“If you arrive after 6pm, you’ll need to collect the keys from our bar, Red Rabbit, in Friedrichshain.”
That’s the message I receive from my Berlin host, Lisa, who has kindly lent her apartment to myself and four friends for the weekend.
When we finally reach the doorway to the drinking hole, it’s well beyond midnight.
But for the trendy crowd sinking beers and bottles of Club-Mate, the evening is only just beginning.
A Jiffy envelope is waiting for me behind the bar, packed with keys and a batch of tantalising club flyers.
I know my trip is off to a good start.
Booking an apartment is often the most comfortable and fun choice for a group of friends going on holiday, but so many properties end up being empty shells, devoid of personality, with only a sprinkling of flat-pack furniture from IKEA.
Airbnb, however, pose the appealing proposition of staying at a (new) friend’s place, while they’ve (most likely) skipped out of town for a few days.
And, sure enough, when we turn the lock in Lisa’s door, we find the radiators on full blast, coffee percolator stacked with filters, and a fruit bowl overflowing with Haribo gummy bears. It’s as if Lisa had just popped out to the local Wurst stand only five minutes earlier.
We all have enough fresh towels and beds that don’t masquerade as sofas even though on our first night we congratulate ourselves on discovering a “spare camp bed” which in fact turns out to be a cot.
The position of the flat is also excellent; overlooking the East Side gallery, where remnants of the Berlin Wall remain, and close to the squatter-style bars and creative hubbub of Kreuzberg.
Of course, every flat registered with Airbnb is different, with more than 34,000 properties to peruse in 192 countries. And half the fun is choosing the right property and personality to match your needs.
Owners are often, as in Lisa’s case, plugged into the local social scene and can recommend the best cafes, bars, galleries and shops in the area. Lisa even has a giant map in her hallway, with pins helpfully highlighting her favourite haunts.
But, best of all, this accommodation option is more comfortable than a hostel and far cheaper than staying in a hotel.
Our stay works out less than £25 each per night – and, I’m relieved to say, not one of us has to sleep in a cot.
* Book this apartment from £221 for minimum two-night stay (sleeps five) at www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/115345
* Cheapflights.co.uk offers the best online deals through its strong partner network, with return flights from London to Berlin from £89.
* Regional departures are also available. For general tourism advice see www.visitberlin.de/en/
* Before you go, take a look at the Berlin WelcomeCard range, which offers discounted or free admission to many attractions during your stay.
1. BRANDENBURG GATE
Unter den Linden, Pariser Platz
LOCATED in no man’s land between East and West Germany during the Cold War, this famous monument, built during the 18th century reign of Friedrich Wilhelm II, has long been a defining symbol of Berlin and both the city’s division and unification.
During the post-war Partition of Germany, the gate was isolated and inaccessible immediately next to the Berlin Wall, and the area around the gate featured most prominently in the media coverage of the opening of the wall in 1989.
Either wander around under your own steam or take a guided city tour, all of which stop here. It’s especially splendid at night-time when the floodlights are turned on.
2. MEMORIAL OF THE BERLIN WALL
Bernauer Strasse 111/119
TO get a real sense of what the wall and the no man’s land in between looks like, look no further than the Memorial of the Berlin Wall.
Signposted Dokumentationszentrum Berliner Mauer, this strip of wall gives a unique perspective of the wall – from above.
The visitor centre, which offers free admission, has several movies and documents in German, but knowing German is not necessary. The movies evoke such feelings that there’s no need for translation.
There’s also the Chapel of Reconciliation and a Documentation Centre, where you can read everything about the history of the wall.
Strasse des 17 Juni 100
THIS huge lush park stretches through central Berlin and provides a relaxing contrast to the bustle of the rest of the city.
It’s a favourite spot for cyclists and joggers, with trails suitably marked.
But it’s also where the city relaxes, with sunbathers, family picnics and football kickarounds common sights.