City breaks: Berlin
Germany is a great place to visit in late Spring and early Summer and Berlin gets my vote for sheer eclecticism. It really has 'das kool' element and not a hint of snobbery or arrogance which you might expect in such a cutting edge place. Before I went to Berlin, I had no idea what to expect - I knew it was a cultural place that had experienced a revival following the demise of the Wall that split the city until 1989. So on arrival, I was first surprised by the fact it was quite hot, and not a cloud in sight and then by the contrasting architecture of the stark GDR buildings and the new modernism and peppered with the 18th century buildings that survived the war. I'm a great fan of the Bauhaus movement but saw much more evidence of new architecture which has sprung up around the Mitte in the last two decades. History is everywhere. The remnants of the now fabled Wall, are now brought to life with vibrant street art more reminiscent of the graffiti on Venice Beach, California than a sophisticated European urban city. Just look around and you will notice everywhere a long heritage of culture and creativity. In the early 1900s, Berlin used to hold its film festival at Hotel Zoo. Now modernised, this hotel is really central and still pays homage to the glamorous side of it's history which includes world famous stars such as Marlene Dietrich. With all its newness, Berlin does not ignore its past and I found it very poignant to walk among many memorials to the holocaust. If you know anyone in Berlin, make sure you hook up with them while you're there, or why don't you try using twitter to find out if there are any resident Brits who are happy to show you around? Foursquare is also another tool for the connected tourist/traveller. As with most European cities, Berlin is best discovered on foot and there are many different areas to explore. Potsdamme Platz is a homage to all things tall, glass and modern. It's surrounded by lots of modern eateries, so if you've tired of bratwurst and bier, you can find someting a little more contemporary for your palate. As you move from the East to West sides of the city you may notice that the traffic light icon changes, yet another strange quirk of this historic place.
There is some great shopping to be had as well. Kurfürstendamm or Friedrichstraße are the popular mainstream places to go and you can break up your shopping with great restaurants and cafes. My preference is Schönhauser Allee which caters for the individual while showcasing young designers, many of whom are actually on hand to talk about their work, be it jewellery or clothing. There are flea markets over the weekend so if you're on a short city break, a post breakfast meander around these is always a good way to work off that fry up. There are oodles of museums and galleries to visit in Berlin. For the insider's view, check out Berlin-life for details of events going on including Berlinale and Love Parade. All in all the city has a lot to offer - and these bikes are easy to rent if you don't want to get about on foot - but make sure you dodge the trams when crossing the roads, they very fast!