Berlin feels like Germany's Venice. Not because of the canals - they've some stone-built stretches hedged by monumental buildings but are mostly industrial and functional, and anyway Venice is visually incomparable. It's more the sense of being in a city that had witnessed great events - a weltstadt around which the affairs of the globe had turned - but no more.
Even now it's the capital of a united Germany, it still has the air of being a way away from where important things are happening. It can't shrug off its backwater feel. This is one of its attractions. Much of it now belongs to history and it's unimaginable that it'll ever have the central importance to the world - or even to Germany - that it once had.
This makes parts of the central Mitte district interestingly incongruous. The nineteenth-century neo-baroque Berlin Cathedral (below), for instance, whose minatory ugliness no longer has anyone to overawe. Its scale - intended to diminish St Peter's - was a monument to the Kaiser's imperial ambitions. Later it provided the setting for Göring's overblown marriage, which, reflecting the poltroon's princely ambitions, was said to rival any royal wedding. Patched up after the war, it squats there now, gaudily overblown but with only its local evangelical congregation to dress up for, a redundant gargoyle.
So it's a fascinating backwater. Monumental grotesqueries aren't the half of it. There's so much that's significant, old and modern, sitting one thing atop of another. There should be a clash between the architectural aspirations of old Berlin and the ravages inflicted on last century Berlin. But it's come to look all of a piece. Exemplified, in a way, by terrific treasure house museums that still carry the etchings of Soviet bullets.
It's also a fantastic place to go out. Where Venice has its mannered and stilted carnival, Berlin has a nightlife as rough, ready, sophisticated and bohemian as anything you'll find in the East or West Ends of London. I've rarely had so much fun out with friends as I have in Berlin.
In the twentieth century Berlin went from furnace, making and then being unmade by the flames of world war, to deep freeze, the most frozen and isolated spot in the Cold War. Now, twenty years after the Wall came down, it's arrived at an ambient temperature. The city now lives mildly at one remove from history, no longer suffering in its extremes.
Happy and affectionate twentieth birthday wishes, united Berlin!