About the Author
Table of ContentsIntroduction
PART ONE BASICS
Getting there from Britain and Ireland
Getting there from North America
Getting there from Australia and New Zealand
Red tape and visas
Information and maps
Health and insurance
Costs, money and banks
Post, phones and the media
Opening hours, public holidays and festivals
Police, crime and personal safety
Travellers with disabilities
Gay and lesbian Berlin
PART TWO THE CITY
Chapter 1 Introducing the city
Chapter 2 Unter den Linden and around
Chapter 3 Schlossplatz and the Museum Island
Chapter 4 Alexanderplatz and around
Chapter 5 The Scheunenviertel and around
Chapter 6 The West End, Tiergarten and around
Chapter 7 South of the centre
Chapter 8 West of the centre
Chapter 9 East of the centre
Chapter 10 Potsdam and Sanssouci
PART THREE LISTINGS
Chapter 11 Accommodation
Chapter 12 Restaurants
Chapter 13 Cafés and bars
Chapter 14 Clubs and live venues
Chapter 15 The arts
Chapter 16 Children¹s Berlin
Chapter 17 Sport
Chapter 18 Shopping
Chapter 19 Directory
PART FOUR CONTEXTS
The historical framework
Die Wende to the present
LIST OF MAPS
Berlin districts map
Unter den Linden
South of Unter den Linden
North of Unter den Linden
Schlossplatz and the Museum Island
Scheunenviertel and around
Around Zoo Station
The Tiergarten and around
South of the Centre
Charlottenburg: Schloss and museums
Around the Olympic Stadium
Central Berlin: accommodation
Charlottenburg and the west: eating
Mitte, Kreuzberg and the east: eating
Bars, cafés & clubs in Scheunenviertel
Bars, cafés & clubs in Prenzlauer Berg
Berlin in 1932
Western central Berlin
Eastern central Berlin
The U- and S-Bahn
Potsdam and Sanssouci
Das kehrt nicht wieder
Das ist zu schön, um wahr zu sein!
It happens only once
It will not come again
It is too beautiful to be true!
Seemingly in a perpetual state of transformation, Berlin is an extraordinary city. For over a century, events here have either mirrored or determined what has happened in the rest of Europe, and, more than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city is on the move again, working furiously to re-create itself as the capital of Europe¹s most powerful country and as an international metropolis on a level with London, Paris or New York.
The speed of change has been astounding, with a complete shift in the city¹s centre of gravity. The area around Zoo Station, the very heart of Berlin when the Wall was in place, has lost much of its lure there¹s still plenty of shopping to be had, but the action, both daytime and night- time, is now firmly rooted in the east. Scores of trendy bars, restaurants, clubs and galleries have taken over once quiet streets and weekend nights now have a carnival-like atmosphere, the pavements practically impassable. Sleek chrome and glass has replaced crumbling brick throughout the neighbourhoods of Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain, yanking them out of a fifty-year slumber, while Potsdamer Platz, nothing but a barren field until a few years ago, is now a bustling entertainment quarter. It¹s an exciting, infectious scene and, for anyone familiar with the forlorn and unkempt eastern streets of the GDR, a slightly unbelievable one.
The relocation of government from Bonn to Berlin has played its part in this renaissance a titanic undertaking with inevitably profound results, most notably, again, on the eastern side of the city. Not only has the physical demeanour changed, with both new and old buildings housing embassies and ministries to accompany the freshly domed Reichstag, but the influx of politicians and bureaucrats has changed the city¹s ambience, giving it a sophistication and gravitas that offsets the newly found vitality of the streetlife.
