ONCE THE main east-west thoroughfare of imperial Berlin, Unter den Linden survived the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich to spend nearly 30 years as the most famous dead-end street in the world when Berlin became a divided city.

From 1961, when the Wall was built, until 1989, when it was demolished, Unter den Linden had nowhere to go. But since the Wall came down, it has begun to recover its place as one of the most elegant streets in Berlin.

When Unter den Linden was laid out in 1647 by Friedrich-Wilhelm, the Elector of Brandenburg, there was already an important community around the banks of the River Spree. The influential Electors of Brandenburg had built a palace in Berlin in the late 15th century and established the area as their stronghold. It became the capital of Prussia in 1701, and an economic and cultural boom began, which continued for over a century until the Prussian army was defeated by Napoleon. Throughout this period, the wide, tree-lined boulevard of Unter den Linden was a favourite haunt of the aristocracy all over Europe.

Unter den Linden begins on the left bank of the Spree, by the Schlossbrucke, which connects the heart of the city to the Museums Island and its extraordinary collection of treasures. From there it extends westwards to the edge of the Tiergarten, Berlin's oldest park, where it becomes the Strasse des 17 juni. Now renamed to mark an unsuccessful uprising against the Russians in 1953, it was once known by its imperial title, Charlottenburger Chaussee.

Between the two streets is the Brandenburg Gate, built in 1791 and inspired by the Parthenon. The statue on the top of the goddess Nike in her chariot was added two years later, and then removed by Napoleon when he marched through the gate to take control of the city in 1806. Left-wing revolutionaries and later Nazis, used the gate as a rallying point; foreign armies have made their way through it; now it symbolises the reunited city.

It is between the Brandenburg Gate and the junction with Friedrichstrasse that Unter den Linden's new cosmopolitan atmosphere is most apparent. Austere, state-run enterprises have been replaced by embassies, galleries, and expensive shops showing off a newly-available international merchandise. For years there was no incentive to linger here, but now the shop windows and pavement cafes make it an attractive area for residents and visitors alike.

Arguably the only benefit that East Berlin derived from Russian occupation was an architectural one. While the policy in the west was to knock down the ruined and damaged buildings and start again, in the east, the Russians worked on restoration, so much of the former glory of Berlin is still there for all to see.

The street is a microcosm of the city's history. Among many monuments, the 18th-century Armoury is now the German History Museum and the Neue Wache, or guardhouse, serves as the main memorial to victims of fascism.

Unter den Linden is once again a tree-lined avenue. The linden trees from which its name derived were ripped out in 1930, so that Hitler could use the street as a parade ground; but in the last decade they have been replanted. City life has returned to the historic centre of Berlin, and it has a main street that befits a European capital once more.