Of strategic importance since it first straddled the Spree River in the 13th century, Berlin never hogged centre stage quite like it did this century. Today the city, restored as the nation's capital, is the focus of the mammoth project of reunification and the barometer of Germany's moods.
This is the heart of Germany, its stoic beat echoing through grand public buildings, glorious museums and theatres, urbane restaurants, bustling pubs and raucous nightclubs. The Wall is gone but Berlin is still divided: there's a distinct segue from the glitz of the west to shabby east Berlin.
This area was quickly colonised by the trendy café-bar set in the early 1990s and swift rebuilding has erased nearly all trace of the wall. It's the suburbs of East Berlin with their grey and decaying apartment blocks, cardboard cars and paucity of telephones that make it apparent that the Wall was up to protect a utilitarian East from a decadent West.
Before it came down, the Wall was the most enduring icon of a nation's disharmony. But it's not as if the city hadn't seen it all before. From the civic turmoil of the Thirty Years War, to the devastating impact of the fire-bombing during WWII, Berlin has constantly been under siege or in a post-siege rebuilding phase.
Facts for the traveller
Off the beaten track