Berlin

View from the Victory Column towards Mitte, Berlin, Germany.

Berlin is the capital and the largest city of Germany as well as one of its constituent 16 states. With a population of approximately 3.5 million people, Berlin is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union. Located in northeastern Germany on the banks of rivers Spree and Havel, it is the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg Metropolitan Region, which has about 6 million residents from more than 180 nations. Due to its location in the European Plain, Berlin is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate. Around one-third of the city’s area is composed of forests, parks, gardens, rivers and lakes.

Location within European and Germany.

First documented in the 13th century and situated at the crossing of two important historic trade routes, Berlin became the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg (1417–1701), the Kingdom of Prussia (1701–1918), the German Empire (1871–1918), the Weimar Republic (1919–1933) and the Third Reich (1933–1945). Berlin in the 1920s was the third largest municipality in the world. After World War II and its consequent occupation by the victorious countries, the city was divided; East Berlin became the capital of East Germany while West Berlin became a de facto West German exclave, surrounded by the Berlin Wall (1961–1989) and East German territory. Following German reunification in 1990, Berlin once again became the capital of a unified Germany.

Coat of Arms.

Berlin is a world city of culture, politics, media and science. Its economy is based on high-tech firms and the service sector, encompassing a diverse range of creative industries, research facilities, media corporations and convention venues. Berlin serves as a continental hub for air and rail traffic and has a highly complex public transportation network. The metropolis is a popular tourist destination. Significant industries also include IT, pharmaceuticals, biomedical engineering, clean tech, biotechnology, construction and electronics.

Flag.

Modern Berlin is home to world renowned universities, orchestras, museums, entertainment venues and is host to many sporting events. Its urban setting has made it a sought-after location for international film productions. The city is well known for its festivals, diverse architecture, nightlife, contemporary arts and a high quality of living. Since 2000 Berlin has seen the emergence of a cosmopolitan entrepreneurial scene.

Reichstag building seen from the west, before sunset.

Etymology

The name Berlin has its roots in the language of West Slavic inhabitants of the area of today’s Berlin, and may be related to the Old Polabian stem berl-/birl- (“swamp”). All German place names ending on -ow, -itz and -in, of which there are many east of the River Elbe, are of Slavic origin (Germania Slavica). There are many boroughs of Slavic origin in the city: Berlin-Karow, Berlin-Malchow, Berlin-Pankow, Berlin-Spandau (earlier: Spandow), Berlin-Gatow, Berlin-Kladow, Berlin-Steglitz, Berlin-Lankwitz, Berlin-Britz, Berlin-Buckow, Berlin-Rudow, Berlin-Alt-Treptow, Berlin-Schmöckwitz, Berlin-Marzahn and Berlin-Köpenick. Since the Ber- at the beginning sounds like the German word Bär (bear), there appears a bear in the coat of arms of the city. It is therefore a canting arm.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.

12th to 16th Centuries

The earliest evidence of settlements in the area of today’s Berlin are a wooden rod dated from approximately 1192  and leftovers of wooden houseparts dated to 1174 found in a 2012 excavation in Berlin Mitte. The first written records of towns in the area of present-day Berlin date from the late 12th century. Spandau is first mentioned in 1197 and Köpenick in 1209, although these areas did not join Berlin until 1920. The central part of Berlin can be traced back to two towns. Cölln on the Fischerinsel is first mentioned in a 1237 document, and Berlin, across the Spree in what is now called the Nikolaiviertel, is referenced in a document from 1244. 1237 is considered the founding date of the city. The two towns over time formed close economic and social ties, and profited from the staple right on the two important trade routes Via Imperii and from Bruges to Novgorod. In 1307, they formed an alliance with a common external policy, their internal administrations still being separated.

In 1415, Frederick I became the elector of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which he ruled until 1440. During the 15th century, his successors established Berlin-Cölln as capital of the margraviate, and subsequent members of the Hohenzollern family ruled in Berlin until 1918, first as electors of Brandenburg, then as kings of Prussia, and eventually as German emperors. In 1443, Frederick II ‘Irontooth’ started the construction of a new royal palace in the twin city Berlin-Cölln. The protests of the town citizens against the building culminated in 1448, in the “Berlin Indignation” (“Berliner Unwille”). This protest was not successful and the citizenry lost many of its political and economic privileges. After the royal palace was finished in 1451, it gradually came into use. From 1470, with the new elector Albrecht III Achilles, Berlin-Cölln became the new royal residence. Officially, the Berlin-Cölln palace became permanent residence of the Brandenburg electors of the Hohenzollerns from 1486, when John Cicero came to power. Berlin-Cölln, however, had to give up its status as a free Hanseatic city. In 1539, the electors and the city officially became Lutheran.

Aerial view over Berlin Mitte.

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German Military History with a focus on World War 2 History including other areas of German History