Written by CJ Marino

Berlin, Germany has had a very rich and at times, depressing history. The name Berlin has come from the German word for swamp. The entire city is crisscrossed with numerous canals. Looking at the city today one could not comprehend the turmoil that took place there from the 1930's through the 1990's.Today Berlin is very cutting edge and a great place to vacation. Since most of the buildings were destroyed during World War II or during the Cold War, when the infamous Berlin Wall was erected, the current buildings are very modern. In one way Berlin is a very new, young city. Getting around the city is very easy, as the U-Bahn and S-Bahn train networks are very dense with numerous stations and very efficient.

One of my favorite ways to acclimate myself with a city that I am visiting for the first time, is to do a city tour. On my first day in Berlin, I took part in a very comprehensive walking tour. The tour guide explained a lot of the history of Berlin. Where the Berlin wall once stood there is a double row of cobblestones. It is amazing to see how this wall ran. Most people think that is was a straight line. It was not. It split streets in two, along with splitting families. If the wall was to go through a building, the building was demolished. There was no mercy, no grey area. It was all black and white during the Cold War. Communist or Western, no in-between.

Museum Island is one of the first places that the tour visited. It is here that the first settlements appeared in the 13th century. The royal palace, which was razed in the 1950's, stood here for centuries and is now being rebuilt. The remainder of the island is where museums and the Berliner Dom stand. The Berliner Dom is the Neo-Baroque Cathedral built in the 1700's.

Another high light of my stay was the evening spent at Schloss Charlottenburg. Charlottenburg Palace, a former residence of the Hohenzollern dynasty has had an eventful past. The varied past, along with its widespread gardens make it the perfect place for a journey back in time to Prussian art and culture. The evening event began with a very elegant dinner only to be followed by a concert with music by great composers such as; Bach, Boccherini, Handel, Grosse and Mozart. The evening full of wonderful food, music and atmosphere was one that I will not forget for a very long time. I strongly suggest it to anyone visiting Berlin.

The hotel that I stayed in was very close to Potsdamer Paltz. During the Roaring Twenties it was Europe's busiest plaza and a bustling entertainment center. During World War II it was bombed and left as a mountain of rubble. For years it was left as a wide open area. Recently the plaza has been redeveloped. The Sony center, in Postdamer Platz, is Berlin's most exciting new architectural complex. Built between 1996 and 200, the glitzy steel and glass construction has become one of Berlin's most popular attractions. Set under a soaring tent-like roof, it's dominated by a pool with constant changing fountains. Inside the Sony Center is a historic architectural gem that is set behind a glass façade. This dining hall was once part of the Grand Hotel Esplanade. This was the epitome of luxury in pre-war Berlin.

As I mentioned, Berlin is a very modern and progressive city currently. Berlin has a unique tradition of nightlife for the gay and lesbian community, dating back to the 1920's. During this time cabarets and bars were the most outrageous in Europe. Today that legacy remains, but there are also bars to suit every taste. Berlin has a very tolerant attitude to people with different sexual orientations. Their Pride Parade takes place the end of June and compares to the Pride Parade in NYC.

Berlin rich in history but definitely modern and comfortable is a destination that everyone should have on their bucket list. I felt safe, comfortable and relaxed in Berlin, not to mention that the shopping and eating was fabulous!