Built on sand on around the banks of the river Spree, Berlin has been one of Europe’s most influential economic, cultural and political centers - for better or worse - since its origins as a trading post in the 13th century. It was capital of both the Prussian and the German Empire until World War I uprooted the Hohenzollern dynasty, which had ruled since the 15th Century When people think of Berlin, the first thing that usually comes to mind is its most famous landmark the Brandenburg Gate. For decades a symbol of division, the monument has always been the beating heart of a major city bursting with ideas, inspiration, art, culture and creativity. Highlights in the western parts of Berlin include the Kurfürstendamm, as elegant a shopping street as you’ll find anywhere, the Kaufhaus des Westens department store (better known as KaDeWe), on-trend boutiques and exclusive galleries, as well as beautiful residential streets and, of course, Berlin’s famous nightlife. And speaking of nightlife, no trip to Berlin would be complete without an evening at Friedrichstadt Palast, Germany’s leading variety theatre. With the current production, SHOW ME, the Palast is said to have mounted the most expensive and dazzling stage show of all time. This Berlin spectacle is the very height of glamour – an explosion of light, colours, costumes and special effects. The cosmopolitan vibe also permeates the government district, which spreads out to the east from Brandenburg Gate and from the neighbouring Reichstag. There’s a sense of peace and freedom in the air here – in stark contrast to the days when Berlin was responsible for unthinkable crimes. Berlin’s population is 3.4 million down from 4.5 million before WW2. It is a vast city, extending over 889 square kilometers. Its twelve bezirke (boroughs) are Mitte, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Pankow, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Spandau, Steglitz-Zehlendorf, Tempelhof-Schoneberg, Neukolln, Treptow-Kopenick, Marzahn-Hellersdorf, Lichtenberg, Reinickendorf, although many Berliners still use old names and districts for purposes of orientation.