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Berlin is the capital city of reunited Germany. Berlin is a young city by European standards, founded in the 13th century.


Early history

  • 98 AD: Tacitus described the territory of Germania. What is now Berlin, in ancient times was well outside the frontiers of the Roman Empire. Germanic tribes then inhabited the region. Some experts argue that Slavic peoples might have been settling there since before the era. (see: Przeworsk culture) During the post-Roman Migration Period, they departed for other lands, probably to become part of the new ruling class in the invaded areas of the western Roman Empire. It is not known if there was a permanent settlement at the time in what is today known as Berlin.
  • 6th century onwards: A certain cultural cluster (i.e. Prague-Korczak culture) of Slavic tribes from the east start moving into the sparsly populated area between the Elbe and Oder rivers.
  • About 720: Two Slavic tribes settled in the Berlin region. The Hevelli settled on the river Havel with their central settlement in Brandenburg, which gave the name for the whole territory. The Sprevane settled close to the river Spree in today's district of Berlin-Köpenick.
  • About 750: The Hevelli founded Spandow (today's Spandau) on the river Havel. This seems to be the closest settlement to the area which is today known as Berlin.
  • About 825: Spandau and Köpenick were protected with barriers. They were the major settlements and later towns in the area until the early 11th century.
  • Early 9th century: Slavic tribes settle in vicinity of later city Berlin.
  • 948: Emperor Otto I the Great established German control over the now largely Slavic inhabitants of the area and founded the dioceses of Havelberg and Brandenburg.

Margrave Gero governed a large area and amongst his subjects was Mieszko I, who was made first duke of the Polans by pledging allegiance to the emperor and margrave Gero. When Gero died in 965 the large territory was split in several marches, Northmarch, Saxon March, Lusatia and more.

  • 972: Mieszko defeated Margrave Hodo at Oderberg and Cedynia at the Oder river in the Battle of Cedynia. Later his son Boleslaw I temporarily conquered land "along the sea" (Longum Mare), which in a 1046 imperial document is called Pomerania.
  • 983: Emperor Otto II died.
  • 983: In a great uprising the heathen Slavs wiped out German control from the territory of present day Brandenburg. The monasteries were burned, priests and German officials killed or expelled. The Slavic tribes living east of Elbe remained pagan for the next 150 years.
  • 12th century: German kings and emperors re-established control over the now largely Slavic-inhabited lands. The Slavic inhabitants of the area were either driven out, or became subject to German feudal lords. Many Slavic inhabitants survived the conquests and live there still today, such as the Sorbs and Lusatians. The church brought bishoprics, which with their walled towns, afforded protection for the townspeople from attack. With the monks and bishops, the history of the town of Brandenburg, which in time became the state of Brandenburg, began.
  • 1134: After the Wendish Crusade, the German magnate Albert the Bear was granted the Northern March by the Holy Roman Emperor Lothar II. For some time up until the 15th century, some part of the area that would become Brandenburg was inhabited by the Slavic Wends, whose descendants still make up a part of the area's modern population. Albert's control of the region was nominal for several decades, but he engaged in a variety of campaigns against the Wends, as well as more diplomatic efforts which saw his control become more real by the middle of the 12th century.
  • 1150: Albert the Bear formally inherited parts of Brandenburg from its last Wendish prince, Pribislav. His descendants, the Ascanians, then made considerable progress in Christianizing and cultivating the lands. There was never any distinction made by any of the German rulers, and the Slavic and German tribes intermarried.
For the history of the Brandenburg area from here on, see Brandenburg#History.

13th–14th century

Throughout these events, the area of today's Berlin contained small fishing and farming villages.

  • After 1200: Under the grandsons of Albert the Bear, Otto and Johann,[1] two towns, Cölln in 1237 and Berlin in 1244, were founded on the banks of the river Spree. The name of Cölln may have been chosen, due to involvement of the Archbishopric of Cologne bringing in settlers from the Rhine river area (as far north as Friesland) to build up the marshy territory along the Spree river. Later Berlin and Cölln were united into one city and one of the districts is Neukoelln.

