WHEN TO GO
Winters in Berlin can be harsh, with average temperatures hovering below freezing. Unless you have a great fondness for lingering in cafés or plan to attend February's increasingly important Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival), you're better off visiting between May and September, when the café tables spill out onto the sidewalk, the parks are green and filled with picnickers, and the banks of the Spree River, which divides the city, are dotted with improvised beach bars.
HOW TO GET THERE
Until a new international airport is completed (in 2011, according to projections, unless delayed by the city's budget crisis), Berlin is served by three smaller airports: Tegel (scheduled to close in 2011) and Tempelhof (scheduled to close in October 2008) in the former West, and Schönefeld in the former East. The airports' website, www.berlin-airport.de, has a comprehensive list of all the airlines that fly to Berlin. At the present time, only Delta and Continental offer direct flights from the United States. Delta flies from New York's JFK, and Continental from Newark. Visitors from the United States can also connect through several European cities, including London, Frankfurt, and Munich.
Those already in Europe can take the train or bus. The new Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main train station), located just north of the Reichstag in a spectacular multitiered glass shell, opened in the summer of 2006. It replaces the storied Bahnhof Zoo, on the western side of the city, as the hub for most train travel. The Ostbahnhof continues to service several destinations in eastern Germany and eastern Europe. Deutsche Bahn, Germany's national rail service, posts information in English on its website, including timetables and ticket prices (49-1-805-996633; www.bahn.de). The telephone information line has English-speaking operators. The main point of entry for buses is the Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof.
Getting around Berlin is very easy, thanks to the efficient public transportation system. It's clean, reliable, and relatively affordable. The Berlin Transport Authority (www.bvg.de) has a network of S-bahns (regional trains), U-bahns (subways), buses, and trams that serve destinations in three zones. The price of a ride depends on the number of zones traveled. In Berlin, the purchase of tickets is based on an honor system: Tickets are sold by agents at individual stations or by machines, but travelers are not required to show a ticket nor pass one through a machine or turnstile to gain entry. This may tempt some to "forget" to buy a ticket—don't do it. Plainclothes agents frequently patrol the trains, buses, and trams, asking passengers to produce a valid ticket. Failure to do so will result in a hefty fine (not to mention considerable mortification).
In addition to public transport, Berlin, like many other German cities, is easily navigated by bike. It has a network of bike paths, and motorists are accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists. Several companies rent bikes on a daily or weekly basis, including Fahrradstation (40-41 Rosenthaler Strasse, 30/180-5108000, www.fahrradstation.de, $10 per day). A rental car may be useful for longer out-of-town day trips, but it isn't necessary within the greater city limits.
For additional information, Berlin Tourismus Marketing GmbH (Am Karlsbad 11, 30/250-025, www.berlin-tourism.de) has a comprehensive website and several information points throughout the city.View Germany Factsheet