German being a language of all- encompassing compound words, the locals must have one for the quandary a visitor finds himself in when first setting foot in Berlin. On the one hand, you're here to soak up the city's tumultuous history and world-renowned arts and culture; on the other, you are instantly overwhelmed by choice. There are more than 100 museums on display in the capital's tourism brochures - how do you even begin to narrow down that number?
Some stick to the greatest hits. Museum Island is a Unesco World Heritage site on the Spree river that is home to five institutions. The Topography of Terror dissects the rise, fall and legacy of the Third Reich and it's possible to do a circuit of regional museums, of which there are many. For €24 (HK$225), a three-day Museum Pass grants entry to more than 50 of the city's finest and is an essential part of any travel kit.
And then there is a side of Berlin that even many locals have never witnessed.
It might seem odd, for instance, to find yourself in a museum dedicated entirely to a single type of sausage. That's why the Currywurst Museum, a diversion from the nearby tourist trap Checkpoint Charlie, begins with numbers that are hard to argue with: about 800 million portions of these ketchup- and spice-covered sausages are eaten every year, 70 million in Berlin alone. It turns out sausages have a rich history, too, and there's an ongoing debate in Germany as to where and when the currywurst originated. (Officially, Berlin in 1949, but don't tell that to someone from Hamburg.) Other exhibits investigate the architecture of the kiosk from which the sausages are sold and the ecological life cycle of the paper dish off which they are eaten.
Still, it's a fundamentally silly concept, which is why the museum's approach to it is lighthearted. The décor has a condiment-inspired palette and to hear a selection of local songs about currywurst, you lift an oversized ketchup bottle to your ear. Once you're nice and hungry, the in-house sausage stand allows you to get you even better acquainted with your new favourite street food.
There are plenty of shrines to unusual niches in Berlin's history but one of the most intriguing has to be the Museum of Things. Its purpose is twofold: to highlight the work of the Werkbund, a collective of early 20th-century designers, artists and industrialists, and to organise thousands of otherwise-disposable everyday objects behind glass. Werkbund members such as Mies van der Rohe argued that if mass production was inevitable, it should at least be stylish. To drive that point home, the Museum of Things showcases everything from cigarette cases to electric fans to carvings of hands clasped in prayer. The challenge to today's viewer: try to tell the difference between the best examples on show and the worst.
Berlin's Charité Hospital is more than 300 years old and remains in operation as one of Europe's oldest teaching hospitals. The first floor of its Medical History Museum is all but designed to lull a visitor into letting their guard down, with an innocuous historical survey of journal excerpts from German doctors. But, upstairs, a towering collection of 750 specimens in glass jars awaits, organised by body part. Some are healthy specimens; the vast majority are not.
In 1899, this pantheon of deformity was intended by founder Rudolf Virchow to be an educational tool for medical students preparing to treat their first patients. Today, it has become a gauntlet for those darkly curious about the strength of their stomachs.
"You guys aren't grossed out by any of this?" a visitor asks her friends, who proudly shake their heads while inspecting a spine that scoliosis bent into a question mark. "Then come over here," she whispers, leading them to the shelves of preserved fetuses and infants in the back corner.
Museum-goers of all stripes are drawn to the Kulturforum, the cultural centre of old West Berlin. One of its most intriguing collections, though, is tucked away in a corner of the complex, just south of the Philharmonie and the Chamber Music Hall: the Musical Instrument Museum.
In this elegant, spacious hall is a stunning collection of nearly 3,000 instruments, many of which can be heard on a free audio guide. Stradivarius violins rub shoulders with a harpsichord that may have been played by Bach, glass harmonicas, Chinese bronze bells and flutes disguised as walking sticks. The highlight, however, has to be the Mighty Wurlitzer. This electrified, four-tiered theatre organ dates back to 1929 and has been built into the very walls of the museum. When played (Saturdays only), a series of percussion instruments and more than 1,200 pipes come to life, filling the hall with music as well as acoustically generated sound effects such as slamming doors and birdsong. The rush of sound and movement feels as if you are standing, briefly, inside the world's largest cuckoo clock.
" Ich bin ein Berliner." These four words of solidarity, part of a 1963 speech by John F. Kennedy, marked a key moment in the cold war and were later judged by his widow, Jackie, to be among the most important the United States president ever spoke. They were also, apparently, foundation enough for an entire museum dedicated to the Kennedy family. Its emphasis is on photographs, which makes sense given JFK's savvy in controlling how his family was visually represented in the media. A video of the Berlin speech plays on a loop near the back while memorabilia fills several display cases. A tip: don't play the electronic Kennedy quiz until you've soaked up what the museum has to offer.
Perhaps the best part about museum-hopping in Berlin is stumbling across one by accident.
The Tiergarten is a scenic, 210-hectare park located in the heart of the capital. Once a designated hunting ground for the king, it is now a forested oasis full of quiet pathways and towering statues of animals and royals. It is also, I discover, home to an unassuming collection of more than 90 historical gas lamps from across Europe. The contents of the Gas Lamp Museum line the paths of the Tiergarten so unobtrusively, many pedestrians don't recognise the significance of what they're walking under. Time can be tight when you're sightseeing, so why not perform double duty and enjoy a park and a museum simultaneously - or even triple, as you sneak a free peek through the fence at the kangaroo and ostrich habitats at the Berlin Zoological Garden next door?
The Kathe Kollwitz Museum, the Bauhaus Archives, the interactive DDR Museum and all the others will have to wait for another time.