The heraldry of the House of Ascania ruling in Brandenburg, the red eagle and the black bear(s), were part of the constitution of Berlin, depicted in continuous documents ever since. The heraldic bear is documented in many other towns ruled by the House of Ascania and other cities of the Holy Roman Empire at that time, such as Bern.

  • 28 October 1237: Cölln is first mentioned in documents.
  • 1244:Berlin is first mentioned in documents.
  • 1251: First mention of city rights for Berlin.
  • 1253: First known Berlin seal document with Brandenburg red eagle.
  • 1261: First mention of city rights for Cölln.
  • 1280: First surviving Berlin seal document depicting 2 upright bears with Brandenburg eagle in center
    • Documents are exhibited in the cathedral museum in the town of Brandenburg an der Havel.

Berlin's name is recorded in Latin language documents as "Berolina". The etymology of the name is uncertain, but may be related to the Old Polabian stem berl-/birl- "swamp".[2].

  • 1307: Twin cities Berlin and Cölln formed a trading union on political and security matters, and participated in the Hanse. Their urban development took place in parallel for 400 years.
  • Around 1400: Berlin and Cölln had 8,000 inhabitants.

Not much is left of these ancient communities, although some remainders can be seen in the Nikolaiviertel, near the Rotes Rathaus, and the Klosterkirche, close to today's Alexanderplatz. A great town center fire in 1380 damaged most written records of those early years, as well as the great devastations of the Thirty Years War and further war destructions.

15th–17th century


  • 1415: Frederick I became the elector of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which he ruled until 1440. Subsequent members of the Hohenzollern family ruled until 1918 in Berlin, first as electors of Brandenburg, then as kings of Prussia, and finally as German emperors. When Berlin became the residence of the Hohenzollerns, it had to give up its Hanseatic League free city status. Its main economical activity changed from trade to the production of luxurious goods for the court.
  • 1443 to 1451: The first Berliner Stadtschloss was built on the embankment of the river Spree.
    • At that time Berlin-Cölln had about 8,000 inhabitants. Population figures rose fast, leading to poverty. Jews were the usual suspects: in 1510 100 Jews were accused of stealing and desecrating hosts. 38 of them were burned to death; others were banished, losing their possessions, only to be returned by later margraves.
  • 1448: The inhabitants of Berlin rebelled in the "Berlin Indignation" against the construction of a new royal palace by Elector Frederick II Irontooth. This protest was not successful, however, and the citizenry lost many of its political and economic privileges.
  • 1451: Berlin became the royal residence of the Brandenburg electors, and Berlin had to give up its status as a free Hanseatic city.
  • 1539: The electors and Berlin officially became Lutheran.
  • 1540: Joachim II introduced the Protestant Reformation in Brandenburg and secularized church possessions. He used the money to pay for his projects, like building an avenue, the Kurfürstendamm, between his hunting castle Grunewald and his palace, the Berliner Stadtschloss.
  • 1576, Bubonic plague killed about 4,000 people in the city.
  • Around 1600: Berlin-Cölln had 12,000 inhabitants.
  • 1618 to 1648: The Thirty Years' War had devastating consequences for Berlin. A third of the houses were damaged, and the city lost half of its population.
  • 1640: Frederick William, known as the “Great Elector”, succeeded his father George William as Elector of Brandenburg. Later he initiated a policy of promoting immigration and religious toleration. Over the following decades, Berlin expanded greatly in area and population with the founding of the new suburbs of Friedrichswerder and Dorotheenstadt. During his government Berlin reached 20,000 inhabitants and became significant among the cities in Central Europe for the first time. He also developed a standing army
  • 1647: The boulevard Unter den Linden with six rows of trees was laid down between the Tiergarten park and the Palace.
  • 1671: Fifty Jewish families from Austria were given a home in Berlin. With the Edict of Potsdam in 1685, Frederick William invited the French Calvinist Huguenots to Brandenburg. More than 15,000 Huguenots came, of whom 6,000 settled in Berlin.
  • 1674 and after: The Dorotheenstadt was built in a bow of the river Spree, north-west of the Spreeinsel (Spree Island), where the Palace was situated.
  • 1688 and after: The Friedrichstadt was built and settled.
  • Around 1700: 20% of the inhabitants of Berlin were French immigrants and their cultural influence was important. Many people from Bohemia, Poland, and Salzburg also took refuge.

