Berlin enjoys a record year for tourism in 2007

( dpa )- Ever since the city's dramatic reunification in late 1989, Berlin has enjoyed a boom in tourism, with figures surging upwards every year.

More than 17 million people visited Berlin in 2007 - 8 million more than in the first year after the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989 - proving the old-new German capital is now one of Europe's most magnetic and exciting destinations.

No longer is it the relics of the Cold War that lure tourists to Berlin, but rather the city's rich cultural life and its bewildering array of new buildings in the city centre around the Potsdamer Platz and new government quarter in the Tiergarten .

Hanns -Peter Nerger , Berlin's veteran tourism marketing director, speaks of the capital being a magnet for tourists, thanks to its rich cultural life, liberal lifestyle and huge assortment of shopping outlets, restaurants and pubs.

In the next three years the city's growth in tourism seems destined to continue, albeit at a slightly slower pace than in recent, record-breaking years, Nerger says.

He predicts a 3.5-per-cent increase in tourist figures in 2008, with the number of overnight stays topping the 20-million mark in Berlin by 2010.

For years, Berlin has been the fastest growing tourist destination in Europe, with a rapid growth in overnight stays and guest arrivals.

From opera performances and art exhibitions to theatre productions and concerts to all sorts of festivals, Berlin is way out in front of most of its rivals these days, tourist officials say.

"As a result of its 175 museums, three opera houses, 135 theatres and stages and multitude of other cultural institutions, more than 1,500 events are offered to the public every single day in the German capital," claims Natascha Kompatzki , Berlin Tourismus Marketing GmbH's (BTM) head of press and public relations.

Nerger points to a big step up in worldwide advertising by BTM in the past decade.

In Japan, emphasis is placed on Berlin's cultural life; in Italy, it's the city's open, liberal lifestyle which gets pushed; while, in Scandinavia, it is the city's wealth of shopping outlets and watering holes that is highlighted.

In the United States the accent is not just on Berlin's art galleries, opera houses and museums, but also on the city's total openness in promoting its assortment of clubs for gays and lesbians.

"We discovered years ago that gays, particularly, like to visit Berlin and feel at home here," a city tourist expert said. "So we make a point of promoting the free-wheeling nature of the city."

Gays are highly rated tourists in Berlin, rarely causing problems in city hotels and generous in their spending habits.

Berlin tourist representatives say that among foreign tourists there is now a marked tendency towards sudden weekend trips to the German capital and more individual travel planning.

A useful aid for people wishing to visit Berlin at short notice, is the BTM's new tourist City Guide with its city map and public transportation timetables.

Curiously, at present its available in two 'English' versions only - one directed at the British market, the other at the US.

The topic "cruiser tourists" is contained in the US version, aimed at those who dock at the northern German port of Rostock aboard a cruise ship, wishing to take a swift day trip to Berlin.

In the British edition a section is contained on castles and gardens and Berlin's political landscape.

Now, other editions in French, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Arabic, Italian, Polish and Spanish are being printed - aimed at attracting still more foreign visitors.

Nerger says the success of the FIFA World Cup in 2006 provided Germany with a tremendous tourism boost

In 2008, the fifth Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (April 5 to June 15), the Babylon exhibition at the city's Pergammon Museum (June 26 - October 5) and a Paul Klee show at the New National Gallery (October 31 to January 2009) are likely to prove tourist cultural highlights.

In addition, Berlin's International Air Show at Schoenefeld (May 27 to June 1), the Berlin Marathon (September 28) and the White Cube Art show starting July on the city's Schloss Platz are also likely to prove popular.

Tourism supremo Nerger says an extra 2,500 city hotel beds are being made available in the next 18 months as the foreign tourism boom continues.

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