From the gleaming dome of the newly refurbished Reichstag to the soaring skyscrapers at Potsdamer Platz, this sprawling metropolis has been transformed into Europe's busiest construction site as it prepares for a millennial destiny as the world's most important new capital.
The tank traps and mine fields have long since been removed from the infamous "death strip" separating East from West, where nearly 1,000 people lost their lives trying to escape to freedom. Only the unmarked bunkers of Adolf Hitler and his chief lieutenants still lie untouched near the site where a Holocaust memorial and a row of embassies, led by those of the United States, France and Britain, are to be built.
Through the Brandenburg Gate, the boulevard known as Unter den Linden has reclaimed its reputation as the city's main artery linking the massive Soviet-style apartment buildings on Karl Marx Allee to the smart Western designer shops along the Kurfuerstendamm.
Many street names have been changed for political reasons, although Marx and Rosa Luxemburg--founder of the German Communist Party--survived the purge of unwelcome Communist signposts following reunification.
Some of the trendiest haunts in the new Berlin are located in hard-core areas of the eastern part of the city. Prenzlauer Berg has emerged as the favorite locale of many artists and writers, a place where cheap rents, funky cafes and loose lifestyles conjure up images of London's Soho in its prime.
With foreigners accounting for nearly 20 percent of Berlin's 3.5 million residents, making it Germany's most international city, restaurants that feature German-style food have become the exception rather than the rule.
In addition to more than 2,000 Italian restaurants--a throwback to the days when mom and pop pizzerias in West Berlin were supposedly a common instrument for Mafia money laundering--diners can choose from a variety of global cuisines including Persian, Thai, Japanese, Turkish, Albanian and Mexican.
But in Berlin's massive makeover, it is the architecture that takes pride of place. The chance to stamp their imprint on the world's newest international capital attracted some of the world's most provocative architects, including Norman Foster, Renzo Piano, Philip Johnson and Daniel Libeskind. Rather than play it safe, they have taken some daring gambles--some of which have not paid off.
At the Reichstag, which serves again as Germany's Parliament, the glass dome and upstairs galleries were designed to send a message of openness to lawmakers, that their actions were being closely observed by the public.
But Foster's renovation of the classical structure that was nearly destroyed by fire in 1933 has sparked harsh criticism from its new occupants. Heating and air conditioning have broken down, sprinkler systems have gone off at inappropriate times and the deep blue seats have met with almost unanimous disapproval.
Perhaps more than any other European capital, Berlin seems marked indelibly by the tragic turns of 20th century history. While some argued that the New Germany should eschew contact with the past, others carried the debate with the argument that a modern democracy--especially Germany--cannot afford to ignore or run away from its history.
Thus, the new Foreign Ministry building is built on the Reichsbank, where gold looted from concentration camp victims was stored in the basement. Herman Goering's Luftwaffe headquarters has been transformed into the new Labor Ministry, and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is now ensconced in what were once the favorite quarters of former East German Communist leader Erich Honecker.