Kingdom of Prussia

  • 1701: Elector Frederick III (1688-1701) crowned himself as Frederick I (1701-1713), King in Prussia. He was mostly interested in decorum: he ordered the building of the castle Charlottenburg in the west of the city. He made Berlin the capital of the new kingdom of Prussia. On 1 January 1710, the cities of Berlin, Cölln, Friedrichswerder, Dorotheenstadt, and Friedrichstadt were united as the “Royal Capital and Residence of Berlin”.
  • 1709: Berlin counted 55,000 inhabitants, of whom 5,000 served in the Prussian Army. Cölln and Berlin were finally unified under the name of Berlin, including the suburbs Friedrichswerder, Dorotheenstadt, and Friedrichstadt, with 60,000 inhabitants. Berlin and Cölln are on both sides of the river Spree, in today's Mitte borough.
  • 1713: Frederick I was succeed by his son, Frederick William I (1713-1740). He, in contrast, was a sparing man, who made Prussia an important military power. Furthermore, Frederick William built a wooden wall around the city with 14 gates, known as Zoll- und Akzisemauer.


  • 1740: Frederick II, known as Frederick the Great (1740-1786), came to power. Berlin became, under the rule of the enlightened monarch, a center of Enlightenment thinkers like Moses Mendelssohn.
  • 1755: Berlin had 100,000 inhabitants, of whom 26,000 served in the army.
  • 1760: Berlin was briefly occupied by the Russian Army during the Seven Years' War.
  • 1786: Stagnation followed under the rule of Frederick William II. He was an adversary of the Enlightenment and practiced censorship and repression. However, he rebuilt Frederick William I's city wall in stone, commissioning an improved Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) at the end of the 18th century - this gate is now widely recognised as a symbol of Berlin.


  • 1806: French troops marched into Berlin. Berlin was granted self-government and a far reaching military reform was started.
  • 1809: The first elections for the Berlin parliament took place, in which only the well-to-do could vote.
  • 1810: The Berlin University (now the Humboldt University) was founded. Its first rector was the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte.
  • 1812: Jews were allowed to practice all occupations.
  • 1814: The French were defeated in the Sixth Coalition. Economically the city was in good shape. The population grew from 200,000 to 400,000 in the first half of the 19th century, making Berlin the fourth-largest city in Europe.
  • 1815: Battle of Waterloo with Prussian troops from Potsdam and Berlin participating. Berlin becomes part of the Province of Brandenburg.
  • 1827: Berlin is the capital of the Province of Brandenburg from 1827-1843.
  • 1848: As in other European cities, 1848 was a revolutionary year in Berlin. Frederick William IV (1840-1861) managed to suppress the revolution. One of his reactions was to raise the income condition to partake in the elections, with the result that only 5% of the citizens could vote. This system would stay in place until 1918.
  • 1861: Wilhelm I (1861-1888) became the new king. In the beginning of his reign there was hope for liberalization. He appointed liberal ministers and built the city hall, Das Rote Rathaus. The appointment of Otto von Bismarck ended these hopes.
  • 19th century: The Industrial Revolution transformed Berlin; the city's economy and population expanded dramatically, and it became the main rail hub and economic center of Germany. Additional suburbs soon developed and increased the area and population of Berlin. In 1861, outlying suburbs including Wedding, Moabit, and several others were incorporated into Berlin.
  • 1870: France defeated by Prussia and alliance of German states in the Franco-Prussian War.
  • 1871: Berlin became capital of the newly-founded German Empire after the unification of Germany.

