Berlin is governed by a Regierender Bürgermeister ("governing mayor"), who is mayor of the city and head of the Bundesland at the same time. Presently, this office is currently held by Klaus Wowereit; for earlier mayors, see the list of Mayors of Berlin. The city and state parliament is called the Abgeordnetenhaus or House of Representatives, while the executive branch is the Senat or Senate, with Senators holding ministerial portfolios. The current government consists of a coalition of the social democratSPD and the socialistPDS.
Berlin is subdivided into 12 boroughs called Bezirke, which have been merged of the previously existing 23 boroughs with effect from January 1, 2001.
For a map and a list of the old and new borough names, see Boroughs of Berlin.
Berlin was founded around 1200 as two cities, Berlin and Cölln, which only united in 1307. Berlin is therefore quite old; however, not much is left of these ancient communities, although some remainders can be seen in the Nikolaiviertel near the city hall. Instead, the impression one gets visiting Berlin today is one of great discontinuity, visibly reflecting mainly the many ruptures in Germany's difficult history in the 20th century.
The wall fell on November 9, 1989. By the time of the German reunification in 1990, the Wall was gone completely (although some ruins of the wall remain) and Berlin was made the capital of all of Germany again.
Not much is left of the actual Berlin Wall. The East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain, near the Oberbaumbrücke over the Spree, preserves a portion of the Wall. One can usually still tell by the architecture if one is in the former eastern or western part. In the eastern part a lot of Plattenbauten can be found, thanks to Eastern ambitions to create complete residential areas, with fixed ratios of shops, kindergartens and schools per block.
Kurfürstendamm (Ku'damm), with the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church), which lies at the very beginning of Kurfürstendamm, on Breitscheidplatz (underground station Kurfürstendamm). The church was bombed out in World War II and its ruins have been preserved in their damaged state. Also nearby is the Zoologischer Garten.
Tiergarten is Berlin's largest park and a masterpiece of classic park building. The Tiergarten was largely deforested by 1948 because it served as a source of firewood for the devastated city.
Tegel, and Grunewald Forests.
Kreuzberg, both the borough -- center to Berlin's large Turkish population, and the leftist political culture -- and the hill, which is a natural elevation.
Insulaner and Teufelsberg, two large hills made of WWII debris.
Straße des 17. Juni, connecting the Brandenburg Gate in the East and Ernst-Reuter-Platz in the West, commemorating the uprisings in East Berlin of June 17, 1953. Features the golden Siegessäule (Statue of Victory), which used to stand in front of the Reichstag.
The Fernsehturm, the TV tower, the highest building in the city at 368 m (1207 ft), and the second largest structure in Europe (after Moscow's Ostankino Tower). The Fernsehturm is easily visible throughout most of the central districts of Berlin.
Checkpoint Charlie, remains and a museum about one of the crossing points (albeit restricted to Allied forces) in the Berlin Wall. The museum exhibits interesting material about people who devised ingenious plans to leave the East.
The Palast der Republik, the old East German parliament building. It is seen by some as ugly, but it does have its history and positive connotations - in addition to functioning as the government center, there were restaurants, shops, clubs, and concerts took place there in the 1980s. The Palast der Republik is built on the site of the Berlin City Palace, which was demolished by the Communists.
Potsdamer Platz, an entire quarter constructed from scratch after 1995. The historic Potsdamer Platz was not rebuilt as it was divided by the Wall. A must-see for people who like modern city planning.
Reichstag building, the old and new seat of the German parliament, renovated by Sir Norman Foster. Features a glass dome in which you can walk around and watch the parlamentarians from above.
Rotes Rathaus(the Red City Hall), historic town hall famous for its distinctive red-brick architecture
Hackescher Markt, Spandauer Vorstadt and Scheunenviertel, the home to fashionable culture, with countless small clothing shops, clubs, bars, and galleries. This includes the New Synagogue area in Oranienburger Straße (originally built in the 1860s in Moorish style with a large golden dome, and reconstructed in 1993), and the Hackesche Höfe, a conglomeration of several buildings around several courtyards, nicely reconstructed after 1996. This area was a center of Jewish culture before the Nazis.
Unter den Linden is the street that heads east from the Brandenburg Gate. Many classicistic buildings are lined up on both sides of the street. Humboldt University is partly located there.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, many houses partially destroyed in World War II and not yet rebuilt were situated in the city center (formerly the western part of East Berlin). They became a fertile ground for all sorts of underground and counter-culture gatherings as well as many nightclubs, including the world-famous Techno club Tresor. Berlin has a rich art scene and the city offers one of the most diverse and vibrant nightlife scenes in Europe. Most Berliners take great pride in their city's reputation as one of the most socially progressive cities in Germany and Europe. Berlin's annual Carnival of Cultures, a multi-ethnic street parade, and Chistopher Street Day celebrations (Central Europe's largest gay-lesbian pride event) are openly supported by the city's government and visited by millions of Berliners each year. Despite the city's declining overall population and relatively high unemployment levels, a significant number of young Germans and artists continue to settle in the city, and Berlin has established itself as the youth/pop culture capital of Germany. Two significant signs of this expanding role were the 2003 announcement that the annual Popkomm, the world's largest music industry convention, would move to Berlin after 15 years in Cologne and shortly thereafter the decision of GermanMTV to move its headquarters and main studios from Munich to Berlin.