Berlin: The best of times . . . the wurst of times
The Germans may be our lords and masters now – but what are they like for the craic? I visited the capital to find out. I quickly discovered that what the harsh metropolis of Berlin lacks in physical beauty, it more than compensates for with entertainment and value for money.
I stayed at Bleibtreu, a stylish boutique establishment. If you pay in advance online, it's just €90 a night (www.bleibtreu.de). The rooms are utilitarian but comfortable and there is even a complimentary mini bar.
You couldn't go hungry in Berlin, with street vendors, cafes and convenience stores on every corner selling pastries and Berlin's signature currywurst (chopped up sausages with curry sauce; it tastes better than it sounds).
For an authentic experience, Bamberger Reiter (www.neuerbambergerreiter.de) exemplifies old world tradition at its most fabulous, serving typical native fare such as Vienna Schnitzel.
The menu is all in German, but the charming host Thomas will guide you. Our bill came to just under €100, including wine.
If you fancy somewhere casual, Prater (www.pratergarten.de) is a must. Located in the buzzing area of Prenzlauer Berg, Prater is by far one of Berlin's best and most famous beer gardens and eateries due to the low-key atmosphere and fine selection of brews and comfort food. I recommend the duck leg with gravy and flour dumplings.
Where to after? Within walking distance of each other are three Weinerei "honesty" bars: Perlin, Forum and Fra Rosa (www.-weinerei.com).
The concept is that after 8pm you may pay what you like. But be warned – Berlin prides itself on its honour systems, so act as the locals do.
Another great spot is Gina M, a relaxed cafe bar opposite a Baptist church. You can watch the world go by on the patio with blankets in case you get chilly. At just €3 for a 500ml bottle of beer (www.ginam.de), I shuddered at the thought of what we pay back home.
Apart from Karl Lagerfeld, Germans aren't famous for their style – after all, Angela Merkel hardly starts trends like Michelle Obama. So I was pleasantly surprised by the abundance of chic boutiques. I particularly liked XVII (www.XVII-store.de), which is owned by old college pals Maria and Nadine.
They stock an eclectic collection of retro pieces, handbags, jewellery and nick knacks. Another contender is Garments-Vintage (www.garments -vintage.de) with a delicious blend of high street and high-end labels.
If it's simply high street shops and stores that you seek, look no further than central Fredreichstrasse.
If it is your mind and not your credit card that you have come to exercise, Berlin overflows with options. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a dystopian maze of hundreds of sloping slabs that give a distorted sense of space.
Sammlung Boros, a modern art gallery, is housed in one of Berlin's oldest bunkers. Originally designed to hide 1,200 people in World War Two, it managed 3,000 in the end. Tours are by appointment only (www.sammlung-boros.de).
Lastly, DDR is a unique, interactive museum that in great detail illustrates the daily life of East Germans under the Communist regime (www.ddr-museum.de).
And what about the natives? Don't expect Irish craic, but they are a polite and easy-going bunch. And they truly trump us with the price of food and drink.
Ryanair flights to Berlin Schonefeld airport are from €95 per person excluding taxes and charges. www.ryanair.com.