Heaven for hipsters, home to the latte-drinking mothers' brigade and Germany's most persistent large-scale building site - there's little doubt that opinions on Berlin are divided. For some, Germany's capital city is the gate to the world, a leading place to party, an exciting metropolis full of art, culture and sporting events, but for others, it's a gray monstrosity that devours untold amounts of money, can't even manage to get an airport opened, and gives little back except reasons to make fun of it.
Both sides of the argument can consider themselves to be in the right - Berlin has more museums (180 as of 2016) than rainy days (106). But at the same time, Berlin is the only capital city in Europe that reduces the gross domestic product (GDP) of its country instead of boosting it. By comparison, the Cologne Institute for Economic Research calculated in 2016 that Great Britain would have a GDP of 11 percent lower without London, while France's GDP would be 15 percent lower minus Paris. Without Berlin, Germany's GDP would be 0.2 percent higher. So the immortal quip from Berlin's former mayor Klaus Wowereit is true - Berlin may be poor, but it's sexy!
The story of how Germany's capital came to be is not particularly glamorous - researchers have found that the name "Berlin" is not derived from the supposed founder of the city - Albert the Bear - but from the Slavic term "berlo", which means "swamp, marsh, damp spot". Despite its apparently less-than-ideal location, Berlin quickly gained in importance, with the first recorded diet of the Margraviate of Brandenburg taking place in 1280, while Berlin became the main city of residence of the electors of Brandenburg in 1486. In 1701, this city on the River Spree ultimately became the capital of the Prussian Empire and capital of the German Empire in 1871 upon its establishment. Following World War II, Berlin was divided up among the four occupational powers, with the Soviet-held Eastern region becoming the de facto capital of the German Democratic Republic upon the GDR's establishment in 1949. Following reunification, Berlin once again became the capital of the united Germany, and in 1998, the German Bundestag was relocated from Bonn to Berlin.
The city, boasting a population of 3.5 million, became a tourist magnet as a result of reunification with over 12 million visitors to Berlin in 2015, putting Germany's capital at third place among Europe's most popular travel destinations, only behind London and Paris. And there are other figures that are highly impressive, with 2.9 billion cigarette butts sullying the streets each year, around 1,000 late-night convenience stores supplying night revelers with beer, cigarettes and more, 35 million euros spent on removing graffiti each year - and the Berlin public transport services covering enough distance to circle the Earth 8.7 times a day with its buses, trams and underground railways.
Of course, you don't need to travel quite that far if you want to discover Berlin. And naturally, the late-night convenience stores are hardly representative of culinary excellence in Berlin. With that in mind, we've got a few other tips for you:
Go on a safari tour through Berlin with a Trabant - discover Germany's capital in this defining symbol of East German culture. Referred to affectionately as a "cardboard box on wheels", you can experience sightseeing, culture and nostalgia on three routes away from the conventional tourist traps.
Dark Worlds I
Immerse yourself in Berlin's underground - discover history made tangible, told by witnesses of the time, and discover nearly-forgotten bunkers and civilian shelters from the Cold War era, tunnels and underground passages.
Dark Worlds II
Berlin is considered to be the mecca of fans of electronic music. Whether house, minimal, electro, or dubstep - there are clubs, bars and record shops for every taste. Find your favorite, and remember - be nice to the bouncers...
Berlin on Bike
Discover the city at your leisure - Berlin is a bike-friendly city, which is why it's worth exploring the wide open, flat and plant-rich city environment on a bicycle. Trained guides show you the most interesting corners of the capital city, telling anecdotal stories on the history of Berlin.
Schönhauser Allee, Downtown Berlin
Small but savory - near Alexanderplatz, there's an old butcher's shop with a stylish ambiance and authentic Austrian cuisine. The small but savory menu makes the restaurant the ideal and perfectly situated place to visit. Reservations are recommended.
Gourmets ready to spend a little more money are recommended to give the "Grill Royal" a try. This culinary hotspot is located directly on the Spree and has a small outdoor area. It's possible that you'll encounter international stars and artists during your visit there, which is why reservations are recommended.
Dark Dining in Berlin
Gormannstrasse, Downtown Berlin
It might not be a feast for the eyes - but forgoing the ability to see what you're eating is rewarded with a unique experience. You dine in absolute darkness, with discovering an unusual aspect of pleasure, tension and enjoyment. The dark restaurant in Gormannstrasse is the largest in the world. Blind waiters explain to guests what is on which plate and where using clock positions.
Berlin Köpenick, Spreeufer
The Spreearche offers a quite unique experience - after a brief walk from Berlin-Köpenick Hospital through the forest, you reach the Spreearche's docking pier. From there, the cook will collect you on a raft and ferry you over to the floating restaurant. The menu contains fish dishes as well as alternatives for those who don't eat fish.
If you like it elegant and stylish, the "Fritz'n" at the heart of Potsdam provides the right ambiance for you. This bar, made of solid wood, with well-stocked wall shelves and eight bar stools, ensures that the cocktails always taste that good.
Grolmannstrasse, 10623 Berlin
Do you like music and art? If so, you're in just the right place in the "Van Gogh" in Charlottenburg. With excellent live piano music in styles from jazz to rock to pop music, no taste is left uncatered to. The walls are adorned with images and paintings from Vincent van Gogh, Konrad Kujau (of the Hitler Diaries fame) and Kim Weitzendorf for you to admire over a cocktail. With excellent live piano music and skillfully made cocktails
Ameron Hotel Abion Spreebogen Waterside Berlin
Right on the River Spree / near the Hansaviertel
If you want some peace & quiet after a long day of sightseeing, we recommend this four-star hotel at the heart of Berlin. Public transport enables you to explore Berlin comfortably and easily. And with events and conferences held on the hotel's own yacht, a fitness area, sauna area and hotel bicycle rental service, this establishment offers everything you could ask for.