10 places in and around Berlin that just don't seem like Berlin
We're not for a moment suggesting that Berlin's 'typical' sights and experiences won't keep you suitably enthralled, but discovering its more cosmopolitan corners is like stepping into a different city entirely.
Dive into Berlin's bubbling cultural melting pot, and enjoy several holidays for the price of one.
A stroll through the Middle East
Lined with Lebanese cafes, Palestinian pastry shops and Iraqui grocery stores, Neukölln's Sonnenallee is Berlin's bustling Arabic heartland.
Head here for authentic Middle Eastern food at bargain prices (look out for specialities such as Msabaha or Fateh), or simply to soak up the sights and sounds of one of the city's most vibrant thoroughfares.
With its aromatic waft of shisha pipes, backgammon-playing tea-drinkers and colourful Arabic shop signs, it's not hard to see why this leafy avenue is nicknamed 'Little Beirut' - and in summer at least, could just about pass for a street in that dynamic Mediterranean capital.
'Little Beirut': Sonnenallee, 12059 Berlin (section between Hermannplatz and Treptower Straße approximately).
Vietnam in a mall - the Dong Xuan Centre
It's Berlin's equivalent of a bustling, bling-filled Asian mall - a sprawling compound of industrial hangars lined with endless booths touting the best (and worst) in mass-produced goods and cheap, cheerful fashion.
Founded by Berlin's Vietnamese community as a trading emporium, in recent years the Dong Xuan has attracted growing numbers of curious outsiders - partly because it isn't just about synthetic fibres and injection-moulded plastic.
The centre's Asian grocery stores offer an abundance of fresh herbs, spices and exotic fruit and veg, while its canteen-like Vietnamese restaurants are consistently rated among Berlin's best.
So - if you're yearning for a bowl of superlative pho and the opportunity to acquire a novelty toilet seat, this is the place to head.
Dong Xuan Centre: Herzbergstraße 128-139, 10365 Berlin. The M8 tram stops right outside.
Opening times: 10am-8pm; closed Tuesdays
Potsdam's tiny but stunning Alexandrowka Russian colony was created in 1826-27 by Frederick Wilhelm III to commemorate the death of his pal Czar Alexander I (amazing what some people do for their friends).
The settlement consists of fairytale wooden dachas, each located in its own plot of land, and an equally lovely Russian Orthodox chapel.
Image credit: de.academic.ru
image credit: lanamh.livejournal.com
Although gorgeous all year-round, Spring is one of the best times to visit, when the blossoming fruit trees provide a truly Chekhovian Cherry Orchard setting. Spend time savouring the gingerbread cottages, then head to the picture-perfect cafe where the samovar's waiting.
Russische Kolonie Alexandrowka, 14469 Potsdam
Park life, Thai style
It's a Thai food market in a west Berlin park - an enticing array of oriental treats that's a feast for all the senses.
Every weekend, weather permitting, Berlin's Thai community turns out in force to spread blankets, fire up hotplates and begin the business of food preparation in earnest.
What began as a social get-together soon transformed into a thriving, unofficial marketplace when others started dropping by for some of Berlin's most authentic Thai snacks.
Peruse the innumerable 'stalls' and order whatever takes your fancy. Prices are low, flavours fabulous, and the fun-filled, colourful atmosphere only adds to the enjoyment of Berlin's unique, Bangkok-style picnic.
/ Preußen Park: Brandenburgische Straße 10707 Berlin
Opening times: warm weekends from midday until about 7pm
Forget that round-the-world air ticket and head instead to 'Gardens of the World', a 22-acre expanse of beautifully themed landscapes improbably nestled among tower blocks in the Berlin district of Marzahn.
Wind your way from one continent to another via locations such as an Arabian courtyard, Balinese rainforest and hillside Korean temple.
Particularly impressive is the Chinese garden, a picture-perfect ensemble of pagodas overlooking a crystalline lake. Entirely constructed by Chinese craftsmen, it's about as authentic as you can possibly get.
Gardens of the World / Gärten der Welt: Eisenacher Straße 99, 12685 Berlin.
Opening times: April-September, 9am-8pm; March-October, 9am-6pm; Nov-Feb, 9pm-4pm. Note that there's an entrance fee to the park.