German Empire

After the quick victory of an alliance of German states over France in the 1870 war the German Empire was established in 1871. Bismarck had fought and succeeded to leave out Austria, Prussia's long standing competitor, and Prussia became the largest and by far most influential state in the new German Empire. Wilhelm I reluctantly accepted to become emperor, Bismarck chancellor, and Berlin was designated the capital.

In the meantime, Berlin had become an industrial city with 800,000 inhabitants. Improvements to the infrastructure were needed; in 1896 the construction of the subway (U-Bahn) began and was completed in 1902. The neighborhoods around the city center (including Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Wedding) were filled with tenement blocks. The surroundings saw extensive development of industrial areas East of Berlin and wealthy residential areas in the South-West.

  • 1875-1889: The economic boom caused by the new function of Berlin was followed by a crisis in the second half of the 1870s.
  • 1881: Berlin became a city district (Stadtkreis Berlin) separate from the Province of Brandenburg.
  • 1884: Construction of the parliament building, the Reichstag, was commenced.
  • 1914-1918: World War I led to hunger in Berlin. In the winter of 1916/1917 150,000 people were dependent on food aid, and strikes broke out.
  • 1918: When the war ended, Wilhelm II (1888-1918) abdicated. The socialist Philipp Scheidemann at the Reichstag and the communist Karl Liebknecht at the Castle both proclaimed a republic. In the next months Berlin became a battleground between the two political systems.

Weimar Republic

of 1918-1919 in East Berlin.]]
  • 1918: At the end of World War I, the Weimar Republic was proclaimed in Berlin. In 1920, the Greater Berlin Act united dozens of suburban cities, villages, and estates around Berlin into a greatly expanded city. After this expansion, Berlin had a population of around 4 million.

The overall impression one gets when visiting Berlin today is one of great discontinuity, visibly reflecting the many ruptures of Germany's difficult history in the 20th century. Although it was the residence of the Prussian kings, Berlin's population did not greatly expand until the 19th century, mainly after becoming the capital of the German Empire in 1871. It remained Germany's capital during the Weimar Republic and under the Nazis' Third Reich. 1920s Berlin was a very exciting and interesting city to live and work during the post-World War I period.

  • Late December 1918: The Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) was founded in Berlin.
  • January 1919: It tried to seize power (the Spartacist revolt). The coup failed and at the end of the month right-wing forces killed the Communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
  • March 1920: Wolfgang Kapp, founder of the right wing German Fatherland Party (Deutsche Vaterlands-Partei), tried to bring down the government. The Berlin garrison chose his side, and the government buildings were occupied (the government had already left Berlin). Only a general strike could stop this putsch.
  • October 1, 1920: The Greater Berlin Act created "Greater Berlin" (Groß-Berlin) by incorporating several neighbouring towns and villages like Charlottenburg, Köpenick or Spandau from the Province of Brandenburg into the city; Berlin's population doubled overnight from about 2 to nearly 4 million inhabitants.
  • 1922: The foreign minister Walther Rathenau was murdered in Berlin. The city was in shock: half a million people attended his funeral.

The economic situation was bad. Germany had to pay large sums of reparation money after the Treaty of Versailles, and the government reacted by printing so much money that inflation was enormous. Especially workers and pensioners were the victim of this policy. At the worst point of the inflation one dollar was worth about 4.2 trillion marks. From 1924 onwards the situation became better because of newly arranged agreements with the allied forces, American help, and a sounder fiscal policy. The heyday of Berlin began. It became the largest industrial city of the continent. People like the architect Walter Gropius, physicist Albert Einstein, painter George Grosz and writers Arnold Zweig, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Tucholsky made Berlin the cultural center of Europe. Night life was blooming in 1920s Berlin.

