FEW cities are as vibrant as Berlin, and few neighbourhoods in Germany’s capital are as charming and central as Schöneberg, a residential area that was part of West Berlin and has long been home to the city’s gay community.
It’s also where Marlene Dietrich was born, and where Christopher Isherwood lived in the 1930s, soaking up the experiences and acquaintances that he transformed into Goodbye to Berlin, which eventually became the popular musical Cabaret.
For the full Isherwood experience, I wanted to live like a native, so I took a flat very near the Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn station. Renting a flat meant I could come and go at will, and that I saved money on incidentals such as coffee, breakfasts and late-night snacks (like an army, I travel on my stomach). It also meant that I could come and go at my own pace, without worrying whether I was delaying the cleaning staff or that my nap time would be interrupted by over-eager turn-town types desperate to draw the curtains.
WINING AND DINING
.Schöneberg is crawling with cafés, restaurants and bars, so you can take your pick, especially if you stroll down Goltzstrasse, a lovely leafy street so packed with boutiques and bistros that I lost several hours just wandering.
This area is near the Turkish enclave, so you know you’re getting the real deal at Baba Angora (Goltzstrasse 32; www.babaangora.de) and at Habibi (Goltzstrasse 24), which insists it was the first place in Berlin to sell shwarma. The former is a huge, beautiful room at the base of a block of flats with jazzy multi-coloured brickwork, the latter a perennially busy hole in the wall offering mezze to die for at reasonable prices.
Visit the branch of Albrecht for a cake break (Rykestrasse 39; www.albrechts-patisserie.de). The business is the love child of Stephanie Albrecht, who combines the German confectionery tradition with her training in French patisserie, and opened her first café in 2004. Everything is tempting, fattening and delicious. The ambience is relaxed, with patrons happily co-existing at shared tables.
About a 15-minutes walk from the U-Bahn station is the deservedly famous Café Einstein (Kurfürstenstrasse 58; www.cafeeinstein.com), with its tempting array of cakes, and reasonably priced plats du jour, all dished up in a setting so redolent of days gone by that you’ll be amazed to step back outside and see the 21st century whizzing past.
I stayed in a one-bedroom flat with ample space for four to sleep comfortably. The surroundings were clean but basic. There was plenty of fresh bedding and extra blankets and towel, and the flat had ample storage space – drawers as well as a wardrobe – for clothes.
The spotless kitchen was fully appointed and the sitting room, which had a small balcony (sadly, though, it was too cold to sunbathe) received plenty of light and boasted both a home entertainment centre and a free wifi hub. The futon sofa would have easily accommodated two additional guests.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
Nothing less than all of Berlin is within handy walking distance, or accessed via a public transport system (buses, underground) that works like a charm. It’s a good idea to buy a Berlin WelcomeCard (www.berlin-welcomecard.com) for unlimited transport in zones A and B (which includes Tegel airport) and deep discounts at designated museums, shops, and tours. It comes with a guidebook and map. A five-day pass for one person is possibly the most sensible e31.50 you will ever spend.
Berlin’s most famous museums – the Pergamon Museum, Altes Museum, Nationalgalerie, Neues Museum – and Berliner Dom are all located on Museumsinsel, in the Mitte district, so you could easily lose yourself in their marble halls for an entire day.
The enormous Tiergarten park is just a few stops away, and two stops on the subway will get you to Berlin’s most famous department store, KaDeWe. It’s the largest department store in continental Europe, and is renowned for its sixth-floor food hall, which offers a staggering array of goods, both fresh and in gorgeous cans, bottles and jars. There are also several places to sit down and eat here, most with superb views over the Berlin skyline.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE
With Housetrip’s vast selection of properties to choose from, you can dial it any way you like.
Location, location, location. Four of Berlin’s U-Bahn lines run through Nollendorfplatz, you’re nicely placed between western and eastern districts and the neighbourhood is lively, safe and friendly. What more can you ask for from a home away from home?
How soon can I come back?
• Housetrip (www.housetrip.com) lists more than 130,000 properties around the world, in 15,000 destinations. The Berlin flat costs around e70 per night