Bonsai bonus: want more of the horticultural 'this can't be Berlin' experience? The little-known Bonsai Garden (above) is a tiny yet gorgeous slice of Japan that consistently receives an enthusiastic thumbs-up from visitors. It's located about 38 km southwest of Berlin, so you'll need transport to get there - but hey, it's easier than catching a plane.
Japanese Bonsai Garden: Fercher Straße 61,
Opening times, April-October, Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm
The Turkish Market
Fresh-baked flatbreads, hot-off-the-grill Gözleme and umpteen varieties of juicy olives - Kreuzberg's colourful Turkish market offers an abundance of treats, but it's not just about traditional culinary delights.
Fresh fruit and veg, textiles and household goods are an integral part of the offering, and for many, the hectic gathering (don't be afraid to haggle) truly resembles a miniature Istanbul pazar.
For more of Berlin's Anatolian offering (which admittedly, you're never too far from in a city with the largest ethnic Turkish population outside Turkey itself) take a short walk towards Kottbusser Tor's 'Little Istanbul', an enclave of long-established Turkish businesses intermingled with newer international arrivals and funky stores and bars.
It's one of Berlin's most cosmopolitan districts, and since it often draws comparisons with New York's pre-gentrified Lower East Side, you even get to nibble at the Big Apple, too.
Turkish Market: Maybachufer / Kottbusser Damm, 12047 Berlin
Opening times: Tues / Fri, 11am-6.30pm
A greener version of Venice
It's often claimed (rightly) that Berlin possesses more bridges than Venice, but few seem to realise that it also boasts its own, teeny-tiny version of the city of gondolas.
Tucked away near the mighty Müggelsee lake, Neu Venediq (New Venice) is a postcard-perfect enclave of tranquil, tree-fringed canals and rather exclusive holiday cottages.
Wander through the leafy streets and pause at a bridge for impossibly pretty views; better still, hire a boat and navigate the five, interconnecting canals yourself.
The tiny waterways are lined with lush lawns and gardens rather than Renaissance palazzi, but on a warm summer's day when the water's sparkling, Neu Venediq's picturesque charms can just about give Venice a run for its money.
New Venice / Neu Venediq, 12589 Berlin. Nearest transport, Berlin-Wilhelmswagen S-Bahn station.
Boat hire from 13kanus.de, Am Küstergarten 18, 12589 Berlin
Extra tip: The Tiefwerder or 'Little Venice' district in Spandau (below) is a lesser-known but similarly beautiful enclave of lily padded rivulets and enviable waterside homes.
To explore it fully, you'll need to be on the water itself, and the boathire company 'Der Bootsladen' is perfectly located to cast off on a journey of discovery.
Tiefwerder / Little Venice; Der Bootsladen boat hire: Brandensteinweg 37, 13595 Berlin
Berlin's Wild West
The only thing missing from this tiny cowboy town is the tumbleweed rolling down Main Street.
Berlin's homage to America's Wild West is a hand-crafted recreation of the kind of scene familiar from countless movies, including clapboard stores, a county jail and rootin'-tootin' Saloon bar.
Created by the city's Old Texas Cowboy Society as a rather impressive club headquarters, each month members don their finest Western attire and hit the town to indulge in appropriate antics. Non 'Texans' are more than welcome to join the gathering, but remember not to mess with the pistol-packing Sheriff.
Berlin Old Texas Town: Paulsternstraße 18, 13629 Berlin
Opening times: first Saturday of the month (except January/February), 6.30pm-2am. Note that several of the town's interiors are only open for visiting from 6.30 pm-7.30pm. Check website for further details.
Central Asia in central Berlin
For most of us, this exotic Berlin hideaway is the closest we're ever going to get to central Asia's mysterious Tajikistan, a former Soviet territory where Persian and Russian influences meet in a heady blend of cultures.
The Tajikistan tearoom (Tadshikische Teestube) was presented to East Germany in the 1970s, and is now located in a small courtyard off the Oranienstraße in central Berlin.
The carved sandalwood pillars, thick Persian carpets and dazzling green walls all add up to one of the city's most stunning interiors, and with tea and snacks served at traditional low tables where guests lounge luxuriously on cushions, a visit here really does feel like a temporary trip to far-distant shores.
Tajikistan tearoom / Tadshikische Teestube: Oranienburger Straße, 27 (Kunsthof courtyard) 10117 Berlin
Opening times: Mon-Fri from 4pm, Sat-Sun from 12pm