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Berlin: A wall-to-wall buzz

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Berlin, as it celebrates 25 years since the wall came down, is one thriving city.

Berlin, as it celebrates 25 years since the wall came down, is one thriving city.

Berlin, as it celebrates 25 years since the wall came down, is one thriving city.

Far from being a tale of two cities, since the Wall was torn down Berlin has evolved into a cluster of very different towns. And the thing uniting them is effortless style.

Whether you're sipping wine and watching an Elvis movie on the window blinds at Scotch & Sofa in Prenzlauer Berg (once in the Communist part), or enjoying a cocktail in the hip 25hours Hotel Bikini's Monkey Bar overlooking the Tiergarten's Zoo (formerly the American sector), Berlin is one thriving city.

THE WHEEL DEAL

It's fair to say Berlin's sprawling metropolis needs a circle line to link the U-Bahn, S-Bahn and trams.

Newbies could do a lot worse than to take a tour bus the first day; they're stress-free and excellent for getting your bearings.

For those with more beans than the bus, bike tours are also great for joining the dots.

Within minutes you can spin from the soaring Reichstag Parliament to the iconic Brandenburg Gate to the rebuilt Potsdamer Platz, a glistening hub of cinemas and shops where the first formal border crossing between East and West Germany was erected three days after the Wall fell.

Berlin On Bike also has stand-up e-trike tours - seriously good fun. With the handlebars throttle and brake you'll have this enticing capital at your fingertips in jig time (don't forget your driving licence).

DO MENTION THE WALL

Assuming you want to visit a GDR memorial, Chancellor Angela Merkel will open the Documentation Centre on Bernauer Strasse tomorrow.

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This was where East German guards first bricked up houses to stop people escaping to the West.

More central and accessible is the tiny Black Box museum beside border crossing Checkpoint Charlie (today's patrolling soldiers are actors, thankfully), which gives a chilling flavour of the Cold War.

Directly north, at Friedrichstrasse Station on the banks of the Spree - the river was used as a border between East and West Germany - the suffering of divided families is most poignantly represented in the Tranenpalast.

For 28 years parents, siblings, relations and friends entered this so-called Palace of Tears, passports in hands, not knowing if the border guards would allow them East for the day to visit their loved ones - and knowing they must return without them.

COURTING CREATIVITY

Berlin had an underground creative movement for decades - so it's fitting that the city boasts the world's largest open-air art exhibition on the former Wall.

Work by over 100 artists on the East Side Gallery along the River Spree cheekily includes a cartoon version of Checkpoint Charlie.

And some of the street art on display in the preserved East German alleyway off Rosenthaler Strasse in the Jewish quarter isn't for the prudish, that's for sure! (Don't miss the beautiful restored Art Nouveau Hackesche Hofe courtyard shops and studios nearby.)

If traditional museums float your boat, however, hop across the Spree to Museum Island, for five museums full of ancient treasures, sculpture and art.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

You're better off heading for tried-and-tested eateries (we liked Gugelhof in Prenzlauer Berg) as some of the wannabe cutting-edge restaurants in Berlin try too hard.

Prenzlauer Berg also features Konnopke's Imbiss, a popular spot for currywurst. After a mouthful of this local speciality - hotdog with curry and ketchup - I scooted over the road to get takeaway pizza.

For classy sit-down bratwurst and craft beers, however, try Restaurant Das Meisterstuck, near imposing square Gendarmemarkt and then stroll around a couple of impressive corners for luscious hot chocolate at Fassbender & Rausch.

If you fancy even more people- watching, plus high-end food to fit all tastes, the sixth floor at KaDeWe, Berlin's equivalent of Harrods food hall will certainly deliver.

GETTING THERE

Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly daily to Schonefeld, 18km south of Berlin (trains S-Bahn S9, S45, RE7 or RB14). Hotels-wise I recommend the three-star Myer's Hotel (myershotel.de) in trendy Prenzlauer Berg, the stylish four-star Lindner (lindner.de/en/LKB) on bustling Kurfürstendamm, and - for absolute luxury - Hotel de Rome (hotelderome.com) in the capital's financial heart.


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