I have a new favorite European city. I LOVE Berlin! We spent 5 beautiful days in Germany's capital before venturing south to Rathen for a short hiking trip and taking the train to Dresden.
We saw Berlin from above and below - literally. We went up on the TV tower to get a panoramic view of Berlin and on an underground tour of a defunct part of the U8. The "Berlin von unten" guided tour was unsual in that the 2.5 hour tour led us through dark tunnels of the underground and ended in a WW2 bunker in which part of a hallway was blocked off by an original piece of the wall. For this tour, we had to bring a bright flashlight and wear rubber boots (boots were provided for us).
While many tourists head straight for the museum island, we only saw two museums - the Dali museum on Potsdamer Platz with a large collection of Dali's drawings (no oil paintings) and the DDR museum, which provided a glimpse into what life was like in the former East Germany.
The weather was picture-perfect so we took a boat tour on the river Spree which is lined with cafes and beergardens.
We then took the train to Rathen, a little town on the Elbe river known for the "Bastei", or sandstone rock formations, towering over it. Hiking in this area is just breathtaking and trails of varying degrees of difficulty lead through woods, towns, meadows and - inevitably - the next beergarten. We booked a room in a 13th century "burg" with a beautiful view over the river valley.
Dresden is an eclectic mix of architecture - what's old is new and what's new is old. We were fortunate also to catch part of the Dixieland music celebration on the river. Dozens of dinner boats and a few real paddlewheel steamboats float up and down the Elbe while people listen to the music onboard and from the shoreline. The evening culminated in fireworks over the river.