In 1922, the railway system, that connected Berlin to its neighboring cities and villages was electrified and transformed into the S-Bahn, and a year later Tempelhof airport was opened. Berlin was the second biggest inland harbour of the country. All this infrastructure was needed to transport and feed the over 4 million Berliners.

But not all was well. Even before the 1929 crash, 450,000 people were unemployed. In the same year Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party won its first seats in the city parliament. On July, 1932, the Prussian government under Otto Braun in Berlin was dismissed by presidential decree. The republic was nearing its breakdown, under attack by extreme forces from the right and the left. On January 30, 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.

Third Reich

Berlin had never been a center of the National Socialist (Nazi) movement, which had its roots in Bavaria, though the party made some progress after Joseph Goebbels became Gauleiter in 1926. Now it was the capital of the new Third Reich.

On February 27, 1933 the Reichstag building was set on fire. The fire gave Hitler the opportunity to set aside the constitution: for details, see "Reichstag fire".

Around 1933, some 160,000 Jews were living in Berlin: one third of all German Jews, 4% of the Berlin population. A third of them were poor immigrants from Eastern Europe, who lived mainly in the Scheunenviertel near Alexanderplatz. The Jews were persecuted from the beginning of the Nazi regime. In March, all Jewish doctors had to leave the Charité hospital. In the first week of April, Nazi officials ordered the German population not to buy from Jewish shops.

The 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Berlin and used as a showcase for Nazi Germany (though the Games had been given to Germany before 1933). In order to not alienate the foreign visitors, the "forbidden for Jews" signs were temporarily removed.

Nazi rule destroyed Berlin's Jewish community, which numbered 160,000 before the Nazis came to power. After the pogrom of Kristallnacht in 1938, thousands of the city's Jews were imprisoned. Around 1939, there were still 75,000 Jews living in Berlin. The majority of German Jews in Berlin were taken to the Grunewald railway station in early 1943 and shipped in stock cars to death camps such as Auschwitz, where most were murdered in the Holocaust. Only some 1200 Jews survived in Berlin by hiding.

Thirty kilometers northwest of Berlin, near Oranienburg, was Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where mainly political opponents and Russian prisoners of war were incarcerated. Tens of thousands died there. Sachsenhausen had subcamps near industries, where the prisoners had to work. Many of these camps were in Berlin.


Nazi plans for postwar Berlin

In the pre-World War II period Adolf Hitler and his subordinates had great plans to transform Berlin into a centre fit for his new empire. Therefore he and his architect Albert Speer made plans for the new Berlin, the so-called Welthauptstadt Germania.

On the site of today's Parliamentary offices (Paul-Löbe-Haus) adjacent to the Reichstag, Speer planned to construct the Volkshalle (The People's Hall), 250 m high, seven times higher than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and with an enormous copper dome. It was planned to be large enough to hold 170,000 people. (After the war, Speer admitted that the plan was unviable due to a meteorological problem - namely, that the body heat and perspiration produced so many people inside would generate clouds and even precipitation [rain] inside the dome). From the People's Hall, a southbound avenue was planned, the Avenue of Victory, 23 m wide and 5.6 km long. At the other end there would have been the new railway station, and next to it Tempelhof Airport. Halfway down the avenue there would have been a huge arch 117 m high, so large that the Arc de Triomphe in Paris would fit inside it. It was projected to be a monument commemorating those fallen during World War I and World War II. The project was to finish in 1950, and Berlin was to be re-named "Germania" on that occasion. But the construction never started, as Hitler decided it would be madness to start such a project during a war. Hitler also thought the Allied airstrikes very practical, mostly because it made demolishing the old Berlin so much cheaper.

Today only a few structures bear witness to the large-scale plans of Germania. Hermann Göring's Reichsluftfahrtministerium (National Ministry of Aviation), Tempelhof International Airport, Olympiastadion, and a series of street lights on the East-West Axis on Kaiserdamm and Straße des 17 Juni are all that remain. Hitler's Reich Chancellery was demolished by Soviet occupation authorities: red marble from the Chancellery was used to renovate the adjacent war-damaged U-Bahnhof Mohrenstraße subway station and the remaining rubble was used in the construction of the Soviet War Memorial at Treptower Park in Berlin.

