The earliest records mentioning the existence of a settlement on the site of today’s Berlin are from the late 12th Century. The origin of the city’s name is unknown; it’s thought that it may be derived from a word in an ancient Slavic dialect meaning ‘swamp.’ Throughout its history, Berlin has been virtually swept off the face of the earth a number of times. The Thirty Years War of 1618-1648 took the lives of nearly half the city’s population, and a third of all its buildings. As a result of the air raids carried out by the Allied Forces in the final years of World War II, the city was reduced to ruins, with many of its landmarks shattered to pieces.
The turbulent history and ever-repeating cycle of destruction and reconstruction determine the unique spirit of the city. An urban organism with an essentially unassailable soul, Berlin attracts people from the furthest parts of the planet with its modern zeitgeist, liberal lifestyle and relatively low cost of living. The entire Berlin-Brandenburg area is home to nearly 5 million people representing more than 180 nations.
After London and Paris, Berlin is the third-most visited destination in the European Union. Visitors arrive to find a city that has literally risen from the ashes like a fantastic, colourful phoenix. An eclectic gathering of architecture and sights is the chronicle of this marvellous city, and every detail has a story to tell. Once divided by the Berlin Wall, whose remnants can still be seen today, the eastern and western parts of the city are now united, though architectural and lifestyle differences between them are still visible.
The world-renowned symbol of Berlin and the entirety of Germany is the Brandenburg Gate, rising tall over the centre. Another familiar landmark is the Reichstag building, the seat of the German Parliament. It owes its current spectacular shape to British architect Norman Foster. An impressive glass dome above the session area allows free public access to the parliamentary sessions, as well as breathtaking views of the city. Another location from which to admire an aerial view of the German capital is the Fernsehturm, a TV tower at Alexanderplatz. The nearly 370-metre-tall structure is the second highest in the European Union. It’s visible from virtually anywhere in the city centre.
Across the city from east to west runs a tree-lined avenue, Unter den Linden, connecting the Brandenburg Gate to where the Berliner Stadtschloss once stood. Berlin's former premier promenade, it’s still a popular shopping location and the home of Humboldt University. Another prominent street running from east to west is Straße des 17. Juni, which commemorates the 17 June 1953 uprisings in East Berlin, and connects Brandenburg Gate with Ernst-Reuter-Platz. Roughly halfway between them is the Großer Stern, a round traffic island with the Siegessäule (Victory Column). This spot constitutes the centre stage of the annual Love Parade.
Berlin is internationally renowned as the seat of numerous cultural institutions, a major trendsetter among European capitals. Since 2005, it’s been listed as a UNESCO City of Design. The nightlife scene is among the most diverse and vibrant on the continent and possibly in the entire world. The unrestored abandoned houses of former East Berlin have become a fertile ground for the counter-culture scene. Today, they hold many alternative nightclubs, plenty of which are true artistic enterprises.
At night, life in Berlin is concentrated on the city squares. Probably the most spectacular of these is Potsdamer Platz, which was constructed from scratch after 1995. The ultra-modern, innovatively designed square is surrounded by buildings housing the Gemäldegalerie, Neue Nationalgalerie and Philharmonic. Fashionable culture also blooms in the area around Hackescher Markt, featuring numerous alternative boutiques, bars, galleries and clubs. A conglomeration of all these things is the Hackesche Höfe, a gathering of buildings around several courtyards, reconstructed in the 1990s.
At night, Berlin pulsates with hypnotizing rhythms, and all the more if you’re there for one of the many street events which figure into the city’s cultural calendar. Every Pentecost weekend, the Karneval der Kulturen sweeps down the streets of Berlin, a madly colourful multi-ethnic parade. Christopher Street Day on the last weekend of June is celebrated with Central Europe's largest gay-lesbian parade, openly supported by the authorities of Berlin. The legendary Love Parade takes place every July.
Whichever time of year you choose to explore Berlin, you can be sure that the stunning German capital will capture your heart forever. Why not book a hotel right now, Berlin is waiting for you!