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Weekend break: Berlin

Ianthe Butt
06 February 2013

Desperate to discover Berlin's 
latest hot spots? Enlist the 
expertise of on-the-pulse 
insiders, says Ianthe Butt

DAY ONE
Hipster. Trendy. Cool. A trio of words 
so overused when describing Berlin, they have fallen out of fashion. Like everything in the city, what's hot can become what's not in the blink of an eye. One of the best ways to experience Berlin's latest buzzwords — 'boutique' and 'quirky' for fashion, and 'culinary adventure' for its exploding dining scene — is through a series of city tours run by in-the-know locals.

For all its come-and-go trends Berlin's heart is in its history and in order to understand the present you need to learn about its past. Explore by bike — book a tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours (fattirebiketours.com) and you'll get a history lesson to boot. Its All-in-One tour (£19) takes in famous sights with guides who know their stuff — ours has a history PhD and bags of passion.

Tours start at Alexanderplatz's TV Tower. Built in the 1960s at a time of religious and political oppression, this 368m building was heralded as a symbol of Communist strength. When the sun shone, however, an architectural oversight revealed itself as reflections caused a huge cross to appear over the building, earning it the moniker 'The Pope's Revenge'. The tour whizzes us past a host of historical sights — the Brandenburg Gate, Humboldt University (29 Nobel prize winners including Einstein conducted work here) and remnants of the Berlin Wall.

For a dinner that fuses old and new, book a table at Kreuzberg's Volt (restaurant-volt.de), which is housed in an old electricity substation. This dimly lit venue has industrial décor and feels edgy, yet delivers sophisticated and light dishes: a delicate salad of braised cauliflower with shallots and mandarin, lamb with truffled Jerusalem artichoke and the chef's special, a deconstructed chocolate bar with a twist of passion fruit.

DAY TWO
Pounding Berlin's pavements once you have an idea of the city's setup is a great way to find hot spots, but where to 
start? Join a lifestyle tour with Go Art! (goart-berlin.de) to help steer you in the right direction. Ours focuses on unusual shops and à la mode hangouts but Go Art! will tailor to your specific interests, be that art, museums or retail therapy.

In Mitte alone there's plenty to explore including Auguststraße blink-and-miss-it former Jewish girls' school, which houses an art gallery as well as Pauly Saal restaurant (paulysaal.com). Perfect for a cold beer and just a few doors down is Clärchens Ballhaus (ballhaus.de), an old atmospheric dance hall, which runs salsa and swing lessons. Mulackstraße is great for boutique shops. Try Starstyling (starstyling.net) for brights, and for classic cuts Lala Berlin (lalaberlin.com). Across town is KaDeWe (kadewe.de), Berlin's answer to Harrods with designer shops, gourmet delicacies and beautiful German-designed jewellery at the Wellendorff shop on the ground floor (wellendorff.com).

Berlin is fast shaking off its wurst-based stereotype and now holds 12 Michelin stars. Join the Gastro Rallye (gastro-rallye.com), a tour which allows you to sample a course at several restaurants, with a local foodie. We kicked off at Mani Restaurant (amanogroup.de) — French food with a Tel Avivian twist. Mains are at Katz Orange (katzorange.com) a few minutes away. Dessert at Michelin-starred Weinbar Rutz (rutz-weinbar.de) completes the trio.

DAY THREE
Berlin's brunches are legendary and there are lots to choose from. Monsieur Vuong's (monsieurvuong.de) opens midday for Vietnamese street-style noodles (no bookings), or if you fancy something more traditional, florist-cum-café Anna Blume (cafe-anna-blume.de) is bursting with beautiful blooms and breakfast goodies. Order a quirky floral tea and revel in your newly gained insider knowledge of Berlin before catching the flight home.

Need to know
Read... Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin (£9.99, Penguin Modern Classics). This novel follows a working-class couple's resistance to the Nazi regime.
Buy... Berlin WelcomeCard (from £14 for 48 hours) includes unlimited use of public transport and discounts at 200+ tourist sites. visitberlin.de

Where to stay
Andel's Berlin is a vast design-focused hotel on Landsberger Allee offering 557 chic rooms and suites, three restaurants and great views of the city from its skybar. vi-hotels.com