For Payare, who is originally from Venezuela and a graduate of the country’s renowned El Sistema classical music education program, Berlin’s seven major orchestras and many museums add to the city’s appeal. “Berlin has this magnetic energy, like New York, but not as loud. It’s full of beautiful parks, but also has a gritty side – you can be incognito or at the centre of everything.”

Related: The Film Lover’s Guide to Berlin

September 9, 2021
Berlin map illustration

Rafael Payare’s Favourite Berlin Spots

Museum Island in Berlin
   Photo: Istock
  1. Museum Island — 

    Walking around this complex of five museums on Spree Island is like going on a cultural hike. I can’t pick a favourite, but the Pergamon Museum and Alte Nationalgalerie are both especially wonderful.

Berlin Philharmonie building
   Photo: B.O'Kane/Alamy Stock Photo
  1. Berlin Philharmonie — 

    A visit to the home of one of the world’s top orchestras is a must – I’ve been a fan of the Berliner Philharmoniker since my time in Venezuela. It’s a striking modern building, but when light shines through the concert hall’s stained‑glass walls, you feel like you are in a cathedral.

Berlin Radialsystem
   Photo: Phil Dera
  1. Radialsystem — 

    This arts hub in a former pumping station encapsulates all that Berlin has to offer. An evening here could involve a small acoustic concert, followed by an acrobatic performance, a meal and drinks during an electro DJ set, capped off by an orchestra performing a piece by Beethoven.

Wall Museum — East Side Gallery
   Photo: Jochen Tack/Alamy Stock Photo
  1. Wall Museum ‑ East Side Gallery — 

    Berlin has amazing cultural offerings, but it’s also important to learn about the city’s divided past. This museum features a multimedia reconstruction of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and be sure to check out the colourful paintings from international artists on the East Side Gallery section of the wall.

dish from Rutz
Rutz   Photo: NGO HETTIG @travelgastronomist
  1. Rutz — 

    This modern, relaxed three‑Michelin‑star restaurant offers an incredible selection of German and Austrian wines – they pair beautifully with the seasonal tasting menu. Last time I was there, I had a pork dish with cabbage and beans that was out of this world, and a salad that was so light and crisp, it matched perfectly with a glass of sparkling wine.