Paris, New York and London have been a la mode for decades, but the fashion conscious are now flocking to Berlin, the new capital of cool. Renowned for its eclectic nightlife and thriving avant-garde art scene, it’s also a hot destination for seasoned globetrotters in search of cutting-edge urban fashion. Unlike many European cities there is no easily definable, quintessential Berlin ‘look’ – individualism is prized above all else in the German capital, and boldness is celebrated. Be it preppy, punky, funky or downright wacky, experimenting with your personal style is the key to finding your fashion feet here.

Not surprisingly, Berlin’s fashion scene caters to a diverse and colourful crowd. The main shopping areas of Kurfürstendamm and Friedrichstrasse boast all the international heavyweights (such as Gucci, Escada and Louis Vuitton), while touristy Tauentzienstrasse has the city’s top department store, KaDeWe, and mainstream chains such as H&M, Zara, Mango and Esprit.

Although modern glass-roofed shopping malls with the standard mix of stores are beginning to draw crowds, discovering Berlin’s shopping gems requires stepping off the well-beaten tourist path into the diverse neighbourhoods, Kieze to locals (even making the effort to duck down side streets off Ku’damm will be richly rewarded).

As a general guide, Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg  and Hackescher Markt (a must-do for shoe lovers) in the former East are buzzing with innovative design, particularly in the hip Scheunenviertel (barn quarters); Charlottenburg is best for bling and über cool homewares; funky streetwear and vintage clobber are easily accessible in Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg; antique stores are clustered around Suarezstrasse; and if you’re partial to vintage Dior or Chanel, Mommsenstrasse should top your list.

Shopping has become a kind of art form in itself in Berlin – savvy locals practise ‘guerrilla shopping’ where independent designers and high-fashion brands open out-of-the-way outlets then shut them down within 12 months to avoid detection by the masses. You’re most likely to stumble across these secret stores in Mitte or the former East district of Prenzlauer Berg, but some discount designer outlets are also popping up in the snazzier part of Charlottenburg near Savignyplatz.

Customer service is generally friendly and efficient and personal service and advice is readily offered. If you’re browsing in a boutique, it’s polite to greet with a ’guten Morgen’ or ‘guten Tag’ on entering and, unless you let them know you’re happy browsing, expect attentive service (which often borders on overbearing, especially in designer boutiques).

Low rents and plenty of housing vacancies mean the cost of living in Berlin is lower than other European cities, but prices for everyday items vary slightly between suburbs. The cost of white goods, designer items and homewares compares favourably with other European countries, but you won’t find the same deals that Hong Kong and Singapore offer. Bargain hunters should hold off until the main sale season, in January and June, when goods are reduced by up to 75%.

Berlin’s famous liberal lifestyle extends to its shopping – it’s the first federal state in Germany where shops can decide for themselves when to open or close. Department stores open at 10:00 and close anywhere between 20:00 and midnight, while smaller boutiques often open around 11:00 and shut at 18:00. Restrictions still apply on Sundays, when the only shops open tend to be newsagents and snack stands at some S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations. The exception is December, when shops may open on Sundays between 13:00 and 20:00 in the run up to Christmas.

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