Berlin

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Something old, something new. Reminders of Berlin's once-divided past sit side-by-side with its united present – Norman Foster's Reichstag dome, Peter Eisenman's Holocaust Memorial and the iconic Brandenburg Gate are all contained within a few blocks of each other. Strolling along Bernauerstrasse near trendy Prenzlauer Berg, you suddenly place your foot on a brick-marked line in the pavement showing where the wall once stood, a past that is rapidly receding.

Renowned for its diversity and tolerance, its alternative culture and night-owl stamina, the best thing about the German capital is the way it reinvents itself and isn't shackled by its mind-numbing history. And the world is catching on – as evidenced by the surge of expatriates and steady increase in out-of-towners coming to see what all the fuss is about. In the midst of it all, students rub shoulders with Russian émigrés, fashion boutiques inhabit monumental GDR buildings, Turkish residents live next door to famous DJs and the nightlife has long left the American sector as edgy clubbers watch the sun rise over the neon-lit Universal Music headquarters in the city's east.

In short, all human life is here, and don't expect to get much sleep.

The major sights are laid out roughly along an east–west axis going through the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). East of the gate lies Unter den Linden, the Museumsinsel (Museum Island) and the needle-shaped Fernsehturm (TV tower) at Alexanderplatz. Heading west you encounter the Reichstag, Holocaust Memorial, Tiergarten and Siegessäule (Victory Column), plus Potsdamer Platz to the south.

Most of the action now happens in the east – which includes the ‘centra’ area of Mitte and the districts of Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain. Meanwhile, on the far western side of the Tiergarten, near the Zoo station, lies the Kurfürstendamm, the onetime centre of West Berlin.

Internet Access

Internet access is a breeze to find in Berlin – and the entire Sony Center at Potsdamerplatz is a free public hot spot. Al Hamra (4285 0095; Raumerstrasse 16; per hr €1; h9-4am; mEberswalder Strasse) Internet access. Berlin Tourismus (Tel 250 025; http://visitberlin.de/de) Alexanderplatz (Alexa Shopping Centre; h10am-6pm); Brandenburger Tor (h10am-6pm); Hauptbahnhof/Main Train Station (Ground fl/Europa Platz Entrance; h8am-10pm); Reichstag (h10am-6pm); Zoologisher Garten Station (Kurfürstendamm 21; h10am- 8pm Mon-Sat, to 6pm Sun) Tourist information.

Berlin Welcome Card (http://www.visitberlin.de/de/welcomecard; 48/72hr card €16.50/21.50, incl Potsdam & up to 3 children €18/24.50) A discount card giving free public transport, plus museum and entertainment discounts.

Kassenärztliche Bereitschaftsdienst (Public Physicians’ Emergency Service; Tel 310 031; http://www.kvberlin.de/, in German) Phone referral for medical services.

Surf & Sushi (Tel 2838 4898; http://www.surfandsushi.de/; Oranienburger Strasse 17; per hr €2, free if you eat a bite of sushi; hfrom noon Mon-Sat, from 1pm Sun; mOranienburger Strasse/Hackescher Markt) Internet access.

Brandenburg Gate Area

Finished in 1791 as one of 18 city gates, the neoclassical Brandenburger Tor (Pariser Platz; mS-Bahn Unter den Linden) became an east–west crossing point after the Wall was built in 1961. The crowning Quadriga statue, a winged goddess in a horse-drawn chariot, was once kidnapped by Napoleon and briefly taken to Paris. It’s back in place now. Before reunification it faced east, but has since been reversed.

Just to the west of the gate stands the glass-domed Reichstaggebäude (Parliament Bldg; Tel 2273 2152; http://www.bundestag.de/; Platz der Republik 1; admission free; h8am-midnight, last admission 10pm). A fire here in 1933 allowed Hitler to blame the communists and grab power, while the Soviets raised their flag here in 1945 to signal Nazi Germany’s defeat. Today, the glass cupola added in 1999 by architect Lord Norman Foster is the highlight. Queues to visit the internal spiral walkway are long, so arrive early.

