The German capital was chock-a-block for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, but now the crowds have gone it’s the perfect time to go.
Spread out across the old East and West sections, getting round this city requires planning (thankfully, public transport is first-rate).
One of the joys of visiting, aside from soaking up the history, is simply living like a local and wandering in neighbourhoods away from main sights.
The German capital was chock-a-block for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, but now the crowds have gone it’s the perfect time to go
Where to stay
Hotel AMANO Grand Central
This large, modern hotel makes a brilliant base, just across the road from Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the huge central station. The crashpad-style rooms have low-slung double beds, good showers and a slick, minimalist feel. Breakfasts are a treat with smoothies, cured hams, eggs and bacon.
B&B doubles from £81 (amanogroup.de).
Grimm’s Hotel at Potsdamer Platz
Don’t let the name put you off — in fact, this fun hotel is themed around the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales. Expect décor connected to the stories, including patterned wallpaper decorated with wolves, frogs, cats and snakes. Don’t let that put you off either, as it’s all tastefully done. The highlight is a superb sauna with sweeping views at the top.
Doubles from £79; breakfast £12.50pp extra (grimms-hotel.de).
Art Luise Kunsthotel
If you’re into avant-garde art, and have a bohemian streak, this is for you. One room has a mural of a figure with a plume of books seeming to explode from his head; another features fashion mannequins in negligees; and yet another is themed around Michelangelo’s David. It’s wacky but comfortable, and just across the River Spree from the Reichstag.
B&B doubles from £55 (luise-berlin.com).
This massive hotel (700 rooms) is in a big, 1960s concrete building, a short walk south of Tiergarten park. Inside there’s a colourful bar, fresh cut flowers, a little stall selling beers and snacks — and an upbeat atmosphere. Rooms have been recently refurbished with a ‘stay like a local’ theme that features art connected to the city.
B&B doubles from £74, hotel-berlin.de; prices can fluctuate.
What to see and do
Go to the dome
The Reichstag, pictured, is one of Berlin’s must-see sights
It’s free to visit the iconic glass dome of the Reichstag, home of the Bundestag (parliament), however, you must book in advance on the website — slots are offered every quarter of an hour. Best not to leave it till a day or two before, as you could miss out.
Lovely river walk
Head off along the River Spree to Schloss Charlottenburg, an ornate rococo palace built by Frederick I for his wife Sophie Charlotte in the 18th century. It takes about 90 minutes from the Reichstag. Entrance is £10.60, but seeing the beautiful gardens is free.
Visit the flea market
Every Saturday and Sunday from 10am-5pm on the western edge of Tiergarten, a large flea market assembles. Old vinyl records, tea sets, railway signs, brass candlesticks, paintings, pottery, vintage clothing . . . you name it, it’s probably there. Food stalls sell slices of delicious rhubarb cake (£1.80), fresh orange juice (90p) and good coffees (£1.30).
See the street art
The East Side Gallery (pictured) harbours some eye-catching murals
Yes, go to see the fantastic murals on the section of the Berlin Wall now known as the East Side Gallery in the buzzy Friedrichshain district. But also make time for the excellent Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art in Schoneberg, epicentre of Berlin’s decadent 1970s nightlife (which attracted David Bowie). The art is vivid and arresting; free entry.
Quirky museum… and bar
The Ramones Museum was set up by a fan of the New York punk rock band formed in 1970s, who were popular in Berlin. There’s a room full of memorabilia (entry £4.50). Catch the vibe of the bohemian East Kreuzberg neighbourhood in the little bar; beers are £2.50.
Mauerpark Flohmarkt is great for antiques, food stalls – and old junk
Mauerpark Flohmarkt is a brilliant Sunday market in Prenzlauer Berg, a part of East Berlin that was popular with artists pre-1989. This flea market is great for antiques . . . as well as old junk! All sorts of food stalls, plus live music.
Where to eat
The motto at this vegan restaurant near Rosenthaler Platz is ‘Full taste, zero waste’. Even if you’re a meat-eater, you’ll enjoy the flavoursome dishes conjured up by the head chef Halfdan Kluften: pastas with oyster mushrooms and spinach; lentil ragouts; carrot cake with tangerine sorbet. Two courses from £11.50. All waste is recycled.
Street Food Thursday
From 5pm-10pm each Thursday, food stalls open in Markthalle Neun, a 19th-century covered marketplace in the hip East Kreuzberg district. It’s a crowded, cacophonous place offering Thai curries, Chinese dumplings, pastas, African dishes and even some German food, including ham hock and sauerkraut (£7). A glass of wine is about £3.
The flagship Witty’s organic snack stall is on Wittenbergplatz (it’s proved so successful since opening in 2003, there are three more). It’s popular thanks to its super-fresh sausages and sauces. Currywurst is a particular hit, served with organic chilli sauces and mustards (£3.80). Open till midnight.
Lon-Men’s Noodle House
In the heart of Charlottenburg in west Berlin, Lon-Men’s is a tiny Taiwanese noodle joint with semi-legendary status. At weekends, queues run into the street, but service is super-swift. Chicken noodle soup, sautéed duck and a couple of drinks is £20 for two.
Address: 33 Kantstrasse.
Tucked away by Berlin Zoo, this is a fabulous beer garden and restaurant. Salads, sausage and sauerkraut, fish soups and chilli con carne are all about £9. A foaming half-litre of beer is £3.90.
How to get there
Eurowings flies London-Berlin from £140 return (eurowings.com). More info at visitberlin.de — a 48-hr Welcome Card costs £17.80, and covers public transport and tourist site discounts; a one-day public transport ticket is £6.20.