Berlin History

All the aspects that make Berlin such a vibrant and interesting city, in terms of architecture, city structure, size and culture, all is rooting in its history. Berlin has a comparable short, but extremely dense and changing history. We just want to outline a brief summary of what happened and what made this city so special. In case you want to know more, we provide you with some interesting links for additional information, so you are all settled for your trip to Berlin and potential sightseeing. If you want some more advise, either follow us in our post-wedding week or ask us for special tips and some of Martin's hidden gems.

The Beginning
(Pre-18th century)

The majority of time, Berlin was just a village build on a little hill in a swamp. The literal translation of the old slavic word "berl" is: small, dry hill. The swamps and wet underground are also the reason, why Berlin has so little amount of skyscrapers, despite being so young. The eastwards germanization into the historically slavic provinces occurred just in the 11th century. A large part of first settlers were actually Flemish, Dutch-speaking Belgians. Southwest of Berlin we still have the "Fläming" and therefore the local Berlin dialect is still very distinct from the rest and still maintained elements of the Flemish language, i.e., "ick" instead of "ich" for "me" or "I". 

The poor ground around Berlin only allowed cultivating of crops and forest to a self-sustainable extend. The region also never experienced a full Christianization due to the lack of large agglomerations. So the slavic culture could stay alive through their own mythology (paganism) and the Sorb language (basically a local Polish dialect), that is still spoken and present south of Berlin.

Until the Prussian Era, Berlin was just a small village. The historical village can be still traced as the Nikolai-Quarter just west of the TV tower and Alexanderplatz, behind the red town hall. While the second half has now become the Museums-island.

The Rise
(The Prussian Era)

With the rise of the Kingdom of Prussia, Berlin as its capital moved up many steps. The successful expansion and union of the many small german shires and duchies was only shortly interrupted, when Napoleon traversed to the East. Many buildings in that time were build in the Neoclassicism style: Brandenburg Gate, Museum Island, Berlin Castle, under the lead of architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel.

 In the Age of Enlightment, Prussia was a progressive state that allowed their residence a lot of freedom. Under the freedom of religion, many French Protestants were expelled and could find a new hope in Prussia and Berlin. During that time, many french words were included in the Berlin dialect. That's why Berliners still call themselves like they call a meatball: "boulette". Also the protestant church is still widely dominating among the Christians in the region.

Rise and Fall
(During and between the Wars)

After winning the French-German War 1871, Berlin hit the mark of 1 Mio. inhabitants. Most of the money coming from this victory was invested into the capital of the newly founded German State. For example the train connection through the center of the city center built solely on bridges, was financed from it and is still used in this original state. In the middle of the industrial revolution, the city grew exponentially and became the 3rd largest city in the world in the 1920s (after London and New York). With over 4 Mio. inhabitants it was even larger than it is today. Holding this amount of people, mainly inside the center of Berlin encircled by the famous Ring-S-Bahn line, needed extreme dense housing, that is still nicely maintained in the Hackesche Höfe.

Around the world wars, Berlin was also the political attention center several times. World War 1 terminated by a socialistic revolution, with the announcement of a new state order from the Reichstag (now again hosting the German Parliament). Just before World War 2, Berlin hosted the Olympic Games of 1936. Instrumentalized by the already in power Nazi regime, it was the first ever live broadcasted event and the Art-déco/gigantism architecture of the Olympic Stadium is still impressive. 

Also the very dark sides of the Nazi regime with the Holocaust is still mainted in various memorials. All over the city you will find bronze stones in front of houses, where Jews were deported to the concentration camps. Just next to Checkpoint-Charlie in the city center, you find a memorial documenting the many facets of terror during the Nazi period. The peak presents the Sachsenhausen Memorial (north of Berlin), in which a concentration camp has been converted into a memorial, like many others all over Germany.

During the end of World War 2, Berlin ended up as the final battlefield. 450.000 tons of bombs have been dropped, just on Berlin and are still found today regularly on construction sites. Due to the former and ideologic importance of that city, Berlin was occupied by the allies until 1990 and major rebuilding efforts have been performed, that lasted several decades.

The Split
(The Berlin Wall)

After WW2 and the Potsdam conference of the Allies, Berlin was split up in 4 sectors, independently from the occupied sectors of the rest of Germany. The Soviets then founded the Socialist East Germany, with Eastern Berlin as the capital. The Western Allies founded the Capitalist West Germany (with capital Bonn). In order to stop Eastern Germans to flee and migrate to the West, the East German government decided to build a wall in between both countries and all around Berlin (ridiculously called: "antifascist protection wall"). This death strip is nowadays mostly recovered with buildings, except for two places: the East Side Gallery and the Bernauer Straße. The former is now painted by various artists from all over the world, while the latter has been turned into a memorial highlighting also the various attempts to cross this border.

An interesting influence of modern Berlin multicultural heritage, is also the main immigration differences in East and West. East Germany mainly cooperated with Vietnam, to bring in additional work force, while the West mainly brought in Turkish people. This cultural influx also shaped the Berlin food culture with the invention of the Döner Kebap in Berlin's 1980s and various Vietnamese Street Food and original or fusion restaurants.

The Revival
(The modern, post-Wall Berlin)

Shortly after David Hasselhoff sung on the Berlin Wall, Germany was reunited and Berlin became the capital again in the following years. The reunification of the city, that has the border of the two worlds at the time just cutting through it, was a major effort. During this insecure future, the large void attracted creative people from all over the world. Especially for the electronic music scene, Berlin became the world capital of Techno.

If you want to learn more, about the modern Berlin and how it evolved into what we see of it now, we highly recommend the Arte documentary series "Capital B". Unfortunately, it only exists in French or German:

The link to the German Documentary 

The link to the French documentary 

One major take home message: Berlin is never finished. It always renews itself. While you see construction sites all over the place, a spot that you liked 5 years ago, is already completely gone. So please take the moment and be ready to discover and let us know, what cool places you've found. But if you still want some advises, please let us know.