Berlin

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Berlin

Ich bin ein Berliner  A city of three and a half million awaits you — native Berliners with their dark sense of humor, "fugitives" from cities all over Germany, and the communities of Turkish, Spanish, American, French, Polish and so many other nationalities and languages that contribute to the unique flavor of this city.

Berlin lies across two rivers, the Spree and the Havel. Its buildings and monuments represent layers of history stretching back to the early years of the Middle Ages; its humble beginnings as a trading station, its growth to regional prominence as seat of the Hohenzollern Dynasty, its ascent to the status of capital under Bismarck, and disastrous tumble from grace during the Third Reich. Despite 70% destruction during the Second World War, most older buildings have been rebuilt, and since the unification of the two Germanys in 1990 and the decision to relocate the German Government to Berlin, the building work goes on.

It's a green city with countless parks, canals and spaces to unwind in, but if you want culture, it's there for the taking. Museums, art galleries, theatres, opera and concerts are all competing for your attention. And, at the same time, it's an exciting, busy, cosmopolitan city — every type of international cuisine is on offer. You can watch the world go by from a table at a pavement cafe, or retreat to the intimacy of restaurants like Pasternak in Prenzlauer Berg or Abendmahl in Kreuzberg.

A BIT OF HISTORY

Within just a few centuries, Berlin — today the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany — grew from a fishing village and trading center at a crossing point on the Spree River, into the Prussian capital city and royal residence. The town of Colln was first mentioned in a document from 1237. It later merged with its sister city Berlin, profited from Prussia's rise to the rank of a great power, and after the founding of the German Empire in 1871 became the political, industrial, scientific, academic and cultural center of Germany.

In 1933, the National Socialists put an end to this. It's here that the destructive war and holocaust were planned and implemented. At the same time, however, Berlin was also a place of resistance to the Nazi regime. In 1939, the German capital had a population of more than 4 million. World War II, unleashed by the National Socialists, had catastrophic consequences for Berlin, resulting in almost total destruction of the city center and its industrial districts.

After the war, the city was divided into four sectors by the victorious allied powers. In 1948-49, the Soviet Union imposed an 11-month blockade of the land routes to Berlin in an attempt to bring the people of West Berlin to their knees and force the Western Allies to withdraw from the city. This attempt was thwarted by an airlift launched by the Western Allies. To stem the mass exodus of people from the Deutsche Demokratische Republic (GDR), the GDR communist leadership began construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

It fell in 1989 when the communist block collapsed. On October 3, 1990, the unification of Germany was consummated in Berlin with a state ceremony. Since then, united Berlin is once again the capital of unified Germany.

MUSEUMS

Museum Island (Museumsinsel)  This unique complex of five world-class museums is an absolute must. The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Galerie) houses an outstanding collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings and sculptures. Works by Cezanne, Rodin, Degas and portrait artist Max Liebermann make up part of the permanent exhibition. The Galerie der Romantik (Gallery of Romanticism) includes masterpieces by such 19th-century German painters as Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Caspar David Friedrich. The Altes Museum (Old Museum) collections include Roman and Greek sculptures as well as German postwar art and works by the Old Masters. The Pergamonmuseum (Pergamon Museum), one of Europe's greatest museums, takes its name from its principal exhibit, the Pergamon Altar, a monumental Greek sculpture dating from 180 BC that occupies an entire city block. The Neues Museum (New Museum) and Bodemuseum are closed for restoration.

Friedrichstrasse  There's probably no other street in the whole of eastern Germany that has changed as dramatically as Friedrichstrasse. The once-bustling 5th Avenue of Berlin's pre-war days has risen from the rubble of war and Communist negligence to recover its glamour of old. The jewel of this street is the Friedrichstadtpassagen, a gigantic shopping and business complex of three buildings praised for their completely different designs. The buildings are connected by an underground mall of elegant shops and eateries.

Berlin Wall Memorial Site  This is the only original piece of the Berlin Wall border system left in the city. The museum took almost seven years to realize, as most East Berliners living nearby didn't want a reminder of the gruesome symbol of German separation right in front of their homes. The museum shows a 230-ft-long piece of the whole Wall system, which consisted of two walls, and a control path between them used by border guards and their German shepherds. Standing behind one wall, you can look through small observation windows to the other.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church  This ruin stands as a dramatic reminder of World War II's destruction. The bell tower, which Berliners call "hollow tooth," is all that remains of the once-imposing church, which was built between 1891 and 1895. In stark contrast to the old bell tower are the adjoining Memorial Church and Tower. These ultramodern octagonal structures are perhaps best described by their nicknames: the lipstick and the powder box. Church music and organ concerts are presented in the church regularly. An exhibition inside the old tower focuses on the devastation of World War II, with a cross constructed of nails recovered from the ashes of Coventry Cathedral in England, destroyed in a German bombing raid in November 1940.

