I am a jelly doughnut
City in north-eastern Germany. Also a state of the Federal Republic of Germany and its capital city. Population ca. 3.5 million, area 889 km² (343 mi²)
The founding of Berlin
Berlin, although the city bears its name, is not the oldest settlement in the area that it comprises today. In the early to mid-8th century the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes; one were the Hevellers centred around "Brennabor" on the river Havel (this would later become Brandenburg) and the other were the Sprewan who settled around Köpenick on the river Spree. Both these rivers flow through modern Berlin. Around 750 the Hevellers founded Spandau as the first seat of tribal authority. This location would be fortified around 825 and has remained so ever since.
Spandau was also the first town to be chartered in the area on 1232-03-02. Its first mention in an official document is in 1197. Forty years after that, on 1237-10-28, the first mention is made of Cölln, Berlin's sister town on an island in the Spree, several miles to the east of Spandau. Although Berlin itself was not mentioned until seven years later, this date is considered the city's founding date. Berlin may have been there earlier since it was consistely twice the size of Cölln for the best part of the 13th century. Spandau is now a large part of western Berlin and Spandauers still make a point of the fact that their town was chartered first and thus the city should be called Spandau instead of Berlin.
The origins of the city's name are obscure and disputed; several of the theories involve an Askanian noble named Albrecht the Bear who became overlord of the region during one of the periods of eastward expansion of German peoples in 1134 and christianised the Slavic population. However, he was known as "the Bear" to posterity but not to his contemporaries. The most likely origin of the name is some long-lost West Slavic territorial description. Berlin's symbol is the bear which first appears on the seal of a document dated 1280-03-22 and addressed to the local furriers' guild. It's highly probable that the bear symbolism came from the name of the town rather than the other way round since it does not appear earlier than 1280. There is no conclusive evidence to support any theory regarding the origin of either the name or the bear symbolism.
Berlin during the late Middle Ages and Reformation
The city first appeared as a possible administrative centre in 1280 when it was mentioned as the site of a mint. In 1307 the towns of Berlin and Cölln formed a common council, although they would not be formally united until about 400 years later. In 1345 its administrative role would become clearer when the regional council of Brandenburg was first held in the town. The town's population was never large and was further reduced by the plague and the persecution of the Jewish population, which had existed for a hundred years, in 1348. Seals and other heraldic items of those times combined the eagle of Cölln with the bear of Berlin.
No major expansion occured until 1436 when the twin cities acquired the settlements of Tempelhof, Mariendorf and several others, all to the south, from the Knights Templar. By 1450 the population had risen to 8000 and the Elector Friedrich II, against the inhabitants' will, was erecting the first fortified palace. Berlin was formally declared the seat of the Electors of Brandenburg in 1470, beginning a long career as a seat of government. Some time in the 15th century the city joined the Hanseatic League.
In 1539, Berlin became one of the major centres of the Reformation and Protestantism under the leadership of Elector Joachim II and, in 1571, received the first refugees from Catholic persecution, a group of Dutch Calvinist freedom fighters fleeing Spanish oppression in the Low Countries. The population suffered another setback in 1576 when a plague outbreak claimed about 4000 victims but rebounded and had 10000 inhabitants around the turn of the 17th century. Although this was reduced again to around 6000 during the Thirty Years War, the city recovered and, by the end of the century, had developed into a metropolis of 20000, mostly under the fifty-year long reign of Friedrich Wilhelm, known as the Great Elector. Part of that increase came from an influx of Huguenot immigrants from France under the Edict of Potsdam. These people brought with them arts and crafts hitherto unknown in Brandenburg which was and is generally poor in natural resources. In 1700, the first of many famous educational institutions and one of the beacons of 18th century science, the Academy of Sciences (Akademie der Wissenschaften) was founded.
