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History

Berlin is dead - long live Berlin!

Otto von Bismarck once said: "The Berliner loves noise, events, and grumbling." All three of these things will be going on this Sunday, October 28, when the German capital officially turns 775 years old.

No one knows how old the city is, exactly, but hey, Berliners will use any excuse to celebrate. It was the Nazis, of all people, who first threw a big party (no pun intended) to mark Berlin's founding.

They thought the anniversary events would be a good way to promote their plans to transform the old Prussian residence into the "World Capital City Germania." There was just one little problem with using the year 1237 as Berlin's historical starting point: An official document from that year indeed mentions a city - not Berlin, though, but Cölln (not to be confused with Cologne in the Rhineland), which was located on the other side of the River Spree.

Berlin itself isn't mentioned until 1244, but apparently the Nazis didn't want to wait until 1944 to put on their show. (A good idea, when one recalls what the place looked like by that point in the Second World War.)

Long history of partying

The next birthday bash for the city was the 750th anniversary in 1987. Once more, the celebrations had a political background. This time it was the Cold War, with East and West Berlin trying to outdo each other in showcasing the superiority of their respective systems. (East Berliners joked they were only celebrating a 700-year-anniversary, because they were 50 years behind the West.)

This was the occasion for East Berlin to undertake clumsy reconstructions of historic areas like the Gendarmenmarkt and the St. Nicolas Quarter; while West Berlin put up strange sculptures on the Kurfürstendamm boulevard, like the "Dancing Spaghetti" and the "Cadillacs."

This year, a huge open-air exhibition will present the fascinating discoveries which archaeologists have recently made in what used to be Berlin-Cölln, shedding light on the city's murky early history. A spectacular show of fire and light will complement the exhibit, marking the structures and boundaries of medieval Berlin.

The Brandenburg Gate is illuminated during a technical check for the Festival of Lights in Berlin on October 9, 2012.

Is cool Berlin dead?

There will be noise and events, and the grumbling is already underway. 2012 was a lousy year for Berlin. The patience of the Berliners (a quality which has never distinguished them) has been sorely tested by gargantuan infrastructure projects that never finish on time or stay on budget: The construction of the new underground line underneath the Unter den Linden boulevard, the restoration of the historic opera house, the reconstruction of the city palace, and so on.

Airport disaster stifles mood

But nothing has so soured the spirits of the Berliners as the flopped grand opening of the new BER international airport, the biggest disaster to befall the city since the banking scandal of the 1990's.

Most of these projects were born in the minds of politicians and city planners 20 years ago, while they were still basking in the euphoria caused by the fall of the Wall. Berlin was going to be the city of the future, with six million inhabitants, not only the new German capital, but also a metropolis of finance, industry and culture. Overnight young artists, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs from all over the world flocked to Berlin, converting the city's many abandoned factories, warehouses, and apartment blocks into space for avant-garde clubs, bars, as well as marketing, software, film and design firms.

The economic boom never came; but the party went on, inspiring Mayor Klaus Wowereit's legendary crack that Berlin was "poor, but sexy."

Back then the Partymeister's quip endeared him to Berliners, but no one is laughing anymore. Wowereit once personified trendy Berlin, the city where the party never stopped, but Berliners are getting sick of that now, too. The young people who once came here to practice alternative life styles have been replaced by the "Easy Jet Set," who come to take pub crawls and ride "beer-bikes."

Among other problems, their demand for budget hotels and vacation apartments is forcing countless families to leave the neighborhoods they've lived in for decades, leaving behind streets full of tourist traps.

Loosing its coolness

Sure, the cutting edge creative scene remains, although somewhat tattered, but a permit to live in Berlin is no longer an automatic certificate of coolness.

Cool Berlin is dead. As dead as Otto von Bismarck. Oh, but wait! Mayor Wowereit has an idea! Let's host the 2024 Olympic Games in Berlin! Perhaps then Berlin can finally organize a noisy event without giving anyone cause for grumbling.

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