The best way to get to Berlin? Take the Venice Simplon Orient Express, an enchanting route to the German capital that crosses the Rhine Gorge

 
Rod Gilchrist
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THE WEEKEND: Berlin, which has always demonstrated its ability for re-invention, is experiencing one of its most exciting eras. The old East, left by the Kremlin to rot, has been cleaned up with futuristic steel-and-glass architecture; making for a dazzling capital city.

THE JOURNEY: Take Belmond’s new London to Berlin overnight service, the Venice Simplon Orient Express. Passengers travel amid the classic glamour of original Pullman carriages, all crushed velvet seats and burnished walnut panelling. Agatha Christie was trapped in one of these carriages during a snowdrift when she thought of Murder on the Orient Express. Dinner in the black lacquered Cote D’Azur restaurant car, decorated with Lalique panels of Bachanalian maidens is a time warp: best tuxedos for the gentlemen, feathery boas for the ladies. On the way, you’ll see the scenic Rhine Gorge guarded by crumbling hill-top castles, a scene that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Charming villages, flower bedecked chalets and neat terraced vineyards cling from the fast-flowing rivers edge.

THE STAY: The Queen stayed at the Adlon-Kempinski, which has commanding views of the Berlin skyline. The hotel survived wartime bombing, but was accidentally burnt to the ground by Russian soldiers “liberating” the wine cellars in 1945. Left as a ruin during the Cold War, it was rebuilt when the Wall fell as a gleaming marble palace.

WHAT TO SEE: The Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag – the German parliament with its glass dome designed by Sir Norman Foster – remnants of the Wall (now a canvas for protest art), The Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, and Kurfustendamm, Berlin’s answer to the Champs-Elysees.

THE FOOD: Traditional German food is heavy and filling. Duck dumplings, Bockwurst and curried peas are typical. For a more refined experience, try Das Meisterstuck on Hausvogteiplatz (tel:+49 30 558 725 62) for honey mustard spread with young leeks and garden cress, lamb sausage with pumpkin, ginger chutney and rosemary potatoes eased down with cold draught Zirndorfer Kellerbier.

THE NIGHTLIFE: Visit the modern incarnation of the decadent KitKatClub, a cocktail-fuelled 1920s nude floor show on Heinrich Heine Strasse. Berlin’s youth prefer techno music. Sophisticates might prefer the Helmut Newton Bar in upmarket Charlotten Strasse, where the walls are decorated with life-sized nudes.

GETTING AROUND: The U-Bahn underground service is fast and efficient. The River Spree cuts leisurely through the city. Trabi taxis, the old East German worker’s car, now bizarrely a much-loved symbol of the Cold War, guarantee tourists will photograph you as much as the sights (Trabisafari on Alexander Strasse, tel:+44(0)30 2067 2649). Nothing beats walking, though.

NEED TO KNOW: A three-night journey, including the overnight train from London to Berlin aboard Belmond’s Venice Simplon Orient Express and two-nights at Hotel Adlon Kempinksi starts from £3,005pp. Transfers, tours in Berlin and return flights can also be arranged from belmond.com

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