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City guide: Cutting-edge cool in cultural, hip Berlin

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Berlin has flourished as a cultural capital in recent years
  • Former East Berlin boasts its own Museum Island
  • Contemporary art galleries cluster around Mitte, a hip district filled with bars and cafes
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(CNN) -- Once a city split in two, Berlin is now a thriving culture capital. Ever since the wall came down, it has flourished as a creative hot-spot, drawing artists and art lovers in droves.

Galleries, museums and theatres have proliferated in recent years and the capital's identity as a home to experimental goings-on and hip events such as the Berlinale film festival, contemporary art biennial and Love Parade make it a must-go for culture vultures and fun-seekers.

CNN selects some of the best spots to experience the cultural side of Berlin, from museums and galleries to chic bars and restaurants.

SEE: Former East Berlin contains most of the city's contemporary and fine art. Its museums, exhibiting art across the ages, are some of the best in the world and most are handily located on one island in the River Spree. Mainline art aficionados can gaze at Egyptian artifacts at the Neues Museum, classical antiquities at the Altes Museum and 19th-century paintings at the Alte Nationalgalerie.

For those wanting a more contemporary flavor, the hip district of Mitte is bursting with art galleries, cafes and bars, and home to a community of artists, stylists, graphic designers and bespectacled curators.

Visitors can take in the Kunst Werke Institute, a contemporary art space that organizes world-class exhibitions in addition to the Berlin Biennale; or book a tour of the impressive Sammlung Boros contemporary art collection, located nearby in a creatively converted World War II bunker.

Get extra city tips from our Berlin-based reporter

When you're feeling weary, take a respite between galleries, catch films and videos chosen by artists at the sleek Image Movement space at Sprueth Magers Gallery, which now also features a record shop selling experimental albums by the avant-garde. Alternatively, take a look at the galleries around Auguststrasse in between cafe stops.

EAT: Staying in Mitte, head to Grill Royal, a smart restaurant where a chic crowd of artists, actors and musicians are frequently spotted enjoying baby lamb chops over views of the river. Local galleries often celebrate their openings here. Alternatively, try Bar 3 and sister eatery Restaurant 3, also patronized by the art crowd and known for inexpensive drinks and a relaxed and friendly atmosphere -- perfect for discussing the latest in contemporary culture and a bit of chin-stroking.

Take a look round Tacheles, once a famous artist's squat, and now a sadly threatened building filled with studios, bars and cafes. It's a major cultural landmark in Mitte and even inspired a scene in 2003 "ost-algie" film "Goodbye Lenin." Grab a coffee there before it goes or pledge your support to help save it.

See Berlin travel snapshots from our iReporters

STAY: at the newly opened SoHo House Berlin, a new outpost from the SoHo hotel group, a haunt for celebrities, models and artists, and enjoy the monochrome-only artworks on display by Berlin-based as well as international artists. Non-members are welcome to book rooms and can enjoy all the privileges enjoyed by members.

Or bunk down in the Michaelberger near the Berlin Wall, a self-proclaimed "friendly" hotel with zany interiors popular with the creative types staying there.

SHOP: Berliners are a fashionable as well as cultured crowd. Browse the smart designer shops on the city's famous Unter den Linden boulevard, or move further east and take in Prenzlauerberg's Kastanienallee, with its numerous boutiques selling vintage clothing and one-off designs, for that more insouciant "art" look.

Shops along this quiet tree-lined street include Temporary Showroom, a concept store and atelier allowing new designers the chance to camp out in its space for rolling residencies of 2-6 months.

For those on a tighter budget, Eberswalderstrasse around the corner is home to several vintage shops selling inexpensive retro clothes and shoes.