- Soviet so-cool republic
- City Life
- Louche and lowdown
Flying in the face of stuffy German stereotypes, famously liberal and fun-loving Berlin has long been a magnet for pleasure-seekers.
Willkommen to perhaps Europe’s most fascinating city. Lines of bars and clubs, blaring out rock, techno and everything in between, have now replaced the famous Berlin wall, and are testament to the city’s resilience and upbeat character. Indeed, the collapse of the Iron Curtain has allowed its dormant creativity to flourish. Art galleries have sprung up in almost every vacant warehouse space, theatre and cabaret venues continue to pack them in, and awe-inspiring buildings such as the metal-and-glass Reichstag have brought iconic design to the Soviet-era cityscape. Add to this a vibrant culinary scene, offering everything from traditional würst to elaborate Asian fusion, and this city is one you’ll never want to leave. Berlin? It’ll take your breath away.
See the city as those who lived behind the Iron Curtain did, and drive a Trabant – the tiny tin box on wheels that the State decreed suitable for East German citizens – around East Berlin’s Communist-era landmarks. A Trabi-Safari guide will take the lead in another car and provide commentary via radio. For more information, call +49 (0)30 2759 2273 or go to www.trabi-safari.de.
- You’ll find taxi ranks all over the city, and you can also call Taxi Fon (0800 8001 1554) to get one sent to you. When you get into a cab, the meter will always be set to €2.50. Expect to pay €1.50 a kilometre after that.
- Tipping culture
- Restaurant bills include service, but it is usual to add five to 10 per cent on top of this. Add about 10 per cent to your taxi fare and five per cent to your bar bill.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Berlin shops are legally allowed to open around the clock, which makes for erratic opening times – though you’re unlikely to find anything closed before 6.30pm. The city goes a bit quiet on a Sunday. Bars tend to close between 1am and 3am in the week, and stay open till 5am at the weekends. Clubs can go on all night.
- Packing tips
- A portable DVD player on which to watch brilliant Berlin-set films – take your pick from Metropolis, Good Bye Lenin!, The Lives of Others, Cabaret, Downfall and, um, Octopussy, among others.
- Recommended reads
- Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin chronicles the decadence of city life in the years just before World War II. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carré is a snapshot of Cold War espionage. Russian Disco by Wladimir Kaminer is a collection of tales about ‘everyday lunacy on the streets of Berlin’.
- Though most dishes on Berlin menus are of the rib-sticking variety, the city serves up plenty of lighter fare. Splendid Delikatessen (+49 (0)30 9212 7247) on Dorotheenstrasse sells artisan honey, organic vegetables and salads alongside the meatloaf. There’s a vibrant eco movement here, too, so good vegetarian food is easy to find.
- Euro (€).
- Time zone
- GMT +1.
- Dialling codes
- Country code for Germany: +49. Berlin: (0)30.
- Do go/don't go
- There’s never a bad time to visit Berlin. In the balmy summer, there are all kinds of alfresco delights to indulge in; in winter, it may be cold and up-to-your-knees snowy, but it’s also incredibly atmospheric. And there’s glühwein on sale everywhere to warm you up.
Don't go home without...
…sampling currywurst, sliced wiener sausage slathered in thick spicy sauce and sprinkled with curry powder, from the famous Konnopke’s Imbiss snack bar (+49 (0)30 442 7765) in Prenzlauer Berg.