MITTE (Mitte, Tiergarten, Wedding)

FischerinselMITTE is the name of the suburb on and around the Fischerinsel, the island in the Spree river that was the heart of medieval and Hohenzollern Berlin and later became centre of communist East Berlin.

Mitte has a dense concentration of sights because of the layers of history it represents. The main street is Unter den Linden, running east-west from the centre of the old Hohenzollern capital towards its customs post, the Brandenburg Gate. In front of the Gate, Pariser Platz is the site of the new French and British Embassies, and the spectacularly restored Hotel Adlon. Walking east along the lime tree lined avenue you come to the huge Russian Embassy, the Meissen Porcelain store and the intersection with Friedrichstrasse.

Galerie LafayetteThis leads south, past the Parisian Galerie Lafayette complex to Checkpoint Charlie, the famous military crossing point in the Berlin Wall, where the tanks of the great Powers faced one another on various occasions. The Museum at Checkpoint Charlie documents the numerous escape attempts by East Berliners during the Cold War. Northwards along Friedrichstrasse you arrive at the station of the same name where ordinary Berliners could cross into the east. The adjoining Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears) is the name given to the customs hall where relatives were obliged to say their mutual farewells.

Further north the road crosses the Spree passing the Berliner Ensemble, base of the famous pre- and post-war playwright Bertolt Brecht, and the Deutsches Theater, base of Max Reinhardt. Both men fled to America during the Nazi era.

On the other side of the street, the glitzy Friedrichstadtpalast, former favourite hangout for the East German ruling circle, still presents chorus lines and variety shows. Oranienburger Strasse, running in from the east, runs past Tacheles, a pre-war Jewish department store, now an Arts centre with cinema and galleries, towards the splendid restored golden-domed old central synagogue, now a Jewish cultural centre (the new Synagogue is just round the corner).

Humboldt UniversityContinuing east along Unter den Linden, the State Library, the Humboldt University, the German Historical Museum and the Neue Wache (a former guardhouse, now memorial to war dead), face Bebelplatz, where the burning of the books took place in 1933. The square is surrounded on three sides by the Kommode, a Hohenzollern palace, the Catholic cathedral of St Hedwigs and the State Opera House. Behind the square, a further square, Gendarmenmarkt, a former parade ground, sports the Schauspielhaus, now a concert house, and this is flanked by the twin domes of the French and German Churches. On the edge of the square lies the Hilton. Further east along Unter den Linden you cross the Spree river onto Museum island, where the Pergamon and Bode museums house national archeological exhibits from Asia Minor. The Berlin Protestant Cathedral, the Berliner Dom, overlooks the Lustgarten pleasure gardens which lead to the New and Old Museum and the National Gallery with their collections of largely German art.

Opposite the Lustgarten, the Hohenzollern Schloss Palace, pulled down after the war is the subject of current controversy as to whether and how it should be replaced. Currently the open square is home to a cabaret tent and in the winter a funfair. Across the river to the east you arrive at a giant square, ranged round the Fernsehturm, a television tower with its 203 meter high revolving restaurant, the medieval Marienkirche, the Neptune Fountain and overlooked by the Berlin City Hall, the Red Town Hall, with its charming frieze of Berlin history. Adjoining it is a section of the city, surrounding the medieval Nikolaikirche, which was restored by the East German government before the Wall came down. This maze of streets offers restaurants, open air cafes and handicraft shops.

WeltzeituhrAcross the S-Bahn line is Alexanderplatz, a rather bleak square with regular markets, street performers and a clock displaying the time around the world. 'Alex' was the heart of old Berlin in the period before the First World War, but now the older streets have disappeared, and plans are afoot to transform the area with a building project that may dwarf Potsdamer Platz.

To the south of Alex, on both sides of the Spree, a charming little area round the Märkisches Museum, Berlin's city history museum, is developing rapidly. Here you can find the ruins of an old Franciscan Cloister, the restored Parochialkirche (Parish Church) with its early 18th century tower, and the Ermeler House with its stucco facade and lush rococo interiors.

Hackesche HöfeNorth of the S-Bahn lines which curl round Mitte, the Hackesche Höfe, a succession of restored 19th century yards, has become a favourite entertainment centre in the east of the city - cabaret, cinema, designer shops and restaurants.

Sophienstrasse, one of the oldest streets in the city, has a charming row of 17th century, three-storey classical dwellings and the beautiful Sophienkirche. Here you are in the centre of the old Scheunenviertel, the original Jewish area of Berlin. A Jewish boys school, a cemetery (destroyed by the Nazis but now a small park with a memorial) and an attractive maze of narrow streets offer many surprises. Mitte is served from the west by the S-Bahn lines and the U2, from the east, the U5, from the north and south the U8, U6 and U2.

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TIERGARTEN is the political and administrative heart of Berlin, and, since the capital moved here from Bonn, of Germany.

