Germany's largest city and state, Berlin, is one of Europe's most influential political, cultural and science centres. The rapidly changing metropolis enjoys a reputation for its festivals, vibrant nightlife, architecture and arts. It's hard to believe that less than 20 years ago it was split down the centre, the wealthy west on one side and the poorer Communist-ruled east on the other.
Even though communism and the dividing wall crumbled in 1989, there remain a few mementos easterners weren't keen to part with. One of those is the Trabant, nicknamed Trabi, a little fibreglass car which was the main transport for East Berliners. The Trabi Safari Tour has a restored fleet, some open top, which gives visitors a taste of the communist era. The vehicles are basic and you can choose to drive yourself or be driven by a fleet driver.
One of Berlin's most impressive sights is the Brandenburg Gate on the Pariser Platz, a triumphal arch and symbol of the city. It is the only remaining gate of a series. It has six Greek Doric columns on each side. Above is the Quadriga, the goddess of peace, driving a four-horse chariot of triumph.
The Brandenburg's design was based on Propylea, the gateway to Greece's Acropolis. Berlin has a long history of classicism, Baroque and neo-Palladian architecture, but the Gate was the city's first Greek revival neo-classical structure.
The Gate has played many roles in German history. Napoleon took the Quadriga to Paris in 1806 after conquering Berlin. It returned in 1814 and the goddess's olive wreath was exchanged for the iron cross and became the goddess of victory.
The Nazis used the gate to symbolise their power. It was the only structure left standing in the Pariser Platz in 1945. It was restored by East and West Berlin governments. However, in 1961 it was closed when the Berlin Wall was built. The wall's demise in 1989 brought joy to many. Thousands danced along it as the hated symbol of division was smashed.
The Reichstag, seat of the German Parliament, is one of Berlin's most historical landmarks. Before unification, it was right next to the wall. It was constructed between 1884 and 1894, mainly funded with wartime reparation money from France. The famous inscription 'Dem Deutschen Volke' (to the German people) was added in 1916.
Much of the building was destroyed by fire in 1933 and while it is not known for sure who started it, the communists were blamed. This gave a boost to Hitler's party, which would soon come to power. The Reichstag was further damaged when the Soviets entered Berlin at the end of the war. The picture of a Red Army soldier raising the Soviet flag on the Reichstag is one of the 20th century's most famous images and symbolised Germany's defeat.
Near the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag is Berlin's powerful reminder of the Final Solution, which will ensure that the six million Jews murdered by the Third Reich will not be forgotten. Unveiled in 2005, the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a sprawling field a stone's throw from the buried ruins of Adolf Hitler's bunker. The 2711 dark grey stone slabs form a gentle wave, ankle-high in some places. It was designed to give a sense of groundlessness, instability and loss of orientation.
Kreuzberg is one of Berlin's best known areas, the largest Turkish city outside Turkey, with a cosmopolitan mix of students, young professionals and trendy couples. The streets are full of bars and restaurants offering food from around the world. It was a separate borough until the 2001 administrative reform when it combined with Freidrichshain. The two localities are linked by a single bridge over the Spree River. The location of its city hall was decided by the toss of a five-mark coin.
The Kurfürstendamm is Berlin's most popular boulevard, enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. It stretches 3.5 kilometres to Halensee where the exclusive villa districts begin.
In the lively upper part of Kurfürstendamm and its extension, Tauentzienstraße, there are countless department stores. The quieter lower part has designer stores in magnificent turn of the last century buildings. In the late 1800s it was laid out as a boulevard with a bridle path for genteel riding and many opulent buildings. In the 1920s this was a meeting place for intellectuals who enjoyed its countless theatres, cafes and nightclubs.
The Kurfürstendamm was badly damaged in WWII and cleared and redeveloped in the 1950s with tower blocks and terraces. Yet it is still the city's showpiece.
Berlin's underground system is very efficient, but when the weather is good, it makes sense to stay above ground. As Berlin is one third parkland and cycle-friendly, bicycling is a good idea. Public bicycles are easy to hire. To unlock one, you just need to ring the number on the bicycle, receive a code, punch it in and away you go, all for around eight cents a minute.