48 hours in Berlin

Since the fall of its infamous Wall and German national reunification, Berlin has refurbished and reinvented itself. Neil Taylor examines the former hub of the Cold War and reveals the essential checkpoints for today's visitor

WHY GO NOW?

Berlin's tourist industry doesn't operate like anywhere else. The city is cheapest in summer, early autumn and at Christmas, and at its most expensive in March, when the film festival and trade fairs are on. Germany's current economic problems are good news for visitors. "Rabat" (discount) is a word no visitor will escape. As expense-account business visitors dwindle, even the most lavish hotels and restaurants are cutting prices. If you wait until the last weekend of this month, when Berlin celebrates "Long Museum Night", you can indulge in the city's rich culture until midnight.

BEAM DOWN

British Airways (0870 850 9 850; www.ba.com) flies daily from Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester to Berlin's Tegel airport. From Stansted Air Berlin (0870 738 8880; www.airberlin.com) flies to Tegel, and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) to Schonefeld. It should rarely be necessary to pay more than £140 return. BVG, the Berlin Transport Authority, has an office at Tegel, which sells a wide range of travel passes that cover all the buses, trams, underground (U-Bahn) and overground railways (S-Bahn) throughout Berlin. Their Tipinfo computer guide, placed beside their office, will work out and print in English an itinerary from the airport to any address in Berlin, listing exact timings of each mode of transport recommended. Buses go directly from Tegel to Zoo Station in central Berlin in about 30 minutes for €2.10 (£1.50) and they also connect the airport with several U-Bahn stations. From Schonefeld a shuttle bus links the airport with the nearby Schonefeld railway station which has a direct service, also to Zoo Station for €2.10 (£1.50). Taxis are metered and will cost about €25 (£18) from Tegel and €40 (£29) from Schonefeld to the town centre.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

The heart of West Berlin is Zoo Station ; the old East is centered on Alexanderplatz . Between the two stands the Brandenburg Gate and a hundred metres to the north-west is the home of the German parliament, the Reichstag . The tourist office at the Brandenburg Gate is open daily from 9am-6pm. For more information call Berlin Tourismus (00 49 30 25 00 25; www.berlin.de).

CHECK IN

The Grosser Kurfurst , Neue Ross Strasse 11-12 (00 49 30 24 60 00; www.deraghotels.de), built in 1997, is a modern luxury option. Doubles cost around €150 (£107). The Mark Apart Hotel , Lietzenburger Strasse 82 (00 49 30 88 91 20; www.blueband.de) is one of the quietest in the town centre, largely due to the fact that it is set well back from the road. Doubles cost from €70 (£50). The Sunflower Hostel, Helsingforser Strasse 17 (00 49 30 44 04 42 50; www.sunflower-hostel.de) is one of many backpacker haunts that appeared in the former East soon after reunification. A private room for one or two will cost around €50 (£36).

TAKE A VIEW

Start the day early at the top of the Reichstag inside Norman Foster's glass dome if it is raining, otherwise outside. It opens at 8am (get there before the coach parties which arrive around 10am). Like many of Berlin's attractions, it is free of charge. Look down on the Brandenburg Gate , the Potsdamer Platz and across to the developing Lehrter Bahnhof , the new railway junction. Go back to the Reichstag in the evening to enjoy it illuminated.

TAKE A HIKE

Start at the Reichstag and turn eastwards through the Brandenburg Gate, noticing the cobbles that mark the route of the former Berlin Wall. Head straight along Unter den Linden past a reminder of the last regime, the former Soviet Embassy which has not changed a jot since it become the Russian Embassy. Cross Friedrichstrasse and continue until Bebelplatz . Turn right into this square and find a glass plate underfoot in the centre. Peer through it to the empty shelves - a symbolic representation of the "Burning of the Books" that took place here on 10 May,1933. Have no qualms about walking into the Ministry of Transport on the south side of the square and looking at the model of Berlin in 1939. Look too at the architectural plans for many buildings that never got beyond the drawing-board. The Humboldt University is on the north side of the square. Cross the Spree into Schlossplatz Palace Square, sadly a misnomer at present as it will be years before the Royal Palace, blown up in 1950, is rebuilt. However, the cathedral and the Altes Museum , home to Berlin's collection of ancient Greek antiquities, to some extent make up for this. Vow to repeat this walk in 2010, when the palace may be ready.

