Berlin remained a small, peaceful and untouched city until 1415. Not much is known about the Berlin of before that time. But then came the Hohenzollerns. In 1415, the house of Hohenzollern was granted the margraviate of the electorate of Brandenburg, in which Berlin occupied a central position. The first elector was Frederick I (1371-1440).
The Hohenzollerns retained this status until the end of World War I, first as margraves, then as electors of Brandenburg, then as kings of Prussia and finally as emperors of Germany.
In 1451, Berlin became the residence of the Hohenzollerns.
It was the relatively brutal Frederick II of Brandenburg (1413-1471), also known as the Iron Teeth, who made Berlin his capital. Berlin became the capital of the electorate of Brandenburg, but in the Middle Ages it nevertheless lived a relatively insignificant existence in northeastern Germany, which was then the periphery of the Holy Roman Empire.
In the 17th century, the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), as for the rest of Germany, also had fatal consequences for Berlin – and yet it was perhaps precisely the Thirty Years’ War that created Berlin’s place in world history. About a third of the city’s houses were destroyed and its population halved. There was room for immigration.
Frederick I was crowned King of Prussia in 1701 and Berlin became the capital of the expanding Kingdom of Prussia. The change from elector to king marked a change in prestige from the Germanic Roman Emperor.
In the 18th century.
His son and successor, Frederick William I of Prussia, who was king from 1713 to 1740, focused on consolidating Prussia’s power base, which he did by building an impressive army for such a small European country. Perhaps this is why Prussia was never attacked, and Frederick William I’s nickname of “soldier king” masks the fact that he was never actually at war.
The Habsburg Empire (Austria) no longer had an exclusive claim to great power status in the Holy Roman Empire. Frederick the Great made the city of Berlin an intellectual power in northern Germany and, with his highly enlightened way of thinking, managed to attract many great thinkers. Voltaire, for example, spent time there.
With the collapse of the German Empire in 1806 and the final defeat of Napoleon a few years later, Prussia was able to occupy an increasingly strong position in Germany, with the many small states of northern Germany now relying on Prussia for protection.
Prussia was the dominant power on German territory – and Prussia’s capital was Berlin. Except for the detail that Napoleon had conquered everything – from 1806 to 1813, the French held the stick – in Berlin too.
Berlin continued to develop despite Napoleon’s occupation from October 24, 1806 to December 1, 1808. During the war of liberation in 1813, Berliners and Russian Cossacks helped each other to drive out the French.
Berlin received gas lighting in 1826 and the railroad to Potsdam was opened in 1838. In 1840, Berlin had a population of 329,000 – a city larger than present-day Aarhus. By 1858, the population had grown to 458,000. All Berliners still lived within the Berlin walls. The model can be seen today for the gates of the wall were where today it is called … tor. For example, Brandenburger Tor, Oranienburger Tor, Wassertor, Kottbusser Tor, Görlitzer Tor, etc.
The North German Confederation consolidated the power of Prussia. Berlin thus gained in size and importance. After the Prussian victory over their main competitor on German territory, Austria, in 1866. The King of Prussia changed his title to Emperor.
Berlin became the capital of the second German Reich, the Hohenzollern family became emperor, and Otto von Bismarck was a near-absolute dictator, although a parliament was allowed to have its say. It was Bismarck who decided.
At the same time, industrialization led to a dramatic growth of Berlin, which became the economic center of Germany and the fastest growing city in the world. At the turn of the century, its population reached almost 2 million.
The First World War
In 1918, after Germany’s defeat in World War I, the Weimar Republic was proclaimed in the German capital, Berlin. No more Prussian emperors or kings. There was a revolutionary atmosphere in the city and struggles for power.
But Berlin recovered, and during the 1920s more and more suburbs were integrated into Berlin. Berlin is now one of the largest cities in the world, with about 4 million inhabitants.
