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Why Berlin Is The Most Interesting City In Europe (PHOTOS)

Posted: 09/28/11 05:15 PM ET

By Indagare editorial director Simone Girner

In the eyes of any other world capital, Berlin concept-store impresario Andreas Murkudis had made it. His haute fashion emporium occupied a series of ground-floor boutiques in a courtyard adjacent to the Hackesche Höfe, home to Berlin's most exciting design shops. The Murkudis boutiques had everything: location, a serious cool factor, success. Then, in early 2011, instead of cashing in and opening outposts in Manhattan or London, Murkudis moved into an underdeveloped area miles off the well-trodden path.

While The New York Times quickly jumped on the story, declaring the entire neighborhood Berlin's new It place -- I've been. It's not. Yet. -- there's no way to predict if and when shoppers will follow. Several people I asked about Murkudis's move shrugged and said, "That's Berlin."

The city's creative scene is permeated by an unmistakable sense of exploration and risk-taking -- perhaps one of the reasons Berlin is often likened to New York City circa 1985. But Berlin is not 1980s New York. It's something entirely unique, shaped by a complex history and a sense of urgency to prove itself as a contemporary capital.

It's a massive place to explore, both geographically and emotionally. It's also a city to which a visit is preceded by stereotypes -- some warranted, some not -- and a city whose nuances are hard to grasp from abroad. For example, while I roughly knew the path of the Berlin Wall, I didn't really understand its everyday madness until I stood in the quiet of the Invalidenfriedhof, a graveyard by the Spree river that was divided by the wall. If grandma was buried on the other side, you were sheer out of luck as an East Berliner.

Berlin is one of the most exciting, provocative and stimulating places I have ever visited. There was much more to discover on my recent trip, with the highlights in this slideshow.

All photos by Simone Girner.