What does Berlin have that other world cities don't? Well, first of all, there's the locals, whose rough yet friendly charm is all part of the Berlin experience. Add to that an incredible array of sights that reflect not only the city's newfound swagger but also its great history and the dramatic events of the 20th century.
When people think of Berlin, the first thing that usually comes to mind is its most famous landmark – the Brandenburg Gate. For decades a symbol of division, the monument has always been the beating heart of a major city bursting with ideas, inspiration, art, culture and creativity. Highlights in the western parts of Berlin include the Kurfürstendamm, as elegant a shopping street as you'll find anywhere, the Kaufhaus des Westens department store (better known as KaDeWe), on-trend boutiques and exclusive galleries, as well as beautiful residential streets and, of course, Berlin's famous nightlife. And speaking of nightlife, no trip to Berlin would be complete without an evening at Friedrichstadt Palast, Germany's leading variety theatre. The cosmopolitan vibe also permeates the government district, which spreads out to the east from Brandenburg Gate and from the neighbouring Reichstag. There's a sense of peace and freedom in the air here – in stark contrast to the days when Berlin was responsible for unthinkable crimes. The memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, a work by New York architect Peter Eisenman located near the Brandenburg Gate, serves as a reminder of those atrocities, as does the Topography of Terror documentation centre at the former Gestapo headquarters.
Berlin's prestigious Unter den Linden boulevard extends eastwards from Brandenburg Gate towards Alexanderplatz square, passing the Museum Island World Heritage site, as well as Berlin Cathedral, the Neue Wache and the baroque Zeughaus (armoury), which today houses the German Historical Museum. Keep going far enough and you'll reach the TV tower, which to this day remains the tallest structure in Germany. The view from the top, stretching across Berlin and all the way to Brandenburg, is a major sightseeing highlight. Nearby is Gendarmenmarkt, widely lauded as Berlin's most beautiful square. The German Cathedral, the French Cathedral and the Concert Hall form an ensemble of great majesty and grandeur here. The atmosphere of the Hackesche Höfe, also within the central Mitte district, is somewhat less grand, but all the more laid-back, easygoing and relaxed for it. This retail complex is the largest series of enclosed courtyards in Germany and has been heritage-listed since 1977. For an authentic taste of Old Berlin, explore the courtyards' vibrant mix of art galleries, cinemas, theatres, variety venues, restaurants and bars, not to mention all the welcoming little shops and big-name flagship stores. There's also no escaping the city's artistic flair here. A characteristic that, nearly a quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, remains a defining feature, perhaps more so than in any other capital. Berlin is the creative workshop of Germany, a trendsetter and a capital of fashion, design and music. The progressive spirit of optimism that engulfed the reunified city was – and still is – astounding. Hundreds of backyard art studios emerged from the shadows and art soon began to take over streets, the walls of buildings and even entire districts. Famously, artists have also appropriated the remains of the Berlin Wall: the section from Oberbaum bridge to Ostbahnhof station, now going by the name of East Side Gallery, has become an illustrated encyclopaedia of street art. Today, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg, Neukölln and Wedding are the districts of choice for more than 20,000 artists. It is this creative force that lies behind the city's distinctive vibe – a vibe that renders Berlin the capital for alternative and established art alike. Immerse yourself in this creative cosmos. Let yourself be inspired, seduced and enchanted. Get to know the people of Berlin. Besides all the sightseeing, the locals are arguably the best reason to discover this incredible city – and the perfect excuse to come back and visit.
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