Berlin is the capital city of the Federal Republic of Germany and one of the most beautiful, liberal and cosmopolitan cities in the world. The modern history of the city goes back to the medieval times, and there are mentions of the city in 12th century literature. There is consensus among historians that the city of Berlin was formed after the unification of a couple of older towns, namely Colln and Fishcherinsel, which were on the banks of River Havel.
Berlin’s rich history is a history of war and conquest over the centuries – the latest being the cold war – which, for Berlin, ended with the demolition of the Berlin wall. In fact, the demolition of Berlin wall was one of the clearest signals of the impending end of the cold war all over the world. Before the demolition of the Berlin Wall, the city was divided into 2 separate and different entities, namely, the communist Eastern Berlin and the non-communist Western Berlin. Getting from one ‘Berlin’ to the other was a rather complicated affair, but all that came to an end with the demolition of the wall in 1989.
Berlin is home to over 3 million people, but that rises to more than 5 million when you take into consideration the wider Berlin metropolis. The city’s population of 3 million – spread over an area of about 800 square kilometers – works out to about 4,000 residents per square kilometer, making Berlin quite a densely populated city. Of special note, though, is the diversity of Berlin’s residents. Berlin has long been generally tolerant of immigrants, a trend that can be traced back in history to the reign of Frederick William in the 17th century. William encouraged immigration into Berlin as a measure to build up the city’s population after a long, drawn-out war between early and mid 17th century, which cost the city more than half of its entire population.
In more recent times, the city has been host to many asylum seekers, who need refuge for a variety of reasons. The creation of the European Union led to even more immigration into Berlin. In fact, almost 15% of Berlin’s residents are people holding foreign passports – a remarkable figure for any city. What’s more, Berlin has residents from almost every country in the world – with more than 190 countries represented in the city’s (registered) population.
Berlin is also one of the most socially liberal cities in the world – with more than 60% of the city’s population being people without religious affiliation. However, this is not to say that religion is dead in Berlin – the city is home to over 100 big church congregations, almost 80 mosques and even a couple of Buddhist temples. But then again, Berlin is also one of the cities hosting the largest number of atheist groups in the world.
Originally founded as a commercial center at the junction of medieval trade routes, Berlin evolved into a major industrial center during the industrial revolution of the 18th century. During that industrial age, Berlin was not only home to many factories, but also exported machinery to factories all over the world. Like other cities that embraced communism during the cold war, Berlin suffered economically, but recovered remarkably quick compared to its Eastern European neighbors, who had fallen under the communist fist of the Soviet Union. Recently, Berlin has worked – with notable success – to evolve into a service economy (from a predominantly manufacturing economy), as the world has moved to favoring service and knowledge-based economies.
Berlin is also home to some of the world’s best infrastructure – from transport to housing to recreation. Berlin is host to a road network of over 5,000 kilometers, out of which about 70 kilometers are motorways. Surprisingly for a city with such a good and extensive road network, Berlin’s car ownership is at about 4 cars for every 10 people – making it a city with low car ownership rates compared to others in the developed world. Of note though is Berlin’s riding (cycling) culture, as more than 10% of the city’s traffic over the past decade has been cyclist traffic, thanks mostly to the city’s remarkable bike lane system.
Berlin’s liberal and idealist population has taken to heart calls to reduce carbon emissions, by opting for bicycles. Besides a well developed road transport network, Berlin is home to two major international airports, Schonefeld International Airport and Tegel International Airport, making this city accessible from over 150 airport destinations. Berlin is internally served by a well-run bus transport system and a rail system with over 170 stations spread throughout the city. Berlin is also home to the ‘Berlin Strassenbahn,’ one of the world’s oldest tramways, which is now managed by the city’s Berliner Verkerhrsbetriebe.
Berlin’s largely liberal nature has continued to be a great attraction for all sorts of artists from all over Europe, who regard the more conservative auras of their cities as stifling and opt to settle in Berlin for good. Though the city’s cultural aspect suffered from repression during the Cold War years (especially for the part of the city that was under communist control), it has largely healed from the scars of that era. Today, Berlin is home to over 400 art galleries and a number of remarkable music conservatories. As a matter of fact, the city’s Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the world’s most famous orchestras.
The city has over 150 different museums and over 50 performing theaters, which are remarkable numbers by any standards.