It's a gate. And now
you can even walk through it!
Berlin, capital of Germany 1871-1945
and again since 1990
and a major world city. According to P. J. O'Rourke, "the city that Iggy Pop
moved to because New York wasn't decadent enough." Though P.J. followed it up by saying, "Forget it. We bombed the place flat in WWII, and they rebuilt it as a pretty good imitation of Minneapolis."
Divided in two for the duration of the Cold War
is also the title of a wrist-slittingly depressing album
by Lou Reed
How to tell which former half of the city you are in
History of Berlin
- If you're standing next to a great big TV tower with a rotating ball near the top, you're in the eastern part, specifically Alexanderplatz.
- If you're standing next to Communist architecture, you're in the eastern half.
- There used to be a great big bronze-windowed building, the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, home of the East German "parliament" and also a cultural centre. Discovered to be filled with asbestos, it is now entirely demolished and an old palace will be somewhat rebuilt where it was (it had been knocked down by the GDR, who saw it as a symbol of Prussian militarism, bar one facade where a guy named Karl Liebknecht had declared a German Socialist Republic in 1918, also it was moderately bomb damaged, a parallel of the asbestos).
- If the little men on the traffic lights (known as Ampelmännchen) are wearing hats, you are very likely to be in the eastern half. However, this method is somewhat hit and miss.
- If you're in the Zoologischer Garten, you're in the western half.
- If you're in the Tiergarten (a park that started out as a place where the rulers of Brandenburg went hunting), you're in the western half. However, if you're in the Tierpark (the city's other zoo), your in the eastern half.
- If you're in a tram (a Straßenbahn), you're almost certainly in the eastern half.
- If you're at the side of Brandenburger Tor opposite the Reichstag (that is, on Unter den Linden), you're in the eastern half. If you're on the side of Tiergarten, you're in the western half, although not if you're standing right next to it.
- The Kreuzberg neighborhood (now part of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district) might be a little run-down, but it's on the western half. Friedrichshain was in the eastern half.
- If you're standing next to the East Side Gallery, you're in the eastern half (see Berlin Wall).
- Soviet soldier statue guide: if the column's grey, you are in the western half (this was in the British sector, but was guarded by Soviet soldiers throughout the Cold War). If it isn't and the guy is holding a sword and a kid, you are in the eastern half.
- If you're in the SonyCenter, you're in Potsdamer Platz, smack dab in the middle.
- If you're at an airport, you're definitely not in the eastern half. East Berlin's airport was built at Schönefeld, outside the city limits; since reunification, it has been expanded into the modern Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport. The Tegel airport, built in the French sector at the time of the Berlin Airlift, was supposed to have closed years ago, but remains open for the moment. Tempelhof, Berlin's original airport, was closed in 2008. The small military airfield at Gatow, which lies near the city's western limits, was a Royal Air Force base for nearly five decades after World War II; the Bundeswehr took it over in 1994, but have since then mostly operated it as a museum.
The name "Berlin" has nothing to do with bears (although their crest has one), but rather stems from the Slavic word for "meadow", not a miracle if you recall its location in a glacial valley.
In 1157, a count called Albert the Bear
founded the Margraviate of Brandenburg and became its first Margrave and really kicked off German East Colonization. Settlements arose along the glacial valley of the lower Spree River and at the narrowest point of said valley, the settlement of Cölln (not to be confused with Köln
(Cologne) at the Rhine River) was founded on the nearby river isle and the nucleus of the actual town of (Old) Berlin was found on the river's right bank. In 1309, these two towns got a common city hall. The year 1237 as the accepted foundation date of Berlin is actually the year of the first documental mention of Cölln, the actual Old Berlin first mentioned in 1244.
In 1415, Elector Frederick I got the throne over the Margraviate of Brandenburg, ending Berlin's existence as a Hanseatic city and starting the century-long legacy of the Hohenzollern dynasty. After severe losses due to the Thirty Years' War
, "Great Elector" Frederic William made a hell of a deal to (re-)populate his war-torn country and prevent future suffering from any games great powers might potentially play. The biggest deal was the edict of Potsdam from 1685, essentially an invitation to persecuted French Protestants, the Huguenots, to live in Brandenburg.note
The lion's share of the 15,000 that came settled in Berlin, which has always been supported as a strongpoint in the area, though Potsdam, a small fishing village sixteen miles to the southwest, was also elevated to importance when the elector built a palace there. In essence, this should become the cornerstone of Berlin as the lone metropolis in the rural sea of Brandenburg as it's known to this day.
