Berlin began as a fishing and trading community, selling primarily rye and timber. This role in trade grew larger through the centuries as a disciplined military force protected foreign tradesmen and helped collect customs tariffs. The 1830s brought the Industrial Revolution to Berlin, which hastily built factories to produce machine tools, dyes, medicines, and electrical goods. AEG and Siemens had an early start in Berlin, fueling participation in both World Wars. The Great Depression brought economic chaos, but success in the arts, especially in film production. Although Berlin was devastated by the time World War II was over, major reconstruction projects funded by the victors helped to keep the economy going.

Berlin continues to deal with ongoing reintegration of the West with the East, as well as an economy that is shifting from the processing to the service sector. Many companies relocated from

The Brandenburg Gate is the doorway from West to East, and signifies the difference between the western commercial center sporting all of the nicest shops and cafés and the eastern side described as "depressing." ()
Berlin during the uncertain years after the war, but now Daimler-Benz, Sony, IBM-Germany, and German Rail have headquarters along the Spree. Berlin is one of Germany's largest banking centers, the world's leading conference center, the seat of Federal Government, and the largest university city in Germany (147,000 students) with three major universities. Half of the 1.6 million workers are in the service sector, and about 13 percent of the workforce is unemployed, but recent restructuring aims to lower this figure. Also, projects with the rest of the European Union, including monetary unification, have played an important role in stabilizing the Berlin economy.