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BERLIN'S SPARKLING FACE-LIFT

Brandenburg Gate, which marked the boundary between East and West.The biggest single tourist attraction in Berlin today is the stunning redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz. This was formerly a derelict wasteland that followed The Wall between the occupying powers. 

Pre-1939, Potsdamer Platz was the busiest traffic centre in Europe, the meeting-point of six major highways, controlled by the continent's first-ever set of traffic lights. 

Here were the big cafes, theatres and department stores.

During the war, Potsdamer Platz was hammered. Hitler's bunker and the Air Ministry were close by, so the area was a prime target for Allied bombers. It was further flattened when the Russians moved in at ground level.

Travel Facts

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TRAVEL FACTS

Numerous operators offer citybreak packages by air. Several coach tour firms such as WA Shearings and Leger Holidays include Berlin in their central European itineraries. Ask your travel agent.

Much has changed on the museum circuit since removal of The Wall. 

A Film Museum in the Sony Centre building traces the development of German cinema. Exhibits include bequests from the estates of Marlene Dietrich, Fritz Lang and a collection dedicated to special effects and fantasy films. 

The spectacular Jewish Museum is a deeply emotional monument to Jewish history and life in Berlin and Germany. 

In the House Museum at Checkpoint Charlie, you can step back to the days of the Wall, erected in 1961. 

Several more museums in Berlin's Museum Island have re-opened after renovation, including the National Gallery. The great highlight is the Pergamon Museum collection of classical antiquities.

More information: German National Tourist Office, P.O. Box 2695, London W1A 3TN. Tel: 020-7317-0908.

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During the Occupation, when rebuilding was the keynote on both sides, the entire expanse through to the Brandenburg Gate and the ruined Reichstag was left as a wide no-man's land.

Then, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and reunification of East and West Germany, the 1990s saw the launch of a great construction race to create a glittering new centre in readiness for the Millennium. The aim was to highlight Berlin again as the political and administration capital of re-unified Germany, after the half-century of division. 

The German parliament completed its move back from Bonn during 1999, and all government offices came 'home'. For the next year or two, a forest of cranes still overlooked Europe's largest construction site. 

The new centre is dominated by the head office of Mercedes-Benz, and the European headquarters of Sony. There's space for 80,000 people to work, eat, shop, or come for entertainments ranging from movies to theatres and a casino. 

Sony's development towers 350 feet high, dominating all other buildings in the heart of Berlin. Relax with a coffee under what seems like an indoor tent, and enjoy the architecture. Mercedes-Benz has built "a city within a city" - a complex of 19 buildings designed by an Italian architect. 

Besides this huge project, Berliners reckon there were another 2,000 current building sites, which mostly were completed during Millennium year. The German capital has rapidly filled with stunning modern architecture.

The most prestigious project was the renovation of the Reichstag complete with a dramatic glass Dome. The parliament building was burnt by the Nazis in 1933, and was re-designed by the famous British architect, Sir Norman Foster. 

The first major event in the restored Reichstag took place in 1999, marking the 50th anniversary of the post-war constitution. Visitors can enter free, and stay until midnight, with access by lift and spiral staircase to the dome and its observation deck with fabulous views across the city.

Much of the tourist interest of Berlin comes from seeing the different styles of rebuilding from when the city was split between the Soviet and Western zones. 

The Eastern sector comprised the historic heart of Berlin. Great monuments such as the Opera House and other grandiose buildings lined the majestic avenue of Unter den Linden. Many of these buildings were restored to their 19th-century imperial magnificence.

In contrast, vast groups of 8- and 10-storey concrete tower blocks were built for low-rent social housing.

On the western side, development went much more into commercial property. The Kurfürstendamm (Ku'damm for short) returned to its original style as an up-market shopping and entertainment venue, full of glitter. 

Day or night, it's a great street for a stroll, with wide choice of bars, restaurants and 125 coffeehouses, mostly with outdoor seating in good weather. 

The Memorial Church, at the end of Ku'damm At the top end of Ku'damm, the crumbling tower of the bombed-out Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church has been left standing as a memorial of WW2. Alongside is a slim church tower, built in 1961 with thousands of blue stained-glass windows set amid the concrete slabs. Berliners call it "the Compact and Lipstick".

For more traditional postwar reconstruction, a highlight is the palace of Charlottenburg, built in 1695 and totally bombed out. Every detail was restored, including a magnificent Porcelain Room with a fabulous collection of porcelain reaching to the ceiling.

The palace was part of the British sector. In the year when the British troops left Berlin, a huge dinner party here was attended by Queen Elizabeth II.

To end on a culinary note, you can get a reasonably-priced meal atAt the entrance to Charlottenburg Palace self-service restaurants operated by leading department stores. 

In the European league of department stores, the 7-storey KaDeWe rates as number two in size after Harrods in London. On floor six is the world's largest delicatessen, where you can choose from 1000 different varieties of sausage. 

Other German highlights to consider

GERMAN XMAS MARKETS visit Cologne and Aachen

HAMBURG - Much more than strip shows

RHINE - Enjoy a classic Rhine/Moselle cruise


"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

The Berlin Novels"  by Christopher Isherwood - Evocative fiction, descriptive of Bohemian life in Berlin during the period leading up to when the Nazis gained power.

"Lonely Planet: Berlin" by Andrea Schulte-Peevers  - Focuses on all the changes in Berlin since The Wall came down. Also included are sections on Dresden and Leipzig. 

When the Wall Came Down: The Berlin Wall and the Fall of Communism - a gripping account of the excitement when the division ended between east and west German. 

Rough Guide to Berlin - 7th edition of a detailed survey of  the German capital's attractions, and ranging from historical background to lively coverage of the club scene.


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