The Reichstag overlooks the Tiergarten further south again is the Holocaust Memorial (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas; Tel 2639 4336; http://www.stiftung-denkmal.de/; Cora-Berliner-Strasse 1; admission free; hfield 24hr, information centre 10am- 8pm Tue-Sun, last entry 7.15pm Apr-Sep, to 7pm, last entry 6.15pm Oct-Mar; mPotsdamer Platz/S-Bahn Unter den Linden), a grid of 2711 ‘stelae’ or differently shaped concrete columns set over 19,000 sq metres of gently undulating ground. This slate-grey expanse of walkways and pillars can be entered from any side, but presents varied sombre perspectives as you move through it. For historical background, designer Peter Eisenman has created an underground information centre in the southeast corner of the site. Highly recommended are the weekly English tours (tours €3; h4pm Sun).

Unter den Linden

Lined with lime (or linden) trees, the street Unter den Linden (mS-Bahn Unter den Linden) was the fashionable avenue of old Berlin. Today, after decades of communist neglect, it’s been rejuvenated. The thoroughfare stretches east from Brandenburger Tor to the Museumsinsel, passing shops, embassies, operas and a university.

Don’t forget to stop awhile at Bebelplatz (Französische Strasse). There’s a book-burning memorial – a chastening reminder of the first major Nazi book-burning, which occurred in May 1933 here. A window in the pavement reveals empty bookshelves below.

Museumsinsel

The so-called Museums Island (all museums Tel 2090 5577; http://www.smb.museum/smb/home/index.php; adult/concession per museum €8/4, all museums €12/6, 6-10pm Thu free; h10am- 6pm Tue-Sun, to 10pm Thu; mS-Bahn Hackescher Markt) lies in the Spree River. Of four museums, the leading venue is Pergamonmuseum (Am Kupfergraben). It houses the spectacular Ishtar Gate from Babylon, the Pergamon Altar and other antiquities.

Meanwhile, the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery; Bodestrasse 1-3) houses 19th-century European sculpture and painting, and the Altes Museum (Am Lustgarten) has art from ancient Rome and Greece, including the spectacular bust of Nefertiti.

Overlooking the ‘island’ is the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral).

Hackescher Markt

A complex of shops and apartments built around eight courtyards, the Hackesche Höfe (mS-Bahn Hackescher Markt) still attracts savvy young consumers looking for fashion-forward streetwear, even though big brands such as Adidas and Hugo Boss are moving in.

Stores, cafes and restaurants are the main draw, but you’ll also find the Neue Synagogue (Tel 8802 8300; http://www.cjudaicum.de/; Oranienburger Strasse 28-30; adult/concession €3/2; h10am-8pm Sun & Mon, to 6pm Tue-Thu, to 5pm Fri, reduced hr Nov-Apr; mS-Bahn Oranienburgerstrasse).

Much further northeast, the spectacular gallery of the Hamburger Bahnhof (Tel 3978 3439; http://www.hamburgerbahnhof.de/text.php; Invalidenstrasse 50, Mitte; adult/concession €8/4, 2-6pm Thu free; h10am-6pm Tue-Fri, 11am-8pm Sat, 11am-6pm Sun; mHauptbahnhof/ Lehrter Stadtbahnhof ) showcases works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg and Joseph Beuys.

TV Tower

Call it Freudian or call it Ostalgie (nostalgia for the communist East or Ost), but Berlin’s once-mocked socialist Fernsehturm (Tel 242 3333; http://tv-turm.de/; adult/concession €9.50/4.50; h9am-midnight Mar-Oct, from 10am Nov-Feb; mAlexanderplatz) has become its mostloved symbol. Erected in 1969 and the city’s tallest structure, its 368m outline pops up in numerous souvenirs. That said, ascending 207m to the revolving Telecafé is less exciting than visiting the Reichstag dome.

The needle-shaped Turm dominates Alexanderplatz, a former livestock market that became the lowlife district chronicled in Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, and then developed as a 1960s communist showpiece.

Today the square is an unusual hive of construction activity as it’s transformed into the next capitalist development. However, the socialist past still echoes in the retro World Time Clock and along the portentous Karl-Marx-Allee, which leads several kilometres from here to Friedrichshain.

