From Andrew Harper
From its days as a bastion of the Prussian empire to its current incarnation as the capital of a reunified Germany, Berlin has flourished, fallen, transformed and persevered. The cityscape of one of Europe's most important metropolises reflects all of the glory and tumult of its history: The traces of World War II bombing raids have for the most part been buried and built over, and while vestiges of Eastern Bloc prefab (plattenbau) recall the recent past, modernizing commercial forces have remodeled the city. The transition is manifested at Potsdamer Platz, the historic public square that was laid waste during the Allied bombings, then neglected during the Cold War, and rebuilt entirely after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's now at the heart of the city's vital, bustling life, home to structures financed by multinational corporations and designed by star architects. Shopping malls, cinemas, hotels — and Europe's largest casino — thrive at the nexus of a refurbished U-Bahn rail system.
Berlin is a vast conglomeration of neighborhoods with distinct characters. The Mitte district, erstwhile center of East Berlin, is now home to hip galleries and cafés. Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (the merger of two former East and West Berlin neighborhoods) is a patchwork of grittiness and gentrification and an architecturally diverse center for artists, Turkish immigrants and political lefties. The Museumsinsel, or “Museum Island,” on the city's Spree Island, is where many of Berlin's stellar museums are concentrated, including the Pergamon Museum, a mind-blowing collection of classical antiquities and Middle Eastern and Islamic art and architecture.
Berlin's dining ranges from “currywurst,” the popular street fare consisting of pork sausage slathered in a ketchup-curry blend, to the innovative international cuisine one would expect in a city of its stature. Highlights include Maxwell, housed in a neo-Gothic converted 19th-century brewery and serving refined Continental fare, and Margaux, a dramatic and ultramodern space featuring Michael Hoffman's New French cuisine.