TAKE A RIDE

The S-Bahn journey from Zoo Station to Friedrichstrasse Station is only four stops and takes just 10 minutes but covers 200 years of German architecture and history. See the Siegessaule , the victory column built in 1871 to celebrate the defeat of the French, the Reichstag, the Lehrter Bahnhof , soon to be Berlin's central station, the Pergamon Museum and then Friedrichstrasse Station, which was the link between East and West Berlin. This ride, like all single journeys in Berlin, costs €2.10 (£1.50) but a day ticket for €6.10 (£4) is much better value.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Zoo Station is where several U-Bahn lines meet and where many buses turn around. Go underground to any one of the Imbiss snackbars for Bratwurst (fried sausages) and baked potatoes, but keep well clear of the synthetic chips. Licensing laws do not really exist in Germany, so down this with lager rather than tea. It is tastier and cheaper.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Berlin's largest treat has long been the department store KaDeWe (Tauentzienstrasse 21-24), an abbreviation of the name which means Store of the West. The name dates from 1907 but by chance it did land up in West Berlin during the division. The climax is, appropriately, on the sixth floor, not a mere food hall but the "gourmet section". Those who despise sausages or potatoes need to think again. See them here as gentrified as the clients who buy them. Check the selection before you go on www.feinschmeckeretage.de. The glamorous shops have all moved east now and line the Friedrichstrasse from Unter den Linden to the former Checkpoint Charlie. Shops no longer close on Saturday afternoons, but they still shut on Sundays.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The Kulturforum , (00 49 30 20 90 55 55; www.smpk.de; 10am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday, open Thursday until 10pm; admission €6/£4) is an assembly of three art galleries and a concert hall set up in the 1960s to compensate West Berliners for the "loss" of Museum Island in the East. What is modestly called the Gemaldegalerie (Picture Gallery) is in fact an assembly of European art stretching from the 13th to the 18th century. It includes 16 Rembrandts. Next door is the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Applied Art Museum) just as happy to exhibit a 1999 laptop computer as 18th-century Meissen china. The third member of the trio is the Neue Nationalgalerie ( Modern Art Gallery) designed in 1968 by Mies van de Rohe. The modern German art inside makes up for the bland exterior.

AN APERITIF

Germans do not hang around for dinner, they get on with it, so pre-prandial drinking is not common. You could take the lift to the top of the Park Inn Hotel on Alexanderplatz. Look westwards to see the silhouettes first by day and then as they light up. On ground level try the Newton Bar Charlottenstrasse 57, designed as a London club with large leather chairs. As most drinks cost €10 (£7), not too many return after dinner although it is open until 3am.

DINNER WITH THE LOCALS

A mixture of visitors and Berliners can always be found at the Alexanderkeller Kopenicker Strasse 92 (00 49 30 27 50 132) because it is fairly central and the home-cooked menu never changes. Braised knuckle of pork, puréed peas and roast potatoes will be three courses in one for many folk, but the ambitious can start with beef broth and finish with apple pie and cream. Some Germans, but not many, are turning to vegetarianism. Find them just over the road from KaDeWe at Einhorn II, Wittenbergplatz 5-6 (00 49 30 214 75180) Here you can at least sit down. At the original Einhorn I, Mommsenstrasse 2 (00 49 30 881 42 41 www.einhornonline.de) it's standing-room only.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Atheists head for the deconsecrated Friedrichswerdersche Kirche (open daily Tuesday to Sunday 10am-6pm; admission €3/£2) which is now the Schinkel Museum. Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841) was Berlin's most famous architect and the collection displays many of his original drawings. Believers may feel drawn to the Berlin Cathedral beside Museum Island for its 10am service. Check out all the gold and marble which the last Kaiser ordered in 1900. An alternative is St Hedwig's Cathedral on Bebelplatz . As this was restored by the East German government in 1952, the decor is more modest.

A WALK IN THE PARK

The Tiergarten combines wild heathland and formal gardens. Escape your fellow tourists, but not fitness-mad locals, by taking a leisurely half-hour walk from the Brandenburg Gate to the Kulturforum .

OUT TO BRUNCH

Serious all-day eating out of doors takes place around the Grosser Muggelsee in eastern Berlin. Take the S-Bahn train to Friedrichshagen and walk the 600 metres to the lake along Bolscherstrasse. From 11am onwards, the Braustubel, Muggelseedamm 164 (00 49 30 640820), among several similar places, serves lamb, beef dumplings, baked potatoes and home-made chocolate cake. Being in a former brewery, beer is the obvious drink but wine is served to determined customers.

WRITE A POSTCARD

Pretend to be important and sit down in the Hotel Adlon café , Unter den Linden 77 (00 49 30 22 61 11 11), probably now the safest place in Berlin as US security rebuilds the former embassy next door. The coffee will be expensive and the postcards are as well, but some friends are still worth more than an e-mail.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

The Pergamon Museum (00 49 30 20 90 55 55; www.smpk.de; open Tuesday to Sunday 10am-6pm and until 10pm on Thursday; admission €6/£4) is the repository for not just objects, but for whole temples and streets brought back by adventurous 19th-century archaeologists.

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