In 1701, Brandenburg-Prussia become the Kingdom of Prussia
, retaining Berlin as its capital. With Prussia growing the following two centuries (e.g. Silesia, Rhineland, Hannover and others), Berlin became the capital of an ever-growing country and therefore a magnet for more and more people, making it especially distinct from the surrounding Brandenburg which also affected its dialect. In essence, the growth of Berlin was the result of the sheer willpower of its rulers.
In 1860/61, Berlin grew its boundaries for the first time in newer times to compromise what in the latest 20th century would have been known as the precincts of Mitte ("Centre", meaning Old Berlin), Wedding, Tiergarten, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg and Gesundbrunnen. In 1871, the Prussian capital also became the capital of the newly founded German Reich. By that time, Berlin already had 800,000 inhabitants.
From then on, the history of Berlin coincides with the history of Germany in general. At the end of World War I
, Germany was declared a republic in Berlin and the political street fights there got so nasty that the constitutional assembly for the German Reich was moved to Weimar, hence the Weimar Republic
. In 1920, the almost bi-million city of Berlin was enlarged another and the last time, doubling its population to almost four million people. 20s Berlin despite is weak economy, political instability and the large cloud of inevitable doom that carries all retrospective perspectives of the time, is often regarded as the epitome of 20th Century Modernism. It was the age of Bertolt Brecht
and Kurt Weill
, the cartoons of George Grosz, amazing advances in architecture, Arnold Schoenberg
's atonal music, the development of Cabaret and other night-clubs celebrated in later fictions and of course German Expressionism
in the films of Fritz Lang
and F. W. Murnau
. It was a cosmopolitan city that was even reknowned for being a gay capital. Like all good parties, it didn't last forever. The burning of the Reichstag building in February 1933 helped Those Wacky Nazis
consolidate their power, and they were firmly in control by the time the city hosted the 1936 Olympics.
Berlin suffered more destruction than any other European city in World War II
. Allied bombing raids and the invasion of the Red Army took a harsh toll on the city, making the population plummet to about three million, where it essentially remained since then. After Adolf Hitler
took his own life in a bunker and Germany surrendered, the Allies divided the old Reich capital akin to the rest of what remained of Germany, with the French in the northwest, the British in the west, the Americans in the south, and the Soviets in the east. Berlin suffered greatly under being the playball of the superpowers in the upcoming Cold War
, leading to its division. East Berlin was quickly integrated into the structures of East Germany
, serving as its capital. West Berlin survived the Soviet blockade of 1948/49 via the Berlin Airlift, keeping its status as an island of the free world amid the red sea of communism. For many years, it was easy to flee from the East to the West via Berlin. To turn off this leak in the Iron Curtain, the GDR built the infamous death trap commonly called the Berlin Wall
on August 13, 1961.
Due to its special "four power state", West Berlin was not officially part of West Germany
, though it was treated like another German state as far as possible. This also meant that West German conscription didn't apply to West Berlin, making it a haven for draft dodgers from "the provinces".
With the political climate in the world changing
, Berlin got directly affected. The Berlin Wall became obsolete when the GDR opened its borders to the West on November 9, 1989. Less than a year later, Berlin once again became the capital of a (re-)united Germany
. But it had yet to take until 1999 until the all-German government and parliament finally moved back to Berlin (post-war and pre-unification, the capital of West Germany had been Bonn, in case you're wondering) and during much of The '90s
, Berlin was dubbed as the biggest construction site of Europe.
As all of Berlin, its west and its east alike, was a major target for subsidies, it's no miracle that Berlin is often dubbed as "poor but sexy" or even as "the only world city that doesn't cost the world".
Berlin In Fiction
Throughout the Cold War
, Berlin was "The City of Spies
" (a title that has also been held by Lisbon, Tangiers, Beirut, Istanbul, and Casablanca
at various points in their history), and the Glienicke Bridge, which links (West) Berlin and Potsdam, was the most well-known venue for the exchange of captured spies. Spy Fiction
from that period will almost always mention Berlin.
