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Berlin is the capital city of Germany and one of the 16 states (Länder) of the Federal Republic of Germany. Berlin is the largest city in Germany and has a population of 4.5 million within its metropolitan area and 3.5 million from over 190 countries within the city limits.
Berlin is a relatively young city by European standards, dating to the thirteenth century, and it has always had a reputation as a place filled with people from elsewhere. It may seem tough to find someone born and raised here! This is part of Berlin's charm: it never gets stuck in a rut.
German is of course the main language in Berlin but you can easily find information in English and sometimes in French.
Most people under 40 in Berlin are able to speak English with varying degrees of fluency, but it might not be as widely spoken as you might expect.
Berlin is - at least in many parts - a beautiful city, so allow enough time to get to see the sights. A good map is highly recommended. While the public transport system is superb, it can be confusing to visitors, due to a lack of directional signs in some of the larger stations, so a good transit map is also essential.
Be sure to note the final station/stop of the S-bahn or U-bahn, since that is usually the method by which the direction of travel is indicated. Roads into Berlin can also be confusing, so study your route and drive carefully. Signs point to city boroughs or districts rather than indicating compass directions, so it's a good idea to get to know where the various boroughs or districts lie in relation to each other. This also applies to cyclists.
Berlin's Tourist Information Office is an excellent resource for finding out more about Berlin, providing a wealth of practical information and useful links.
As the city was divided into two during the Cold War, many major parts of Berlin's infrastructure — such as airports — were built on both the east and west side. After the demolition of the Wall, the challenge has been to merge these formerly independent systems into one that serves all people in the metropolitan Berlin area.
Berlin has two operational airports:
Tegel International Airport (TXL) located in the north-west of the city is the main airport for international carriers (British Airways, Air France-KLM, United, LOT, etc.) and a hub for domestic flights on Lufthansa and Air Berlin.
Schönefeld (SXF) This airport — formerly serving the capital of the GDR — southeast of Berlin is the base for most low-cost airlines (e.g. easyJet, Ryanair and Germanwings) and charter flights in addition to traffic from Eastern Europe.
The airport is served by the S-Bahn and regional trains. The station is a short walk, under a covered well lit walkway opposite terminal A/B. Trains run from here on the S-Bahn into the city until 1:30 AM so most late night arrivals will be covered. There are also less regular but faster regional trains that cost the same and stop at these major train stations too. In S-Bahn and regional trains between the airport (zone C) and the city (zone A,B).
Berlin is served by ICE, InterCity and EuroCity trains by the national German train corporation Deutsche Bahn (DB) which offers connections between Berlin and other German and major European cities.
There is also the option to do carpooling, which is very popular in Germany Mitfahrgelegenheit in German (abbreviated to MFG) is the website where a lot of drivers post their travel destinations, and sharing the ride and fuel costs with one of them can get you to Berlin from Hamburg for as cheap as €10. Usually on weekends there are cars leaving roughly every 30min throughout the day. Requires a cell phone and sometimes some knowledge of German.
Being 200 kilometres inland, Berlin does not have a seaport. Nearest seaport is Rostock-Warnemünde, which is between two and a half and three hours away by train. Still sold by many cruise ship operators as "Berlin", so dont be suprised. There are similar distances to the seaports of Hamburg and Stettin.
Some river cruises start or end at Berlin, using Havel, Spree and some canals for cruises to Prague or the Baltic sea.
Berlin is a huge city. You can make use of the excellent bus, tram, train and underground services to get around. Taxi services are also easy to use and a bit less expensive than in many other big Central European cities. You can hail a cab (the yellow light on the top shows the cab is available), or find a taxi rank (Taxistand). Taxi drivers are in general able to speak English. If you ask for a short trip (Kurzstrecke), as long as it's under 2km and before the taxi driver starts the meter running, the trip normally is cheaper, €4. This only applies if you flag the taxi down on the street, not if you get in at a taxi rank. Also, some online services like Talixo facilitate online and in-app booking.
The Berlin U-Bahn (subway/metro) is something to behold; it is so charmingly precise! There are no turnstiles to limit access, so it is technically possible to ride without a ticket, but if caught by a ticket checker you will be fined €60.
Cycling is another great way to tour Berlin.
What to see in Berlin
While Berlin has relatively few high-rise buildings, there are several monuments with observation decks. Probably the most famous of all is the TV Tower near Alexanderplatz, the tallest tower in Germany and second highest in Europe.
Berliner Fernsehturm, Alexanderplatz. This TV tower is Germany's tallest construction at 368m high. The observation deck is 204m above ground.
Reichstag building - Bundestag – The German Parliament building, near the Brandenburg Gate, was renovated by Sir Norman Foster and reopened in 1999 with a spectacular new glass dome, which offers a great view of Berlin.
Siegessäule (Victory Column), Tiergarten, 60m high monument with panoramic views of the very centre of the city. Unfortunately there is no elevator, so be prepared for 285 steps.
Berlin Wall— A large stretch of intact Wall can be found to the east of the city center along the River Spree in Mühlenstraße near the Oberbaumbrücke.
Known as the East Side Gallery, it is a section of the wall that is preserved as a gallery. This can be easily reached from Ostbahnhof or Warschauer Straße. It has many beautiful murals, politically motivated and otherwise. Another place to try is near the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum, currently under reconstruction.
Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer). (Tram M10, U-Bahn Bernauer Straße U8 or S-Bahn Nordbahnhof S1, 2, or 25, follow the signs in the stations - wall is Mauer in German). Often missed by tourists but an absolute must for anyone interested in this part of the city's history.
Berlin has two zoos and an aquarium. The Berlin Zoo in the west is the historic zoo that has been a listed company since its foundation. It's an oasis in the city and very popular with families and schools.
Berlin Zoo. The largest range of species in the world. The zoo lies directly in the heart of the City West (opposite Bahnhof Zoo at Hardenbergplatz).
Aquarium. Part of the Berlin Zoo, located at Budapester Straße in an historic building. Still the largest aquarium in Germany and a host to an amazing variety of fish, crocodiles etc.
Tierpark Berlin. Located in Friedrichsfelde, the Tierpark is more spacious than the historic Berlin Zoo and has been open for some 50 years. The compound also comprises a small château with its adjacent park.
Berlinale – Berlin Film Festival. The city's largest cultural event and an important fixture in the global film industry's calendar.
Lange Nacht der Museen. A large cultural event in May (17th May 2014) with museums open until 2AM and extra events around the city.
Fête de la Musique. 21 June. All kinds of music around the city on this day coordinating with a similar day in several French cities.
Theatre, opera, concerts, cinema
Berlin has a lot of theatres, cinemas, concerts and other cultural events going on all the time. The most important ones are listed here.
Deutsches Theater. Classical theatre with an impressive line up of actors and directors.
Volksbühne am Rosa Luxemburg Platz. Sometimes controversial, modern theater.
Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz. Modern theatre.
Theater am Kurfürstendamm. Popular theatre with tv celebrities in modern plays.
Berliner Ensemble. Contemporary theater.
English Theater Berlin Theater that features all plays/music theater in English