You come into the shiny new Berlin Hauptbahnhof, where, at the Tourist Information Centre at the Europaplatz entrance, you can buy single tickets to use the city’s excellent U- and S-bahn systems for £2.16, day tickets for £5.50 or the Berlin Welcome card which is £15.30 for 48 hours or if you add entry to the Museum Island collection, 72 hours is £32 (see http://www.bvg.de).
The ever-reliable Generator hostel chain has two examples in Berlin, but first choice should be the newer, more intimate one at Mitte (www.generatorhostels.com, beds from £12), with a mix of dorms and private bedrooms beds.
The lobby of the new 25 Hours Bikini Beach Hotel (www.25hours-hotels.com, from £68) near the Zoo might look like a child’s romper room, but the well-run hotel delivers the goods at a decent price. Slightly more conventional is the equally new ‘boutique’ Hotel am Steinplatz (Steinplatz 4, 00 49 30 55 44 44 0, http://www.marriott.de), near Ku’damm, which has very bright and comfortable doubles from £122, room-only.
You’ll find the city’s best wursts, curry or otherwise, at the end of the inevitable line at Curry 36, which has outlets at the Zoo and Kreuzburg (www.Curry36.de, from £2.50). Volta (www.dasvolta.com, £7.50 for mains) is a buzzy gastropub in Wedding, part-owned by the Cookies & Cream crew, that dishes up substantial steaks, ribs, burgers and salads, along with a good choice of beers. Later, lounge in the gold padded banquettes and sip cocktails at the very OTT Liberate (www.theliberate.com) in Monbijou or slip through the anonymous door under the arches to ultra-cool neo-industrial bar/club Trust (www.trust-berlin.com). Street Food Thursday is a gathering of vendors at the rescued and revitalized Markthalle Neun (Eisenbahnstrasse 42, Kreuzberg) that puts quality fast food of every stripe in one place, although the hall does have a regular bakery, café, brewery and a BBQ on site on Fridays and Saturdays – see markthalleneun.de.
THREE TO SEE
GDR museum. It’s 25 years since the Wall came and down this museum reminds people what life was like in the east before that, documenting the daily routine, complete with a restaurant serving East German favourites, including the dangerous sounding “Jägerschnitzel” – actually a breaded sausage (www.gdr-museum.de, £5)
The Olympic Stadium. This arena has seen a lot of sporting history, from Jesse Owens to Usain Bolt, and the grounds still contain chilling sculptures from the ’36 Olympics. It’s now home to Herta BSC, of course (www.olympiastadion-berlin.de, £5).
Pergamon Museum. If you only have time to do one museum on Museum Island, it should be this one, which contains such huge antiquities as The Market Gate of Miletus (Ancient Greece), the Ishtar Gate (Babylon) and the Pergamon Altar (smb.museum, £10 or free with the three-day Berlin Welcome Museum Pass, see above).
Also, later in the year, there are plans to recreate, over the weekend of November 9th, the 25th anniversary of its fall, the exact route of the Berlin Wall (above, Checkpoint Charlie) in tethered, luminous balloons, which be released to at the climax of the celebrations, to float out over the city.
Warsaw (five hours), Munich (six) or Prague (just under five), the latter with lovely Elbe River scenery as you cross the border.
Thanks to VOYAGES-SNCF (http://uk.voyages-sncf.com) for organising the rail travel