Berlin Wall

The infamous Wall snaked through Berlin, so today’s remnants are scattered across the city. The longest surviving stretch is the socalled East Side Gallery (http://www.eastsidegallery.com/; Mühlenstrasse; mS-Bahn Warschauer Strasse) in Friedrichshain. Panels along this 1.3km of graffiti and art include the famous portrait of Soviet leader Brezhnev kissing GDR leader Erich Hönecker and a Trabant car seemingly bursting through the (now crumbling) concrete.

Climbing the tower at the Berliner Mauer Dokumentationszentrum (Berlin Wall Documentation Centre; Tel 464 1030; Bernauer Strasse 111; admission free; h10am-5pm; mS-Bahn Nordbahnhof ) you overlook a memorial across the street – an artist’s impression of the death strip behind an original stretch of wall.

In Kreuzberg, the renowned sign saying ‘You are now leaving the American sector’ still stands, marking the position of Checkpoint Charlie (cnr Friedrichstrasse & Zimmerstrasse). Nearby, the touristy Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (Tel 253 7250; http://www.mauermuseum.com/; Friedrichstrasse 43-45; adult/concession €12.50/9.50; h9am-10pm; mKochstrasse/Stadtmitte) chronicles tales of spectacular escape attempts, including through tunnels, in hot-air balloons and even with a one-man submarine.

Tiergarten

From the Reichstag, you can see the Tiergarten’s carillon (John-Foster-Dulles-Allee; bus 100 or 200) and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures; John-Foster-Dulles-Allee). The latter was erected during a 1950s building expo and is nicknamed the ‘pregnant oyster’.

Further west is the Siegessäule (Victory Column; bus 100 or 200), a golden angel built to commemorate 19th-century Prussian military victories. Be aware that there are better views than those from the column’s peak.

A short walk south is a cluster of embassy buildings and museums, including the Bauhaus Archiv (Tel 254 0020; http://www.bauhaus.de/index+M52087573ab0.html; Klingelhöferstrasse 14; adult/concession €7/4 Sat- Mon, €6/3 Wed-Fri; h10am-5pm Wed-Mon; mNollendorfplatz), with Modernist objects from the influential Bauhaus design school. The school itself survives in Dessau (see http://www.bauhaus-dessau.de/index.php?en), not far from Berlin.

The Berliner Philharmonie (1961; http://www.berliner-philharmoniker.de/) and yet more stunning art museums lie a little to the east in the Kulturforum (www.kulturforum-berlin.de), south of Tiergartenstrasse. Check the website to see if anything appeals.

Potsdamer Platz

This postmodern temple to Mammon was erected in 2000 in the former death strip. Under the big-top, glass-tent roof of the Sony Center (mor S-Bahn Potsdamer Platz) and along the malls of the Lego-like DaimlerCity, people swarm in and around shops, restaurants, offices, loft apartments, clubs, a cinema, a luxury hotel and a casino – all revitalising what was the busiest square in prewar Europe.

There’s a Filmmuseum (Tel 300 9030; http://www.deutsche-kinemathek.de/; Potsdamer Strasse 2, Tiergarten; adult/ concession €6/4.50; h10am-6pm Tue-Sun, to 8pm Thu) and ‘Europe’s fastest’ lift to the Panorama Observation Deck (http://www.panoramapunkt.de/de/willkommen.html; adult/concession €3.50/2.50; h11am-8pm).

But, as ever in Berlin, the past refuses to go quietly. Just north of Potsdamer Platz lies the former site of Hitler’s Bunker. To the southeast lies the Topographie des Terrors (Tel 2548 6703; http://www.topographie.de/en/topography-of-terror/nc/1/; Niederkirchner Strasse; admission free; h10am-8pm May-Sep, to dusk Oct-Apr), a sometimes shockingly graphic record of the Gestapo and SS headquarters that once stood here.

Jewish Museum

The Jüdisches Museum (Tel 2599 3300; http://www.juedisches-museum-berlin.de/main/EN/homepage-EN.php; Lindenstrasse 9-14; adult/concession €5/2.50; h10am-10pm Mon, to 8pm Tue-Sun, last entry 1hr before closing; mHallesches Tor) is as much about the Daniel Libeskind building as the collection of Jewish-German history within. Designed to disorient with its ‘voids’, culs-de-sac, barbed metal fittings, slit windows and uneven floors, this stillsomehow- beautiful structure swiftly conveys the uncertainty and sometime terror of past Jewish life in Germany.