The city is generally depicted in these contexts as grey and dreary, especially the eastern part (not quite true, as a third of the city is in the form of parks). It works best at night. Dead drops, double-crosses and defections are the order of the day. Expect someone to attempt to run the Berlin Wall
If you're lucky, you might see some of West Berlin's (extremely vibrant) music scene and nightlife (being one of the early centers of so-called "Krautrock
" and David Bowie
(the albums Station To Station
) and Iggy Pop
(the albums The Idiot
and Lust For Life
) both having recorded there on the basis of its reputation).
Before that, Nazi Germany
Berlin is a very oppressive place or a positive deathtrap when you're dealing with the 1945 Battle of Berlin
's Berlin is a very vibrant and colourful place, comparable with Paris. Truth in Television
here. Portrayals focus on the development of Cabaret culture, sexual egalitarianism and great night-life. Some fictions even portray it as a City Noir
setting. Interestingly a lot of the classic writers and directors of Film Noir
— Billy Wilder
, Otto Preminger
, Robert Siodmak, Fritz Lang
— were Berliners during the 20s and many of them admitted in interviews that their films about the American underbelly were often inspired by their memories of 20s Berlin, which came very close to resembling the exaggerated City Noir
landscape beloved in later fictions.
- Aimée & Jaguar, the story of a lesbian romance between a Jew and a non-Jew during World War II.
- Before the Storm, Theodor Fontane's first novel, and Der Stechlin, his last one, are set partly in Berlin, partly in the countryside of Brandenburg. And so are a number of Fontane's other works. The novellas L'Adultera, Schach von Wuthenow and Die Poggenpuhls for instance are predominantly set in Berlin.
- Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz and its radio play and movie adaptations.
- Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis, an experimental (silent) documentary film from 1927.
- The Bourne Supremacy.
- Cabaret. Set in Weimar Germany.
- Fritz Lang's Doctor Mabuse trilogy — Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler , Das Testament des Doktor Mabuse and its post-war sequel of sorts, Die 1000 Augen des Dr Mabuse.
- Downfall. It is a city of warehouses. "Where's my house?" "Where's my house?"
- Emil and the Detectives and a few other books by Erich Kästner - e. g. Pünktchen und Anton and Fabian - are partially or entirely set in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s. Most of them were filmed more than once.
- A Foreign Affair, a 1948 Billy Wilder comedy starring Jean Arthur as a U.S. Senator visiting post-war Berlin and Marlene Dietrich as a cabaret torch singer.
- Good Bye, Lenin!!- the fall of East Germany.
- The Good German. Set in Berlin and Potsdam just after World War II, before the division of Germany.
- Grand Hotel and the book it is based on.
- Wim Wenders' films Der Himmel über Berlin (aka Wings of Desire and The Sky over Berlin) and In weiter Ferne, so nah! (Faraway, So Close!).
- The Lives of Others is set in East Berlin in 1984. It's a fitting year, given the plot.
- Lola Rennt (a.k.a. Run Lola Run).
- M, directed by Fritz Lang and featuring Peter Lorre.
- Mephisto by Klaus Mann.
- Olympia, the official film of the 1936 Olympic Games, directed by Leni Riefenstahl.
- Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three.
- Torn Curtain
- We Are the Night.
- Winter of the World
- The Flash Forwards in the Lost episode "The Economist" involve spies, murder, and intrigue in cold, gray Berlin.
- The only time Section 9 works with a foreign intelligence service in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, they help German military intelligence to track down an international terrorist in Berlin. Within the show, the city had been destroyed and rebuild a second time somewhere in the 2020s or 30s (apparently to look like a Bavarian village).
- The Phineas and Ferb episode Summer Belongs to You shows three Berlin landmarks in the "Bouncing Around the World" sequence: The glass dome of the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, and Alexanderplatz with the world clock and the television tower.
- Frank Zappa's album Burnt Weeny Sandwich has two instrumental tracks named Holiday in Berlin, which were based on an incident during a 1968 concert in Berlin where Zappa and his band were sieged on stage because they didn't want to take up the crowd's offer to cause try to create a revolution in the streets.
- Lou Reed's Berlin is a concept album set in the city.
- David Bowie's Berlin trilogy are three albums recorded in Berlin and breathing a very specific city atmosphere: Station To Station, Low and Heroes. The latter album has a title track, Heroes, which specifically mentions The Berlin Wall. In Berlin it's almost seen as an anthem and Bowie even recorded a German version of it.