Berlin is a city whose name evokes some of the worst horrors of the 20th century – but it was a more modern event that drew gasps from our tour party…
“That,” our guide solemnly announced, “is the balcony that Michael Jackson held Blanket over”.
Yes, 20 years on, the King of Pop’s reckless baby-dangling exploits were still shocking enough to cause the mums and dads among us to collectively catch our breath.
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We were standing in the heart of Berlin’s grand Pariser Platz gazing up at the Hotel Adlon where the guest book is a Who’s Who of VIPs, including the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Behind us loomed the imposing Brandenburg Gate through which Napoleon rode in triumph in 1806, while beside us was a far more modern construction, the US Embassy which opened in 2008.
History buffs will love this fascinating city – there are astonishing stories to be heard around every corner, so try to sign up to a sightseeing tour to get an insider’s perspective.
And now it’s even easier to get to from Liverpool and the North West with new Lufthansa flights via Frankfurt.
Our guide Miguel was amazing. He took us from Checkpoint Charlie, where a 1961 stand-off between US and Soviet tanks took the world to the brink of nuclear war, to the awesome Reichstag building that houses the German parliament.
Along the way we passed the site of Hitler’s bunker, now a mundane car park, and the spot where the tyrant’s body was burned – today a children’s sand pit beside an apartment block.
During your stay, make sure you visit the Topography of Terror (free, topographie.de ).
This museum telling the story of the Nazi regime stands on the site of the former Gestapo headquarters, the cells of which now house an open-air exhibition telling the story of the city from 1933 to 1945.
The site also features one of the best preserved stretches of the Berlin Wall which split the city from August 1961 until it fell in November 1989.
At first glance, the bits that survive are surprisingly narrow, made up of concrete panels topped off with a rounded cap to stop people using grappling hooks.
But it was a formidable barrier to anyone seeking freedom in the West and many who attempted to cross paid with their lives.
There are only a few lengths left but if you keep your eyes peeled you will spot how the route of it is traced by a double row of cobblestones along the streets.
The most moving monument to Berlin’s past is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, better known as the Holocaust Memorial.
Close to the Brandenburg Gate, it is 2,711 blocks of concrete laid in a grid pattern. Each is set at a slight angle and the slabs are taller as you walk towards the heart of the site, making it feel as though they are looming over you.
The designer has never said what he set out to convey, but you certainly feel unsettled and alone as you wander among the slabs, catching fleeting glimpses of fellow visitors before they are lost among the maze.
There is no escaping Berlin’s past, but it’s very much a city for the future, packed with cool bars, galleries, clubs and eateries.
There are fantastic food venues such as the Markthalle Neun that’s packed with pop-up bars and street food stalls, or more traditional restaurants like Berliner Republik.
Here, you can tuck in to huge currywurst sausages and the price of the beers goes up or down according to demand – just like on a stock exchange.
You can even grab a beer in a beach bar complete with sand, within sight of Checkpoint Charlie – what Joseph Stalin would have made of it is anyone’s guess!
But if you want the ultimate view of this astonishing city head to its 1,207ft TV tower – it’s impossible to miss.
Built in the late 1960s as a symbol of socialist supremacy, panels on the globe near the top catch the light on sunny days and shine in the shape of a cross – a feature Berliners nicknamed the Pope’s Revenge.
In just 40 seconds, a high-speed lift will whisk you to the observation deck and the highest bar in Berlin where you are treated to 360-degree views that on a clear day can stretch to more than 35 miles (£21, tv.turm.de ).
It’s the perfect spot to raise a glass to one of the most astonishing and vibrant cities on the planet.
The Liver Link
We flew to Berlin via Frankfurt on Lufthansa’s new thrice-weekly service from Liverpool John Lennon Airport, but we could have just as easily flown on from Frankfurt’s huge international hub to more than 100 global destinations including Los Angeles and Singapore.
If you haven’t flown from Liverpool before, you’re in for a treat – while other UK airports were struggling with security delays this summer, we breezed through to the gate.
There’s all the usual duty free and catering facilities you would expect, while parking is just a stroll away from the terminal building.
Book the holiday
Get there: Lufthansa flies from Liverpool to Berlin via Frankfurt from £135 return. Find out more and book at lufthansa.com.
Stay there: Rooms at the NH Collection Berlin Mitte am Checkpoint Charlie hotel in Berlin start at £157 a night. Find out more and book at nh-hotels.com
You can also get more information at visitberlin.de/en.
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