As Gatsby fever takes the world by storm, Anthony Looch revisits the real roaring Twenties in Germany's risque capital.

A chorus line of 32 stunning girls, high-kicking with military precision on a vast Berlin stage, prove to me that the city's 1920s theatrical traditions are still alive and blooming.

I'm watching the multi-million pound revue Show Me, which opened last year at the enormous Friedrichstadt Palast in Berlin's East End theatre district, during celebrations of the city's 775th anniversary.

It is an amazing show, part Las Vegas and part Cirque du Soleil. Heavily influenced by America's Ziegfeld Follies, it follows the tradition of German directors such as the great Max Reinhardt.

He staged similar productions in Berlin during the Golden Twenties, a period with which the city will always be associated.

Now Twenties fever appears to be gripping London, thanks to Baz Luhrmann's decadent adaptation of The Great Gatsby. So it seemed fitting that I should revisit the real home of early 20th century razzmatazz, Berlin.

In the new liberal Weimar Republic created after the First World War, with stuffy Kaiser Wilhelm exiled to Holland, Berlin shed its inhibitions so wildly, that Swinging London 40 years later was a mere vicarage tea party by comparison.

Twenties Berlin was the crossroads of Europe, priding itself on its modernity and embracing all things American. Censorship had been abolished and experimental theatre, music and film-making flourished. The city's many cultural offerings were the principal marketing feature for attracting visitors then, and this still applies today.

Since my youth I have been riveted by Berlin's Second World War and postwar experiences, but above all, by its Weimar days, immortalised in Christopher Isherwood's Berlin novels - Goodbye To Berlin and Mr Norris Changes Trains - from which the 1972 musical film Cabaret was created.

I first visited the city in 1966, when it was already divided by the notorious Communist Wall, although tourist access to the Mitte (central) area behind the Wall was still possible.

That part of Berlin was a near-wasteland of vacant sites where buildings had once stood. The Friedrichstrasse, the pre-war Oxford Street of Berlin, was a ghost of its former self.

The bombed Potsdamer Platz - an intersection as famous and busy as Piccadilly Circus before the war - was no longer functioning. It was in no-man's land, near the barricaded, militarised Checkpoint Charlie - the main crossing into East Berlin through the Wall.

But now, standing at the Brandenburg Gate, looking down the Unter den Linden, I'm struck by how much rebuilding has taken place since 1966 and how the city is recovering, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

The legendary Adlon Hotel - before the war, it was Berlin's Ritz - is back in business as the Adlon-Kempinski. It was destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt on its old site only after the Wall came down in 1989.

Around the corner from the hotel is the Wilhelmstrasse - the Whitehall of pre-war Berlin. Hitler's huge modernist Reich Chancellery, built by Albert Speer, used to be close by, but nothing of that remains today.

Few will mourn its disappearance. The notorious bunker where Hitler committed suicide has gone too. Years ago it was filled in, to avoid it becoming a shrine for neo-Nazi elements.

Short-stay visitors to Berlin will focus on the Mitte, where the principal sights are to be found. I base myself at the excellent budget hotel Motel One Berlin-Hauptbahnhof - named after the nearby main railway station into Berlin.

Bravely, I opt for some unconventional methods of sightseeing. First, I take a tour in a bicycle Velotaxi. Pedalled by a fit young man, who acts as my guide, I perch at the back of the vehicle, sheltered by a small roof, and with a blanket over my lap. It's like being conveyed by rickshaw in the Far East in colonial days.

To my relief, we travel on broad cycle lanes on the pavement much of the time, but when we hit the roads, I find the Berlin traffic not nearly as heavy or threatening as in London.

My next expedition is a Trabi Safari - a two-hour car trip along the route of the Wall, and its separate Inner Wall, covered by graffiti and also more serious art.

The novelty of this scary, interesting and often hilarious tour is that I and fellow visitors are travelling in a convoy of probably the worst cars ever made.

This is the Trabant, manufactured in East Germany in the Communist days and designed to be their version of a "people's car".

The rattling, clattering, underpowered little horrors guzzle astronomical amounts of oil and emit clouds of toxic blue fumes as they chug along.

Although our guide assures us that the vile emanations only contain "two per cent oil", one cannot help wonder what substances are in the other ninety-eight per cent.

Berlin has never had a reputation for great architecture. The old Reichstag building - now the German Parliament, the Bundestag - does however have a striking glass dome created by British architect Sir Norman Foster.

But in the main, the interesting things in Berlin Mitte lie indoors - in the shops, multitude of restaurants and bars, theatres, cabarets, clubs and, above all, in the wonderful museums. There are five of these on the so-called Museum Island and many more elsewhere.

Berlin has not shied away from its twelve grim years under Hitler. There is a riveting photographic display of some of the terrors of those times in the bomb-site basement of what used to be the Gestapo headquarters, at the Topographie des Terrors.

For me, the greatest symbol of Berlin's renaissance is the rebirth of the Potsdamer Platz. It is back in business and, what had been ground zero, is a busy traffic intersection once again and the home of skyscrapers - which stand out in Berlin's strikingly low-rise skyline.

On Ebertstrasse, which runs up from Potsdamer Platz to the Brandenburg Gate, lies an important and significant memorial. It is modern Germany's riposte to the anti-Semitic policies of the Third Reich, which led to the murder of millions of Jews in the Holocaust.

The memorial to these tragic victims takes the form of more than 2,700 unmarked blocks of grey stone, which visitors can wander through. The experience is designed to reflect the disorientation and sense of being lost which the Jews suffered.

The memorial overlaps the site where the town house of Joseph Goebbels once stood. This appalling man, who was Hitler's propaganda minister, was one of the most vicious anti-Semites in the fuehrer's entourage.

The presence of the memorial to his Jewish victims on the spot where he once lived is wonderfully ironic and a fitting epitaph for everything that he stood for.

That period of history may be difficult for many to accept, but it's important to recall that before Hitler rose to power, this buzzing city was one of the most exciting places in Europe.

Today, much of that vibrancy and excitement appears to be resurfacing. Nightclubs may have taken the place of cabaret halls and cloche hats may have been replaced by an array of gravity-defying hairstyles, but that same spirit of carefree decadence is still very much alive.

Travel facts - Berlin

:: Anthony Looch was a guest of Motel One who offer eight budget design hotels in Berlin, with rooms from 49 Euros (£41) and breakfast £7.50. Visit

:: offer return flights to Berlin from £51 return. Visit