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Travel Essentials Berlin: Visitor information with a personal slant

Travel to Berlin is easy via all main modes of transport but from northern and western Europe, the quickest and cheapest way to get there is by low-cost airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair, who land at Schönefeld Airport south east of Berlin.

It's easily accessible to the centre via frequent trains. Tegel Airport in west Berlin is a short bus ride from the centre of west Berlin. You can also travel to Berlin overland by car, bus or train.

Public Transport in Berlin is efficient, frequent and affordable. With a 5.30 euro day ticket you can hop on and off trams, buses and trains till 3am the next morning. The S-Bahn is the city suburban rail system linking the centre with outlying areas. The U-Bahn is the underground railway operating mainly in the central area. Trams operate in the eastern part of the city. Taxis can be expensive, though not as pricey as in London. Hiring a bike can be a great way to explore the forests in the west and east. Boat rides on the lakes are fun and relaxing. Walking can be enjoyable but remember central Berlin covers a big area, so don't underestimate the distances.

Accommodation is available from the most basic to the most luxurious. You may be able to find special offers at 5 star hotels that would be unavailable in Munich or Paris. Designer hotels offer a stylish and surprisingly affordable option: My recommendation the Kudamm 101. For budget accommodation there's the Generator Hostel in east Berlin. You can also go to the tourist office and request private B&B accommodation. See my Berlin hotel reviews.

Berlin has a multitude of attractions including world class museums, galleries, monuments, shopping centres, reconstructed buildings, beautiful parks, squares and tree-lined boulevards. The Museum of German History, the Museum Island and the Jewish Museum are top of the list for visitors. It's essential to see the Museum at Checkpoint Charlie if you want to understand the reality of divided Berlin and the now invisible Wall. Admire skyline views from the Europa Center near west Berlin's Kurfürstendamm or the Fernsehturm in the centre of east Berlin next to the Alexanderplatz. Check out the nearby Oranienburger Strasse district and its renovated courtyards with boutiques, restaurants, cafes, private galleries and lots more. There are wonderful forests and lakes just 20 minutes by train from the city. Don't expect to be wowed by magnificent architecture at every street corner: Berlin bears the scars of war, division and post-war reconstruction and it's now said to be Europe's biggest building site. Know your attractions and how to get there and you will have a great time.

Food & Drink of all kinds is available from a few euros to gourmet . You can eat very cheaply at the excellent food outlets at railway stations. Turkish snack bars are also excellent and you can even have a glass of wine with your kebab. Around the Oranienburger Strasse there are some of Berlin's newest and most highly recommended restaurants. Along the Kudamm and its side streets is also a home of good food. The beer in Germany is exceptionally good and not expensive. In Berlin, as in the rest of Germany, you can eat as cheaply or expensively as you like, and the quality is usually excellent.

Security - Berlin is relatively safe - There are no major problems with street crime or pickpockets, but the same advice applies as in other cities: avoid taking large amounts of cash with you, and watch out for pickpockets in crowded places. Legally you are required have your passport of identity card with you at all times. Some attractions - such as the Jewish Museum - have a strict security policy, with airport-style checks before you enter. Berlin is a true 24 hour city. Bars, restaurants, clubs, even some shops operate through the night and on main streets there are usually plenty of people about. If you keep to crowded areas and the risk of crime will be less.

Culture and history - Berlin is a city shaped by war, economic success and turmoil, post-war division, political reunification, now optimism tempered by a certain disillusioment caused by long term economic stagnation. Berliners have survived thanks to their cynical but humorous attitude, the 'Berliner Schnauze'. The story of Berlin's amazing history and evolution is there to be experienced all around you. Berlin stands at the meeting point of West and East, now united in one Europe. The Wall existed for 28 years but there is almost no physical trace of it now. The eastern part of the city still has a strong feel of Moscow and the Soviet Bloc. West Berlin has a feel of Paris, London and New York. There really is no other city on Earth quite like it.

Language - Most people speak English and there are signs, leaflets and announcements in English in most places you go. You'll also overhear the accents of American, Australian and other English-speaking visitors in this cosmoploitan city, as well as Russian, Polish and many other languages of the east - even as far east as Vietnam and China. Useful phrases include Einmal, zweimal, dreimal bitte (one, two, or three please) for ordering food, tickets, drinks or anything else. When someone says Danke schön (thank you) it's polite to say Bitte schön (you're welcome). By the end of the trip you may be proclaiming to people 'Ich bin ein Berliner', as President Kennedy did in 1963.

The weather in Berlin is not as cold as it used to be. Snowy Russian-style winters seem, like the Cold War, to have been consigned to history. In the summer the weather can be hot and sunny for days and weeks on end, though it can also be changeable. There isn't really a best time to visit Berlin - It's a great place at any time of year.

Weblinks:

Official Berlin Website English pages

Berlin Tourist Information

Berlin Jewish Museum

Museum of the Wall - Haus am Checkpoint Charlie

Generator Hostel Berlin

Kudamm 101 Hotel

Easyjet

Ryanair

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2004-06-03

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