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YOUTH BEAT

Berliners really know how to put on a party

June 22, 2003|Lucy Izon | Special to The Times

The summer's biggest party is July 12 in Berlin. A million or more young people are expected to cram a six-mile route in the city for the annual Love Parade, known as the world's biggest rave.

The Love Parade started in 1989 with 150 people celebrating a local DJ's birthday. By 1999, 1.5 million people (many in costume) packed Berlin's zoo and streets, with 50 floats, each blasting its own music, making their way along the parade route.

"The parade itself is on the Saturday," says Alex Light of Mitte's Backpacker Hostel in Berlin, "but warmups start by Thursday night, and the real ravers keep going until Sunday night."

Since the fall of the wall, Berlin has become the fourth most-visited city in Europe, after London, Paris and Rome, and half of the visitors are younger than 35.

Berlin has 4,500 beds in hostels and guesthouses for young travelers, at rates ranging from $12 to $41 per night. But during the Love Parade, accommodations are scarce and prices rise. "We do save some rooms for walk-ins," Light says. "We save about 30 beds." But, he admits, even the hostels increase prices. Mitte's Backpacker Hostel adds $6 per night. The hostel is at 102 Chausseestr.; 011-49-30-283-909-65, www.backpacker.de.

The city, which is home to 133,000 students, has much to offer young travelers. Along with 170 museums, Berlin has a vibrant night life and clubs that never close.

A section of Berlin Tourism's Web site (www.berlin-tourist-information.com) is geared toward young visitors and includes suggested routes for sightseeing on inline skates.

Experienced skaters can try the Berlinparade, a two-hour, 12- to 17-mile ride through closed streets, with 4,000 participants. It's usually held two Friday nights a month, and sometimes on Sundays. For updates, visit www.berlinparade.de.

Another way to get around Berlin is the Welcome Card, which allows up to 72 hours of unlimited public transportation in Berlin and Potsdam and discounts at tourist attractions and cultural sites. It costs $23 and is sold at most hotels and at Berlin's tourist information centers.

When you're ready to leave the city, think Alps. In Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy, you'll find hostels (www.iyhf.org) and great hiking, biking and climbing opportunities.

Austria offers free guided hiking programs through local tourist offices. The most popular hiking tour is in Innsbruck, and this year the city tourist office has added free guided mountain biking tours. To join the tours you need a Club Innsbruck card, issued free with one night's stay at a local hotel or hostel.

The mountain-biking tours depart from the Gotzens Tourist Office at 9 a.m. every Thursday through Sept. 4. Contact Tourismusburo Gotzens; 011-43-5234-32236.

Innsbruck's guided hiking program meets at 8:30 a.m. daily until Sept. 28 at Congress Centre. The three- to five-hour hikes are conducted in cooperation with the Innsbruck Alpine School (ASI). No reservations are needed. For details, log on to www.innsbruck-tourismus.com or call 011-43-512-59850.

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With the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome, medical issues have become an even greater worry for many travelers, especially youths sharing dormitory rooms, communal kitchens and bathrooms.

What would you do if you had a serious medical concern in a country where you couldn't speak the language? One solution is to contact a doctor through the International Assn. for Medical Assistance to Travelers, a network of physicians who speak English, who have had training in North America and who have agreed to accept established fees, from $55 for an office call to $95 for a hotel visit on a weekend or holiday.

When you join the association you receive medical information for the area where you are traveling and a booklet listing affiliated doctors worldwide. There's no fee to become a member. For information, contact the association at 417 Center St., Lewiston, NY 14092; (716) 754-4883, www.iamat.org. On the Web site are links to helpful information about SARS.

Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer and author of "Izon's Backpacker Journal." Her Web site is www.izon.com.

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