Insider's guide to... Berlin

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The Independent Travel

What's the weather like now?Just easing into the dreary Berlin autumn: pewter-grey clouds, drizzling showers and stiff winds. Soon the acrid smell of coal, still used by many to heat their apartments, will hover over the city.

What's the weather like now?Just easing into the dreary Berlin autumn: pewter-grey clouds, drizzling showers and stiff winds. Soon the acrid smell of coal, still used by many to heat their apartments, will hover over the city.

What are the locals complaining about?The high price of fuel - although it doesn't seem to have kept a single vehicle off the streets - and the number of traffic jams produced by those vehicles. Also government cutbacks in social services, the weak euro, and the weather.

Who's the talk of the town?Franziska van Almsick, the swimmer who once captured the hearts of the country, and whose dismal performance at the Olympics has disappointed and enraged many. She's been accused by the tabloid papers of selling out (she's become a multi-millionaire through product endorsements), not training seriously, and getting fat.

What's the cool drink?Space drinks: non-alcoholic cocktails created from ingenious combinations of fruit juices and syrups. Said to be energetic restoratives that will keep clubbers dancing all night. They seem to be talked about more than imbibed, however: Germans continue to drink beer.

What are people eating?American food - and not McDonald's. People are discovering US regional cuisines, such as light, Asian-influenced Californian cooking, the spicy seafoods of Creole and New Orleans kitchens. Several restaurants offer that great American invention - free coffee refills.

What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV?The great success of the Teutonic version of Big Brother has led to a number of dismal copies. Expedition Robinson is the most preposterous, a show in which a group of people are dumped on an island for several weeks. The twist is that the group, not the audience, decides who gets booted. Kind of Gilligan's Island meets Lord of the Flies.

Where wouldn't the locals dream of going?The Fernsehturm, the huge television tower built in the 1960s by the East German government. Smack in the middle of town, it offers the best view of the city from its revolving viewing platform, but the immense piece of Communist kitsch is considered déclassé by the natives.

Where are the locals going that tourists don't know about?The once-hip district of Kreuzberg, eclipsed in the last few years by the trendiness of recently developed neighbourhoods in east Berlin, and now enjoying a quiet renaissance sans tourists.

Where are the chic people doing their shopping?The up-scale shopping district on Friedrichstrasse. Over the last few years, several blocks of this east Berlin thoroughfare, dark and ghostly before the Wall fell, have been pulled down and replaced with opulent new buildings and shopping arcades featuring Donna Karan, Cerruti and the like.

What's the trendy place to escape to for the weekend?

By the Baltic Sea, especially the island of Rügen, once a favorite vacation destination of the East German party elite and now popular among the landlocked Berlin masses.

Andrew Roth is a contributor to the 'Rough Guide to Berlin'

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