Kurfürstendamm

West Berlin’s legendary shopping thoroughfare, the Ku’damm has lost some of its cachet since the Wall fell, but is worth visiting for old times’ sake. Here you’ll find the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (Tel 218 5023; Breitscheidplatz; hMemorial Hall 10am-4pm Mon-Sat, Hall of Worship 9am-7pm), which remains in ruins – just as British bombers on 22 November 1943 left it – as an antiwar memorial. Only the broken west tower still stands.

Stasi Museum

The one-time secret police headquarters now houses the Stasi Museum (Tel 553 6854; House 1, Ruschestrasse 103; adult/concession €4/3; h11am-6pm Tue-Fri, 2-6pm Sat & Sun; mMagdalenenstrasse). It’s largely in German, but worth a visit to see the cunning surveillance devices and communist paraphernalia.

International Film Festival Berlin

(Tel 259 200; http://www.berlinale.de/en/HomePage.html) The Berlinale, held in February, is Germany’s answer to the Cannes and Venice film festivals. Christopher Street Day (Tel 2362 8632; http://www.csd-berlin.de/) Held on the last weekend in June, Germany’s largest gay event celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2008. B-Parade (http://www.b-parade.de/) Held each July, Berlin’s huge techno street parade is the Loveparade’s successor. Fuckparade (http://fuckparade2009.blogsport.de/) Each August, this anti-establishment, anti-gentrification demonstration dances to its own non-commercial techno beat.

Berliners love eating out and you needn’t walk far for a feed. Restaurants usually open from 11am to midnight, with varying Ruhetage or rest days, and many close during the day from 3pm to 6pm. Cafes often close around 8pm, though equal numbers stay open until 2am or later.

There’s the excellent organic Kollwitzplatz market (h9am-4pm Sat & Sun), the relaxed Winterfeldtplatz farmers market (hWed & Sat) and the bustling, ultracheap Türkenmarkt (Turkish market, hnoon-6:30pm Tue & Fri).

Mitte & Prenzlauer Berg

La Focacceria (Tel 4403 2771; Fehrbelliner Strasse 24; slices €1.50; h11am-11pm; mRosethaler Platz) A character-filled foccacia and pizza joint with an intense local following – perfect for an afternoon snack after a hard day’s shopping or sightseeing.

Konnopke’s Imbiss (Schönhauser Allee 44a; snacks €1.50-5; h6am-8pm Mon-Fri, 12-7pm Sat; mEberswalder Strasse) The quintessential Wurst stand under the elevated U-Bahn tracks. We think Konnopke’s serves the best Currywurst in town.

RNBS (Tel 540 2505; Oranienburger Strasse 50; mains €3.50-6; mOranienburger Strasse/Hackescher Markt) The Asian soups and noodle dishes served up by this tiny orange-and-white outlet are as delicious as they are healthy: no preservatives, no MSG, no artificial flavourings.

Sankt Oberholz (Tel 2408 5586; Rosenthaler Strasse 72a; dishes €4-7; mRosenthaler Platz) Berlin’s ‘Urbanen Pennern’ (officeless, self-employed creatives-types) have been flocking here for years with their laptops for the free wi-fi access, but we like it for the people-watching – especially from the lofty lifeguard chairs out front. Soups, sandwiches and salads are always satisfying.

Assel (Tel 281 2056; Oranien-burgerstrasse 61; mains €5-15; mOranienburger Strasse or Hackescher Markt) One of the few exceptional picks on a particularly touristy and busy stretch of Mitte, come for coffee, a bite or a full meal and stretch out in the wooden booths made from old S-Bahn seats. Plus, the toilets are entertaining (you’ll see).

Monsieur Vuong (Tel 3087 2643; Alte Schönhauser Strasse 46; mains €6.90; mWeinmeisterstrasse, Rosa- Luxemburg-Platz or Alexanderplatz) Berlin’s original designer Asian soup den is trendy, packed and consistently serves amazing Vietnamese fare. Arrive early to avoid queuing.