The war comes to Berlin

  • 1940: An Allied air-raid on Berlin for propaganda purposes.
  • 1943: Allied bombardment of Berlin started in earnest. Raids on German major cities grew in scope and raids of over 1,000 4-engined bombers were not uncommon by 1944. (On March 18, 1945 alone, for example, 1,250 American bombers attacked the city).
  • April 1945: Berlin was an obvious objective for Allied troops. The Race to Berlin refers to the competition of Allied generals during the final months of World War II to enter Berlin first. In a controversial decision, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower halted Anglo-American troops on the Elbe River. The whereabouts of Adolf Hitler were in doubt, and some (including Eisenhower's chief of staff, General Walter Bedell Smith) felt that the German government may in fact have moved to the Bavarian Alps to establish a redoubt. German forces west of Berlin had—against Hitler's orders—established a corridor to the city free of major defensive works, but by mutual agreement, Berlin was earmarked for the Red Army, who converged on Berlin with several Fronts (the equivalent of Army Groups in the German and Anglo-American armies), intent on taking the city as its final prize in the Battle of Berlin. The Germans refused to surrender unconditionally, despite the inability of understrength and ill-equipped armies to prevent the fall of the city. Hitler remained in supreme command.
  • April 30, 1945: Hitler committed suicide in the Führerbunker underneath the Reich Chancellery. Resistance did not end with Hitler's death, though most of the city was in Soviet hands by that point.
  • May 2, 1945: Berlin finally capitulated to the Soviet army. The Germans had undergone phenomenal suffering during Soviet operations on their soil, beginning with the first battles in East Prussia in the autumn of 1944. In particular, hundreds of thousands of women were subjected to rape by Soviet service personnel. The anonymous A Woman in Berlin (ISBN 1-84408-111-7) is a harrowing personal account of survival. The battle itself has been well chronicled; The Fall of Berlin by A. Beevor (ISBN 0-670-03041-4) gives a detailed account with particular attention paid to civilian suffering. Cornelius Ryan also published an earlier book on the fall of Berlin entitled The Last Battle. Other books include Battle for Berlin: End of the Third Reich by Earl Ziemke (Ballantyne Books, 1968), Berlin 1945: The Final Reckoning by Karl Bahm (ISBN 0-7603-1240-0) as well as books by After the Battle Magazine and the Osprey Campaign series.

Destruction of buildings and infrastructure was nearly total in parts of the inner city business and residential sectors. The outlying sections suffered relatively little damage. This averages to one fifth of all buildings (50% in the inner city) for overall Berlin.

The divided city

By the end of the Second World War, up to a third of Berlin had been destroyed by concerted Allied air raids and street fighting. The so-called Stunde Null marked a new beginning for the city. Greater Berlin was divided into four sectors by the Allies under the London Protocol of 1944, one each for:

The Soviet victors of the Battle of Berlin immediately occupied all of Berlin. They handed the American, British and French sectors (later known as West Berlin) to the American and British Forces in July 1945: the French occupied their sector a little later. The Soviets used the period from May 1945 to July 1945 to dismantle industry, transport and other facilities in West Berlin, including removing railway tracks, as reparations for German war damage in the Soviet Union. This practice also continued in East Berlin and the Soviet occupation zone after 1945.

Berlin's unique situation as a city half-controlled by Western forces in the middle of the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany made it a natural focal point in the Cold War. Though the city was initially governed by a Four Power Allied Control Council with a leadership that rotated monthly, the Soviets withdrew from the council as East-West relations deteriorated and began governing their sector independently. The council continued to govern West Berlin, with the same rotating leadership policy, though now only involving France, Great Britain, and the United States.

