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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Berlin-Splitter (15)

It's Carnival Season in Germany, although until recently Berlin was largely immune to the sight of Germans in silly hats engaging in what is a very ritualised form of "humour". If you can't resist, or have kids who probably enjoy this sort of thing, check out the carnival parade on Sunday along the Ku'damm.

For a more international outlook on the new year season, mosey on down to the Berlin-Hauptbahnhof (fear not, it's been made safe and no high winds are expected this weekend), which is playing host to Chinese New Year celebrations. Events wil be held on Saturday and Sunday from 2pm onwards, with two dragons of "up to 40 metres in length" prancing about. There'll performances of Chinese boxing, calligraphy lessons, and stalls selling Chinese kitsch craft and decorative articles. We also predict the presence of the inevitable China-Pfanne.

Trains will also be running, and the new North-South Railway Tunnel, opened in 2006 and passing through Hauptbahnhof, cut journey times from the surrounding region to the city centre dramatically. That's proving popular with commuters: Deutsche Bahn's trains are carrying 11% more passengers than a year ago.

Looking for a more authentic Turkish shopping experience than your local Birlik grocery store can provide? Check out the newly-opened Cicek Pasaji at Kottbusser Tor, a mini shopping mall which offers a range of Turkish stores, cafés and snack bars.

More retail development on Steglitz's Schloßstraße: Karstadt department store close to U-Bahn station Schloßstraße (Station) is to be demolished, and the neighbouring Wertheim to be rebuilt for the construction of a shopping complex to be called "Berlin Boulevard". Completion is expected by 2011.

Building work of another nature - a long overdue renovation - will mean that one of Berlin's iconic symbols, the Siegessäule (Victory Column), will be undergoing repairs beginning in 2008 for at least a year. To cover part of the expected €3.5 million bill, the column will be encased in advertising (it's not yet known whether the sponsor will be Pfizer though).

Hostels - simple, low cost-accommodation aimed at the younger market - have taken off in Berlin over the past few years, and they seem to be doing their job well: two Berlin hostels have just won "Hoscars" and are ranked among the 10 top ten hostels worldwide. The lucky winners are JETpak Downtown in Wilmersdorf's Pariser Straße and East Seven in Prenzlauer Berg's Schwedter Straße.

Berlin's dire finances, which were a source of misery throughout much of this decade, are looking increasingly better thanks to rising taxes and costs having been pared to the minimum. The city will "only" have to take on an additional €1 billion in debt this year, and by 2010 should be breaking even.

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