Why West Berlin?
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city’s eastern side, formerly occupied by the communist German Democratic Republic, was ripe for renovation. The space created by the removal of the wall, and the old buildings overdue for renewal, meant everything edgy and inventive went east. The formerly cool West Berlin districts fell into something of a funk as the gaze shifted elsewhere.
But the comeback is on, as the eastern districts rapidly gentrify. Charlottenburg, in particular, is undergoing a considerable renaissance, with a host of hip openings around the Zoologischer Garten train station. Here, independent shops and restaurants are opening under the railway arches, while the highly regarded C/O photography gallery has made the conscious decision to move west.
A comfortable bed
Hotel Zoo is daring and distinctive, put together by a designer who largely works on film sets. This shows through in the flamboyance, plus quirky touches such as the lifts where one wall is an image of photographers, their bulbs flashing as the lift goes up. Each room is different, art works and sculptures have been sourced from around the world and super-king beds come with top-range linen. Rooms cost from €163 (Dh636).
The 25 Hours Bikini is part of the Bikini complex, and is defiantly anti-bland. Dangling bicycles in the lobby, video art installations and rooms that overlook the enclosures in the zoo are just some of the many points of difference in this youthful, fun-focused joint. Rooms cost from €141 (Dh550).
At the cheaper end of the scale, Motel One does affordable with a bit of style very well, and the Ku’Damm property is handily positioned in the heart of Charlottenburg next to Zoologischer Garten station. Double rooms cost from €88 (Dh343).
Find your feet
A logical starting point is the Story of Berlin, which uses aural atmospherics, bunkers and theatre-set-esque rooms to cover different eras in Berlin’s history. This stretches from marshy swampland through Prussian-era capital to Second World War lead-up and the Cold War. The presentation is excellent and the history never feels dry.
From there, take a walk around the canal to the Bauhaus-Archiv, which tells the story of the influential Bauhaus design school. There are also some fabulously representative pieces and artworks on display.
Meet the locals
The huge, five-square-kilometre-plus Tiergarten was once used as a private hunting ground for the Electors of Brandenburg, but is now Berlin’s most treasured public park. Part of the appeal is that it’s relatively heavily forested, rather than primped into formality – for walkers, it feels like an escape to the countryside.
Book a table
Kantstrasse has seen a fair few hip restaurants open recently, most of which take something of a magpie approach to world cuisine. Madame Ngo is an excellent example, which does a fine line in Vietnamese cuisine – the massive pho pots in the window provide the visual clue. But there’s a French influence, too, with the €16 (Dh62) filet mignon pho going above and beyond usual street-food fare.
For something completely different, Marjellchen goes for unashamedly hearty Prussian fare. That means hefty portions of dishes such as braised goose, three kinds of cabbage and potato dumplings for €24.50 (Dh96), served in warm, homely surroundings.
The Kurfürstendamm has long been Berlin’s prime shopping street. As a sample, within one block there’s Hugo Boss, Apple, Timberland, Karen Millen, Michael Kors, Barbour and Urban Outfitters.
New on the West Berlin scene is the Bikini Mall, near Zoologischer Garten station. Here, several hip labels mingle with indie designers. Promobo is a great example, proudly boasting “young designers and manufacturers”.
What to avoid
Berlin is fairly spread out, and only the most hardened pavement-pounder will manage it entirely on foot. Therefore, it’s best to pick a hotel relatively near a U-Bahn or S-Bahn station. But some stations are more useful than others, because a few of the lines don’t go near many places of visitor interest. The U7 and U9 lines, especially, aren’t all that helpful.
Berlin Musictours run a genuinely superb David Bowie-themed walking tour, taking in key parts from his story during his three-album period in Berlin between 1976 and 1978. For non-Bowie fans, visiting his old apartment and the Hansa recording studios may not seem particularly exciting, but the story of how Berlin changed – partly spurred by Bowie making it cool to be based there – is deftly woven in. Tickets cost from €14 (Dh55).
Flights from Abu Dhabi to Berlin with Etihad’s code-share partner Air Berlin cost from Dh2,150.