A construction crew is digging a pit for a building foundation when it comes across a live shell dropped during World War II. Munitions experts are immediately called in and, until the shell is safely defused, all other work comes to a grinding halt. This scenario illustrates on of the many ways that, in building for the future, Berliners are forced to deal with the past.
No doubt about it, Berlin has a lot of historical baggage. Scratch the surface and you find tensions caused by 40 years of political, economic and social division. Dig a little deeper and you experience still unresolved pain and guilt brought on by Nazi atrocities. Go deeper still and you encounter Prussia with its devotion to both militarism and the Enlightenment. Though monarchies and regimes eventually die, cities survive, and surviving is exactly what Berlin does best.
Even with the heavy weight of history, Berlin on the surface is an undeniably vibrant, entertaining city. The latest building boom - spurred on by its renewed role as a capital of Germany - is attracting a lot of attention. Now is a good time to visit, and as long as you leave your hotel with a fairly recent map, you should have no problem sifting through the many layers of Berlin.
Berlin lies in northeaster Germany and is about as close geographically to Warsaw as it is to Munich, and is closer to Copenhagen that it is to Frankfurt. The Spree River snakes through the city, and the Havel River runs near its western border. Forests and lakes are predominant features of the landscape, making up close to 25% of the city's total area. Even in developed areas, tree-lined streets and a large number of parks create a green look and feel.
The city is divided into 23 districts called Bezirke. The oldest district is called Mitte, and it stretches from Brandenburg Gate in the west to Alexanderplatz in the east. Unter den Linden, Friedrichstrasse, Museuminsel and other historical sights are all located there. Encircling Mitte are the districts of Prenzlauer Berg (to the northeast), Friedrichshain (to the east), Kreuzberg (to the south), Tiergarten (to the west) and Wedding (to the north). Instead of splitting the city directly in half, the Wall looped around Mitte, assigning it, Prenzlauer Berg ad Fridrichshain to the East and Kreuzberg, Tiergarten and Wedding to the West. Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf and Schoneberg are other western districts considered part of central Berlin.
When it comes to sights and entertainment, the city has no one real centre. Breitscheidplatz, with the Memorial Church, is generally considered the main western centre. The zoo and Zoo station, the boulevard Kurfurstendamm (Du'damm) and the Europa Centre are all nearby. Alexanderplatz (or simply Alex) is an important transportation hub and the main eastern centre. Potsdamer Platz, once completed, will form a third centre between the two.