Parliament Building  The Bundestag, Germany's federal parliament, returned to its traditional seat in the spring of 1999. British architect Sir Norman Foster did extensive remodeling to the gray monolithic structure, adding its glass dome, which has quickly become one of the city's main attractions: you can walk up a snail-like, gently rising staircase reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's New York Guggenheim Museum while taking in a spectacular view of Berlin. Visit either in the early morning or evening to avoid the longest lines.

Charlottenburg Palace  This showplace of western Berlin, the most monumental reminder of imperial days, served as a city residence for the Prussian rulers. You can easily spend a full day here. The gorgeous palace started as a modest royal summer residence in 1695, built on the orders of King Friedrich I for his wife, Sophie-Charlotte. The Altes Schloss is the main building containing the suites of Friedrich I and his wife.

Checkpoint Charlie Museum  This famous crossing point between the two Berlins is where American and Soviet tanks faced off in the tense months of the Berlin blockade (1948-49). All evidence of the crossing point disappeared along with the Wall, but the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (House at Checkpoint Charlie — The Wall Museum) is still here to tell the Wall's fascinating stories. The museum reviews the events leading up to its construction and displays actual tools and equipment, records, and photographs documenting methods used by East Germans to cross over to the West.

East Side Gallery  This stretch of concrete amounts to nothing less than the largest open-air gallery in the world. Between February and June of 1990, 118 artists from around the globe created unique works of art on the longest remaining section — 1.3 km (8 mi) — of the Berlin Wall; it has since been declared a historic monument. One of the best-known works, by Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel, depicts Brezhnev and Honnecker (the former East German leader) kissing, with the caption "My God. Help me survive this deadly love."

SHOPPING

There are two major shopping districts. The Ku'damm in the old west is lined with designer shops, and continues eastwards for a couple of hundred yards where you can visit Kadewe, the biggest department store in Europe. On the newly-developed Friedrichstrafe in the old east, the famous French store Galleries Lafayette is to be found together with a maze of underground shopping malls. Shops are generally open 9am-8:30pm Monday through Friday and 9am-4pm on Saturdays.

FOOD

Visitors to Berlin used to complain that they could eat anything they wanted there as long as it was wurst (sausage), or Schnitzel. A little unfair, since traditional Berlin cuisine has a lot more to offer. Eisbein (knuckle of pork, served with peas), Hackepeter (steak tartare) and in the early summer, fresh asparagus, with cooled ham and melted butter. And if you just feel like a snack, look for the sign Imbiss — the word means snack. Try a Berlin hamburger (a Boulette) from a corner bar, or a Currywurst (curried sausage). Or try a delicious and incredibly cheap Doner Kebab from one of the countless small Turkish Imbiss that are scattered around the city.

TRANSPORTATION

Subway/Commuter Trains  The public transit system is efficient and inexpensive. The U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (commuter trains) now operate as one complete system between the eastern and western parts of Berlin. It runs daily 5am-1am; lines 1 and 9 run all night on Friday and Saturday. Eurailpass holders can ride the S-Bahn for free. Single tickets are sold from machines or ticket windows in the U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations. A four-ticket Sammelkarte entitles you to two hours travel per ticket. A Berlin Ticket allows 24 hours of unlimited travel on the U- and S-Bahn and the bus system. A six-day Berlin Ticket is also available. Street entrances to the U-Bahn are marked with a giant white "U" on a blue background, and directions on each line are indicated by the name of the terminal station. The S-Bahn works in the same way as the U-Bahn, but is generally more useful for reaching destinations on the outskirts of the city.

Trains  Bahnhof Zoo, at 20 Hardenbergstrasse is Berlin's main train station (mon-Fri 8:30am-6:30pm). For information, call the Deutsches Bahn Information, tel. 19 419. Approximate travel time from Berlin: Hamburg, 3.5 hrs., Frankfurt am Main, 9 hrs.; Vienna, 11 hrs.; Zurich, 11 hrs.

Buses  The bus network consists of around 150 lines and is closely connected with the U-Bahn and S-Bahn systems. Tickets are valid on all three systems, and a single ride is 2 Euros. Sammelkarte (mutiple-ride tickets) costs 7 EUR, allowing four trips of two hours each. A short-trip fare allows you to travel up to six bus stops or three train stations and costs 1.50 Euros. Single-ride tickets can be purchased from machines, bus drivers or ticket windows at the U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations. The central bus station is called ZOB and is located by the Funkturm near Kaiserdamm, tel. 301 80 28 (U-Bahn: Kaiserdamm). Bus stops are marked by signs with a green "H" on a yellow background. To indicate you want to get off the bus, push one of the red buttons located on the poles. Night buses, with slightly different routes, provide service throughout the night; their route numbers begin with an "N".

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Generally, Berlin has a temperate climate with an occasional tendency for winter cold spells that can send the thermometer to sub-freezing levels. Summer months are pleasant and sunny but there are, of course, occasional overcast and rainy days. Winters bring deep snowfalls that often catch the eastern part of the city and country off guard.

