Berlin is the capital and the biggest city of Germany. It has a population of about 3.5 million and extends over 889 sqare kilometers. It is located in central Europe, longitude 13:25 E, latitude 52:32 N, 34 m above sea level, at the rivers Spree and Havel.The local time zone is Central European Time (MEZ or MET, one hour in advance of GMT, i.e., MEZ=GMT+1) with daylight savings time in the summer (MEZ=GMT+2).
Berlin grew from a fishing village and trading center at a crossing point on the Spree River into the Prussian capital city and royal residence. The town of Cölln was first mentioned in a document dating from 1237. It later merged with its sister city Berlin,profited from Prussia's rise to the rank of a great power, and after the founding of the German Empire in 1871 became the polical, industrial, scientific, academic and cultural center of Germany. The Second World War unleashed by the National Socialists had catastrophic consequences for Berlin, resulting in the nearly total destruction of the city center and its industrial districts. After the War, city was divided into four sectors by the victorious powers. Between 1949 and 1990, it was divided into East Berlin, the capital of the German Democratic Republik, and West Berlin. It was divided by the Berlin Wall between August 13th, 1961, and November 9th, 1998. On October 3rd, 1990, the unification of Germany was consummated in Berlin with a state ceremony. Since then, united Berlin has once again been the capital of unified Germany.
Berlin is a cultural metropolis in the heart of Europe. Cultural diversity is a long-standing traditon in Berlin. Its museums and collections on the Museum Islands - which in March 2000 was included in the UNESCO list of cultural and natural heritages, in the Culture Forum and in the district of Dahlem are renowed. Around six million visit the museums per year. The Philharmonic Hall, three opera houses and many theaters, concert halls and libraries, as well as the Berlin Festival, the International Film Festival and the Berlin Theatre Encounter are further highlights in this European cultural metropolis.
Berlin has three universities, four colleges of the fine arts, the European School of Management, nine Fachhochschulen, some 250 non-university research institutions and a multitude of small and medium-sized technology firms constitute key potential for future economic growth and new jobs. One of Europe's largest integrated technology parks, the Science and Business Technology Centre Berlin Adlershof (WISTA), is being built in the southeastern part of the city. The rising number of firms active in the communications sector and the area of information technologies are making Berlin a productive and innovative location for the media.
Berlin has for some years been the scene of the greatest building activity in Germany. Firms such as debis, Sony and ABB have been constructing spectacular office complexes on Potsdamer Platz. The large new federal buildings like the Federal Chancellery and the administration buildings for the Bundestag are nearing completion. The Tiergarten area, which is now largely free of vehicle traffic, is characterized by the reemergence of the embassy district, party headquarters, representative state offices, federal associations of industry and commerce and foundations.The contours of the new Lehrter train station, the future central train station in direct proximity to the government district, are already recognizable. Friedrichsstrasse has been transformed into an attractive shopping experience in the center of the city. But in the outlying districts of Berlin as well, cranes are in motion and old buildings are being restored.
The capital city settles into its new role. Berlin's development, transforming the city into the capital of Germany, has almost been completed. In accordance with plans and time schedules for moving the German government, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat from Bonn to Berlin, modernization and expansion of the ministerial buildings has almost been fully carried out. The Reichstag building has been converted into the seat of the German Bundestag and was officially opened in April 1999. Its dome is a new landmark in Berlin and open to visitors. InMay 1999, the Federal President was elected by the Federal Assembly here. In September 1999, the Bundestag was inaugurated and parliament started to debate here. Since that time, Germany is once again being ruled from its old capital, Berlin.