This growth is reflected in the transportation needs. No less than 14 railway lines and 25 stations were located around the city. To help the city’s residents get around, there were 122 suburban rail stations, 41 city and beltway rail stations, 7 ranger stations and 7 smaaban stations.
Cinema and theater flourished. In the 1920s, the city was known for its incredibly exciting and free cultural environment, where many boundaries, including sexual ones, were tested. This lasted until New York’s Wall Street Crash of 1929, when a global financial crisis created unemployment and despondency. And perhaps provided fertile ground for the Nazis.
The Third Reich – war, persecution and dictatorship
In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power and put an end to the creativity of the city of Berlin.
Within months, the city became the center of one of the most vile regimes in the world.
The Nazis quickly made life intolerable for the city’s large Jewish minority of 170,000 people. Berlin was the absolute capital of the Third Reich and, for all but Germans, it became the symbol of the City of Evil. Hitler and his architect had big plans to build the world city of Germania. The party, which was well underway in Berlin, was trampled by the boots of the Nazis.
The population was almost a million higher than today.
Entire neighborhoods were destroyed and many inhabitants perished in the bombing. The city still bears the marks of the many houses that were hastily built after the war. The Nazi buildings and many of the older imperial buildings have disappeared or remained as sooty ruins. The royal castle was abandoned and demolished by the GDR authorities in the mid-1950s.
After the war, Berlin was divided into four sectors: British, French, American and Soviet.
Germany itself was divided into 6 parts. The easternmost part of Prussia, including Königsberg, fell to the Soviet Union and is now Russian territory. The German territories east of the Oder River were taken over by Poland and remain Polish territory. The rest of Germany was divided into 4 zones: Russian, British, French and American.
One half was controlled by the Soviet Union and the other half by the Allies.
The Soviets did not like having Berlin in the middle of East Germany and in 1948 the Russians closed off goods and transport to and from Berlin. Berlin was sealed off and soon suffocated by food and energy shortages. The operation failed because the Americans momentarily began to steal supplies to Berlin. So effectively, in fact, that it was called an airlift,
East Berliners’ discontent with Soviet rule in East Berlin led to a large demonstration on June 17, 1953, which was put down in blood. In the West, there was nothing to do but watch. Strasse des 17. Juni, in the center of Berlin – on the west side – is a reminder of this riot.
The GDR came into being in 1949. The eastern part of the city, East Berlin, became the capital. West Berlin became an enclave, an island, in the middle of an Eastern Bloc country, and thus a showcase for democracy and the market economy. The market economy directly against the planned economy. Democracy versus dictatorship. Freedom versus equality. Welfare state versus total state.
The solution was to build a wall and keep it. The Germans are effectively divided in two. East and West.
On August 13, 1961, Berlin was cut in two by surprise. Nobody came. Suddenly, the wall was there. Families and friends were instantly separated. The wall, which became the symbol of the Iron Curtain and the division of Europe, was guarded by minefields, barbed wire and soldiers until 1989, when the communist regime had to give in to popular pressure.
Several hundred people were killed trying to escape over the wall during the Cold War.
1989 Fall of the wall and reunification
In 1989, the border crossings were opened to East Germans after strong and sustained pressure from the population. The entire population of Berlin took to the streets in spontaneous celebration, while the rest of Europe breathed a sigh of relief. The Wall had fallen. Today, not much of the Wall remains.
On June 20, 1991, the German Bundestag decided that Berlin would be the new capital of a reunited Germany. Berlin became the capital of a united Germany again in 1999. The government and many important ministries moved from Bonn to Berlin in 1999, and Berlin is once again one of the most important cities in Europe.
With reunification in 1989, East Germans were free to travel again – and they did so in style. Many apartments in the central districts of Prenzlauer Berg, Mitte and Friedrichshain remained empty and many industrial lots were abandoned. In addition, large areas of buildings and land with long walls were abandoned after World War II. Berlin became a city with lots of space and very low rents, if the houses were not simply occupied by bz and other anarchists.