Still metamorphosing more than 20 years since the fall of the wall, Berlin's unique blend of grit and vitality has made it a beacon for European arts, and this year the German capital is planning a summer cultural programme that puts its contemporaries to shame.
As Berliners mark their hometown's 775th birthday and the 300th anniversary of Frederick the Great, a host of historical exhibitions is planned both in Berlin and amid the stunning palaces and gardens of Potsdam, a 30-minute train ride away. Look out for the "Friederisiko" exhibition at the New Palace in Potsdam (until October 28) and the Historiale festival in the Nikolaiviertel, another expected highlight which tells Berlin's story through the art of immigrants (August 20-26).
A comfortable bed
It doesn't get much more comfortable than the opulent surroundings of Hotel Adlon Kempinski (www.hotel-adlon.de; 00 49 30 2261 0), the five-star residence of choice for passing royalty and pop stars which stands just a stone's throw from the Brandenburg Gate. Double rooms cost from €230 (Dh1,068) per night.
Another luxury choice is the Ritz-Carlton (www.ritzcarlton.com; 00 49 30 33 7777), which towers over the gleaming glass facades of Potsdamer Platz, an area changed beyond recognition in the past two decades. Although parts of the hotel lack the originality of the Adlon, the service is ruthlessly efficient and the position among the cinemas, restaurants and metro lines of Potsdamer Platz makes it a superb choice for night owls. Double rooms cost from €255 (Dh1,184) per night.
The Cosmo Hotel Berlin (www.cosmo-hotel.de; 00 49 30 5858 2222) has chic rooms close to Museums Island from €104 (Dh481) per night. The compact spaces are packed full of modern, light furniture and designer touches.
Find your feet
Berlin is a surprisingly big place, with the distances you'll need to cover more comparable to London than Paris, so a metro travelcard is a good investment. Nevertheless, a fairly comprehensive walking tour can be enjoyed starting from Potsdamer Platz and walking North along Ebertstrasse, past the Grosser Tiergarten and the foreboding concrete slabs of the Holocaust Memorial towards the iconic grandeur of the Brandenburg Gate.
After a pause for refreshment in the fountain-lined gardens of the new Pariser Platz, continue north to the Reichstag building (the seat of the German parliament), easily identifiable by the enormous glass dome on top added by British architect Lord Foster in 1999. A trip into the dome is well worth your time even when parliament isn't in session - for the best experience, grab an audio guide and take your time up the spiral walkways, admiring the 360° vista (www.visite.bundestag.de).
Meet the locals
In summer Berliners flock to outdoor spaces along the River Spree, which are turned into outdoor beach bars providing refreshment, music and entertainment as the sun goes down. The Strandbar Mitte is the oldest and arguably still the best, with a view southwards over Museums Island and a laid-back vibe that makes tourists feel as welcome as locals.
To see more of the real Berlin, you'll need to escape the city centre and head for one of the cooler residential districts. Kreuzberg has historically been home to everyone from penniless artists to well-known politicians and, although it's changing rapidly, the cafes of Bergmannstrasse are still a surefire bet for an unpredictable encounter. Prenzlauer Berg nearby is equally trendy and popular with a young, professional crowd.
Book a table
The Adlon's Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer (www.hotel-adlon.de; 00 49 30 2261 1960) boasts two Michelin stars for its European-inspired haute cuisine, served in suitably grand environs with a view over the Brandenburg Gate. Traditional and expensive but well worth a visit; main courses are around €50 (Dh232) and the six-course tasting menu is €130 (Dh603).
For those that prefer more modern surroundings, restaurant Rutz (www.weinbar-rutz.de; 00 49 30 2462 8760) is almost universally praised among locals for its Michelin-starred cuisine and stylish surroundings. In summer, the terrace offers a delightful al fresco experience; the full 12 course tasting menu is €180 (Dh835) although a six-course version is available for €105 (Dh487).
Restaurant Jolesch (www.jolesch.de; 00 49 30 612 3581) in Kreuzberg is a less formal alternative popular with locals, serving hearty Austrian dishes such as schnitzel and apple pancakes. Great value, simple and romantic, main courses are around €20 (Dh92).
The KaDeWe is the undisputed hub of shopping in Berlin, boasting seven floors of luxury and designer products. The food hall on the sixth floor is a particular highlight, in my opinion besting even the delectable selection of Galeries Lafayette in Paris - the top-floor restaurant serves a superb lunch at very reasonable prices.
What to avoid
Treat with suspicion anyone who offers you an original piece of the Berlin Wall - it might have come from a wall in Berlin, but in many cases that's the only link.
You'll have to fight the crowds, but Checkpoint Charlie,where Berliners once queued to pass from East to West and vice-versa, is a must for every first-timer. The adjacent Wall Museum can get very busy, so arrive early for the best experience.
Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) flies direct to Berlin from Dh3,350 return, including taxes. The flight takes just over six hours.