A haven for art-lovers, this historic city also has museums and trendy shops to explore. And the nightlife is legendary, says Charlotte Mullins



The British and German governments are keen to strengthen their cultural ties, and October sees the opening of the Berlin-London Gallery Swap, with 24 galleries exchanging premises and the Brits taking their artists to Berlin. Berlin is home to 300 galleries, and Mitte – in former East Germany – is the centre, with Linienstrasse, Gipsstrasse and Sophienstrasse offering wall-to-wall art.

Andrew Mummery, whose London gallery is located in Clerkenwell, has taken over Felixlaiter gallery (37 Tucholskystrasse; 00 49 30 30882771), while the East End gallery Transit has worked with Kunstpunkt to create a site-specific show by six Berlin and London artists (6 Schlegelstrasse; 00 49 30 28598811). Other participating galleries include Galerie Volker Diehl (88 Zimmerstrasse; 00 49 30 22487922) and Wohnmaschine (35 Tucholskystrasse; 00 49 30 30872015; Berlin-London is organised by the British Council and Goethe Institut; www.goethe.de/berlin-london).


On Monday, Air Berlin (0870 7388880; www.airberlin.com) started flying between London Stansted and Berlin Tegel, just 5km outside the city. A return flight this weekend will cost £82, while British Airways (0845 77 333 77; www.ba.com) has flights from Heathrow for £158.50. Buzz (0870 2407070; www.buzzaway.com) flies from Stansted to Berlin Schönefeld, 30 minutes by train from the centre for £158. Lufthansa (0845 77 377 47; www.lufthansa.com) has flights from London City Airport to Berlin Tempelhof this weekend from £138.40.


Berlin is more than 750 years old, and has had a tough life as a key strategic city between East and West. Eighty per cent of the city was destroyed during the Second World War. With the overnight appearance of the Berlin Wall in 1961 the city was split in two; when the Wall came down in 1989 the lengthy process of reunification began.

An immense building programme has taken its toll on Berlin, and there's no money left in the coffers, but vast swathes of the former no-man's land between East and West have been redeveloped. Being broke hasn't affected Berlin's spirit, though, and many high-profile Britons – including Sir Simon Rattle, the newly appointed conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra – have made Berlin their home.


The Forum Hotel in Alexanderplatz offers the best views of Berlin (see Room Service, below). The Art'otel Ermelerhaus has been designed within an inch of its life, with Philippe Starck bathrooms, Marcel Breuer chairs and paintings by Andy Warhol. You pay for the privilege – double rooms cost from €188/£125 (70-73 Wallstrasse; 00 49 30 240620, www.artotel.de).

Askanischer Hof is an atmospheric period hotel (53 Kurfürstendamm; 00 49 30 8818033; www.askanischer-hof.de), invariably full of actors and artists. A double costs €130 (£87). For a unique experience, check in to the Künstlerheim Luise in Mitte (19 Luisenstrasse; 00 49 30 284480) – each room has been designed by a different artist. Doubles from €55 (£37).


Spend a day exploring Mitte; visiting galleries, shopping, walking down the leafy Strassen where artists and designers live and work. A short walk south takes you to the five museums on Museumsinsel, an island of art – Egyptian, Greek, Roman and historic German – currently being restored. The Brandenburg Gate is unveiled tomorrow following extensive cleaning; just behind it a double row of cobbles set into the road marks where the Wall stood. Daniel Libeskind's contentious silver zigzag, the Jewish Museum (9-14 Lindenstrasse; 00 49 30 259933), explores the history of Jews in Berlin. The exhibition "Fraktale III" is next to the Reichstag, with its spectacular glass dome, designed by Sir Norman Foster. Expect to queue to be able to look down on the Bundestag in action from the top of the dome (Platz der Republik; 00 49 30 22732152). End your stay with a martini at sunset from the observation deck of the Fernsehturm, a 365m television tower, built in 1969 in Panoramastrasse. It looks like a golf ball on a spike, but the views it offers are unbelievable.


After reunification, it wasn't only the artists who moved wholesale from Kreuzberg to Mitte – fashion designers took over derelict buildings, selling their one-off items in hip, nameless boutiques that co-exist with the galleries around Auguststrasse. Heckmann Höfe – a series of shop-filled courtyards – opens off this street; on neighbouring Oranienburgerstrasse, Hackesche Höfe is packed with cafés, galleries, shops and theatres. Refuel at the original Café Einstein at 58 Kurfürstenstrasse with a legendary Apfelstrudel (00 49 30 2615096).


After private viewings, the Mitte art crowd heads to Monsieur Vuong's (46 Alte Schönhauserstrasse; 00 49 30 30872643). Vuong's serves cheap Vietnamese soups and noodles. Alternatively, head for Kreuzberg in former West Berlin, home to the largest Turkish population outside Istanbul. The doner kebab was invented here in 1971 by Mehmet Aygun – try one at his restaurant Hasir (10 Adalbertstrasse; 00 49 30 6142373). If pickled sharks are more your thing, Maxwell's in Mitte is the place to go. It's filled with artwork by Damien Hirst, who used to eat here and pay the chef with paintings and the like (22 Bergstrasse; 00 49 30 2807121).


Berlin is a 24-hour city, and there's a nightclub for every day of the year. Cookies is self-consciously cool, with tatty sofas, a cocktail bar and a temporary feel – it only opens when it wants to (44 Charlottenstrasse; no telephone). Pick up the monthly freebie Flyer, a club magazine available in bars, to check out the latest listings ( www.flyer.de).