March  Temperature 32ºF to 46ºF
Monthly Rainfall 2"

July  Temperature 55ºF to 74ºF
Monthly Rainfall 3"

October  Temperature 36ºF to 58ºF
Monthly Rainfall 2"

January  Temperature 29ºF to 32ºF
Monthly Rainfall 1.5"

Money, money, money  Germany's main banks are Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank and Commerzbank. The Deutsche Bank is the bank of issue and has its headquarters in Frankfurt. There are many private, commercial and state (Laender) banks throughout the country. Banks are generally open Mon-Fri 9am-12pm, 2:30-4pm, Thu until 5:30 or 6pm. Changing money is best done at a bank because their rates will be better than exchange services located at Bureau de Change (Wechselstuben). Wechselstuben can be found at the Zoologischer Garten U-Bahn station, tel 881 71 17 (Mon-Sat 8am-9pm; Sun and holidays 10am-7pm), and at 1-3 Joachimstaler Strasse, tel 882 19 86 (Mon-Fri 8am-8pm; Sat 9am-3pm). Major post office branches and travel agents also offer currency exchange. Germany is one of 12 European countries that have replaced their national currencies with the Euro, which is about equal to the U.S. dollar.

The joy of servitude  Tipping. A service charge is always included on restaurant checks, but it is usual and polite to round up the amount. For a cup of coffee costing about 2.00 EUR, you would round up to 2.50 EUR. At a restaurant, you should give a tip of at least five percent — giving no tip at all is considered very rude. Tip when paying — don't leave money on the table. Tip the hat check or coat check attendant. Add about 2 Euros to taxi fares; tipping is a must.

Synchronize your watches  Local time is 6 hours ahead of E.S.T. If it's 2:00pm in New York City, it's 8:00pm locally. Please note that Germany changes to and from daylight-saving time a few weeks before the U.S., so time differences still vary in March and October.

The mailman cometh  The main post office is at Bahnhof Zoo, 10623 Berlin, tel. 311 00 20, open daily until midnight. Branch offices are at Tegel Airport, tel. 417 84 90, open Mon-Fri 7am-9pm, Sat-Sun 8am-8pm, and at the Hauptbahnhof, 8-12 Strasse der Pariser Kommune, tel, 589 29 08, open daily until 9pm. Stamps are available at all post offices, and letters and cards can be deposited in yellow boxes throughout town. For non-local mail, be sure to use the "AndereRichtungen" slot. Letters up to 20 grams sent anywhere in Germany and most parts of Europe require 1.10 EUR in postage. Post cards require a 1.00 EUR stamp. A 20-gram airmail letter to North America costs 2 EUR; airmail postcards, 1.50 EUR.

Please wait while we try to connect you  Most public phones accept phone cards only; these are available for Euro 6 in any post office. Long-distance calls can be made from booths marked "International," but most easily from booths within post offices. International operators can be reached, with perseverance, on 00 018; national and local information at 01 188. If you're without a phonecard, pay phones inside restaurants and kneipen take coins. The code to call the United States is 001. To call the United States collect via an American operator, dial toll-free from any phone: 0800 2255 288 for AT&T and 0800 888 8000 for MCI.

Info Box  Potsdamer Platz is said to be the largest construction site in Europe. The heart of pre-war Berlin, it was turned into a wasteland during the Battle of Berlin and remained a weed-filled lot for the following 50 years. Re-unification put Potsdamer Platz back into the center of the city and most of the land was quickly sold to Daimler Benz and Sony Corporations for the building of their new headquarters. A good view of the transformation can be had from the Info Box, a futuristic bright-red temporary building put up on the site. It also includes an exhibition with models, drawings and computer simulations of the future look of the Platz.

Holidays
January 1 (New Year's Day)
March/April (Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday)
May 1 (Labor Day)
May (Thursday — Ascension Day)
May/June (Sunday and Monday — Pfingsten)
October 3 (Day of German Reunification)
November 22 (Repentance Day)
December 25/26 (Christmas/Boxing Day)

Tourist Information
Berlin Tourismus Marketing, 11 Am Karlsbad, 10785 Berlin, tel. 25 00 25.
Information offices at: Brandenburg Gate, Mitte, S-Bahn: Unter den Linden, open daily 9:30am-6pm.
Europa Center, 45 Budapester Strasse, Charlottenburg, U-Bahn: Zoologischer Garten, Mon-Sat 8am-10pm; Sun 9am-9pm.

Embassies
U.S. Embassy, 170 Clayallee, tel. 832 92 33. Mon-Fri 8:30am-noon.
Canadian Embassy, 95 Friedrichstrasse, tel. 261 11 61. Mon-Fri 8:30am-12:30pm, 1:30-5pm.
British Embassy, 32-34 Unter den Linden, tel. 20 18 40, Mon-Fri 9am-noon, 2-4pm.

Electricity  The electric current in Berlin is 220 volts AC. Outlets in Germany take plugs with two rounded prongs.

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