The latest "grand reopening" to highlight Berlin's continued rebirth asGermany's capital was the recent unveiling of the spiffed-up BrandenburgGate, which has been under layers of scaffolding and plastic sheets for 2 years.The winged golden goddess Nike drives her huge 4-horse chariot across the topof the 215-foot-wide gate, which, built in 1791, has been dedicated to Germanmilitary strength for more than 2 centuries.
DIVIDED AND REUNITED
The Brandenburg's rebirth is the latest signthat the hated (Berlin Wall) is steadilybecoming a distant memory. The andthe are truly 1 country, with 1 capital cityagain and some 82 million living peacefully inEurope's most powerful and prosperous nation.Traveling around their capital, Berlin, is exciting.
First thing to know about today's Berlin isthat, at 342 square miles, it's a very big town,about 4 times the area of Paris. Many neighborhoodsare little villages, incorporated over theyears, which maintain distinct identities, favorite, and local dialects. Absorbing the entirecity on foot is virtually undoable, but happily, anetwork of U-bahns, S-bahns, and autobahnsthat whisk locals and visitors swiftly from 1 sideof Berlin to the other crisscrosses it.
The legacy left behind of dividingBerlin in half is the reunited city now having 2 ormore of everything, including 3 opera houses, aclutch of symphony halls, more than 100 museums,and 3 airports. Don't ever plan to meetsomeone "at the airport" in Berlin until you'resure that it's Schoenfeld,Templehof, or Tegel.
CITY STRUCTURES REBUILT
Hated as The Wall was, it's still amongBerlin's most popular tourist attractions. Thereare 4 major chunks left, after local "woodpeckers"chipped the rest of it into millions of souvenirs.Several hundred graffiti-covered yards ofit along the River Spree still are preserved, popularfor photo taking. To keep the lessons of TheWall alive for future generations, there's a blood-crimsonline being laid in stone through Berlin tomark forever where it once stood.
The old, war-shattered Bundestag has beenglowingly restored under a classic, domed glassroof designed to keep Germany's future governments"transparent" to the voters. The city viewfrom the dome is worth the climb. Hitler'sReichsbank has reemerged as home of the newGerman Foreign Ministry. And Joseph Goebbels'Nazi Propaganda Headquarters is where the newLabor Ministry is housed.
Berliners have little shame when they talkabout Hitler. He was never their man. In 1933,when he took the electoral road to power, 73% ofBerliners voted against him. They blameGermany's farmers and Ruhr factory workers forhis eventual dictatorship.
WATERWAYS TO PARADISE
Heed the advice of veteran Berliners and taketo the city's waterways for a portion of your touristday. Berlin boasts more bridges than Venice, andunder them runs a fleet of tourist boats.
Drinks are served aboard all boats, mealsaboard some, and the expert narration is nonstopas the boats cruise across Berlin's linkedlakes, canals, and rivers. The city's so-calledMuseum Island in what used to be dour EastBerlin is an amazing cultural center created asa Germanic Acropolis by pastKaisers. No exhibit tops the PergamonMuseum with its huge friezeof ancient Greek gods locked incombat, an archeological find thatrivals the Elgin Marbles inLondon's British Museum.
The best time in 2003 to visitthese museums is probably August30, when all 100+ of the museumsstay open until 2 AM the next morningand chartered buses ferry culture-lovers between the institutions.Other fun dates: August 1-3, Berlin'sBeer Festival, where 192 breweriesfrom 72 countries pour 1500 brandsfor thousands of thirsty attendees;and November 6-9, during JazzFestBerlin (www.berliner-festspiele.de).
We arrived in Berlin via a VikingCruise Lines trip down the ElbeRiver. For German cruise literature,call 818-227-1234. For free Berlinliterature, contact the German NationalTourist Office (212-661-7200;www.germany-tourism.de).