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Berlin

Berlin Vacations

Berlin is the heart of modern Germany, with a stoic beat that echoes through grand public buildings, glorious museums and theatres, urbane restaurants, bustling pubs and raucous nightclubs. It's a city that thrives on change and that has made a virtue out of reinventing itself.

Region: Germany

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Berlin Zoo, Germany

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Featured Berlin Hotel

The Westin Grand Berlin

Our 4-Star classification designates those properties with well-appointed, deluxe accommodations, extensive amenities and comprehensive guest services. Expect attention to detail and a warm and hospitable staff ready to cater to your needs. These superb properties offer a truly refined getaway.
Friedrich Strasse, Germany

Situated in the vibrant heart of Berlin, this elegant hotel is surrounded by historic sights, exquisite boutiques and fantastic restaurants.

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What To See

Berlin is a veritable motherlode for lovers of art, architecture and artefacts. Its great clusters of museums will keep the most dedicated culture addict happy. The layers of the city's history, from imperial fancy to war and violent division, exist in fascinating proximity to its dynamic present.

Deutsches Historisches Museum
This engaging museum zeroes in on two millennia of German history in all its gore and glory; not in a nutshell but on two floors of a Prussian-era armoury. Check out the Nazi globe, the pain-wrecked faces of dying warrior sculptures in the courtyard, and the temporary exhibits in the boldly modern annex designed by IM Pei.

Alte Nationalgalerie
The Greek temple-style Old National Gallery, open since 1876, is a three-storey showcase of top-notch, 19th-century European art. To get a sense of the virtuosity of the period, study the canvasses glorifying Prussia - epics by Franz Krüger and Adolf Menzel and the moody landscapes by Romantic heart-throb, Caspar David Friedrich. There’s also a sprinkling of French impressionists in case you’re keen on seeing yet another version of Monet’s Waterlilies and plenty of sculpture by Rauch and Schadow, possibly to tease you into visiting the much larger collection in the nearby Friedrichswerdersche Kirche.

Panoramapunkt
For fantastic 360-degree views, take what’s billed as Europe’s fastest lift to the two top floors of the red-clinker-clad Kollhoff-Tower, designed by Renzo Piano and one of the most prominent buildings on Potsdamer Platz. From a lofty 100m, you can pinpoint the sights, make a java stop in the glass cafe, enjoy the sunset from the terrace and check out the outdoor exhibit that peels back the layers of the history of the quarter.

Topographie des Terrors
This is an eye-opening and graphic collection of text and images surrounding WWII, mounted on the ruins of the Gestapo and SS headquarters. Note: this memorial may not be suitable for children.

Jagdschloss Grunewald
Prussian rulers loved to hunt and the Grunewald forest was one of their favourite stomping grounds ever since Elector Joachim II first got the dogs running back in 1542. He also picked a scenic spot near a pretty lake, the Grunewaldsee, to build this Renaissance palace. The oldest existing royal abode in town, it was originally called ‘Haus am Grünen Walde’ (House in the Green Woods), which is how the forest got its name. These days the palace rooms are filled with old furniture, paintings and decorative objects which, are on public view again since the building emerged from a much-needed restoration. Meanwhile, a small exhibit on the royal hunt and the building of the palace is open in the storehouse in the courtyard. To get here take the U-Bahn to Oskar-Helene-Heim, then Bus No X10 or 115 to Königin-Luise-Strasse/Clayallee, then walk for 25 minutes west through the forest.

Stasi Prison
Victims of Stasi persecution often ended up in the grim Stasi Prison, now a memorial site officially called Gedenkstätte Hohenschönhausen. Tours (in English at 2pm Saturday and sometimes during the week; call ahead) reveal the full extent of the terror and cruelty perpetrated upon thousands of suspected regime opponents, many utterly innocent. To get here, take tram M5 from Alexanderplatz to Freienwalder Strasse, then walk 10 minutes along Freienwalder Strasse.

Köpenick Altstadt
Many of the cobblestone streets in Kopenick  Altstadt still follow their original, medieval layout. To walk there from the Kopenick S-Bahn station, follow Borgmannstrasse two blocks south to Mandrellaplatz, site of the imposing Amtsgericht (municipal court). It houses a small memorial exhibit (admission free; 10am-6pm Thu) for the victims of a brutal Nazi crackdown against local communists between 21 and 26 June 1933. Around 90 people were killed, most of them in the court prison itself, during what went down in history as Kopenicker Blutwoche (Bloody Week). The entrance is via the courtyard at Puchanstrasse 12. The victims were raised to martyr status in the GDR’s day and given a monument on the Platz des 23 April, a riverside square about 750m south of the courthouse (via Puchanstrasse). The name of the square, by the way, refers to the date in 1945 when the Red Army arrived in Kopenick. From the square it’s just a short walk south via Lindenstrasse to the Altstadt proper across the Dammbrucke. Lindenstrasse turns into Strasse Alt-Kopenick, a historic street lined with baroque beauties and the neo-Gothic 1904 town hall.

