Last year tourism in Berlin enjoyed its best ever year of growth with approximately 13 million bed nights. Yet Gulf Arabs still mainly head to London or Paris in the summer. Perhaps they should instead consider the charms of Berlin with its excellent culture and shopping.
What's more, the city attracts 90 million day visitors every year. In addition, 28.5 million bed nights are chalked up in Berlin homes in connection with private visits to friends and relatives. This enabled Berlin to further consolidate its position in 2004 as Germany's most popular city destination. The German capital ranks alongside London and Paris as the most visited metropolises in Europe.
Berlin covers an area of some 890 square kilometres. So it is nine times bigger than Paris. The municipal boundary extends for 234 kilometres. Only by travelling the entire length of the motorway encircling the city is it possible to appreciate the sheer size of the area involved. Nearly on three-and-a-half million people inhabit this urban conurbation.
The German capital consists today of 12 independently administered municipal districts, each of city size and status in its own right. They vary in size and character, but have three things in common – each has its own town hall, its own market place and its own municipal services organisation.
The reason for this lies in the capital's historical development. In 1920, eight towns, 59 rural communities and 27 manorial properties were amalgamated to form Greater Berlin. Berlin was first officially mentioned in 1237 after the two mercantile suburban colonies Coelln and Berlin had been unified.
Goodbye to The Wall
The demolition of the Wall on 9 November 1989 marked the dawn of a new era for Berlin – an era in which the most significant elements have been the reunification of Germany in 1990, the decision regarding the location of the capital in 1991 and the relocation of government and parliament to the traditional centre of the nation - in the heart of Berlin. This transfer was completed in 1999.
Berlin – in the very heart of Europe – has been, since time immemorial, a focal point for travellers from all over the world. In the 1930s, Potsdamer Platz carried a greater volume of traffic than any other square in Europe. It was here that the first traffic lights were installed, the replica of which can be admired at this same spot.
After nearly three decades of desolation caused by the Wall, Potsdamer Platz has implemented new traffic engineering and town planning visions for the Berlin of the third millennium. This area mirrors the re-emergence of and sweeping changes to the entire city. After reunification Berlin is, geographically speaking, at the interface between East and West in Europe.
The Berlin Wall earned the city a sorry reputation around the world for almost 30 years. What little remains of it can be seen in the East Side Gallery, on Bernauer Straße, next to the Preußischer Landtag and in Prenzlauer Berg. Berlin has long since emerged from the shadow of the Wall, however.
More than 15 years after it came down, the city, subsequently regarded as the 'workshop of unity', has reinvented itself. It is now associated with top-class architecture, modernity and a fast pace of life. The German capital, whose profile will continue to change, is more attractive than ever for tourists.
During the approach to the city Berlin already offers visitors a fascinating landscape with its expansive lakes, parks and forests. More than one-third of the city area is taken up by parks, forests and water. The largest lake is the Müggelsee with a water area of 750 hectares.
A chain of lakes like the Tegelersee and the Wannsee is interspersed across the city; they are connected by a system of rivers (Havel and Spree) and canals. It is a well-known fact that the 'Athens' on the river Spree has more bridges than Venice. Berliners can travel by boat from their city to the North and Baltic Seas.
Berlin is Germany's 'greenest' metropolis – in other words, there are more woods, parks and cultivated areas in the inner city here than in any other large town. The proverbial 'Berlin air' owes its clarity in part to the many inner city parks such as the Botanical Gardens, the Zoological Gardens (the largest in Europe both in terms of size and variety of species) and the Tiergarten.
City of culture
It was not by chance that in 1988, Berlin was officially designated Europe's 'City of Culture'. Unofficially, it still holds this title. Cultural events of international standing are a permanent feature of everyday life in Berlin: The internationally-acclaimed film festivals, 135 theatres, 3 opera-houses and a host of variety theatres and music halls. Berlin's world cultural ambassador – the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – has a true global player at its head. Sir Simon Rattle is their principal conductor and artistic director.
The range of musical entertainment includes cabaret performances in various folklore taverns and a notable rock and jazz scene with many clubs and major events. Berlin's 'Waldbühne' is the finest open-air theatre in Europe. During the summer months, it attracts up to 22,000 patrons each evening to various events ranging from classical and rock music to film shows.
Berlin is noted for its unique variety of museums, including many collections relating to archaeology and the history of art. They document the 6,000 years of the development of civilisation in countries ranging from Europe to the Far East. On the Spree there are more museums than rainy days – a total of approx. 175, 18 of which were new additions in the last five years alone.
Since last year the museum landscape of the city has been enhanced by the Helmut Newton Foundation / Museum for Photography, the Flick Collection – one of the most important collections of contemporary art in the world – and the Berlinische Galerie in the former glass depot Alte Jakobstraße. The numerous museums and collections also include some curiosities like, for instance, a laundry museum, a hemp museum or the sugar museum.
Back in the Roaring Twenties Berlin was already the stage for world literature and the Romanisches Cafe at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was the main meeting place for writers and poets. Today, Berlin is once again deemed to be a centre of German language literature.
It is not just a forum for international literary encounters through the work of the Literary Colloquium Berlin, the German Adacemic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Academy of the Arts but also a forum for publishing houses, the press and the media. The international architecture exhibitions of the 1950s and 1980s met with worldwide interest beyond expert circles and served as inspiration for other cities thanks to the extraordinary architectural and urban development achievements.
The construction work on the German capital has further raised the standing of the city on the international stage and attracted investors from all over the world (cf. Potsdamer Platz or Friedrichstadt arcades). When it comes to fashion design Berlin has become a centre in particular for young and avant-garde fashion. Berlin is once again on the way to doing its reputation justice as a city of fashion. This is documented in the many trade fairs.
With its International Congress Centre (ICC) the congress and trade fair city, Berlin, has had a unique congress building for 25 years. The congress and trade fair city, Berlin, ranks amongst the best in the world as the participant and visitor figures clearly confirm. Empirical surveys have shown that, in the first half of 2004 alone, a total of 42,500 events with 3.2 million participants were held on the Spree.
A great place to shop
Berlin is also a rapidly developing city when it comes to shopping. With Ku'damm (Kurfürstendamm), Friedrichstraße and Potsdamer Platz it boasts three different shopping centres.
The Kurfürstendamm, a magnificent boulevard which extends for 3.5 km from the Memorial church to Halensee, has something for everyone: from the famous department store Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) over the Europa-Center to the many international fashion boutiques, restaurants and cafés. During the mild summer nights, this part of Berlin (like so many others) stays open 24 hours.
Closing times are practically unknown and visitors to the 'Athens on the Spree' can savour the delights of its cosmopolitan character to the full. And to lend them a helping hand, there are approximately 6,000 restaurants to suit all possible tastes.
In addition to Ku'damm, Friedrichstraße and the attractive boulevard 'Unter den Linden' in the former East Berlin are very nice places to go for a stroll, too. On Potsdamer Platz there are now around 130 shops on the DaimlerChrysler site which opened on 2 October 1998. All three shopping centres are directly connected by the underground line U2.