BERLIN, AUG. 11 -- The approach to Berlin's Tegel Airport, a series of sharp banks and swoops, is one of the most stomach-churning in commercial aviation -- not because of weather or natural geography, but because of a man-made barrier that exists no more.

Less than half of the Berlin Wall still stands, but politicians have not yet allowed Western carriers to stray from Communist-imposed air corridors that require flights to follow the tortuous path of the wall's ghost.

What the steep turns and jerky dives reveal today is a single city, a panorama of neighborhoods and parks, red roofs and broad boulevards.

Berlin -- Prussian powerhouse, decadent cabaret town, Nazi capital, Communist showcase -- is quickly and, by and large, comfortably stepping into its next role: capital of a reunited Germany.

The two Germanys are not scheduled to merge officially until sometime in the fall, but Berlin -- West Germany's largest city with 2.1 million people and East Germany's capital with 1.8 million residents -- is already busy healing its physical and social split.

Neighborhoods are being reunited, and Berliners are crossing over to the other side to work, shop, eat and play. The West Berlin government meets in the East Berlin city hall. Four of the nine sections of the East Berlin city planning department are now run by West Berliners. Subway and streetcar lines that used to end abruptly in the middle of the city suddenly make sense, extending from one end of prewar Berlin to the other.

Former West German chancellor Willy Brandt, who once served as mayor of West Berlin, recently visited the East Berlin office where he worked after World War II as part of the Allied Control Commission. Looking out the window of Room 301, Brandt said, "This is what a capital looks like."

In the six weeks since the two Germanys unified their economies, it has become difficult to know whether you are in East or West Berlin -- an inconceivable notion only two months ago.

Soviet soldiers are now nearly as common a sight in the West as in the East. Mostly, they seem to be window-shopping, but now that they are paid in part in German marks -- hard currency -- they even buy.

When the Rolling Stones play Berlin this coming week, it will not be on the Western edge of the wall where many rock stars used to perform so East Berliners could gather to hear -- but not see -- them. Rather, the Stones will play East Berlin only, and thousands of tickets are being sold to West and East Berliners alike.

A streetcar trip across the breadth of a city that for three decades arranged itself around north-south axes, is a study in an extraordinay blend of renewed normalcy as well as sudden change.

Western advertising is everywhere. On the terraces of East Berlin's numbingly bland concrete apartment towers, TV satellite dishes have sprouted. The shrill whine of once-banned computer printers can be heard through open windows.

Downtown at the House of Democracy, the last remaining symbol of last fall's peaceful revolution, the citizens' groups that organized anti-Communist demonstrations still hang their home-made banners out the windows. But beneath the banners this past week were parked a National Football League staff car, a Siemens computer service van and a West Berlin police car.

The streetcar passes graffiti-covered guard booths where East German soldiers once stood, ready to kill anyone who attempted to breach the wall. Peering out the window, a streetcar passenger traveling from West to East sees streets that continue unhindered where the demarcation line once ran, but the street's name suddenly changes from, for example, Wilhelmstrasse to Otto Grotewohl Strasse, in honor of a hero of the East German Communists.

The soot-covered buildings of East Berlin still sport the old neon signs that the Communist government posted to compete with the bright lights of the West. But the giant red neon sign that says, "Soviet Railroads -- Berlin to Moscow in Comfortable Cars -- Interesting and Punctual!" now competes with posters advertising Mick Jagger and an NFL exhibition game.

In a government-sponsored opinion poll released today, nearly 60 percent of East and West Berliners said they have more similarities than differences with people from the other side of the city.

Asked what the most important things in life are, Berliners agreed that peace deserved the top position, but differed on other values. Having children ranked near the top for East Berliners, whose Communist government raised pay for each child a couple had; West Berliners, whose birth rate does not come close to a replacement rate, found 17 other values more important than raising a child.

The poll also revealed that the fall of the wall has meant more to East Berliners than to those in the West. Only 3 percent of East Berliners have yet to visit the West, while 26 percent of West Berliners have not bothered to check out the other side.

New times have brought problems large and small. Crime is up in both parts of the city; West Berlin police have seen a dramatic increase in arms sales, including reports of Soviet soldiers -- now free to wander the city -- selling their guns to Westerners.

Berliners are squabbling about property -- many West Berliners claim land, houses and businesses the Communists took over when hundreds of thousands of Berliners fled West to escape being walled in. There have been fistfights between East and West Berlin taxi drivers bickering over fares.

Traffic of all kinds -- air, auto and subway -- has nearly strangled the city's infrastructure. Despite around-the-clock work by massive fleets of bulldozers, much of the wall still stands, and if not familiar with the city it is often hard to find a street that goes through from one side to the other.

City workers have reconnected 39 streets that were interrupted by the wall; they plan to reopen 80 more by the end of the year.

Auto-crazed East Germans, freed of their pathetic little Trabants, have bought every used car within hundreds of miles, boosting car registration rolls by 1.2 million and prompting West Berlin traffic chief Klaus Kreuger to declare "collapse" and predict smog alerts for this fall.

The airports -- small and overused in the West, outdated and lacking security in the East -- are in desperate need of overhaul, especially since the events of the past year have turned the city into a popular tourist attraction.