Oderquelle (Tel 4400 8080; Oderberger Strasse 27; mains €8-16; hdinner; mEberswalder Strasse) Modern German food in such mellow, convivial digs is rare, almost as rare as snagging a table here after 7pm, so be sure to make reservations.

Borchardt (Tel 8188 6250; Französische Strasse 47; mains €18-40; mFranzösische Strasse) On every Berlin promi’s (celeb’s) speed-dial list, this refined French-German bistro also tolerates ordinary civilians.

Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg & Kreuzköln

Bürgeramt Früstücksklub (Krossenerstrasse 22; burgers €2-4; hfrom 10am Sat & Sun, from 11am Mon-Fri; mSamariterstrasse) A mere 13 types of burgers, including chicken and veggie versions, are cooked up with love and a smile in this wee space – if you can’t snag a seat head to the tree-filled square opposite. Hearty breakfast fare is also available.

Curry 36 (Tel 881 4710; Mehringdamm 36; snacks €2- 6; h9am-4pm Mon-Sat, to 3pm Sun; mMehringdamm) This is Kreuzberg’s most popular sausage stand, as evidenced by the daily queues (yes, it really is worth the wait).

Primaria (Tel 2904 4976; Boxhagener Strasse 26; mains €2-6; mFrankfurter Tor) Mostly meatless Bulgarian fare (salads, casseroles, lots of feta) in cosy digs and a friendly, helpful staff.

Hasir (Adalbertstrasse 10; mains €5-10; h24hr; mKottbusser Tor) Local lore says this is the birthplace of the doner kebab – we haven’t seen proof but we do know it tastes fantastic and we can indulge on proper chairs.

Seerose (Tel 6981 5927; Mehringdamm 47; dishes€7.50-8; mMehringdamm) One of the most popular veggie restaurants in town serves imaginative organic fare – of pastas, soups and salads.

Weltrestaurant Markthalle (Tel 617 5502; Pücklerstrasse 34; mains €11.50-17; mGörlitzer Bahnhof ) This wood-lined, century-old pub draws a mixed clientele of ageing hipsters and neighbourhood folk with its relaxed vibe and interesting German fare.

Charlottenburg & Schöneberg

Schwarzes Café (Tel 313 8038; Kantstrasse 148; dishes€4.50-10; mS-Bahn Zoo/Savignyplatz) Founded in 1978, this 24-hour food’n’booze institutionmust have seen half of Berlin pass throughit (or out in it) at some point. Don’t leavewithout checking out the toilets.

Petite Europe (Tel 781 2964; Langen-scheidtstrasse1; mains €5-12; hdinner; mKleistpark) Pizzas, pastasand other straightforward Italian fareare still going strong at this 40-year-oldinstitution.

Engelbecken (Tel 615 2810; Witzlebenstrasse 31;mains €8-18; hdinner only Mon-Sat, lunch & dinner Sun;mSophie Charlotte Platz) Come here for whatmany rate as Berlin’s best Bavarian food,with Schweinsbraten, schnitzels, dumplingsand sauerkraut. All the meat is organic.

Café Einstein Stammhaus (Tel 261 5096; http://www.cafeeinstein.com/, in German; Kurfürstenstrasse 58; breakfast€6-15, mains €15-23; h9-1am; mNollendorfplatz)You’ll think you’ve hopped to another capitalat this Viennese coffee house. Choosefrom schnitzel, strudel and other Austrianfare in the polished, palatial digs.

Drinking

Gemütlichkeit, which roughly translates as cosy, warm and friendly, with a decided lack of anything hectic, dominates the upmarket bars of the west as well as the hipper, more underground venues in the east. Prenzlauer Berg, the first GDR sector to develop a happening nightlife, still attracts visitors, creative types and gay customers, but as its residents have aged (and produced many, many babies) its nightlife has become more subdued. Clubs and bars in Mitte around Hackescher Markt cater to a cool, slightly older and wealthier crowd. Friedrichshain boasts a young hipster feel and Kreuzberg remains the alternative hub, becoming grungier as you move east. Charlottenburg and Winterfeldtplatz are fairly upmarket and mature, but liberal.

Bars without food open between 5pm and 8pm and may close as late as 5am (if at all).

