Europe: 48 hours in the life of Berlin

You need a break - and a short cut to the soul of a city. Starting today, The Independent will provide a prescription for the perfect weekend break. The first target is Berlin, where Simon Calder spends 48 hours.
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Why go now?

Because middle Europe's greatest city is on the cusp between the extraordinary and the merely mighty. Get there before all the bureaucrats arrive from Bonn; while it remains tantalisingly schizoid; when the first mists of autumn send chills whispering through handsome streets, and while you still get close on DM3 to pounds 1.

Beam down

British Airways and its affiliates fly from Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester; call 0345 222111 for timings and fares - a minimum of pounds 151 return (including tax) for travel next weekend from Heathrow. Lufthansa (0345 737747) flies direct only from Heathrow, pounds 151.

Tegel airport is about the only location in Berlin that isn't handy for the city's superb rail network - it's tucked away in the north-west of the city, inconveniently disconnected from the U-Bahn and S-Bahn railways. At the airport Info-Point (located opposite gate 0, open 5am-10.30pm), buy a Welcome Card for pounds 10; this gives you 72 hours of unlimited travel throughout the city. Climb aboard the bus to Kurt Schumacher-Platz and connect with U-Bahn line 6.

Get your bearings

The heart of the city is a building site. Potsdamer Platz will, in a couple of years, boast a fine array of new buildings. Until then you have a choice of centres: in the west, the area around Zoo station and Kaiser- Wilhelm church; in the east, around the Deutsche Dom (literally "German Cathedral"). For fun, though, make for Prenzlauer Berg in the east.

Checking in

The brand-new Adlon (Unter den Linden 77, 00 49 30 22610). It opened last month and has proved wildly popular despite high prices. A room, if you can get one - you'll pay pounds 200 for a double with breakfast. The agreeably flash Inter-Continental (next to the zoo at Budapester Strasse 2, 00 49 30 26020) costs half as much, which includes a Prussian-sized breakfast. At the other end of the scale, the central, cheap and cheerful Transit (Hagelberger Strasse 53-54, 00 49 30 785 5051) costs only pounds 12 for a bed in a dorm, sharing with a sunny (but possibly snore-prone) mix of international travellers.

Take a ride

Easily the best overview of the city is on the S-Bahn from Zoo station to Hauptbahnhof. The line threads itself sinuously from the brash west to the jolly muddle of the east. As it slides through Friedrichstrasse station, you may feel a faint shiver to think that this used to be the main conduit between East and West.

Take a hike

That street again. Friedrichstrasse was never the "bustling centre of municipal life" that the East German publicity once claimed, but it traces an articulate course through the core of a once-shattered city, brushing past architecture at turns palatial and brutal on the journey south to the site of Checkpoint Charlie.

Lunch on the run

Currywurst - a street-corner, spicy saveloy.

Cultural afternoon

Forget South Kensington; Europe's finest agglomeration of art is to be found on Museum Island, where four collections jostle for attention. You really need a fortnight rather than a few hours to do them justice, so concentrate on the Pergamon Museum and the breathtaking 2,000-year-old altar that gave it the name.

Window shopping

The Pergamon closes at 5pm; German law makes shops shut at 4pm each Saturday. Go peer in on the retailers of the Kurfurstendamm.

An aperitif

Trendy things from East and West meet at Volksbuhne, a triumphant emporium on Rosa-Luxemburg Platz. Wash down an Apfelkorn (sweet liqueur) with weisse beer, and look like a tourist.

Demure dinner

A stroll along Sredzkistrasse or Knaackstrasse will reveal more romantically rustic restaurants than you ever thought possible in the former capital of the GDR. Eat well, and sleep well.

Sunday morning: go to church

Like much in Berlin, the Deutsche Dom was devastated by Allied bombs. It has just reopened as a civic museum, tracing 150 years of Berlin.

Bracing brunch

To continue last night's meat'n'alcohol frenzy, call in at Zum Paddenwirt, Nikolaikirchplatz 6, any time from 11am. Or try ...

A walk in the park

Mauerpark, north of the centre, is a gentle swathe of green that nuzzles against a still-graffiti-strewn section of the Berlin Wall. No-man's-land has become everyone's playground.

The icing on the cake

The Cafe Einstein at Kurfurstenstrasse 58 will confirm all your suspicions about bourgeois life in Berlin, helping to reduce the EU's cream surplus at the same rate as it increases your waistline. Ten DM (pounds 3.50) buys a Kaffee und Kuchen any time until 2am. When was that flight home?