Berlin is living up to its reputation as a dynamic, exciting hub of activity as never before. The city's nightlife is among Europe's best and wildest. And since the German government relocated here from Bonn, Berlin is bidding to become the reborn capital not only of Germany, but of all Europe.

As befits a capital, the city has undergone a major face-lift in the past 20 years. More than $150 billion was invested into new streets, buildings, and railways. The former East Berlin is restored and gentrified, particularly in the Mitte (central) district. Here, luxury hotels and shopping arcades compete with the glitter -- and litter -- of the Ku'Damm (short for Kurfürstendamm, a wide boulevard at the center of activity in the western part of Berlin). The Hotel Adlon, overlooking the Brandenburg Gate, is particularly notable, evoking the restoration of Unter den Linden and the return to some of its prewar glory; Adlon, at one time, was the most important hotel not only in Berlin, but in all of Germany. Prenzlauer Berg, a blue-collar eastern neighborhood that escaped the worst of the wartime bombing, is now a chic district of cafes and boutiques. The downside of all this for Berliners has been the sharp increase in real estate prices.

Many of Berlin's famous buildings were also restored. The rebuilt Reichstag has a glittering glass dome; upon the building stands not the old glowering imperial hunter, but the national symbol, the eagle (locals refer affectionately to the statue as "the fat hen"). The Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue (commonly known as Neue Synagoge Berlin-Centrum Judaicum/The New Synagogue), wrecked on Kristallnacht and finished off by Allied bombers, has been rebuilt to its previous splendor. Likewise, Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) and the five state museums on Museumsinsel (Museum Island) have been returned to their original glory.

Visitors unfortunately often overlook Berlin's natural attractions. Few metropolitan areas are blessed with as many gardens, lakes, woodlands, and parks -- all of which cover an amazing one-third of the city. First-time visitors are often surprised to learn that small farms with fields and meadows still exist within the city limits.

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