On a visit to Berlin, the visitor easily gets the impression of constant transformation, which is no wonder considering how turbulent German history has been, especially in the last one hundred years.
In the 14th century, Berlin is the most important town in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, the region East of the river Elbe that had only been colonised by Germans since the 12th century BC.
The city's constant growth is accompanied by a strong wish for independance, so in 1430 Berlin associates with the Hanseatic League in order to put up resistance against the German sovereigns.
In the 16th century, the publication of Martin Luther's theses meets with general approval, therefore the electors and the city become protestant (1539). The Thirty Years' War (1618 - 1648) leaves Berlin and the surrounding Brandenburg region in a desolate state.
After the war, the Great Elector - Frederick William - started to rebuild the town, securing it by the construction of a fortification. In order to regain inhabitants and economic strength, he invited French protestant refugees to settle in his land: the Huguenots, who were expulsed from France after the revocation of the Nantes Edict in 1685.
The city continues to grow during the reign of Frederick I, the first Prussian king (1701). Medieval Berlin-Cölln merges with new quarters like "Dorotheenstadt" and "Friedrichstadt" to form a thriving residence city in 1709. His successors contribute to this development of the city as a representative seat of kings, attractive to foreign visitors and intellectuals. Frederick II (the Great), who strived to be an enlightened monarch, invited philosophers like Voltare and Rousseau and founded cultural institution like the opera "Unter den Linden".
19th century brought industrialisation (iron and steel industry, textile factories). In 1871 Berlin (800,000 inhabitants) becomes the capital of the newly founded German Empire, established as a result of chancellor Bismarck's clever policy. Berlin remains capital of Germany, when, after the end of World War I, democracy is installed - a period later called the Weimar Republic - and when, in 1933, the Nazis seize power.
Consequently, the city is an important target for air raids during World War II. In the final battle against the Red Army the Berlin streets become theatre of war. Most of the city is badly destroyed, its centre almost entirely reduced to rubble and of the 4.2 million counted in 1939 only 2.8 million inhabitants remain, most of them women who start to clean up the damage.
At the end of the war Berlin is divided in four sectors controlled by the four powers of Anti-Hitler-coalition: American, British, French and Soviet . The sectors of the Western allies later merge under one administration forming West-Berlin while East Berlin, the sector held by the Soviets becomes capital again when the socialist German state - the German Democratic Republic - is founded in 1949. During the Cold War, West Berlin is a constant spot of trouble. The conflict starts to escalate when, on June 24, 1948, the USSR, hoping to break the grip of the Western allies, puts up a blockade in order to isolate the Western part of Berlin completely. Thanks to the initiative of the Americans, on the following day the legendary Airlift is organised to supply West Berlin thus ensuring its survival as a free city. Although the blockade ends in May, the Airlift is kept up until the end of September 1949. During the operation that comprised a total of 213,000 cargo flights, 70 pilots lose their lives.
On August 13, 1961 East Berlin authorities start building a wall at the inner-Berlin border, with consent of the Russians. During 28 years of separation, West Berlin is a stronghold in the middle of the Soviet sphere of influence, often scene of demonstrations and, in any case, a permanent focus of international attention. On the other hand, since the late 60s the Western part of this city that had always had a strong attraction for artists gradually turned into an experimental zone for alternative lifestyle. .
Today Berlin is once again the capital of reunited Germany and the city that, at times, played a decisive role in world history now gives its visitors the occasion to go on a journey through the eventful and troubled stages of its existence.
We would like to tell your more about Berlin history on our guided walking tours .
See you soon!