Berlin

Short history

The city’s roots trace back to the 13th century, and it has since navigated through significant epochs, each leaving a distinct mark. During the 18th century, under the rule of Frederick the Great, Berlin blossomed into a center of enlightenment and culture. However, the 20th century bore witness to Berlin’s most tumultuous periods. The city was at the heart of both World Wars, faced severe destruction during the last stages of World War II, and subsequently split into East and West Berlin by the infamous Berlin Wall in 1961, a stark representation of the Cold War’s ideological divide. This division lasted until 1989 when the wall was finally breached, leading to German reunification in 1990. Berlin’s resilience and spirit have transformed it into a symbol of unity, innovation and dynamic progression.

Geography

Berlin, Germany’s capital, is situated in the northeastern part of the country, enveloped by the state of Brandenburg. It lies at approximately 52°31′N latitude and 13°23′E longitude, positioning it within the Northern European Plain, which contributes to its relatively flat terrain. This geographic positioning implicates a temperate seasonal climate, where Berlin experiences mild summers and cold winters, the latter sometimes bringing modest snowfall.

The Spree River runs through the city, adding to its urban layout and dividing it into two major sections. Berlin’s layout is further characterized by its spacious and well-organized boulevards, which are remnants of historical city planning efforts. Its urban fabric consists of a mix of historical landmarks and modern architecture, underpinning the city’s tumultuous history. Numerous parks and green spaces are interspersed throughout, showing Berlin’s commitment to integrating nature within its urban sprawl. 

Population

According to recent statistical data, Berlin has a population of approximately 3.7 million people, making it the largest city in Germany. 

While Germans form a majority of population, he city’s ethnic composition includes a substantial number of Turkish, Polish, Russian, and Arab communities, contributing to Berlin’s multicultural identity. Around 30% of population has an immigrant background.  Consequently, German is the predominant language, but a variety of languages are spoken throughout the city. English is also widely spoken.

Religion in Berlin is as diverse as its inhabitants, with Christianity being the largest religious group, followed by Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, among others. This religious diversity contributes to Berlin’s open-minded and inclusive atmosphere.

Main sights

  • Brandenburg Gate: A neoclassical monument is one of Berlin’s most iconic landmarks, located at the heart of the city.
  • Berlin Wall Memorial: A preserved section of the Berlin Wall along with a visitor center that educates about the history of German division. It serves as a poignant reminder of the Cold War era.
  • Reichstag Building: Home to the German parliament, this historic building is known for its glass dome designed by architect Norman Foster.
  • Museum Island: A UNESCO World Heritage site housing five museums that showcase works from prehistory through to the 19th century, including the Pergamon Museum and the Altes Museum.
  • Checkpoint Charlie: The most well-known crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War, now featuring a museum that details escape attempts across the Wall.
  • East Side Gallery: A 1.3 km-long section of the Berlin Wall that has been transformed into the largest open-air gallery in the world, presenting over 100 murals by international artists.
  • Tiergarten: Berlin’s largest park is a place for a peaceful escape from the city with vast lawns, tree-lined paths, and a number of memorials and statues scattered throughout.

Food

  • Currywurst: A fast food favorite, this dish consists of steamed and fried pork sausage, cut into slices, and seasoned with curry ketchup. Often accompanied by fries, it’s a typical street food in Berlin.
  • Döner Kebab: Berlin claims to be the birthplace of the modern döner kebab. This Turkish import has become a staple in the city, featuring slices of meat (usually beef or chicken) cooked on a vertical rotisserie, served in a flatbread with salad and sauces.
  • Königsberger Klopse: Named after the former East Prussian capital of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia), these are meatballs in a creamy white sauce with capers, often served with boiled potatoes or rice.
  • Schnitzel: While not originally from Berlin, Schnitzel is widely popular throughout the city. This breaded and fried meat cutlet, traditionally prepared from veal or pork, is served with lemon wedges and, sometimes, a side of potato salad or fries.
  • Berliner Pfannkuchen: A traditional Berlin dessert, these are sweet doughnuts filled with jam (usually raspberry or plum) and dusted with powdered sugar. Contrary to their name, the rest of Germany refers to them as “Berliners,” but in Berlin, they’re simply called “Pfannkuchen.”

Fun facts

  • Berlin has more bridges than Venice, boasting over 1,700 throughout the city compared to Venice’s 400
  • The Berlin Tiergarten, one of the largest urban gardens in Germany, originally served as the hunting grounds for the Prussian royalty before being transformed into a public park in the 18th century.
  • The city’s, Berliner Fernsehturm (TV Tower), standing at 368 meters, is the tallest structure in Germany and has a revolving restaurant that provides panoramic views of the city.
  • Berlin is home to the longest open-air gallery in the world, the East Side Gallery, which is a 1.3 km-long section of the Berlin Wall covered in art and murals.
  • The famous “currywurst” dish was invented in Berlin in 1949 by Herta Heuwer.