Berlin and the rise of Prussia
The turn of the 18th century marked the beginning of the ascendancy of Berlin as the seat of a world power. Elector Friedrich III was crowned king of a land called Prussia (Preußen) on 1701-01-18 and declared Berlin his capital. By the time Cölln and Berlin were united in 1709, their population and that of the outlying areas had risen to 60000, making it a significant European population centre. There was still a sizeable Huguenot population in the city, besides the Dutch, and more religious refugees and migrants arrived around 1730, this time from Bohemia. They brought with them the art of glass-blowing and, before the century was over, had made Berlin one of the prime brewery cities in the German lands.
By the end of the 18th century, almost half of it being in the reign of Friedrich II (the Great), the city's population trebled and Prussia had become a European superpower. Between 1740 and 1770, Berlin also developed into a cultural and financial centre with the construction of the first opera house, the founding of the first bank and its gathering of intellectuals of the Enlightenment movement. In the latter half of the century it also began to develop a porcelain industry and in 1781 the first spinning machine signified the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Prussia.
The next years saw cultural and political changes. Following the end of Napoleon's occupation of the city during his rampage across Europe, 1811 saw the installation of the first facility actually dedicated to gymnastics. One year later, in the spirit of the Edict of Potsdam which hade made Berlin a kind of religious refuge like Pennsylvania was in the Americas, an unusual move in Europe gave the city's Jewish inhabitants full civil rights, though the 1850 constitution would rob many citizens, Jews included, of the right to vote. Although Berlin had had at least two instances of persecution in the past, the Edict's guarantees of religious freedom and its many refugees made it one of the most tolerant cities in Europe before Hitler and a centre of European Jewry.
The rest of the 19th century saw Berlin boom like very few cities in Europe. The Prussian virtues of efficient administration and industry which would later become known as German virtues made Berlin a model for many other cities in public transportation, enlargement, public health, education and many other fields. By the middle of the century, Berlin had become a grand city of half a million and that figure doubled by 1877 and doubled again by 1905.
In 1871, Berlin became the capital of the newly founded German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm I. While still king of Prussia in 1861, Wilhelm had extended the city to very near its current borders. The population density in the most densely populated areas was over 20000/km² (8000/mi²) which is huge even by modern standards.
Berlin in the 20th century
As time went by, Berlin continued as a cultural, educational and political hotbed of activity. 1902 saw the opening of its subway system and four years later the city gained even more importance as an inland harbour with the opening of the Teltow Canal. Next to London, Paris and St. Petersburg, Berlin had become the most populous and impressive city in Europe. The hardship of WWI was endured and, before and following the deposition of the Kaiser, Berlin was the epicenter of revolutionary thought and activity that had the world watching. By 1920, order had been established and Germany was a republic, with Berlin still its capital.
1920 also saw the last major change in the city's external borders. As of 1920-10-01, Greater Berlin was to include the existing city, divided into six districts (Bezirke) and another 14 would be created out of the outlying townships and smaller cities. These are the adminstrative divisions that were created and still exist today. Each Bezirk has its own mayor (Bürgermeister) and above them is the Regierender Bürgermeister, the Ruling Mayor or Governor for lack of a better translation. Three districts were created from existing ones after that date.
The districts were as follows (those marked with an asterisk made up East Berlin during the allied occupation of 1945-1991):
Mitte*, Prenzlauer Berg*, Wedding, Tiergarten, Friedrichshain*, Kreuzberg, Steglitz, Zehlendorf, Neukölln, Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, Schöneberg, Lichtenberg*, Spandau, Köpenick*, Tempelhof, Treptow*, Weißensee*, Pankow*, Reinickendorf, Marzahn* (created 1979 from parts of Lichtenberg and Weißensee), Hellersdorf* (carved out of Marzahn in 1986) and Hohenschönhausen* (carved out of Lichtenberg in 1987)
After a hiccup in the form of a financial crisis in the early 1920s, the city continued to bloom until Germany's own Great Depression reduced much of the population to poverty between 1929 and 1932. Riding the wave of popular discontent were the National Socialists, who gained power in 1933, a determined Adolf Hitler manipulating the President into giving him a mandate by playing on his, possibly well-founded, fear of a communist government. This marked the beginning of twelve years during which Berlin would rapidly become the guiding centre of the greatest military machine to be built, see a lot frantic diplomacy and a war that would end with much of the city, including one in every three residences, reduced to rubble. By 1945 not much was left of it and its population had shrunk from its pre-war peak of 4.34 million to 2.8 million. Of the 173000 Jews that made it the world's fifth largest Jewish population centre and contributed greatly to its economy, 1400 remained.
