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Reborn Berlin up for the cup; GreatEscape.

Byline: By Alison Dayani and Loretta Brennan

AS World Cup fever takes hold, Berlin is set to be a major attraction for millions of holiday-makers and football fans alike.

But this wondrous city of immense history is a trophy in itself and somewhere simply not to be missed.

Despite being heavily bombed at the end of the Second World War and split in a Cold War battle between the Russians and Americans, it has re-emerged with an exciting atmosphere, futuristic look and poignant remembrance to its past - both good and bad.

It really is a wonder to look around and see the beautiful architecture that has risen up from the post-war debris.

Norman Foster's dramatic dome at the peak of the Reichstag is like a mini, space age shower cap and offers stunning views to tourists, with the pathway within the dome, unwinding like orange peel to give a 360 degree panorama of the city.

But gazing across the twinkling skyline, you can't help but notice one repeating theme - cranes. They are everywhere as Berlin rapidly erects new buildings at a speed that would make a Wembley construction worker cry.

Berlin's buildings are fabulously diverse, with baroque style Prussian frontages nestling beside huge glassy edifaces, the whole feel is one of cool elegance.

Yet every corner also seems to have a symbolic monument, from the former east-west divide of the stunning Brandenburg Gate to Checkpoint Charlie and a line running along the streets and pavement depicting where the Berlin Wall once stood.

Sections of the graffitisplattered wall are still on view on both the east and west side and well worth a visit, while Checkpoint Charlie Museum is a real must and includes some of the inventive ways East Germans attempted to sneak across the border.

Berlin doesn't hide from its Nazi past either. The reminders are sensitively done, especially the emotional Jewish Museum or city centre Holocaust Memorial, but it is also important to remember that this city has much more of its long history to indulge in.

Even though the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the differences between the east and west sides of the city remain.

The once Soviet controlled areas are now under refurbishment with uniform tower blocks dotted across the skyline. While the west has steamed ahead with futuristic glass skyscrapers, lavish shopping centres and wide clean boulevards just a few streets away.

Despite this, the east has a unique charm, that will see you returning time and time again to its canal-side restaurants, bars and clubs along Unter Den Linden and beyond.

We tried out hotels on both sides of the city. The truly lavish Berlin Savoy Hotel with gorgeously stylish and comfortable rooms summed up everything that symbolises the west - every latest comfort, chocolate treats and bourgeoisie chic.

It is also just steps away from Berlin Zoo and the main shopping area of the city, Kurfurstendamm.

The shopping in this capital city is fantastic and includes Europe's largest department store - the KaDeWe - with eight floors of designer loveliness to keep any wannabe Posh and Coleen happy for hours. The fantastic food department even had an excessive 1,300 different cheeses in stock.

Over on the east, we stayed at Hotel Mercure, near Potsdamer Platz, which was comfortable and quaint. Smaller than the Savoy and less lavish, but plenty of charm and in a great position to explore the city.

And there is plenty to explore, so much that you will find yourself promising to return to see more.

But with the final of the World Cup set to be held in the capital city, one must-see trip I need to leave you with is a visit to the art deco style Olympic football stadium.

Built by Adolf Hitler for the 1936 Berlin Olympic games, it's historic facade remains while the interior has been modernised to 21st Century standards. It is a fitting venue for the world's greatest football competition.

Getting there

The superbly lavish 5-star Savoy Berlin, in Fasanenstrasse, on the west side of the city, can be booked through www.hotel-savoy.com. Prices range from around pounds 98 a night for a single room to pounds 246 a night for a suite.

Hotel Mercure Berlin Mitte, in Luckenwalder Strasse, is near Potsdamer Platz, on the east side of Berlin. Prices start at pounds 47 a night. Visit www.mercure.com The Westin Grand 5-star hotel has gargantuan sized beds. Prices from pounds 99. www.westin.com

British Airways has launched new direct flights from Birmingham to Berlin with low cost airline BA Connect. They leave daily fromto Berlin-Tegel Airport with prices starting at pounds 36 one way. Visit www.ba.com or phone the reservations hotline on 01805 266522.

CAPTION(S):

GRIM REMINDER... Berlin's Holocaust Memorial to the six million murdered Jews in World War II was opened last year. Pictures: Loretta Brennan' MODERN... pathways within the glass dome over the Reichstag.' EAST MEETS WEST... surviving part of the Wall.' MONUMENTAL... a row of taxis outside the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:May 3, 2006
Words:840
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