Schloss Charlottenburg
The grandest of Berlin’s surviving nine former royal pads is Schloss Charlottenburg. It consists of the main palace and two outbuildings in the lovely Schlossgarten (palace park). Each building charges separate admission, but it’s best to invest in the Tageskarte that gives you an entire day to see everything except the Neuer Flügel (New Wing). Come early on weekends and in summer. A palace visit is easily combined with a spin around the trio of nearby museums.

The Schloss began as the summer residence of Sophie Charlotte, wife of King Friedrich I. Their baroque living quarters in the palace’s oldest section, the Altes Schloss, are an extravaganza in stucco, brocade and overall opulence. Highlights include the Oak Gallery, a wood-panelled festival hall draped in family portraits; the lovely Oval Hall with views of the gardens; Friedrich I’s bedchamber, with the first-ever bathroom in a baroque palace; and the fabulous Porcelain Chamber, smothered top to bottom in Chinese and Japanese blue ware. Head upstairs to admire the paintings, vases, tapestries, weapons, porcelain and other items essential to a royal lifestyle in the old apartments of Friedrich Wilhelm IV.

The most beautiful rooms, though, are the flamboyant private chambers of Frederick the Great in the Neuer Flügel, designed by star architect du jour Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff in 1746. The austere neoclassical ones of his successor, Friedrich Wilhelm II, in the same wing, pale in comparison.

Adjacent to the Neuer Flügel, the Schinkel-designed Neuer Pavillon served as a summer retreat of Friedrich Wilhelm III and now houses paintings from the Romantic and Biedermeier periods.

In fine weather, a spin around the sprawling Schlossgarten (palace park) with its shady walkways, flower beds and manicured lawns is a must. In the northeast corner, you’ll stumble upon the pint-size palace called Belvedere, now an elegant setting for porcelain masterpieces by the royal manufacturer KPM. Across the carp pond awaits the sombre Mausoleum, where various royals, including Emperor Wilhelm I and his wife, are entombed in fancy marble sarcophagi.

Shopping

KaDeWe
Just past the centennial mark, this venerable department store has an assortment so vast that a pirate-style campaign is the best way to plunder its bounty. If pushed for time, at least hurry up to the legendary 6th-floor gourmet food hall. The name, by the way, stands for Kaufhaus des Westens (department store of the West). It's right outside U-Bahn station Wittenbergplatz.

Galerie Goff + Rosenthal
This NYC transplant represents a sure sign that Berlin has arrived on the international art circuit. Regular shows concentrate on works by emerging artists and the space retains an admirable blend of the serious and the light-hearted, with a more relaxed atmosphere than that found at some of Mitte's other galleries.

Berlin Fashion Network
Keen on impressing your friends back home with the latest Berlin brands? At this stylish concept store, you can browse two floors of homegrown his-and-her fashions, accessories, music and more, all with that urban, cheeky and fresh capital twist. Both new and established designers get rack space, including German Garment, ichJane, NIX and Mio Animo.

Nightlife

Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz
Nonconformist, radical and provocative: performances at the ‘People’s Stage’ are not for the squeamish. Since 1992, the theatre has been led by enfant terrible Frank Castorf who regularly tears down the confines of the proscenium stage with Zeitgeist-critical productions that are somehow both populist and elitist all at once.

Yorckschlösschen
Cosy and knick-knack-laden, Olaf Dähmlows's institution has been open since 1885 and plied an all-ages, all-comers crowd of jazz and blues lovers with tunes and booze for over 30 years. Toe-tapping bands invade several times weekly, but there's also a pool table, a garden for chilling, cold beer on tap and German comfort food served till 1am.

Staatsoper unter den Linden @ Schillertheater
Point your highbrow compass towards the Daniel Barenboim–led Staatsoper, Berlin's top opera company. While its historic digs on Unter den Linden are getting a facelift (probably until 2014), the high-calibre productions are staged at the Schiller Theater in Charlottenburg. All operas are sung in their original language.

Events

Berlin has a year-round calendar of concerts, street parties, sports events, trade shows and festivals celebrating everything from film to fetish, music to fashion, porn to travel. February's Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival) draws stars, starlets, directors and critics. Festtage (Festival Days) is a high-brow hoe-down of gala concerts and operas held over 10 days in April. Britspotting, a small festival of British and Irish films held in May, is popular with the Berlin arthouse crowd, while the streets of Kreuzberg erupt in raucous revelry over the Pentecost weekend for the Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Culture). Christopher Street Day is the city's big gay parade; it hits the streets in June. JazzFest Berlin doo-wops in November and Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) are held throughout the city in the month before the big day.