This recent regeneration of the city centre is merely the most visible layer of Berlin¹s dense and complex past. Heart of the Prussian kingdom, economic and cultural centre of the Weimar Republic, and, in the final days of Nazi Germany, the headquarters of Hitler¹s Third Reich, Berlin is a weather vane of European history. After the war, the world¹s two most powerful military systems stood face to face here, sharing the spoils of a city later to be split by that most tangible object of the EastWest divide, the Berlin Wall. As the Wall fell in November 1989, Berlin was once again pushed to the forefront of world events, ushering in a period of change as frantic, confused and significant as any the city has experienced. It¹s this weight of history, the sense of living in a hothouse where all the dilemmas of contemporary Europe are nurtured, that gives Berlin its excitement and troubling fascination. It was, of course, World War II that defined the shape of today¹s city. A seventh of all the buildings destroyed in Germany were in Berlin, Allied and Soviet bombing razing 92 percent of all the shops, houses and industry here. After the war, Berlin formed the stage for some of the most significant moments in the convoluted drama of the Cold War: the permanent division of the city into communist east and capitalist west, the Blockade of 1948, and, in 1961, the construction of the Berlin Wall. The city became the frontline of the Cold War, and the ideological schizophrenia of East and West is still visible in the city streets. West Berlin made a habit of tearing down its war-damaged buildings and erecting undistinguished modern ones, while East Berlin restored wherever possible, preserving some of the nineteenth-century buildings that had once made the city magnificent. Despite the current feverish construction activity in many parts of eastern Berlin, it¹s still easy to spot facades scarred by wartime bullets, and common to turn off a main avenue onto a street that appears to have remained unchanged for a century.
Given the range and severity of the events Berlin endured, it¹s no wonder it emerged far differently from anywhere else in the country. West Berlin¹s unorthodox character made it a magnet for those seeking alternative lifestyles hippies and punks, gays and lesbians, artists and musicians all flocked there. Vital to this migration were the huge subsidies pouring in from the West German government to keep that portion of the city alive with money available for just about everything, Berlin developed a cutting edge arts scene and vibrant nightlife that continue to this day, long after the grants have dried up. Non-Germans came too, attracted by the city¹s tolerance. The large numbers of Turks, Greeks and Italians, who originally came as "guest workers" in the 1960s, make Berlin Germany¹s most cosmopolitan city by far a fact reflected in the excellent variety of cuisine on offer in the city¹s restaurants. East Berlin followed this pattern in a more modest way. Much less diverse and considerably less prosperous than its western twin, it was still, as the largest city in East Germany, a draw for nonconformists. No surprise then that it was here, in the late 1980s, that grassroots groups began to call for reform and help set in motion the opening of the Wall on November 9, 1989 and the eventual collapse of the German Democratic Republic.
What Berlin will be like when the dust from the world¹s largest building project settles is anyone¹s guess. Older East Berliners still consider that the west got by far the better deal from unification, and everyone is suffering from an economy greatly weakened by the costs of pulling the two Germanys together. The long-promised financial benefits of a revitalized Berlin will undoubtedly make some residents richer, but will the majority be any better off? The transformation of the city into a vigorous cultural centre, as museums and art collections are shifted and reorganized to integrate facilities in the east and west is encouraging, but how much longer will it take, and how much more will need to be spent? Anxiety and optimism can be found here in equal measure.
Inevitably, the pace of change in Berlin, particularly in the eastern part of the city, means that certain sections of this book are going to be out of date even as you read them. New cafés and restaurants open (and close) daily, traffic is rerouted around building sites, and the public transport system is being radically revamped.
One great advantage of unification is that, for the first time since the 1930s, the area around Berlin can easily be visited. Potsdam and the magnificent palace of Sanssouci is the obvious day-trip, and it¹s easy to get into countryside dotted with small towns and villages that preserve a "lost in time" feel.
It¹s a bracing time to see Berlin. As it seeks to keep its bearings even as its entire foundation has shifted, the city is again making history.WHEN TO GO
Lying in the heart of Europe, Berlin¹s climate is continental: winters are bitingly cold, summers hot. If you¹re hanging on for decent weather, April is the soonest you should go: any earlier and you¹ll need to don winter clothing, earmuffs and a decent pair of waterproof shoes; this said, the city (especially the eastern part) does have a particular poignancy when it snows. Ideally, the best time to arrive is in May; June and July can be wearingly hot, though the famed Berlin air (Berliner Luft there¹s a song about it) keeps things bearable. The weather stays good (if unpredictable) right up until October.