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Berlin History

Few cities in the world have endured such radical transformation as Berlin has over the last 100 years. The city's fate was sealed in 1871 when it became the capital of the German Reich. It was a boost in status that elevated what had been a fairly modest city into the empire's political, industrial and economic heart. The next few decades witnessed rapid development and by 1877 the city was a thriving metropolis.

The German capital soon raised eyebrows abroad - and for all the right reasons. Not only was it becoming one of Europe's cultural hotspots, but its industrious inhabitants were leaping ahead, with the invention of the world's first electric railway in 1879 counted among the city's greater achievements.

By 1903 Berlin had become the largest tenement city in the world and also boasted an underground railway, thriving cultural scene and giant department stores. But these halcyon days weren't to last. WWI abruptly burst the bubble and led to starvation, war weariness and strikes. In 1918 the embattled Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated, the armistice was signed and the German government was handed over to the Social Democrats.

The post-war years in Berlin were defined by political instability and economic turmoil, all of which helped Adolf Hitler rise to power. Hitler began remodelling Berlin but his invasion of Poland three years later sparked WWII, during which vast swathes of Berlin were reduced to rubble. The devastated city was divided into four sectors after the war, each administered jointly by the occupying powers of the UK, France, the USA and the Soviet Union.

It wasn't a happy marriage and in 1961 the infamous Berlin Wall was erected to keep the residents of Soviet-controlled East Berlin from fleeing to the west; Germany's capital had become the epicentre of the Cold War.

When the wall fell in 1989, optimism prevailed and Berlin became Europe's largest building site as the fragmented East Berlin and West Berlin were fused back together. Today, the scars are still visible but Berlin has bounced back.

Did you know?
• The last person to die trying to cross the Berlin Wall was an East German who attempted to fly over the wall in a hot air balloon in March 1989.
• Napoleon took The Brandenburg Gate quadriga back to Paris with him following the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in 1806.
• The Großer Tiergarten originally started out as a hunting ground for monarchs.

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Ostel

The prices vary enormously here at this retro showcase for the garish/fabulous interior design of the former East Germany. Part hotel and part museum, this is definitely one of Berlin's more idiosyncratic places to stay; prepare for lots of brown and orange. It's also a stone's throw from techno temple Berghain and the adjacent attractions of hipster Friedrichshain.

Hüttenpalast

Based in a one-time vacuum cleaner factory, this wonderfully eccentric "hut palace" offers colourful accommodation in a range of indoor vintage caravans and repurposed huts. Standard rooms are on offer too – they give more space but they're not nearly so much fun. The backyard has been transformed into a wild garden.

Das Stue

Billed as Berlin's first luxury boutique hotel, the none-more-cool Das Stue sits on the southwestern fringe of the Tiergarten park. It's full of grand design touches, while the rooms themselves are modern with hardwood floors. The hotel also plays home to a spa and, in Cinco by Paco Pérez, a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin

Hotel Adlon Kempinski is one of Berlin's great historical hotels, and a magnet over the decades for the rich and famous (including Michael Jackson, who notoriously dangled his baby over one of the balconies in 2002). It's located close to the Brandenburg Gate, and retains the luxurious feel of Europe's golden age.

Soho House Berlin

Part of the Soho House empire, this private club and boutique hotel is based in Mitte, east Berlin's achingly hip heart. The 40 bedrooms vary enormously in price and layout, but all include vintage furniture and quirky features such as record players. Bring your swimmers for the glamorous rooftop pool.

Honigmond Berlin-Mitte

This gem of a hotel is a real find - the building's exterior doesn't suggest its gorgeous combination of period features and swish modernity. The rooms have antiques scattered throughout, and the breakfast is excellent. There's a second property too on a nearby street, in much the same style.