Berlinale (International Film Festival Berlin) - Feb
Berlin's international film festival draws stars, starlets, directors, critics and the world's A-to-Z-list celebrities for two weeks of screenings and glamour parties around town. The lucky ones go home with a Golden or Silver Bear, while top lesbigay flicks are awarded the Teddy. Screenings often sell out, so book early.

Britspotting - May
It's hard to imagine the Brits returning the compliment, but this small festival of Brit and Irish flicks that never made it into the multiplexes is a huge hit with Berlin arthouse buffs. See www.britspotting.de for more information.

Christopher Street Day - Jun
More than 700,000 people march down the streets of Berlin in this hugely fun gay pride parade. See www.csd-berlin.de for more information.

Karneval der Kulturen - May/Jun
Berlin's answer to London's Notting Hill Carnival celebrates the city's multicultural tapestry with parties, exotic nosh and a fun parade of flamboyantly dressed dancers, DJs, artists and musicians shimmying through the streets of Kreuzberg.

Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) - Dec
Pick up shimmering ornaments or get smashed on mulled wine at dozens of yuletide markets held throughout December in such locales as Breitscheidplatz and Alexanderplatz. See visitberlin.de/en for more information.

Festtage - Apr
Staatsoper boss Daniel Barenboim brings the world's finest conductors, soloists and orchestras to Berlin for this 10-day, highbrow hoedown of gala concerts and operas, with an emphasis on that brilliant 'bad boy' composer Richard Wagner.

Berlin Fashion Week - Jan and Jul
Designers, buyers and media descend upon Berlin to check out the latest streetwear, green fashions and bodywear at such fashion fairs as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Bread & Butter, Premium and Bright. Some events are open to the public.

Berliner Bierfestival - Aug
Who needs Oktoberfest when you can have the 'world's longest beer garden'? Pick your poison from over 300 breweries from nearly 100 countries along 2km of Karl-Marx-Allee.

Berlin Marathon - Sept
Sweat it out with the other 50,000 runners or just cheer 'em on during Germany's biggest street race, which has seen nine world records set since 1977.

Jazzfest Berlin - Nov
This top-rated jazz festival has doo-wopped in Berlin since 1964 and presents fresh and big-time talent in dozens of performances all over town.

Food and Drink

Margaux
It took culinary wunderkind Michael Hoffman only a year to wow the Michelin testers with his cuisine avantgarde classique. What may sound like an oxymoron actually translates into first-rate ingredients, refined flavours and artistic presentation. And somehow, the divine dishes taste better still against those lush, back-lit onyx walls.

Bandol Sur Mer
OK, so Brad Pitt ate here. But even without a Hollywood endorsement, this teensy bistro in a former doneria (doner kebab shop) on Torstrasse's evolving restaurant row is worthy of a culinary Oscar. The blackboard menu mixes reliable classics such as entrecote steak with out-there combos, eg pink lamb with rhubarb. Dining is done in two seatings (6pm and 9pm). Reservations essential.

Jules Verne
Jules Verne was a well-travelled man, so it’s only fitting that a cafe bearing his name would feature a globetrotting menu. French oysters, Austrian schnitzel and Moroccan couscous are all perennial bestsellers. It’s also a great ‘greet-the-day’ spot with substantial breakfasts named after Verne’s books served until 3pm and an entire quality buffet at weekends.

Albrechts Patisserie
How sweet it is to discover this upbeat temple to tarts and truffles, all loaded with choice ingredients and made fresh daily. The nougat tart is all gooey goodness and the raspberry-yoghurt number is so light and creamy it tastes practically calorie-free. After 5.30pm, all cakes sell for half price. Other branches are in Prenzlauer Berg and Charlottenburg.

Sanatorium 23
This Zen-meets-pop-art-in-hospital lounge is likely to cure whatever ails you. At first, though, risk chemistry class flashbacks when facing the drinks menu set up like a periodic table: ordering an He gets you Hemingway sour, Ps a prosecco and Mi a mojito. From Thursday to Saturday DJs turn the place into an electro party zone after 9pm.

Zwiebelfisch
With its clientele of grizzled and aspiring artists, actors and writers, this cosy pub has been Charlottenburg at its boho best since the patchouli-perfumed 1960s. Arrested in time, it's a fabulous sliver of pre-reunification West Berlin and ideal for guzzling that final drink while the suits are gearing up for the office grind.