Switching on Berlin's Electricity

Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers .

In the 1920s, this was one of Europe's most electric cities, with a theater, film, music, cabaret, artistic and intellectual scene that was a lively cyclorama of creativity. Today, the city has regained its status as a place of cultural diversity.

It has 56 major museums and more than 1,000 rock groups, many of which entertain on the Kurfurstendamm, the principal thoroughfare. And with about 120,000 Turkish workers in residence, some Berliners claim that theirs is "one of the principal cities of Turkey."

West Berlin is 185 square miles of boulevards, green parks, rivers, canals and 62 lakes that dot lush forests and farmland around the city proper.

The world-renowned Tiergarten at town center is a maze of flowered walkways.

Getting here: Fly Lufthansa nonstop to Frankfurt, the new Euro-Berlin airline (owned by Lufthansa and Air France) on to Berlin. Pan Am, British Airways, TWA and Air France also will get here with changes.

How long/how much? Give the town at least three days. Costs for food and lodging in large West German cities are on the expensive side, and West Berlin is no exception.

A few fast facts: The mark recently traded at about two to the dollar. Although late spring through fall is a good time to visit, the city is less crowded in July and August, when most Berliners go on holiday. Get a 24-hour ticket on all trams, buses and the U-bahn for $4.

Getting settled in: Hotel Astoria (Fasanenstrasse 2; $85 to $91 double B&B;) has a good location a short walk from the busiest stretch of Kurfurstendamm. Newly refurbished, the Astoria has contemporary bedrooms and baths and modern art in the lobby. However, only breakfast is served.

Hotel Remter (Marburgerstrasse 17; $74-$83 B&B; double) also has a great location only steps from the "Ku-damm," as it's called locally. Traditional in style, the Remter has a cheerful breakfast room with Breughel prints on the walls, a cozy lounge and neat but plain bedrooms. Only a sturdy buffet breakfast is served.

Hotelpension Wittelsbach (Wittelsbach Strasse 22; $64-$88 double B&B;) was finishing its renovation during our visit. Bedrooms are spotless, with white furniture and pastel fabrics.

A breakfast room is enchanting. It has a small bar and a lobby filled with fresh flowers.

Regional food and drink: Among hefty local dishes to dig into, try the schinken eisbein (pig knuckles with sauerkraut), liver with apples and onions, fried curry-wurst or a huge bulette meatball that you splash liberally with Berliner mustard. Or sample the aal grun --freshwater eel baked or sauteed and served with potatoes and cucumber salad.

The city is noted for its Berliner weisser, a very light wheat beer, which is downed after spritzing with juice from a lemon wedge.

Good dining: Hardtke (Meinekestrasse 27a-b) is really two restaurants, one a bit more rustic than the other, but with the same kitchen and prices. It's typical, with sturdy wooden tables and chairs, beer steins and old pottery on the walls, and a local crowd that really enjoys its food and drink.

We had lunch and dinner there. The first was an exercise in wurst, potato salad and beer. The second was somewhat more elaborate. There were lots of thick soups on the menu (the goulash was marvelous), along with mixed grills, Wiener schnitzel, pork shanks and homemade wurst.

Wirtshaus Moorlake (Pfaueninselchaussee 2) offers travelers the opportunity to dine with locals in a forest setting near a lake about eight miles from city center. Guests can sit under trees at lakeside or in one of two traditional farmhouse buildings.

Try the creamed asparagus soup followed with eel poached in white wine or Hasenlaufe in Jagerrahmsauce, a hunter's-style hare in a dark, mushroom and wine cream sauce. Portions are huge.

Ka Da We (Wittenberg Platz) is the Continent's largest department store, comparable to London's Harrods. The food halls are beautiful and chic, with bars for champagne, beer, cheese, fish, Chinese and French food and bratwurst and 10 kinds of pretzels. Prices are moderate. This is the ultimate in schnell imbiss stands, a German version of our fast-food restaurants.

Going first-class: Bristol Hotel Kempinski (Kurfurstendamm 27; $172-$221 double) is Berlin's finest hotel, with ties going back to turn-of-the-century Bristol Unter den Linden Hotel and the renowned Cafe Kranzler, founded in 1825.

Elegant bedroom appointments and public lounges are what's expected of a grand hotel. It also has a pool, a sauna, a solarium and a fitness center.

The Kempinski Grill is the best of the hotel's restaurants. It serves a continental menu that includes Alsatian snail soup, pate of wild boar with Parma ham (wonderful), saddle of venison with chanterelles and many desserts and ices.

On your own: Berlin's Dahlem museum complex contains a Rembrandt collection second only to Leningrad's Hermitage, plus an outstanding collection of Flemish-Dutch paintings. Near the 17th-Century Charlottenburg Palace, the Museum of Egyptology has the exquisite bust of Nefertiti (1350 BC), one of the world's great art treasures.

Few visitors to West Berlin miss stops at the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and Bismarck's 19th-Century Reichstag. Many visit East Berlin, a relatively uncomplicated procedure.

Don't miss a drive through the Kreuzberg district for a look at West Berlin's past in the form of marvelous old buildings with neo-baroque facades and balconies, many of them already restored or in the process of being restored. Kreuzberg also has the town's most colorful market.

Since the 1920s, Berlin has always been noted for its free-wheeling night life. You'll find the nearest thing to those days in cabarets such as La Vie en Rose in the mid-town Europa Center.

And in the evening Kurfurstendamm is a show in itself, with sidewalk entertainment near most cafes.

For more information: Call the German National Tourist Office at (213) 688-7332, or write (444 S. Flower St., Suite 2230, Los Angeles 90071) for a brochure on West Berlin with sights and city map, another on hotels.

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