Astrobar (Tel 2966 1615; Simon-Dach-Strasse 40; mS-Bahn Warschauer Strasse) The Astro offers the future as it looked in the 1960s, with spaceships, robots and classic computer games in the back room. DJs start spinning after 10pm.

Kumpelnest 3000 (Tel 8891 7960; Lützowstrasse 23; mKurfürstenstrasse) Once a brothel, always an experience – the Kumpelnest has been famed since the ’80s for its wild, inhibition- free nights. Much of the original whorehouse decor remains intact. We’ve had reports that pickpockets operate here – be aware.

Prater (Kastanienallee 7-9; mEberswalder Strasse) A summer institution, come to Berlin’s oldest beer garden (since 1837) for a tall chilled draught under the canopy of chestnut trees.

Freischwimmer (Tel 6107 4309; Vor dem Schlesischen Tor 2a; hfrom 2pm Mon-Fri, from 11am Sat & Sun, reduced hours in winter; mSchlesisches Tor) It was a boathouse, now it’s a bar that entices with its chill vibe and a view of the tranquil canal.

Süss War Gestern (Wülischstrasse 43;mS-Bahn Ostkreuz) Street art–covered walls, 1970s decorations and comfortable sofas make this outpost worth the trek. Most nights feature a DJ spinning anything from funk to soul to electric music.

Few club opens before 11pm (and if you arrive before midnight you may be dancing solo) but they stay open well into the early hours – usually sunrise at least. As the scene changes so rapidly, it’s always wise to double-check listings magazines or ask locals. Admission charges, when they apply, range from €5 to €15.

Berghain/Panorama Bar (http://www.berghain.de/; Am Wriezener Bahnhof; hfrom midnight Thu-Sat; mOstbahnhof ) If you only make it to one club in Berlin, this is where you need to go. The upper floor (Panoramabar, aka ‘Pannebar’) is all about house; the big factory hall below (Berghain) goes hardcore techno. Expect cutting-edge sounds in industrial surrounds.

Kaffee Burger (Tel 2804 6495; http://www.kaffeeburger.de/; Torstrasse 60; mRosa-Luxemburg-Platz) The original GDR ’60s wallpaper is part of the decor at this arty bar, club and music venue in Mitte. Burger hosts popular monthly readings by local (mainly expat) writers in English, but many come here for indie, rock, punk and cult author Wladimir Kaminer’s fortnightly Russendisko (Russian disco; http://www.russendisko.de/).

Watergate (Tel 6128 0394; http://www.water-gate.de/; Falckensteinstrasse 49a; hfrom 11pm Fri & Sat; mSchlesisches Tor) Watch the sun rise over the Spree River through the floor-to-ceiling windows of this fantastic lounge. The music is mainly electro, drum’n’bass and hip-hop.

Berlin is not only famous for its clubs – its cultural offerings are also renowned. So if you fancy splashing out on a quieter, more refined evening, try one of the following.

Staastsoper Unter den Linden (information Tel 203 540, tickets Tel  2035 4555; http://www.staatsoper-berlin.de/; Unter den Linden 5-7; mS-Bahn Unter den Linden) This is the handiest and most prestigious of Berlin’s three opera houses, where unsold seats go on sale cheap an hour before curtains-up.

Berliner Ensemble (information Tel 284 080, tickets Tel 2840 8155; http://www.berliner-ensemble.de/; Bertolt-Brecht- Platz 1; mFriedrichstrasse) ‘Mack the Knife’ had its first public airing here, during the Threepenny Opera’s premiere in 1928. Bertolt Brecht’s former theatrical home continues to present his plays.

Berlin’s public transport system is excellent and a much better choice than driving around the city. One type of ticket is valid on all transport and three tariff zones exist – A, B and C. Unless venturing to Potsdam or the outer suburbs, you’ll only need an AB ticket, costing €2.10 for a single, €6.10 for a day pass and €15.40 for a group day pass for up to five people.

Most tickets are available from vending machines in stations, but must be validated before hopping on the train or bus, or as you enter them.

Services operate from 4am until just after midnight on weekdays, with many Nachtbus (night bus) services in between. At weekends, they run all night long (except the U4).