People from Berlin often point out that Berlin is not Germany. Though it is the capital, the city is distinct and different from the rest of Germany. However, there are many symbols of Germany's rich history in Berlin, from the grandiose Brandenburger Tor to the bomb-scarred sidewalks. In the center of the city, a variable island of world-class museums showcases the history of Berlin and the world.
The city is far from being all about history. Insane nightlife, the ever-changing restaurant scene, the ever-present cranes, and a new neighborhood usurping the crown of coolest every decade or so proves the city is alive. Even the people of Berlin are constantly changing. It has a reputation as a place filled with people from elsewhere. Someone who has lived in Berlin for ten years will see themselves as a "true Berliner," looking down on the person who has been there for only five.
Still deeply affected by it's turbulent history, Berlin has embraced it's sour spots and has never shied away from embracing angst. Younger generations are proving more and more comfortable with Germany's past and are formulating a fascinating future. Poor is the norm, and businesses and the people have developed ingenious and innovative ways to get around that annoying little pest- money. Klaus Wowereit, a Governing Mayor, put a phrase to the attitude:
"Berlin ist arm, aber sexy" ("Berlin is poor, but sexy").
Germany is in Central Europe with 3,757 km of borders and 2,389 km of coastline. It borders Denmark in the north, Poland and the Czech Republic in the east, Austria and Switzerland in the south, France and Luxembourg in the south-west, and Belgium and the Netherlands in the north-west. It lies mostly between latitudes 47 degrees and 55 degrees N. It is over 357,021 km2 (137,847 sq mi). That makes it the seventh largest country by area in Europe and the 62nd largest in the world.
Germany's geography is quite variable. The highest points are in the south among the Alps, but only a small portion of the Alpine terrain lies within Germany. The highest point is the Zugspitze at 2,962 meters / 9,718 feet high. The Black Forest is on the southwestern border with France and is one of the most well-known forest lands in Europe. The lowlands are located in the North European Plain in northern Germany with the lowest point at Wilstermarsch at 3.54 meters / 11.6 feet below sea level. Wetlands and marshy conditions are found close to the Dutch border and along the Frisian coast. There are several major rivers including Rhine (865 km), Danube(647 km), and Elbe(700 km). The Rhine valley, following the river, cuts through the western part of this region.
The Federal Republic of Germany is divided into 16 states (Bundeslaender), which are further subdivided into 439 districts (Kreise) and cities (kreisfreie Staedte). As a bunch of sperate communities that eventually were grouped into a country, many people are very proud of their region and may identity with the norms and culture of that area more than a national identity. The largest cities are Berlin at 3.4 million inhabitants, Hamburg with 1.7 million, Munich with 1.3 million, Cologne with 1 million, and Frankfurt am Main with 676,000.
Berlin in the northeast of Germany, about 70 kilometers (43 mi) west of the Polish border, 112 miles (180 km) south of the Baltic Sea, and 118 miles (190 km) north of the Czech-German border. It is located on the European Plains and is quite flat. It is situated just 34 meters (115 feet) above sea level. The land is fairly marshy, although it has been stabilized for the construction of the city.
The largest city in Germany, this expansive city is 8 times the size of Paris and encompasses an area of 889 square kilometers. It is the second most populous city proper and the eighth most populous urban area in the European Union. There is a population of 4.5 million within its metropolitan area and 3.4 million from 190 countries within the city limits.
Berlin follows the Central European Time or the MEZ or the MET time zone, which is ahead of GMT by 1 hour. The daylight saving time of Berlin is ahead of GMT by 2 hours.
Berlin is fairly spread out, with vast expanses of forests, parks, and gardens. It is also criss-crossed by waterways and dotted with lakes. There are over 180 kilometers of canals and rivers and more bridges than Venice. The Spree flows from southeastern Berlin to the western part of the city, where it joins the Havel River, a tributary of the Elbe. Numerous lakes adorn the city, including the Grosser Wannsee, the Tegeler See, and the Grosser Mueggelsee.
The architecture is highly eclectic as the city has been built up, destroyed, and re-built extensively. There are buildings pre-1871 German Empire, buildings from Soviet Germany, and buildings post-reunification. The eastern sections of Berlin have the least amount of modernity and there are still Plattenbauten (Eastern Bloc housing), but gentrification has brought vast changes. This diversity gives the city a quite unique look with different eras alluded to in the architecture. Karl Scheffler, author of Berlin: Ein Stadtschicksal, said "Berlin ist eine Stadt, verdammt dazu, ewig zu werden, niemals zu sein" ("Berlin is a city condemned forever to becoming and never to being.")
Berlin is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate. This is typical of North-Eastern Europe and consists of warm summers, average 22–25 degrees C (72–77 degrees F), and cold winters, average 2–4 degrees C (36–39 degrees F). Spring and autumn are generally chilly to mild. The summer is the most popular time to visit, and it is when the whole city comes alive. Berlin's city center creates a micro climate, with heat stored by the city's buildings. Temperatures can be 4 degrees C (7 degrees F) higher in the center than in the surrounding areas.
Annual precipitation is 570 millimeters (22 in) with moderate rainfall throughout the year. Light snowfall mainly occurs from December through March, but usually melts quickly.
Although the city is no longer divided, many locals and expats still see a clear difference between East and West.West - Much more developed with an obviously more comfortable and stable history. There is less graffiti, more conservative people, and more couture shopping and high-class restaurants. There are more tourist destinations and it is also generally more expensive, both in rental prices and the average cost of groceries.
In Berlin there is more than one downtown area. The city is still a collection of identifiable neighborhoods. There are 12 boroughs or Bezirkes, composed of different Kiez.
Bezirkes & Kiez
Mitte - The historical center of Berlin, this is the emerging city center. There are many tourist attractions, museums, and newer residential housing. Contains Brandenburger Tor, Museuminsel, Berliner Dom, Checkpoint Charlie, and Unter den Linden.
City West - Includes the neighborhoods Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, Schoeneberg, Tiergarten
Contains some of the major shopping areas and luxury goods. There are many great restaurants and hotels. Contains, Schloss Charlottenburg, Tiergarten and the Olympic Stadium. Schoeneberg is slightly more funky than the other areas with aging hippies, young families and homosexuals.
East Central - Includes the neighborhoods Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg
Currently the hippest neighborhoods in Berlin, residents are largely young, artists and Turkish immigrants. There are many bars and cafes and independent, trendy shops. These districts are undergoing rapid gentrification which has borough on resistance and a changing crowd.
North - Includes the neighborhoods Spandau, Reinickendorf, Weissensee, Pankow, Wedding
Collection of older towns with more spacious, quieter residences. Pankow was once synonymous with the East German government, and the villas the SED leaders inhabited still exist.
East - Includes the neighborhoods Lichtenberg, Hohenschoenhausen, Marzahn, Hellersdorf
Essential area to visit for anyone interested in East German history. Marzahn-Hellersdorf is negatively characterized as an expanse of dull apartment blocks and being rougher areas. The area does include Erholungspark Marzahn, a large park with unique garden design.
South - Includes the neighborhoods Steglitz, Zehlendorf, Tempelhof, Neukoelln, Treptow, Koepenick
The south districts are each quite different. Zehlendorf is one of the greenest and wealthiest districts, while Neukoelln is one of the poorest of the city. It is also fast becoming an English language enclave along with the Turkish residents. Koepenick and Mueggelsee are awash in nature as they are home's to Berlin's largest lake and forest.
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