Spring has already arrived in the German Capital. Temperatures are rising, the braver cafés are putting out their tables and the Grunewald is carpeted with wild flowers. And with Germanwings now offering flights from around $100 each way from Vnukovo, it's hard to resist the lure of strolling through cobbled streets or sipping Riesling by the Spree. The famous sights of Berlin: the Reichstag with its great glass Norman Foster dome, the new Holocaust Memorial, the night clubs, the world-class Museum Island, the Sanssouci in Potsdam are all well-documented in any up-to-date guidebook. But not many people associate the city with lakeside cafes and romantic palaces hidden in acres of woodland. Here are some of the best tips for combining your city break with a relaxing rural getaway. Getting Started: The S-Bahn trains may not be quite as cheap or frequent as the Moscow Metro, but the Berlin transport net is a brilliant way to explore the city and you can nearly always get a seat. The BVG offer tickets by the day or the week and various tourist tickets in between. You can get to any of the places below on a simple one-way ticket for 2.10 euros, valid on any form of transport for two hours. The BVG website www.bvg.de has all the info you need .
If you're short of time, you might just head for the Tiergarten, the huge wooded area in the middle of town stretching between the Zoo at one end and the Reichstag at the other with Potsdammer Platz on the southern edge and the Schloss Bellvue to the north. There are some wilder parts where you can see kingfishers and herons round the boating lakes and a great restaurant "Am Neuen See," with a self-service section at weekends which does huge pizzas and even bigger beers at wooden trestle tables by the water.
If you have a day to spare, however, you will find that some of the less well known sights can be far more rewarding than the urban center:
East Berlin has come a very long way in the years since the wall came down and it is still busy evolving. The city's second (and larger) Zoo is out at Friedrichsfelde and there are any number of parks and gardens among the residential areas. Here are some of the gems to be found east of the city:
Castle on an island:The old town of Köpenick, fifteen minutes from Ost bahnhof by the S5, has a market, a series of islands in the Spree and a historic town hall. The Schlossinsel, accessible by tram from the station, is particularly beautiful; the elegant palace is surrounded by gardens and water and contains a branch of the Applied Arts Museum (closed Monday, 4 euros including English Language headphones) as well as a fantastic waterside restaurant.
Inland Sea: Two stops further on, you reach picturesque Fried richshagen. A walk or short tram ride down the main street brings you to the huge and tranquil Müggelsee, a lake so large it has a seaside feel about it. An old waterworks on the north shore now houses a surprisingly interesting museum (closed Monday and Tuesday, 2.50 euros) .
Back to basics: Friedrichshagen is also the starting point for the historic 88 tram which runs from behind the station (zone C ticket needed), through the woods to the 750-year-old limestone quarry at Rüdersdorf where the stone for the Brandenburg Gate, the cathedral, opera house and Olympic Stadium came from. The museum-park here stretches over several kilometres and includes a summer cafe (from April), small farmyard and canalside walks (open daily, 4 euros).
Far East Oasis: In the middle of some of the most uncompromising tower blocks in once-notorious Mar zahn on the S7, are the "Gardens of the World," complete with Europe's largest Chinese garden where you can drink tea in a pavilion under the cherry blossom (open daily 1.50 euros).
West into the sunset
Four of the very best days out the city can offer, begin from Bahnhof Wannsee, just half an hour out of town to the south west on the S7 or the S1:
Ferry across the Havel: From the waterfront near the station, an ordinary public transport ticket entitles you to an interesting twenty minute boat trip across the river Havel to the village of Kladow. On the way, looking left, you can see the infamous "Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz" while, to the right, is Wannsee Strandbad, reputedly the largest inland beach in Europe.
Tale of two palaces: A mere ten minutes from Wansee are two fantastic palaces by the architect Schinkel; catching bus 316 from opposite the station, brings you to the famous Glienicker Brücke border crossing where spy swaps used to take place. Just before the bridge, you can turn right to explore the beautiful park of the italianate Schloss Glienicke with its golden lion fountain and summer houses. To the left of the road, is the country-house-style Schloss Babelsberg set in a hilly park with fairy tale towers.
If you catch the same bus in the other direction, it takes you into the beautiful Grunewald, a walkers paradise where you can see all kinds of wildlife including occasional wild boars. There is a path most of the way along the sandy shore of the Havel, but you can also walk along the cliff top "Havelhöhenweg." This waymarked trail has several delightful viewpoints and cafes along the way including the Grosses Fenster ("big window") near Lindwerder Island and the Grunewald turm (memorial tower). N
It's worth noting that you can skip the queues for the Reichstag and go in via the disabled entrance (to the right) if you have small children with you.
New Legoland Discovery Center in the Sony Centre in Potsdammer Platz - a couple of hours of state of the art indoor fun. Next door there is also the Cinestar "Original" that shows English films plus the IMAX (in German). The Sony Center is generally a good place to hang out and only minutes away is the Tiergarten (big green area with playgrounds and boating lakes).
For animal lovers, there are two zoos, but also a reserve with wild boar at Johanesstift (bus M45) or three huge bears living on an island outside the Markisches Museum (U2).
There are some great swimming pools in Berlin. One of the best is the Stadtbad Schoneberg, on Hauptstrasse not far from Schoneberg S Bahn (S1). It has a flume, indoor and heated outdoor pools as well as jacuzzis - a family ticket costs 10 euros for two hours.