by Bob Brooke
Berlin, a once divided city and a former island in a sea of communism, is in a class by itself. It occupies a special place spiritually and geographically in Germany.
As the heart of the Kingdom of Prussia, economic and cultural center of the Weimar Republic, and as the headquarters of Hitler's Third Reich, it mirrored what happened in Europe. After World War II, the world's two most powerful military powers shared the spoils of a city for 30 years split by the ultimate symbol of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, the toppling of which in November 1989 pushed it to the forefront of world events.
During the War, Allied and Soviet bombing razed 92 percent of its buildings, a seventh of all destroyed in Germany. Although there's much more new than old in this city, Berlin possesses a sophistication that can't be found in the rest of Europe. The city has a lively, electric air, a drink-and-be-merry-for-tomorrow-we-die kind of mood, an urge to experience the new and the different. Berliners are witty, sophisticated, and totally irreverent. And through everything they've experienced for the last seven decades, they've managed to maintain a sense of humor and resolve.
And while the old Berlin may no longer exist, a new city has arisen in grand style from its rubble.
Today, Berlin is a city of the future. The formerly barren Potsdamer Platz, once heavily mined to keep East Berliners from escaping, now shines as Berlin's answer to New York's Time Square. Plus the city offers some of the best nightlife in Europe — over 4,000 bars and clubs are at once raucous, shady, stylish, and promiscuous.
Berlin has an amazing variety of attractions. But unlike Paris or Amsterdam, it isn't a place where you can simply stroll and absorb the atmosphere. You need to plan your sightseeing, using the city's excellent transportation system to cover what can often be long distances.
For a bit of world history, Berlin's Museum Island offers a unique ensemble of five museums, including the Pergamon, featuring archaeological finds from ancient civilizations. Schloss Charlottenburg, a magnificent baroque palace built in 1699 by Friedrich III, Elector of Brandenburg and first Prussian King as a summer palace for his wife, Sophie Charlotte, is the perfect place to visit on a summer afternoon.
And while you won't find much to remind you of the Third Reich, there's enough to get a feel for what it was like — the Reichstag, reconstructed after the War and since 1991, once again home to the German Parliament, the Brandenburg Gate where the Russians placed a flag of victory, the Olympic Stadium where Hitler presided over the 1936 Olympic Games, and the Topography of Terror exhibition, showcasing the horrifying acts of the Gestapo and S.S. But perhaps the most poignant monument to World War II is the tower of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, left standing in ruins as a permanent reminder of the horrors of war.
You may also be looking for evidence of the Cold War — the Berlin Air Lift, the Berlin Wall, the DDR Museum. The spies are all gone now, and the feeling of intrigue has nearly disappeared. At Checkpoint Charlie, through which most tourists passed into East Berlin, stands the Museum of the Wall, featuring escape cars, mini-submarines, and the gondola of a hot-air balloon — all used to cross the border. The East Side Gallery displays over 100 murals painted on a stretch of the former Wall.
In the end, no amount of statistics, economics, or history can really explain this city. Only by seeing it can you attempt to understand what it has endured.
If you think Berlin is simply divided into east-west sections, you might be amazed to learn there are officially 12 separate districts within the city limits – all with distinct personalities that give rise to fascinating fine dining venues.Read More
A Little Berlin Luxury
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*rates above are daily double room rates based on dates: 26-12-2013 to 29-12-2013.
Berlin ResourcesVisit Berlin - the Berlin Tourist Information's online offering - tons of pertinent Berlin info
Berlin Festivals - From Berlinale to the Berlin Jazz Festival, 2camels has dozens of Berlin festivals covered
Berlinale - (Berlin International Film Festival) is one of the world's leading film festivals
Lonely Planet Berlin - the popular guidebook's take on the German capital
Time Out Berlin - your critical guide to hotels, restaurants and going out in Berlin