While most cities in Europe are either historically rich or technologically progressive, Berlin is a unique mix of both. Germany
’s capital has almost two millennia of conflicts and culture attached to it, just waiting to be rediscovered. At the same time, it is also a bustling metropolitan hub that the latest and greatest German technology calls home.
Although the area was described as early as the 1st century, it wasn’t until about the 12th when formal settlements were established there. It was originally two distinct towns – Cölln and Berlin – that were united in 1307 and came to be known simply as Berlin. The Hohenzollern family had the ruling powers in Berlin from 1435 until the German Revolution in 1918.
Berlin expanded greatly in the Industrial Revolution, and had become the capital of the German Empire by 1871. Its capital status lasted through the Weimar Republic into the present. The city was also a stronghold for Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, but was eventually divided between Allies after Germany’s defeat. Due to tensions between the Allied Nations, however, the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to distinguish East from West Berlin. It was eventually demolished in 1989.
Although some buildings survived bombings from WWII, many of them were demolished in the 50’s and 60’s. Some remain, however, like the Plattenbauten buildings in the east of the city, a reminder of Germany’s former membership in the Eastern Bloc. While not exactly a structure, the Ampelmännchen or the Traffic Light Man is a German icon dating back to the Iron Curtain.
Modern architectural wonders are abundant in Berlin. Most tours start with the Fernsehturm, a TV tower at the heart of the city and the European Union’s second tallest structure. A walk down Karl-Marx-Allee is usually in order, to view the huge Stalin-era buildings on that boulevard. From there, the Gendarmenmarkt is next on the list with its two cathedrals – the French and the German – as well as the Konzerthaus sitting between them.
Berlin is a well-loved city by artists from all over the world. With over 400 art galleries and 150 museums, almost every possible niche is covered in this city. It is widely recognized as a center in Europe for music and the visual arts. Younger visitors will also appreciate Berlin’s thriving underground, techno music and club culture. Popular clubs like Tresor, Kitkatclub and E-Werk are all landmarks in the city and hubs of the European club scene.
Museum Island, a part of Spree Island, has been a center for the arts since its creation in 1841. Many art institutions were built there, creating a huge complex of museums housing a variety of art and relics. The performing arts are also something to literally watch in Berlin; with over 50 theaters, three major opera houses and several orchestras, it is hard to run out of options.
The city has its fair share of high-end shopping, especially along Kurfürstendamm, its own version of Champs-Élysées. Berlin is also home to KaDeWe, the largest department store in all of Europe. Aside from those two shopping destinations, the city also has several other malls and shopping districts full of undeniably Euro-flavored items.
Historians often say that Berlin is a city with one very messy past. Berlin today, however, shows a city that’s well on its way to the future.