Berlin is the capital and the largest city in Germany. It covers an area of three hundred and forty-four square miles and has a population of over five million people. Its located in northeastern Germany about forty miles west of Poland. This city is home to world renowned universities, museums and research institutes. It is also home to a diverse collection of restaurants, markets, shopping venues and some of the finest hotels in Europe. It also has an ever changing face that is constantly being renovated, expanded and rebuilt.
The area which is now known as Berlin has been settled since the twelfth century. The city was founded in 1237. The city saw little growth until the nineteenth century when rapid economic growth was fueled by the industrial revolution. This lead to not only an explosion in population but also marked a steady increase of manufacturing facilities. This growth continued until 1933 when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party ascended to power.
The Nazi’s first official act was to totally obliterate the cities Jewish community. Thousands of German Jews were either interned at the nearby Sachsenhausen concentration camp or shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp. During World War II, huge sections of Berlin were left in total ruins during the air raids that raged between 1943 to 1945. After the end of the war in Europe in 1945, Berlin received huge numbers of refugees from many of the provinces to the east. The Allies divided the city into four distinct sections. The sections of the Western Allies formed West Berlin, while the Soviet sector formed what was known as East Berlin. Political tensions began to arise between the United States and the Soviet Union, which culminated in the erection of the Berlin Wall. Eventually, pressure from the population of East Germany resulted in the demolition of the wall in 1989.
Today, the city of Berlin has a unique array of architectural styles that allude to the different phases of its recent history. The eastern portion of the city still has many remnants left over from the Soviet occupation and many parts of the city are testaments to the massive rebuilding program that was initiated to revive the ruined city after World War II.
One of the more popular attractions in the city is the Reichstag. This was the seat of German Parliamentary power and was built in 1894. It was built in the Neo-Renaissance style and four hundred and fifty feet long and three hundred and eighteen feet wide. In 1916 the famous inscription “Dem Deutschen Volke” was added to the front of the building. It translates into English as “To The German People”. In 1999 a glass dome was added to the top of the building to replace the one that was damaged during the war.
Another popular attraction is Brandenburger Tor, otherwise known as Brandenburger Gate. It was built in 1791 by Carl Gotthard. It is topped with the Quadriga of Victory. This feature was taken to France by Napoleon during France’s occupation of Germany is 1806, but was subsequently returned to Germany after the Battle Of Waterloo.
Also in Berlin is one of Germany’s biggest palaces, the Charlottenburg Palace. It was built in 1699 and was originally intended to be the summer home for the wife of Frederick III. This building suffered severe damage during the Allied bombings of Berlin, but was eventually restored back to its former glory. Some of the features of Charlottenburg Palace include the eighteenth century art gallery called the Eichengallerie. Other features include a small chapel called Schlosskapelle, as well as other art galleries which include Goldene Galerie and the Galerie der Romantik.
An art gallery containing some of the greatest works of the region is the Alte Nationalgalerie, or Old National Gallery. This gallery was completed in 1876, but many of the priceless works of art that were contained here were either destroyed by the Nazis or the Allied bombings. Some of the works that escaped being destroyed have since made their way back to the museum and it opened its doors to the public in 2001. Today, this museum has the largest collected works of Adolph von Menzel, as well as an extensive collection of nineteenth century sculptures.
One of the gems of the section of Berlin known as Museum Island is the Altes Museum. Built in 1830, this museum was one of the first of its kind in the city. The front of this museum is graced by eighteen columns and the building encloses a rotunda and two courtyards. Unfortunately, the museum was completely destroyed during World War II. The museum has since been restored and it reopened its doors in 1966. Visitors to this museum can see a huge collection of works by the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. One of the centerpieces of its collection is the bust of Queen Nefertiti, which dates back to 1360 B.C
One of the most famous places in Berlin is the Bebelplatz. This square was originally designed to house an opera house, palace and academy. Its features include the Staatsoper, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral and the library named Alte Bibliothek. But, this site is best known for the Nazi minister of Propaganda organizing a book burning where more then twenty thousand books were burned in 1933.
A haunting reminder of the darkest period in Germany history can be seen at the Denkmal fur die ermordeten Juden Europas, or Holocaust Memorial. This monument is located near Brandenburg Gate and covers an area of two hundred square feet. The monument has no name inscribed on it but is merely made up of twenty seven hundred stone slabs. Visitors may visit this memorial anytime during the day or evening. At the base of the memorial is an information center that chronicles the history of the holocaust. While the memorial is open twenty four hours a day, the information center is only open between 10 am to 8 pm.