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Berlin

A cosmopolitan, exuberant capital of 3.8 million inhabitants spread over 340 square miles, Berlin is a conurbation of immense variety, with each of its 23 districts having their own distinctive feel.

For example, the Kreuzberg quarter is known for its strong Turkish influence, while Friedrichshain is a favourite for those who favour an alternative lifestyle. The Schoneberg area is part middle-class residential area and part gay scene, Zehlendorf to the east is full of greenery and Charlottenburg boasts Berlin's most famous shopping avenue (the Kurfurstendamm), the Zoo and the baroque splendour of the Schloss Charlottenburg palace and gardens.

However, for obvious reasons, tourists are drawn to the Mitte district, the heart of historical Berlin. Not only is this an area rich in entertainment possibilities and hotels, it is also home to a large proportion of the city's landmarks.

The Brandenburg Gate, the German parliament (Reichstag), the famous Unter den Linden boulevard -- Berlin's answer to the Champs Elysees -- are all situated in Mitte. As is the contemporary architecture and business pulse of the Potsdamer Platz and the Museuminsel (Museum Island), featuring the Old National art gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie) and the classical antiquities of the Pergamon Museum. It's safe to assume that this corner of Berlin will be packed when the World Cup extravaganza kicks off in June.

As night falls, the bars, restaurants, fast-food joints and night clubs in the northern part of the Mitte (Scheunenviertel) and neighbouring district of Prenzlauer Berg are literally swamped with revellers. Check out the vast array of bars in Oranienburger Strasse and go native with a Berliner Weisse, a wheat beer to which a shot of raspberry syrup is added.

Naan on Oderberger Strasse is a great Indian restaurant, while there are numerous takeaway options here, particularly the pizzas from Piccola Italia (Oranienburger Strasse) and the Currywurst (sausage in curry sauce) from Konnopke Imbiss (Schonhauser Allee). Shops and stalls doling out kebabs are everywhere, so no matter what time of day or night the hunger pang grabs you, there is plenty to pick from.

If you are willing to travel a little further out for a good meal, the Kreuzberg quarter of Berlin may take your fancy. There are several excellent Middles Eastern eateries here -- the Egyptian cafe-restaurant Ramses on Stresemannstrasse is hard to beat for quality or affordability -- and the various schnitzel dishes at the Gasthaus Dietrich Herz (Marheinekeplatz) are to die for.

Kreuzberg is also endowed with some outstanding bar gardens, notably Golgatha (Katzbachstrasse) which has a night club at weekends. Another pleasant part of town good to wind down with a drink is in and around Savignyplatz in the Charlottenburg area. Highly recommended are Wirtshaus Wubke (Schulterstrasse) and Quasimodo on Kantstarsse, a cafe-bar/jazz club.

Berlin's main shopping streets are Kurfurstendamm and Tauentzienstrasse in Charlottenburg. The latter is home to the famous KaDeWe department store. Among the many large malls are the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden and Kaufhof on Alexanderplatz.

Public transport involves nine tube lines (U Bahn), 15 suburban train lines (S Bahn), buses and trams. One type of ticket is valid for all, available from the orange vending machines and from booths at station entrances. A single costs £1.50 and a day card £4.20.

Note that Berlin has three mainline train stations: Zoologischer Garten in the city centre, the Ostbahnhof to the east and the new Lehrter Bahnhof, north of the Tiergarten, Berlin's central park. Buses connect Berlin's three airports -- Schonefeld, Tegel and Tempelhof -- with the city centre.

The venue for the World Cup Final, the Olympic Stadium lies a few kilometres west of Bahnhof Zoo. Extensively modernised, it is best reached from the city centre on S Bahn lines 59 or 75; look for trains going to the Spandau terminus and get off at the Olympiastadion stop. Trains run every ten minutes, journey time 20 minutes.

Away from the stadium, Berlin's World Cup party will largely take place on the city's Strasse des 17 Juni, with big screens to be found from the Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column (Siegessaule). Additional screens will be set up at the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz, at the Kulturforum near the New National Gallery and on other sites. The 'Adidas Arena' in front of the Reichstag will stage events too.

When the final memories of the 2006 World Cup finals are recalled in years to come, Berlin will be at the forefront of all minds. This historic city is certain to put on a show to remember.

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