East Germany chose Berlin (in practice, East Berlin) as its capital when the country was formed from the Soviet occupation zone in October 1949; however, this was rejected by the western allies, who continued to regard Berlin as an occupied city that was not legally part of any German state. Although half the size and population of West Berlin (which the East German authorities generally referred to as "Westberlin"), it included most of the historic center.

West Germany, formed on 23 May 1949 from the American, British, and French zones, had its seat of government and de facto capital in Bonn, although Berlin was symbolically named as the de jure West German capital in the West German Basic Law (Grundgesetz).

West Berlin de jure remained under the rule of the Western Allies, but for most practical purposes was treated as a part of West Germany.

Blockade and airlift

In response to Allied efforts to fuse the American, French, and British sectors of western Germany into a federal state, American refusal to grant the Soviets war reparations from industrial areas of western Germany, and to a currency reform undertaken by the western powers without Soviet approval, the Soviets blocked ground access to West Berlin on 26 June 1948, in what became known as the "Berlin Blockade", in the hope of gaining control of the whole of Berlin. The Western Allies undertook a massive logistical effort to supply the western sectors of the city through the Berlin Airlift, known by the West Berliners as "die Luftbrücke" (the Air Bridge). The blockade lasted almost a year, ending when the Soviets once again allowed ground access to West Berlin on 11 May 1949.

As part of this project, US Army engineers expanded Tempelhof Airport. Because sometimes the deliveries contained sweets and candy for the children, the planes were also nicknamed "Raisin bombers".

The June 17 Uprising

60 construction workers building the showpiece Stalin-Allee in East Berlin went on strike on 16 June 1953, to demand a reduction in recent work-quota increases. They called for a general strike the next day, 17 June. The general strike and protest marches turned into rioting and spread throughout East Germany. The East German police failed to quell the unrest. It had to be suppressed by Soviet troops, who encountered stiff resistance from angry crowds across East Germany, and responded with live ammunition. At least 153 people were killed in the suppression of the uprising.

The continuation of the street "Unter den Linden" on the western side of the Brandenburg Gate was renamed Straße des 17. Juni in honor of the uprising, and 17 June was proclaimed a national holiday in West Germany.

Berlin Wall

, 1961-11-20]]

in 1986, brightly painted on the western side. Those trying to cross the so-called death strip on the eastern side could be shot.]]

On August 13, 1961 the communist East German government started to build a wall, physically separating West Berlin from East Berlin and the rest of East Germany, as a response to massive numbers of East German citizens fleeing into West Berlin as a way to escape to the west. The East German government called the Wall the "anti-fascist protection wall". The tensions between east and west were exacerbated by a tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie on 27 October 1961. West Berlin was now de facto a part of West Germany, but with a unique legal status, while East Berlin was de facto a part of East Germany.

The eastern and western sectors of Berlin were now completely separated. It was possible for Westerners to pass from one to the other only through strictly controlled checkpoints. For most Easterners, travel to West Berlin or West Germany was no longer possible. During the Wall's existence there were around 5,000 successful escapes into West Berlin; 192 people were killed trying to cross and around 200 were seriously injured. The sandy soil under the Wall was both a blessing and a curse for those who attempted to tunnel their way to West Berlin and freedom. Although it was fast and easy to dig through, it was also more prone to collapse.

When the first stone blocks were laid down at the Potsdamer Platz in the early hours of August 13, US troops stood ready with ammunition issued and watched the wall being built, stone by stone. The US Military with West Berlin police kept Berliners 300 meters away from the border. President Kennedy and the United States Congress decided not to interfere and risk armed conflict, but instead sent protest notes to Moscow. Massive demonstrations took place in West Berlin for a long time.

John F. Kennedy gave a speech about the Berlin Wall in which he said, "Ich bin ein Berliner" — "I am a Berliner" — which meant much to a city that was a Western island in Soviet satellite territory.