The transportation problems will be hard to solve. A new metropolitan airport is being planned on the site of a Soviet air base, but it is 15 years from completion.

Still, erasing the wall will go much more smoothly than it might have because of secret cooperation by East and West Berlin bureaucrats.

"You have to remember to distinguish between politicians and city planners," said Clement Thurmann, East Berlin's chief planner. Although the massive map in his office shows only a grey blank on the west side of the wall, Thurmann said he and his counterparts in West Berlin always "tried not to cut off main access routes with new buildings.

"The political intent was completely different; they wanted to completely separate East and West. But we did whatever we could to save old connections -- very quietly."

Still, the two parts of the city are in different eras when it comes to technology. It is still extremely difficult to make a phone call across the city; the West German government ministry that has a monopoly on telephone service says it will not improve the situation markedly for nearly a decade.

And legal questions about who owns the no-man's land between the double barrier that was the wall may delay development of much of the prime urban center of Berlin.

Nonetheless, Berlin is a genuine boom town. Major West German companies are expanding and in some cases moving their headquarters to Berlin. Daimler-Benz, makers of Mercedes automobiles, plans a massive complex on Potsdamer Platz, once the heart of the city, now a field of rubble covered with the debris of the Berlin Wall.

Real estate prices have soared in East and West. East Berlin's Japanese-built Dom Hotel is not even open, but it already has increased its rent for office space 100-fold, offering space to Western companies for $9,000 a month. Apartment and office space in West Berlin costs two to 10 times what it did a year ago.

West Berlin planners say the city's population has jumped by about 5 percent since the wall opened, not including the crush of tourists and visiting business people. The city had a shortage of 50,000 apartments even before last fall.

In addition, Berlin has become one of Europe's top destinations for people fleeing economic uncertainty or political oppression. About 1,000 Soviet Jews have settled in the city that was once the nerve center of the Nazis' attempt to wipe Judaism off the continent.

East Berliners now routinely see beggars and homeless people -- sights unseen through four decades of Communist rule.

Romanian gypsies and Polish bargain-hunters swarm through downtown streets. Gypsy women, usually holding children, sit in the middle of downtown sidewalks, their palms extended. Gypsy children roam into fancy restaurants, approaching each table with scraps of paper on which a message in pidgin German begs for money.

The Poles arrive in town with family heirlooms, kitchen utensils, cigarettes -- anything that can be sold -- sell them for ridiculously little money and then use the hard currency to buy radios, televisions and other Western luxuries that can be sold or bartered back home.

So many Poles now come to shop in Berlin -- an hour's drive from the nearest border station -- that West Berliners complain they often wait two hours to reach a supermarket checkout counter.

Here, as in many other ways, the tables have turned. Unlike their Western neighbors, East Berliners, who waited in food lines for decades, now shop with relative ease -- though at much greater expense since Western goods filled the stores July 1.

The influx of foreigners and the economic shock of Western prices in the East have brought a marked increase in anti-foreigner attitudes in both parts of Berlin, but especially in the East, where police report a sharp increase in anti-Polish, antisemitic and anti-Vietnamese attacks, graffiti and chanting by skinheads and neo-fascist groups.

Although only a small number of Berliners have resorted to such expressions of frustration, all East Berliners are suffering from the transformation from central planning to a relatively open market. New shops open daily and East German farmers and entrepreneurs have set up street stands to sell everything from beef to bread to shirts.

But as unemployment soars and businesses close, unable to compete with Western companies, East Berliners are changing lifelong habits.

"We used to go to the theater quite regularly," said Victor Grossman, an East Berlin journalist. "Now they've raised the prices from 15 marks to 40 marks {about $30}. I don't know anyone who can afford that, not when all your friends and neighbors are getting notice that their job is being eliminated."

Culture is becoming more expensive for East Berliners accustomed to heavy government subsidies, but the artistic riches of a great city are being pieced back together in delicate negotiations among museum curators, music directors and librarians.

The old Prussian Cultural Heritage, one of the world's great repositories of art and documents, was split up and shipped off to both Germanys, Poland and the Soviet Union after the defeat of the Nazis. Now it is being reunited.

Berlin has two national libraries, two Egyptian museums, two Islamic museums, two world-class orchestras, three opera houses and several top theater companies. The West has modern cultural facilities; the East has historic buildings. Curators say it will take years to create and implement a sensible cultural plan.

The city that American and British bombs turned into rubble and Soviet soldiers pillaged at the end of World War II is once again rebuilding everything in sight.

Even the wall is not immune. Although nearly all of it is slated for demolition, East Berlin artists are using their new freedom to do what their counterparts in the West had done for years: paint the wall.

The pristine gray panels on the East side are now being covered with murals addressing themes that once could have gotten an artist a jail sentence.

Here is a Star of David painted over a West German flag, here a broken mirror symbolizing the close but shattered bonds between Germans and Jews, and here a massive rendition of a famous news photo of former Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev and ousted East German party chief Erich Honecker in a full-mouthed kiss.

"It's nice to do what was never allowed," said Christine Maclean of East Berlin's East Side Gallery. "It's our turn now."