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Germany's most recognizable symbol is not as large as many visitors expect, yet its history is rich and fascinating. Built in 1791, the Brandenburg Gate was modeled on the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. The Quadriga statue on top of the Gate, designed by sculptor Gottfried Schadow, represents Victoria, the Goddess of Peace, riding a four-horse chariot. This was one of Berlin's original 14 city gates, yet the only remaining evidence of the other gates are the names of underground stations such as Kottbusser Tor and Schlesisches Tor. The Brandenburg Gate and Pariser Platz have played center stage to numerous turbulent historical events. The south wing houses a tourist information office.
Constructed between 1884 and 1894, the imposing Reichstag stands witness to Germany's past and present. It was established as a parliamentary house for the German Empire under Otto von Bismarck and has since seen more than a century of European history unfurl. After World War II, the Reichstag was neglected until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, at which time, work began on returning the building to its original purpose. This new attention led to such additions as the iconic glass dome, which was added by British architect Sir Norman Foster. Today, visitors can climb up to the dome and enjoy panoramic views of brilliant Berlin from the terrace.
The garden Volkspark Friedrichshain lends its name to Friedrichshain and is situated at the northern end of this prominent Berlin neighborhood. Friedrichshain is bordered by other city districts like Lichtenberg, Kreuzberg, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, and the River Spree in the south. It was initially known for its low real estate prices and attracted numerous youngsters looking for inexpensive accommodation. Today, it has seen a rapid increase in housing rates and is known as one of the trendiest districts in the city. It is the hub of fashionable boutiques, design studios and media houses and its streets are dotted with bars, restaurants and cafés. This borough is especially known for its happening nightlife. Popular tourist attractions in the area include East Side Gallery, Frankfurter Tor and the Molecule Man sculpture.
Not many people associate Berlin with dense forests and crystal clear lakes. Yet the city is richly endowed with both, particularly in the south-west, where several idyllic lakes - of which Wannsee is the largest - stud Grunewald Forest like glistening emeralds. A popular summertime destination for day-trippers, people gather at Strandbad Wannsee, Europe's largest inland beach, while water sport enthusiasts and hobby sailors take to the water. Several boats offer cruises on the lake and surrounding waters and there are also ferries to Peacock Island, Potsdam and Spandau.
Prenzlauer Berg is one of the most prominent neighborhoods of Berlin and is the hub of nightlife since the reunification of Germany. It is mostly frequented by a younger crowd for its manifold fashion boutiques and night clubs. The locality also attracts art connoisseurs due to the sheer amount of galleries lining the streets. It has maintained an optimum balance of playgrounds and green spaces, historic buildings, and clean streets flanked by beautiful trees, thus retaining the original charm. Numerous artists, students and immigrants choose to stay here due to the convenient location, close to the city center, and relatively reasonable rents. This area also has a large number of bars, cafés and restaurants with charming patio seating, and a plethora of toy and wine shops. Popular tourist attractions in the district include the Rykestrasse Synagogue, Gethsemane Church, Wasserturm and Jewish Cemetery.
Once a no-man's land, Mauerpark is now a popular haunt among locals and tourists alike. Famous for its Sunday karaoke and flea market, this park though not a pretty park is full of character and atmosphere. This massive park is kind of an institution for Berliners now with its street art, music, sports fields, playgrounds and swings. Enjoy a stroll, take in its vibrancy and become a fan of this place just like many others.
Stretching from the Brandenburg Gate in the east to Zoo Station in the west, Tiergarten park is one of Europe's largest and most beautiful inner-city parks. Originally conceived as a hunting ground for Prussian kings, the Tiergarten was transformed into a romantic landscape garden in the early 19th Century by Peter Joseph Lenne, who designed a series of winding paths, lakes, bridges, sculptures and flower beds. The park was devastated in the World War II and during subsequent winters. Replanted in the mid-20th Century, the Tiergarten is now as beautiful as it ever was and very popular with locals and visitors alike.
The Nikolaiviertel not only lies in the very heart of Berlin, it is the place where it all began. The first mention of Berlin in documents from 1251 referred to two settlements which are Berlin and Cölln. These are situated opposite each other on the banks of the River Spree. The settlement known as "Berlin" grew up around the market (now Molkenmarkt in the Nikolaiviertel) and the Nikolaikirche, named after Saint Nicholas, patron saint of merchants and fishermen. Destroyed during the War, many of the historic buildings were reconstructed for Berlin's 750th anniversary celebrations in 1987. The baroque Knoblauchhaus and Ephraim-Palais are two of the most striking edifices in the quarter.
One of the most popular localities in Berlin, Kreuzberg is a part of the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. Home to many businesses, bars and restaurants, the place is also where several attractions of the German capital are found. Important museums such as the Jewish Museum, Checkpoint Charlie, religious sights like Thomaskirche, Taborkirche and Jerusalemskirche lie within the boundaries of this neighborhood. Kreuzberg has also played an important role in the cultural development of the city; literary and socio-cultural movements have been inherent to this interesting region.
After the fall of the Wall in 1989, Potsdamer Platz turned into Europe's biggest building site, as urban planners worked to create an ultra-modern city center in the middle of a reunited Berlin. The only remnants of old Potsdamer Platz are the historic Haus Huth and the majestic Hotel Esplanade ballroom, which has been cleverly incorporated into the Sony Center. Approximately half of the area contains offices; the rest is divided between entertainment complexes like the IMAX movie theater and a fantastic shopping mall.
It begins with a ruin and ends with a ritzy entertainment complex: Oranienburger Straße stretches for just over a mile between the makeshift Tacheles cultural center near Friedrichstraße and the fashionable Hackesche Höfe on Rosenthaler Straße. Between the two, almost every building is home to a bar, cafe, restaurant or club. And if you look skywards, you will see the beautiful golden dome of the New Synagogue and the imposing, ever-present TV Tower glaring down at you. The adjacent streets and courtyards are full of galleries and boutiques.
The original Alexanderplatz, locally called 'Alex' by Berliners, was completely flattened during World War II. Its present day appearance is a prime example of East German town planning: a huge, windswept pedestrian area surrounded by 1960s high-rises. But those who are familiar with Alexanderplatz from Alfred Döblin's novel of the same name will find that none of the hustle and bustle of the square has disappeared. Alexanderplatz is still very much a commuters' thoroughfare and is regarded by locals as the true center of Berlin. Named after Russian Czar Alexander I who visited the Prussian capital in 1805, Alexanderplatz was at the center of the mass-demonstrations which brought the Berlin Wall tumbling down in November 1989.