|Berlin's a top city. No doubt about it, you ask people the no. 1 place they'd like to visit in Germany and the most likely answer will be Berlin (pronounced "Bair-leen" in German). It's a city that you can really say has it all - great historical attractions, fantastic nightlife for gays, straights and in-betweens, musicals, opera, concerts, you name it. The transport system in Berlin rocks - it's incredibly easy to get anywhere you want, there's a Fahrkontrolleur (train guard/inspector) at all the main stations to help you get the right train if you're a foreigner and one single ticket is valid for 75 minutes. A day ticket (valid for bus and train within Berlin for a day) will cost you around €5 which is cheap compared to say, London. anyway, Berlin has so much to see. Imagine being the centre of the East-West conflict during the Cold War. the signs of the past can still be seen today - east berlin is much less developed than west berlin. a lot uglier too, i must say. You absolutely must see the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall, covered in murals and pictures Germans have drawn over the last 20 years or so...the wall itself is still somewhat in the middle of no-man's-land in East Berlin. when i went it was very grey and desolate, adding to the old-time feel of it all. it's certainly a depressing place to be. The Tiergarten is another great spot to go in Berlin - this is where the Prussian kings used to hunt, it's just a huge forest-type like park in the middle of Berlin, full of lakes and trails and the sort and is lovely in both winter and summer. in the middle of the Tiergarten is the Siegessaeule, the great golden statue of victory (to commemerate german victory in the Prussian-Danish war, this statue was moved from its original place in the Platz der Republik in front of the Reichstag) which is well worth the climb for panoramic views over Berlin. the best time to go up there is at dusk - when the sun sets the entire sky over Berlin goes red and its great for photos. it's really cold up there at the top so make sure you bring a coat...other things to see in Berlin are Checkpoint Charlie (the former border crossing between East and West Berlin) and the Topographie des Terrors: an outdoor exhibition near Potsdamer Platz looking at the horrors of the Third Reich and their victims. Winter visitors beware - the cold outside gets too much after a while and it's best to visit this exhibition in the summer. Trips to Berlin aren't complete without a visit to the Reichstag (Germany's parliament house) and basically next to it, the impressive Brandenburger Tor. From the Brandenburger Tor stretches the road Unter den Linden, full of old buildings and cafes, and on which also stands Humboldt University, the Berlin National Library, Neue Wache (a monument to victims of war), Bebelplatz (this is actually to the side somewhat of Unter den Linden and is where the Nazis famously burned the books in 1933), and next to Bebelplatz is the Staatsoper (National Opera House, where there are daily concerts, all of top quality) as well as St Hedwig's Cathedral on the other side, which is quite pretty but in comparison to the French and German cathedrals on the Gendarmenmarkt square near the Reichstag, it's not SUPER exciting. Do see those two cathedrals if you can, the French one has a museum inside which chronicles the history of Germany and it's quite interesting (only €1 too). At the very end of Unter den Linden is the Berlin Cathedral which is magnificent, a must-see. Next to it is the Museumsinsel or island, where you'll find the Pergamonmuseum, Alte Museum and numerous others. If you only have time for one, make it the Pergamon, it's the most famous and quite interesting. Across from the Berliner Dom and just ahead a little bit is the Red Town Hall, in front of which is the Fountain of International Friendship, and Alexanderplatz (another must-see in Berlin although it's highly overrated). Here you'll find the World Time Clock and the Fernsehturm but not much else. Climb the Fernsehturm for a ripping €7 if you want(keep in mind though that it only costs €1.50 to climb the Siegessaeule, and you get pretty much the same view). Another fantastic thing to see in Berlin is the Palace Charlottenburg - it's absolutely beautiful inside, so ornate with rococco-style furnishings and i know Europe is full of palaces, but this one really stands out. There's about a million other things to see in Berlin, but those are the top ones i think. Also make a day trip to Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin - if you haven't heard already there's the famous Schloss Sans Souci and it's gardens, which go on for miles and are filled with yet more small palaces, an Orangerie and a windmill. You feel like you're back in the world of the Prussian kings and queens when you walk through these gardens and see the palaces (especially worth seeing is the Neues Palais in the gardens). I think it's best in summer time, altho in winter the snow transforms the gardens into a winter wonderland. the outside modern world just seems to fade away and all you have to worry about is the cold.
at night, definitely see the Berlin Philharmonic if you can (but book early cos they sell out fast). their building is called the Golden Philharmonie and it's just near Potsdamer Platz. The Staatsoper, as i said, has numerous ballets, opera and concerts, and standing tickets sell for as little as €3 so even if you're dirt-poor, you can still get a little bit of culture into you.
If a movie comes out that you really want to see, but don't want to see it in German, head to the Cinestar on Potsdamer Platz, where they only show movies in english and the prices are really quite cheap. on premiere nights they also throw in a glass of champagne so hey, what are you waiting for?
We stayed in the Alcatraz youth hostel in Berlin, which was in the middle of East Berlin and although the area was quite dodgy (being east berlin) the prices, security and what-not are alright (no free breakfast though). the staff are great, really helpful with directions, airport connections, and they pointed me straight to a doctor in berlin when i needed it. It's not safe to walk around East berlin at night (or any part of berlin really for that matter) becos there are a lot of druggies, weirdos and freaks around. you don't usually feel threatened when you're with another person but stick to the well-lit areas just to be safe.
So that's my wrap-up of Berlin.