Although it was reduced to rubble in World War II, Berlin has risen from the ashes and away from the grim shadow of oppressive former leaders to begin an exciting new chapter as the heart of Germany.
Get your bearings
Berlin has 23 independent administrative districts, but most travellers stick to the eight ‘core’ ones: Charlottenburg, Tiergarten, Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Kruezberg, Schoneberg and Wilmersdorf. Unter den Laden is a good orientation point. The avenue, the fashionable domain of aristocratic old Berlin, stretches from the Brandenburg Tor (Brandenburg Gate) to Alexanderplatz, the former heart of socialist Germany. Most of the main sights of the city are on, just off or near this thoroughfare. If you’re walking it, keep in mind that street numbers usually run sequentially up one side of the street and down the other, and that continuous streets can change names several times (eg Unter den Laden becomes Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse). Likewise, some street number sequences continue after interruptions by squares or plazas. If it sounds too confusing, just jump on the extensive and easily navigated train network (U/S-Bahn).
Berlin’s hostels are generally very good value, clean and comfortable. As such they’re also hugely popular, especially in the summer months when school groups tend to fill the dorms, so it’s a good idea to book ahead. The Circus (www.circus-berlin.de) hostels in the city are a favourite of many a backpacker with beds from £11 a night. There are several central Hostelling International hostels that are good value as well. For those with a bit more cash to spend on accommodation, there are plenty of options. The Berlin tourist information office arranges hotel reservations at no charge.
Berlin has rightly earned itself a reputation for a lively and very late nightlife. Nothing usually happens before 11pm and all tastes are catered for from the mainstream palate to the downright wild. A word of warning, though, Berlin’s affinity with techno music isn’t just confined to the Love Parade in July and you’ll have to search hard to find clubs playing anything else.
WORTH A LOOK
East Side Gallery
Take a stroll along the longest surviving stretch of the notorious Berlin Wall. The 300m section in Kruezberg, just west of Warschauer Strasse station, has been decorated by artists from across the world to create a telling open air museum capturing the emotions and stories of the wall and its felling.
Today, the major crossover point for East and West Berlin during the Cold War is marked by a tiny (and tacky) hut where tourists can pay to have their photo taken with American and German soldiers. Have a look at the nearby Checkpoint Charlie Museum which documents the history of the wall through private collection of escape memorabilia and photos.
Story of Berlin
The Story of Berlin museum ( www.story-of-berlin.de) is an engaging, interactive journey through the pages of Berlin’s history. After you’ve seen the museum, you can explore a massive radiation-proof bunker under the building.