Old capital that is now Europe's largest construction site

YOU CAN see Berlin grow. A resident away for just one week will be confronted on their return with skyscrapers a storey or two taller, cranes that have migrated from their previous spots and new bridges across the river Spree.

Europe's biggest construction site is filling up. On the Potsdamer Platz, bisected by the border 10 years ago, the world's foremost architects have been allowed to act out their fantasies, not always to good effect. About a mile north, Sir Norman Foster's Reichstag is at last complete, its dome lighting up the night sky - a wondrous sight even if it is true, as the government alleges, that it has a leaky roof.

A short walk from the Reichstag is Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. Once an eerie no-man's land dividing East and West Berlin, it is now a crowded tourist trap. Many of the buildings destroyed there during the Second World War have been rebuilt, and other new structures have cropped up around the square.

Most of the overground and underground railway lines have already been patched together, and in many parts East and West have become indistinguishable. The Berlin Wall is certainly hard to locate: only a few segments have survived the efforts of overzealous revolutionaries. In some parts a line has been drawn on the pavement for the benefit of tourists, and the city has just rebuilt a section at Bernauer street, so that visitors have something to gape at.

But East and West still feel different. The West is infinitely more prosperous, the East more vibrant. In many ways the two Berlins remain divided.

Imre Karacs

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