Even though we’d been to Germany many times over the past decade, we had never visited Berlin. The German capital, being situated in the northeastern part of the country, is not as easily accessible to travelers from the west as other cities such
as Frankfurt, Freiburg, and Stuttgart. But when the opportunity arose of going to the east this spring, we decided to add Berlin to our itinerary. The city’s very name, of course, conjures up vivid memories of the twentieth century: the Nazi regime, the Berlin wall, famous speeches by JFK and Reagan, among others. A trip there, however, makes the visitor aware of a much richer historical and cultural past.

Berlin, with an area of over 300 square miles, is one of the largest cities in Europe. The western side of town is especially spread out. So, in order to get our bearings, one of the first things we did was to get tickets for one of the many bi-lingual city bus tours. Clerks at our hotel directed us to go behind the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), where a number of different companies offer tours of the city. Tourists visit around twenty different sights and can get on and off the bus at will all day long for about 15 euros apiece. Since it was a beautiful day, we chose to
sit upstairs in the open air to observe Berlin's places of interest. There are natural areas like the river Spree which winds through the city and the huge, beautiful Tiergarten park. Many sights underscore the city's long history. There are eighteenth century landmarks such as the emblematic Brandenburger Tor and the Prussian Schloß Bellevue which now serves as the official residence of the German president; and Checkpoint
Charlie, the famous crossing point between east and west when the city was divided after World War II. There are also modern shopping areas like the Kurfürstendamm (referred to by locals as Ku’damm) and Unter den Linden, the lovely tree-lined boulevard in the heart of town. We later took a boat tour--all in German--which served as a kind of review of what we had learned earlier.

Perhaps our favorite part of Berlin was the Nikolai Viertel (the quarter around St. Nicholas Church) in the Mitte district. This section of town (established around
the year 1200) abounds in old buildings; interestingly, our bus tour guide explained that during the nearly thirty-year separation from the west side of the city, east Berlin didn’t have the money to demolish and rebuild in a modern style which allowed the area to retain its historic architecture. For once, poverty was a blessing, I suppose.

All in all, Berlin struck us as a vibrant, livable city. The Berliners are friendly
and fun-loving; the bier-bike is a good example! Surprisingly perhaps, it also seemed to be a very peaceful city—no loud honking cars and very few sirens disrupting the calm. There are many more things to experience on future visits such as the Berlin Philharmonic and numerous art museums.

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