Much Cold War espionage and counter-espionage took place in Berlin, against a backdrop of potential superpower confrontation in which both sides had nuclear weapons set for a range that could hit Germany. In 1971, the Four-Power Agreement on Berlin was signed. While the Soviet Union applied the oversight of the four powers only to West Berlin, the Western Allies emphasized in a 1975 note to the United Nations their position that four-power oversight applied to Berlin as a whole. The agreement guaranteed access across East Germany to West Berlin and ended the potential for harassment or closure of the routes.

As many businesses did not want to operate in West Berlin due to its physical and economic isolation from the outside, the West German government subsidized any businesses that did operate in West Berlin.

Student movement

In the 1960s, West Berlin became one of the centers of the German student movement. West Berlin was especially popular with young German left-wing radicals, as young men living in West Berlin were exempted from the obligatory military service required in West Germany proper: the Kreuzberg district became especially well-known for its high concentration of young radicals.

The Wall afforded unique opportunities for social gatherings. The physical wall was set some distance behind the actual sector border, up to several meters behind in some places. The West Berlin police were not legally allowed to enter the space between the border and the wall, as it was technically in East Berlin and outside their jurisdiction: many people took the opportunity to throw loud parties in this space, with the West Berlin authorities powerless to intervene.

In 1968 and the following years, West Berlin became one of the centers of the student revolt; in particular, the Kreuzberg borough was the center of many riots.


At the 40th anniversary celebration of East Germany in East Berlin in October 1989, guest of honor Mikhail Gorbachev gave a speech indicating that he would not support hard-line positions by the East German regime, millions of whose citizens were trying to flee to West Germany across the weakening Iron Curtain in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

On 9 November 1989, after a misleading press statement by Politburo member Günter Schabowski, border guards gave in and allowed crowds from East Berlin across the frontier at the Bösebrücke. The guards believed that the authorities had decided to open the wall, but in reality no firm decision was taken and events gathered steam on their own. The East German leadership was in disarray following the resignation of party chieftain Erich Honecker in October.

People of East and West Berlin climbed up and danced on the wall at the Brandenburg Gate in scenes of wild celebration broadcast worldwide. This time no Soviet tanks rolled through Berlin. The wall never closed again, and was soon on its way to demolition, with countless Berliners and tourists wielding hammers and chisels to secure souvenir chunks.

is the traditional site of the German parliament]]

On Christmas Day December 25, 1989, the American conductor Leonard Bernstein shared with East and West Berliners and the world his Berlin Celebration Concert in order to celebrate the Fall of the Berlin Wall. "Ode to Joy", which Bernstein had reworded "Ode to Freedom", was performed.

A performance of Pink Floyd's The Wall took place in Potsdamer Platz in 1990, led by old Pink Floyd member, Roger Waters.

After the breakdown of Communism in Europe, on 3 October 1990 Germany and Berlin were both reunited. By then the Wall had been almost completely demolished, with only small sections remaining.

In June 1991 the German Parliament, the Bundestag, voted to move the (West) German capital back from Bonn to Berlin. Berlin once more became the capital of a unified Germany.

In 1999 federal ministries and government offices moved back from Bonn to Berlin, but most employees in the ministries still work in Bonn. Also in 1999, about 20 government authorities moved from Berlin to Bonn, as planned in the compensation agreement of 1994, the Berlin-Bonn-Law.

Historical population

  • 1400: 8,000 inhabitants (Berlin and Cölln)
  • 1600: 16,000
  • 1618: 10,000
  • 1648: 6,000
  • 1709: 60,000 (after union with Friedrichswerder, Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichstadt)
  • 1755: 100,000
  • 1800: 172,100
  • 1830: 247,500
  • 1850: 418,700
  • 1880: 1,124,000
  • 1900: 1,888,000
  • 1925: 4,036,000 (after 1920 enlargement of the territory)
  • 2003: 3,388,477
  • 2007: 3,402,312


  1. Berlin sigillum, heraldry: Red Brandenburg Eagle, Black Bear(s) of House of Ascanians
  2. Berger, Dieter. Geographische Namen in Deutschland, Bibliographisches Institut, 1999. ISBN 3-411-06252-5

See also


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