In the last few years it has seen huge building projects unroll - the construction of the new and expanded administrative buildings for the government (moved from Bonn in 1997), the business and shopping centre of Potsdamer Platz, and currently the expansion of the Lehrter Station to the north to allow a new rail link from Hamburg. The area takes its name from the enormous hunting park that lay west of the Brandenburg Gate, straddling the Strasse des 17. Juni. It is a delightful setting for a stroll with its English Garden, the small canals winding through, and a variety of vistas that open out at every turn. To its western end lies the Zoological Garden, and Zoo Station, the main station for West Berlin. To the east, the Brandenburg Gate leads to Unter den Linden and Mitte.

ReichstagThe Reichstag, Germany's parliament, restored after many years, lies just west of the Brandenburg Gate. A visit to the roof, now a giant glass cupola designed by Sir Norman Foster, allows you to look down on the parliamentary proceedings and take in a panoramic view of the city, dominated by the immense Tiergarten Park stretching west.

In the very centre of the park the the golden angel on top of the Siegessäule (Victory Column) draws the eye. Nicknamed Golden Elsie, she looks down on a star-shaped intersection of roads (the Grosser Stern) modelled on Paris' Etoile, and ringed with monumental statues of German generals and statesmen like Bismarck.

Halfway along the Strasse des 17. Juni is the Soviet War Memorial with a couple of the tiny Russian tanks that stormed Berlin in 1945. In July, every year, the Loveparade, a techno music celebration attracts hundreds of thousands of kids who come from all over Europe to dance the length of the avenue.

To the north of the Victory Column lies Schloss Bellevue, a neo-classical palace with a white facade and the obligatory double wings, the seat of the President of Germany (a non-executive role), currently Johannes Rau.

To the north of the Schloss runs the river Spree. Westwards and north of the river in the direction of Moabit, a district settled by Huguenot refugees from France in the 18th century, lies a new business centre, the Teleport, an area of converted warehouses and hotels.

Haus der Kulturen der WeltTo the east the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, a cultural centre funded by the Americans, pokes its curved shell-like roof above the trees. Berliners call it the Pregnant Oyster. Further east again the Hamburger Bahnhof (the old station for Hamburg) has been converted into a modern art gallery, which runs spectacular and sometimes shocking shows, like the recent Damien Hirst exhibition.

The southern edge of the park is dominated by the embassies, some still in the process of being built. The different architectural styles of the buildings reflect the various cultures, including the interesting decision by the Scandinavian countries to share an embassy compound.

Halfway along the Landwehr canal that winds along the southern perimeter of the park is the Shell house, a splendid Art Deco 30s building with a white facade that rolls in waves away from the eye.

Where Potsdamer Strasse joins the park from the south a cluster of buildings are worth attention. The New Art Gallery, designed by Mies van der Rohe, the Berliner Philharmonie, an extraordinary 60s construction with marvellous acoustics, the Berlin Central Library, and further to the east, the tower blocks of Potsdamer Platz. This was the entertainment centre of pre-war Berlin. Flattened during the World War II bombardments because of its proximity to the Bunker, and left barren in the post-war period since it lay in the 'Death Strip' between East and West Berlin, it became the biggest building site in Europe after re-unification.

It is the corporate headquarters of Sony Europe and Daimler-Chrysler, as well as sporting a shopping mall, a casino, an Imax and 2 multi-screen cinemas (which host the Berlinale Film Festival every February), the fastest lift in Europe, and a number of fine restaurants and open air cafes.

Tiergarten is served by the U6 to the west, the S Bahn to the north, and there are currently plans to run a new U-Bahn line west along Unter den Linden from Alexanderplatz, providing easier access from the east.

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WEDDING
Nicknamed 'Red Wedding' this suburb marked the northern expansion of Berlin during the Industrial Revolution. Its dwellings and factories sprang up north of the Spree and its docks, and it is now a busy residential area, running to the edge of Tegel airport, built to supply Berlin during the Berlin Airlift.

Wedding's spine consists of two roads, running south-east to north-west, Müller- strasse and Brunnenstrasse, the old roads to Hamburg. Brunnenstrasse's name refers to the mineral springs which were discovered in the 18th century and provided a spa facility for the city.

Here the main shopping facilities are to be found, at Leopoldplatz and the new Gesundbrunnen shopping mall.

Wedding is a green suburb with many parks. To the east, Humboldthain park lies, dominated by one of the World War II flak towers built to defend Berlin. It is now used as a climbing wall. East of Müllerstrasse is the Schillerpark and to the west, Rehberge and Goethepark with its little lake, Plötzensee. A beautiful environment with a rather sinister history. In 1944, in the adjacent prison, the Stauffenberg conspirators in the plot to blow up Hitler, were hung here, on meathooks. Further west again you can observe wild pigs in an open air enclosure.

Traces of Wedding's history can be found in the Anti-War museum on Müllerstrasse and in the local history museum on Pankstrasse.

Wedding is served by the U6 and U8. Currently the northern S-Bahn ring is being rebuilt and soon there will be direct and swift access from Wedding to Prenzlauer Berg in the east.

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