Four things to know about German capital Berlin


Berlin (AFP)

Internationally lauded for startups and nightlife, the German capital Berlin struggles to this day to escape the "poor but sexy" motto bestowed on it by former mayor Klaus Wowereit in 2003.

The city looks set to re-elect the centre-left Social Democrats as the top party in state elections on Sunday, but the right-wing populist AfD is on course to make gains. Here are some key facts about Berlin.

- Burdened by past -

Berlin exploded in size and population around 1900 as the city became capital of the German empire and an industrial hub.

But it was devastated in World War II before being partitioned into Soviet and Western zones, split by the Berlin Wall.

Big industrial firms left, with Siemens moving its headquarters to the Bavarian capital Munich and financial actors like Deutsche Bank shifting to Frankfurt.

After Germany reunified in 1990, subsidies for industry in Berlin's former west dried up, while the crumbling industrial conglomerates of its communist east fell away.

Where in 1936 Berlin had counted 574,000 industrial workers among its population, by 1989 there were only 378,000 and in 2015 barely more than 100,000.

- Poverty -

One in five Berliners is in danger of poverty, according to a federal government benchmark, while one in three children lives off family out-of-work benefits.

Unemployment reached its lowest level since 1990 in the spring of 2016, but remains high compared with the rest of the country, at 10 percent against a national average of 6.1 percent.

City debts hit 60 billion euros ($67.4 billion) by the end of 2015 -- cutting into its ability to pay for schools, sporting facilities and other infrastructure.

Berlin's underwhelming facilities and roads are often the target of public criticism.

- Chaos -

Berlin's much-delayed new airport has become a byword for bad administration.

The transport hub suffered a series of failures -- from a too-heavy roof to an inadequate anti-fire system.

The total bill, to be footed jointly by Berlin, neighbouring Brandenburg state and the federal government, has ballooned from 1.7 billion euros to more than 5 billion by 2016.

Officially, the airport is to open in late 2017 -- more than five years after the original target date.

2015 saw local authorities struggle to cope with more than 70,000 new asylum seekers who queued for days in summer heat and winter snow to see officials at city hall.

Citizens complain that it takes months to get an appointment to do something as simple as registering a change of address.

- A global brand -

Berlin remains a powerful draw for tourists attracted by its troubled and turbulent history, its ever-changing face and its dynamic cultural scene.

In 2015 the city set a new record of 30 million overnight stays by visitors.

Empty lots available for construction, low rental prices and a global image as the capital of cool all favour Berlin.

And Ernst and Young named the city the European capital of startups in 2015 -- when 2.1 billion euros were invested in its young tech firms, outpacing London and Paris.

Berlin boasts a "Silicon Allee" (Silicon Avenue) in the fashionable Prenzlauer Berg district, home to a handful of heavyweight enterprises including online retailer Zalando.