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Germany’s capital is no conventional beauty, and although the city has been cleaned and restored since the fall of the Berlin Wall, several of its charms are still to be found around its many rough edges.
The city’s sights are mainly a reflection of German history, from the Third Reich to the Communist regime. Sightseeing here is often a sombre and thought-provoking experience, but modern Berlin isn’t trapped in its past. The Jewish Museum for example focuses on all aspects of Jewish life and culture in Berlin and the brand new Daniel Libeskind building is worth a visit for the architecture alone.
Due to Berlin’s scale and the size of the city centre it is difficult to cover the main sights on foot. The Berlin Welcome Card offers a great way to get around the city and see many of the highlights; it includes unlimited travel on the underground, metro, and tram systems and 50% discounts on most museums. Another good way to experience central attractions like the Reichstag (the restored parliament) and its Norman Foster glass dome is to board a sightseeing boat on the river Spree.
Those seeking a cultural experience should head for the Berlin Museumsinsel in Mitte. The six museums on a small island focus on classical antiquities, prehistory and early history, Islamic art, and sculpture, and house Egyptian and Numismatic collections. The museum complex itself was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
For a more modern take visit the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin at the Schlossplatz nearby which will showcase modern art created in Berlin until the end of 2010.
A new generation of young Germans eager to experience life in this city of constant change has migrated to the capital in recent years from all over the country, filling the bars and cafes in Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, and Mitte. Bars and clubs in the central district are mostly open into the early hours of the morning. Expect the unexpected - wine bars that only charge what you want to pay (Weinerei at Zionskirche Square) or a drinking joint in a circus tent (Bar Jeder Vernunft, Schaper Street).
Berlin has no equivalent to the West End or Broadway, but a number of British shows have established themselves here over the years – including Blue Man Group.
If you have more than a couple of days in the city, it’s worth venturing to nearby Potsdam and Park Sanssouci (which freely translates as ‘carefree’). The vast royal gardens are often compared to Versailles and resemble a showroom for medium-sized palaces. Schedule at least two hours to explore and choose your favourite from residences such as Friedrich the Great’s Palace Sansousi, which gave the park its name, and later additions such as the Neues Palais.