Once the seat of empires and the pawn of superpowers, the historic city of Berlin will be handed back to its 4 million people on Sunday.
On the same day that all Germans elect a national government, Berliners will choose their first joint leadership since the World War II allies carved the city in half and made it a Cold War arena.Even though Germany united on Oct. 3 and its biggest city was designated the nation's symbolic capital, Berlin remains a city scarred by its past.
While the western section is sleek and modern, the eastern side is gray and bleak, with once beautiful buildings in soot-covered disrepair. The telephone system is antiquated, housing is substandard and businesses are failing.
It remains home to hundreds of thousands of former Communists who supported the old hard-line regime, and thousands of former secret police operatives who kept it in power.
In their first free local elections in May, East Berliners chose a Social Democrat government led by Tino Schwierzina.
Since German unity, Schwierzina has officially governed in tandem with West Berlin Mayor Walter Momper, also a Social Democrat.
Momper's coalition, however, has been in charge of the city's daily operations.
Some Berliners say the city has no government at all.
Momper's coalition partner, the environmentalist Greens, left the government two weeks ago to protest a police raid on leftist squatters who had taken over several abandoned buildings in former East Berlin.
Momper remains mayor with a minority government only because the collapse came so close to voting day. The left-leaning Social Democrats are expected to face a tough fight with the conservative Christian Democrats, who will likely win the national elections.
Most of the squatters were from West Berlin's alternative scene, a loose alliance of leftists who give the city much of its off-beat color, but who also fuel much of its periodic political violence.
Berliners have always been viewed as a breed apart by other Germans, who consider the city's residents a brasher, more provocative people.