Between 1945 and 1948, Berliners began to rebuild and restore their city to its former glory. But history had other things in store for them. In 1948, unable to agree with the Western powers on the occupation of German territory and the city itself, the Soviet Union imposed a blockade on the western-occupied twelve districts which lay as an island with Soviet-occupied territory. Berlin, as it had been the source of the war that had just ended, became the starting point of the Cold War. The Berlin Airlift that supplied the city with everything from coal to candy for over a year was a golden chapter in the history of aviation... and the first chapter of a poker game between madmen of which Berlin would be the epicentre.
Occupation or no occupation, West Berlin followed West Germany into prosperity and development while East Berlin became the capital of the Soviet satellite state of the DDR in 1949. On 1953-06-17, massive demonstrations of East Berliners and East Germans demanded unity for Germany but the protest were drowned in blood. The stakes were raised on 1961-08-13 when the East German regime decided it had enough of its citizens freely crossing the border into the west (and the Soviets wanted to test President Kennedy's intentions) and thus was born the Berlin Wall, a concrete abomination which would symbolize the Cold War for the best part of three decades (its only redeeming feature was its function as an endless canvas for graffiti artists). Its tearing down on 1989-11-09 meant, fittingly, the beginning of the end of the Cold War in the city it had begun in.
Following the reunification of Germany and Berlin the city, for the first time in over 500 years, saw a spell during which it was not a seat of government. The German parliament, following a proposal by Willy Brandt who had been mayor of Berlin in the 1950s and 1960s, voted to move back to Berlin.
As of 2001-01-01, the city's districts were reorganised and reduced to twelve as follows (frankly, I don't understand the reasoning behind this change):
- Neukölln, Reinickendorf and Spandau remained as was.
- Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf were combined into Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf
- Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg were combined into Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg
- Lichtenberg again includes Hohenschönhausen, effectively reverting to its pre-1987 borders.
- Marzahn and Hellersdorf were combined into Marzahn-Hellersdorf, also reverting to a previous (1979-1986) district with a longer name.
- Mitte now includes Tiergarten and Wedding.
- Pankow now includes Prenzlauer Berg and Weißensee.
- Steglitz and Zehlendorf were combined into Steglitz-Zehlendorf
- Tempelhof and Schöneberg were combined into Tempelhof-Schöneberg
- Treptow and Köpenick were combined into Treptow-Köpenick.
Although there's nothing to compare to the imposing landmarks of cities like Paris, Moscow or New York, Berlin does have its own set of landmarks by which the locals navigate. Tourist traps included.
- Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)
- Formerly one of the city gates, this used to be the western entrance to the city at some point in time. During the Occupation you could look at it from behind barriers but not visit it since it was technically in East Berlin.
- This enormous park in the middle of the city is, or at least used to be, a great place to get lost on weekends and escape without leaving the city. These days it's more famous as the venue for the Love Parade.
- The original building designed to house the German parliament, completed in 1894. This is where the
Weimar Republic was proclaimed from; this is the place that marked Hitler's rise to power, although his parliament never convened there. This is, since 1999, once again the home of the German legislature. It was rebuilt using a simpler design following its virtual destruction in WWII and served as a museum before being revamped, remodelled and given a glass dome in the 1990s. Even now it's not *much* of a landmark but certainly more of one than it was during my time in Berlin.
