Living the Good Life

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Once a city of war and strife, Berlin has transformed itself into a popular place to live, work and visit. It is well known today for its festivals, diverse architecture, nightlife, contemporary art and high quality of living.

 

Despite a rather unsavoury history, Berlin has emerged from its 20th century wartime past into a bright future. Modern day Berlin is a shadow of its former self. It has a healthy economy thanks to strong sectors such as ITC, life sciences, media and music, advertising and design, biotechnology and environmental services, transportation and medical engineering. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the European Union and is home to numerous renowned universities, research institutes, orchestras and museums.

History

The city of Berlin began as two merchant towns – Cölln and Berlin, straddling the River Spree in the modern day Mitte district – formed close economic and social ties. As the towns grew, they merged to become a centre for commerce and agriculture.  

When the Kingdom of Prussia was formed in 1701, Berlin was announced as its capital. Frederick III, elector of Brandenburg, crowned himself King Frederick I of Prussia in an attempt to centralise the capital, and for the first time, the city experienced growth.

When Adolf Hilter came into power in 1933, Berlin became the capital of Germany and Hitler’s home. Much of central Berlin was destroyed during World War II, and has since been rebuilt. This has resulted in a rather fragmented cityscape in large parts of the inner town.

After Germany’s defeat in the war, Berlin was divided among the four allies – France, England and the United States were put in charge of West Berlin, while East Berlin was left in the hands of the Soviet Union.

Experiencing Berlin’s History

For anyone with an interest in modern history, this city tells a fascinating story. From Nazi rule and World War II to the construction and fall of the Berlin Wall, there is history scattered throughout the city.

The ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’ is a huge abstract artwork that covers an entire city block near the Brandenburg Gate. It includes an underground museum with extensive details on the Holocaust and those who died during this period.

The Berlin Wall was erected by East Berlin in 1961 as a result of the political and economic tensions brought on by the Cold War. The wall came down on 9 November 1989, once the Cold War ended, thanks in large part to pressure from the East German population.

A large section of the Berlin Wall that remains intact to the east of the city centre, along the River Spree in Mühlen Street, is known as the East Side Gallery. It’s covered in numerous murals, politically-motivated and otherwise – a reminder of the city’s troubled past.

The Berlin Wall Memorial, on Bernauer Street, will give you an idea of what it was like for those living in a city divided. From the viewing platform, you are able to fathom the true scale of the wall and how terrifying the “no man’s land” between the two sections of walls must have been.

There is no longer evidence of Checkpoint Charlie, a border crossing between East and West Berlin that permitted foreigners’ passage, but the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie is a private museum on Friedrich Street, not far from the actual checkpoint. On display are some of the methods of escape used by those trapped on the eastern side of the wall.

Airport

With over 26 million passengers per year, Berlin is Germany’s third-largest airport location. There are currently two airports in Berlin: Schönefeld Airport to the south-east of the city and Tegel International Airport to the north-west of the city centre, which processes international carriers and is also a hub for domestic flights on Lufthansa.

In order to create the capacities required for the future, the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport is currently under construction, although there is no indication as to when it will begin operating.

Getting Around

Berlin is a huge city, but it is well-connected by public transport. Choose from buses, trams, trains, underground services and taxis to get you where you need to go.

The city works on three zones: Zone A covers all areas within the S-Bahn circle line, Zone B reaches out to Berlin’s city limits, and Zone C covers the city’s nearby surrounding areas. While a ticket for zones A and B is often sufficient, it is possible to get a combined ticket that covers zones BC and ABC. Tickets are on sale from BVG and S-Bahn Berlin ticket selling areas, or directly at the automats in the stations.

Once purchased, you need to validate your ticket using the machines on the U and S-Bahn platforms, or in the bus, by having a time stamp printed onto it. The U-Bahn has no barriers blocking passengers from the trains, so it might be tempting to ride without a ticket. But be warned – plain-clothed inspectors do patrol the trains frequently, and there is a large fine payable if you’re caught.

