The city’s iconic landmarks remain of course, with Check Point Charlie, the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate representing vital aspects of Berlin’s history. But since the Wall came down over 25 years ago, the city has developed quickly, with a selection of beautiful new buildings bringing the skyline into the twenty-first century.
Avenues of green
That said, I was struck by how green the city now is – it reminded me very much of London with its unexpected swathes of open parkland and tree-lined avenues. I circled the Tiergarten, walking for three hours around this huge area of lakes and woodland reminiscent of Hyde Park, and I was really amazed at how quiet and green it all was – it’s easy to forget you’re in the heart of a city of some 3.5 million people.
Berlin has also become a wonderful, culturally diverse city over the past few decades. My taxi driver Mustafa shared with me how 8% of the population was now made up of fellow Turkish immigrants, many of whom had come to Berlin for just a short working stay but had ended up staying some 20 years.
Mustafa very much epitomised the people I met in Berlin: friendly, welcoming and full of love for the city in which they lived. The stories of the city’s large Turkish population has been added to by many more migrants from a multitude of nations, with the high number of international students choosing to remain in Berlin after their studies being an important factor behind the city’s modern multicultural personality.
Blending old and new
It’s taken over a quarter of a century to reach the point where Berlin is once again a thriving metropolis, but it’s hard to deny that the city has now grown far enough in stature to register as one of Europe’s top destinations.
The Wall is still visible in certain quarters, such as Friedrichshain, complemented by new landmarks such as the 02 Arena and a number of smart new apartment blocks that are home to the young professionals that have flocked to the area that was once the heart of East Berlin.
By night Berlin awakens, with popular areas such as Kreuzberg, Schoneberg and Mitte all alive with bars, restaurants and conversations in a dozen different languages. Jazz clubs are full of both locals and tourists sampling the atmosphere on early summer evenings. I went to Unter Den Linden and sat outside for traditional German Bratwurst, with mash and sauerkraut, complemented by a Berliner Pilsner – the perfect place to watch the world go by.
Berlin is now a hotbed of activity on the business front too, with Deutsche Bank, Alliance, Coca-Cola, PwC and KPMG all now represented. The Bank of China was also prominent and there are many Asian people working and studying in this educational centre of Europe.
From Potsdamer Platz to Friedrichshain, Charlottenburg to Tiergarten, Berlin has something for everyone, whether they’re looking for retail options or areas of unsurpassed historical interest. And either by foot, the efficient U Bahn underground train network, overland S Bahn, taxi, bus or trabi tour (an old East German car), getting around it all couldn’t be more simple.
As I boarded my flight to London, I was left with some great memories of my short trip to Berlin and I look forward to visiting this fantastic city again in the near future. One thing is for sure – I won’t be leaving it another 39 years before my next trip.