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Berlin has always lacked a fixed identity; it is constantly in a state of flux, "always becoming, never being." The city shrugs off the many layers of its past like so many discarded clothes: the baroque grandeur of the Gendarmenmarkt, the rococo provincialism of the Nikolaiviertel, the Prussian pomp of Unter den Linden and Museums Island, the twin polarities of the Ku'damm and Alexanderplatz, remnants of an ideological rivalry finally consigned to history. Now, restless as ever, Berlin is casting about for a new set of architectural clothes in time for the millennium.
Country in the City
At the last count there were over 2,000 building sites in Berlin, so it is just as well that as much as one third of the city is green space. Berliners use this embarrassment of riches to full advantage. Every weekend you will find them setting out from the boating marinas at Wannsee for the placid waters of the Havel. Ornithologists go bird-watching on the shores of the Müggelsee, dog-owners head for the Grunewald forest, hikers for the woodland around the Schorfheide. There are even beaches in this landlocked city. Nor is it necessary to travel far, as Berlin's army of office workers will tell you. The city's most famous park, the Tiergarten -- an oasis of rural tranquility -- is only a stone's throw from the mayhem of Zoo Station at the heart of the city.
Berliners are a restless and energetic people. Their chief characteristic, remarked on by other Germans as Berliner Schnauze ("Berlin mouth"), implies both a taste for quick-fire humor and repartee and a tendency to show off and boast. Most visitors will find the people genial and easy-going:they wear their much-heralded industriousness lightly. There is still some friction between "Ossis" and "Wessis" as the former try to adjust to the values of Western yuppiedom, while the latter sometimes resent the competition for jobs and services and the fact that, for some time to come, they will be expected to subsidize their fellow citizens.
Berlin's cosmopolitan feel (typified by the internationalism of the restaurants to be found around Savignyplatz, for example), is somewhat misleading. Actually the city is under-represented where immigrants are concerned, with one notable exception. The old working-class suburb of Kreuzberg is sometimes called "little Istanbul": its large Turkish population adds a colorful, exotic ingredient to the Berlin persona.