Restaurants

Eating on the go is popular in Berlin – it lends itself to efficiency, which is what residents are all about. But when you’re tired of multi-tasking and want to a more leisurely meal, you’ll find a plethora of restaurants ready to serve you. Whether you’re looking for something simple or want to take your taste buds on a journey, you won’t have to look far.

For a taste of traditional German fare, head to Tiergarten Quelle on Bach Street. Founded more than 70 years ago, it is one of Berlin’s oldest pubs.

The Restaurant Haus Berlin, in the heart of the city, serves a selection of German and international cuisine. Try Soljanka, a Russian sweet and sour beef soup, or Gepöckeltes, pork knuckles served with mashed peas, cabbage, and parsley potatoes.

If you’re a lover of beer, make sure to visit the Berliner Republik. There are 18 different draught beers on offer here and, after 18h00 the tavern opens its beer market, where the price of a stein depends on the brew’s popularity at the time of ordering. You can also get a hearty meal to enjoy with your drinks.

Brauhaus Lemke am Schloss brews its own beer opposite the Charlottenburg Palace. Since the company’s founding, it has brewed over 40 different craft beers, including seasonal specialities such as Maibock, Stout, a range of Ales, Fest Bock, Lemke Original and Lemke Pilsner.The brewery offers tours to small groups of interested guests, where you’ll learn a few brewing secrets on a tour offered.

There are a number of Michelin-star restaurants in the city too. If you’re looking to experience some truly amazing cuisine, try Les Solistes at the Waldorf Astoria, Fischers Fritz at the Regent Berlin, Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer on Unter den Linden boulevard, or Tim Raue on Rudi-Dutschke Street.

Where to stay

Being a popular destination for leisure and business travellers alike, Berlin has a multitude of hotels to choose from. For easy access to the airport, there are a number of hotels within 10 kilometres, offering everything a traveller needs.

The Holiday Inn Berlin City-West is just four kilometres from Tegel airport and offers 336 rooms and 16 meeting rooms, all with wireless Internet. Central Berlin’s sights are a short U-Bahn ride from nearby Rohrdamm station.

The 4-Star Mercure Airport Hotel Berlin Tegel is less than one kilometre from the airport. All 186 air-conditioned rooms have free Wi-Fi.

Four kilometres from both the airport and the exhibition centre, Messegelände, the Best Western Hotel Am Borsigturmices has installed sound-proof windows and doors to ensure guests get a good night’s sleep. The hotel offers 105 4-star rooms and 10 conference rooms.

Just a 10-minute walk from Berlin’s Schloss Charlottenburg palace, the 4-star Schlosspark Hotel offers spacious rooms, an indoor swimming pool, and tasty cuisine. The Berlin exhibition centre is two kilometres away and other parts of the city are within easy reach.

Things to do

If history isn’t your thing, or if you’d like to take a break from the past, there are many other attractions to experience.

For architecture fundis, there’s the Ticket B City Tours by architects in Berlin. Led by selected architects in German, English, French, Italian or Spanish, the tour shows off the city in a unique fashion.

The Alternative Berlin tour uses the city’s transit system and focuses on the underground sites and sounds of Berlin, including art and graffiti culture, technological wonders, and landmarks of rock and electronic music.

Shopping is a popular pastime in Berlin, and you’ll never be short of places to pick up a reminder of your time in Germany’s capital. Charlottenburg, Mitte and Steglitz all have numerous retail outlets for your browsing pleasure.

Whatever your purpose in Berlin, there is undoubtedly at least one thing that will catch your eye.

Kate Kennedy

FACT FILE
Population:
3.4 million
Time: GMT +1
Plugs: Two-prong round
Dialling code: +49 30
Currency: Euro – $1=€0.71
Language: German, but you can easily find information in English and sometimes in French