With 150 museums, 3 opera houses and 7 symphony orchestras, Berlin – the German capital and a vibrant metropolis of 3.5 million people – has always been a nerve centre of European culture. What’s new is Berlin’s status as a world city, as famous for its street art, food trucks, riverside beach bars and zoos as for its tumultuous history.
There's no better place to learn about this history than the Story of Berlin (www.story-of-berlin.de), a visually stunning interactive exhibition on the famed Kurfürstendamm avenue which is thought-provoking for visitors of all ages. Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (www.mauermuseum.de) focuses on the significance of the dramatic fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which signalled the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of East and West Berlin. For even more sober reflections of Berlin's history, visit the free Topographie des Terrors (www.topographie.de) exhibition centre, opened in 2010 on the site of the former Gestapo headquarters.
See Berlin from above at the Panoramapunkt (www.panoramapunkt.de), a 100m-high perch with a small café. Kids of all ages will enjoy Loxx (www.loxx-berlin.de), the world’s largest digitally-controlled model railway, complete with astonishingly miniature landscapes. More trains, as well as planes, buses and automobiles (including Communist-era Trabants) are on show at the excellent Deutsches Technikmuseum (www.sdtb.de).
Berlin is a treasure trove of art, antiques and accessories, so you’ll likely go home with a unique item. Start the hunt at Mauerpark Markt (www.mauerparkmarkt.de), a Sunday flea market attended by 30,000 people. If you’re chasing funky garments and accessories, try East Berlin Store (www.eastberlinstore.com) in the fashionable part of Mitte. Reward yourself with oysters and champagne at the food court of the KaDeWe department store (www.kadewe.de).
Rub shoulders with Berlin's celebrities at Restaurant Borchardt (www.borchardt-restaurant.de) on Gendarmenmarkt, a 150-year-old restaurant which fuses tradition and cosmopolitanism in cuisine, décor and atmosphere. Café Einstein (www.einsteinudl.com) puts a smart twist on the European coffee house tradition, with a restaurant so often frequented by politicians that it's known as the "politicians' living room". Want to treat yourself? Then dress up smart and book a table at Fischers Fritz (www.fischersfritzberlin.com), the only restaurant in Berlin with two Michelin stars.
Berlin’s nightlife has a reputation for no-holds-barred craziness, but in truth there’s something here for everyone. Tier (Weserstraße 42), for example, is a relatively laidback bar in Neukoelln’s new nightlife zone – perfect for a quiet cocktail. Weekend (www.week-end-berlin.de), a rooftop club with great views over Alexanderplatz, books top DJs to entertain its crowds of relaxed ravers. At Berghain (www.berghain.de), Berlin’s top techno club, parties that begin Friday night often end Monday morning.
Berlin's annual events are as eclectic as everything else in the city. Runners should aim to be around in September, when the Berlin Marathon (www.bmw-berlin-marathon.com) takes place. October sees the Festival of Lights (www.festival-of-lights.de), when dozens of monuments act as backdrops for dazzling light shows. Berlin Decembers are chilly – but drink enough mulled wine at the 60 or so Christmas markets that spring up around the city and you’ll soon warm up.