- Siegessäule (Victory column)
- A bit like a straight tower of Pisa and 70m (230 ft.) high this edifice is just west of the Brandenburger Tor in the middle of the Tiergarten park. It was inaugurated in 1873 as a symbol of Prussian victory and German unity (yes, I know that doesn't make sense). It's topped with a 35-ton gold-leaf statue of Nike. Great view from the top. Originally it was in front of the Reichstag but Hitler had it moved in 1938.
- Little more than a radio mast with a restaurant, it looks like a downscaled and uglier version of the Eiffel Tower. It really has no redeeming features. It's tall, though, and you can navigate by it. Located in Charlottenburg in the west.
- Checkpoint Charlie
- I haven't been there since the Wall came down but word has it this is the tourist trap of modern Berlin. I hear they charge you DM 10 admission (I suppose that's something like 5 euros now) for a Disney-Hollywood style display of Cold War memorabilia.
- The former hub of East Berlin, with its own, much more stylish radio tower. Called simply the "Alex" by locals. I hear it's as grey and uninteresting today as it was when I last saw it. I can believe that. Another big antenna you can find your way by.
- Potsdamer Platz
- This is where it was "happening" in the 1920s and might just be happening again. Following reunification it's developed into a commercial hub and heart of a shopping district. Some of the newest architectural novelties of Berlin now house some of its largest corporations.
- Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church)
- This is what was the heart of West Berlin on the Kurfürstendamm (or Ku'damm as the locals will call it). It's a pair of churches actually. The new octagonal blue glass oddity was built after WWII next to the shell of the old bombed out church. The old church was left standing as a reminder. Very easily recognisable... many cities have ruins as items of archaeological interest but only Berlin has a contemporary ruin as a landmark.
Some famous Berliners
Berlin is a city with attitude ("hearty with attitude" is what Berliners say of their city). It creates and attracts people with attitude. Researchers, artists and philosophers have all been attracted to Berlin and some imports adopted it as their home. What they have in common is a pioneering spirit and, of course, attitude... sometimes lots of it. I might add a few more as I remember them.
The not so famous Berliners
Berlin, for the visitor or the local, was and is not a particularly friendly city. You are expected to mind your own business and find your own way. After all, they didn't build such an efficient system of getting things done and going places if they meant for you to ask your way around, did they? If you do have to ask and someone on the street is friendly and helpful, they're not local or some local is having a good day. Your high school German, by the way, if you're a foreigner (or a Bavarian, same thing to a Berliner), will be of no use when someone unleashes the full force of the local dialect on you. You might stand a better chance of understanding it if you speak Dutch. Above all, Berliners have an attitude that can put New Yorkers to shame and shock the casual visitor but that's how they get along with each other. Adapt. It's fun.
Films set in Berlin (not including 1980s Hollywood spy flicks)
Berlin has always been the centre of German cinema. Several classic films are produced and/or set in Berlin. Among them:
Berlin also has a very active music scene at times. Some of the artists you could have found living or recording here at some point, especially during the early 1980s, were:
Should I visit?
An unqualified yes. Don't come back with some kitschy Funkturm or Trabant model as a souvenir though. Get a tin of "Berliner Luft"... that's right, air! If you look carefully, you might find one of the old ones which have West Berlin air in them from before reunification. That's the real thing. Berlin is also not all city... a large part of it is taken up by parks, forest and lakes. You have two rivers, the Havel and the Spree, the Wannsee which is a lake on the Havel (also a famous nudist mecca in the summer), and lots of woods in the south-west and north. In line with its longstanding name as a city of culture, Berlin offers quite some variety. Whether you prefer mainstream culture, subculture or paraculture, Berlin will not disappoint you.
The Jelly Doughnut (also see Ich bin ein Berliner)
Kennedy didn't get it quite right in either German or Berliner. The complete thing is:
Berliner: Ick bin een Berlina. Da kiekste, wa? Is wat?
German translation: Ich bin ein Berliner. Da guckst du, was? Ist etwas?
English adaptation: I'm a Berliner. That makes you stare, eh? Something wrong?
Freie Universität Berlin
Thanks to PeterPan for reminding me of some details I missed