What’s the History of Berlin?

Berlin is the capital and largest city of the Federal Republic of Germany. Although younger than many of its fellow European capitals, the city has still seen its fair share of world history, frequently having been at the epicenter of many world events. The thing about Berlin is that basically everything has some kind of a story to tell, I mean how often does an airport’s Wikipedia page have as detailed of a history section as Berlin-Tegel’s?

It is also where I currently live, which is convenient because this video was made as part of the YouTube History Group‘s Homecomingcollab, so stay tuned for more on that. The area around Berlin was actually more or less left alone for much of European history.

It came into German hands during the 12thcentury as part of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, ruled by Albert the Bear (Albrecht der Bär), leading to the widespread assumption that Berlin’s name and the flag came from him.

This is likely not true, as the name Berlin is thought to stem from the old West Slavic Polabian stem ‘berl’, meaning swamp, butI’d take all these theories with a small grain of salt. As you can probably tell, Berlin’s early origins are quite vague, but the town first emerged on the Spree River right on what is now Museum Island, though we don’t actually know when it was established, so people basically just took 1237 and said: “eh, seems about right”. Berlin merged with Cölln (not to be confused with Cologne) in 1432, creating the trade settlement known simply as Berlin-Cölln.

The city was a Hanseatic Free City until the death of Frederick I in 1440, upon which rule over the city was handed to the Hohenzollern family, who would rule all the way up until 1918 as the Kaisers of Germany (oh sorry, spoilers). With the Hohenzollerns now in town, Berlin-Cöllnbecame the royal residence of the Brandenburg electors, thus also having to give up its Hanseatic Free City status.

Over the next few centuries Berlin-Cöllngradually started to grow as its relevance in German politics also started to grow. The electors started to use the Tiergartenas a hunting ground in 1530, the city officially became Lutheran in 1539, and the Bubonic Plague killed around 6,000 people in 1576 just a couple decades before the city reached 12,000people.

The Thirty Years’ War proved devastating to Berlin, with a third of Berlin’s structures destroyed and half its population killed, but in 1640 Friedrich-Wilhelm ascended to the throne and put forward a policy of immigration and religious tolerance, growing the city to a size of 20,000 and developing a standing army, making Berlin finally a big player in Central European affairs. Then in 1701 Elector Friedrich III becameKing Friedrich I, building Schloss Charlottenburg and making the now fully united city of Berlin the capital of Prussia.

Then they were conquered by Napoleon in 1806for a bit until they were defeated in 1814 and then even harder (with the help of Prussian troops) in 1815.

Once Germany unified into one country in 1871under Prussian dominance, Berlin naturally found itself as the capital of the new GermanEmpire, but there was one problem: it was kind of absolutely disgusting. I mean sure Berlin kind of has a reputation in Germany for not exactly being the cleanest of cities, but it didn’t exactly fit that the capital of Germany’s empire-number-two had no places for people’s… well… number-two.

So the imperial government hired scientists and engineers to work out a solution to this whole problem (and this is the point in which realize this video now probably won’t get many views, now that I’ve so much as mentioned the concept of science… cough) and the city quickly turned from a “primitive backwater” to an industrial era powerhouse.

Aside from grand boulevards, government buildings, and monuments, Berlin also saw the construction of tenement houses, entertainment venues, and not just an Untergrundbahn but also a Stadtschnellbahn (also fun fact, though this happened a bit later on, Berlin was actually the first city to have a metro [or in this case U-Bahn] connection to its airport… somewhat ironic now I suppose).

And now… it’s time for World War One, now I’m kind of going to skim over WWI (like I’ve been doing with basically everything else in my channel’s entire career) but suffice to say the war went quiet badly for Germany, having been on the losing side. As demanded by the Treaty of Versailles, Germany would be significantly shrunk in size, not be allowed to station troops in the Rhineland, have to pay a crippling amount in war debts, and disband their monarchy. In the place of the monarchy was the new WeimarRepublic, of which Berlin remained the capital. Berlin during the 1920s became a cultural and scientific center, with many famous writers and scientists calling Berlin home, and the city’s nightlife scene also started to grow.

However during these times, things weren’t that great everywhere and Germans still felt “betrayed” by everything that had happened, and numerous different political factions started gaining more and more relevancy in national politics. Then in 1929, the economy crashed worldwide, and since Germany is indeed part of the world their economy crashed too and made things even suckier, especially for the 450,000 Berliners who got laid off.

The Yahtzee Party didn’t actually win the 1932 election, decorated war veteran Paul von Hindenburg won the office of President, but he noticed Adolf Hodor’s increasing popularity in the polls and power in the German government and so promoted him to Chancellor, a position Hodor gradually started to expand.

Then in 1933, just over a month after von Hindenburg died in office, a young staffer set the Reichstag on fire, and Hodor used this event to get the government to grant him emergency powers, until he established totalitarian rule over Germany and started militarizing Germany for rapid expansion, rapidly conquering most of Europe.

Hodor had a lot of big ideas for Berlin, which he wanted to become his dream capital Germania. It would have featured huge, prominent architectural works including the Volkshalle or the Große Halle at the end of a widened CharlottenburgerChaussee (now Straße des 17. Juni).

These structures were intended to be built in a style more or less reminiscent of ancient Greece and Rome, as those buildings came to represent civilizations that had lasted for thousands of years, but if you want a preview of what that architecture might have looked like, don’t forget the Olympiastadion was built around this time for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Of course, while there were plans to completely rebuild Berlin, the city was a primary target for Allied bombers, and by 1945 the Allies had broken through and Soviet generals Georgy Zhukov and Ivan Konev commenced the Race Oberlin in April 1945. By the end of the month, Hodor had committed suicide and a few days later the Soviets had won the two-week-long Battle of Berlin. Once the dust had settled the United States, Kingdom, Soviet Socialist Republics, and France had split apart Germany and Austria as well as their capitals Berlin and Vienna.

Austria was allowed to reunify itself pretty quickly, but the Soviets had quite different goals for Berlin from the other allies, with the USSR wanting a sphere of puppet states and the others wanting a strong ally that would never go back to Yahtzee. This resulted in a split Berlin in the middle of the Soviet sector of a split Germany.

Stalin assumed it would be an easy victory to just blockade West Berlin into submission and now Allied shipments couldn‘t get into berlin. In response the other Allies launched the Berlin Airlift, taking into account that shooting down a plane would be considered an act of war and the airlift went on until the Soviets backed down, West Berlin had been saved, and this whole mission having made it to the top of r/Midlands. After this, it was clear that there would now be two Germanys.

However, the DDR government wasn’t exactly warm to the concept of their citizens, who they had housed, fed, and educated their whole lives, just leaving for the richer West and not contributing to the economy.

In response to this “human capital flight,” they decided enough was enough and built a wall all around West Berlin in 1961 to keep their own citizens in the East. This arguably tarnished the perception of the DDR on the world stage and was marked as a symbol of Communist totalitarianism, though it did stop the brain drain.

After 28 years of all this, the DDR government decided to gradually loosen the travel regulations, which press secretary Günther Schabowskiwas tasked with announcing when he misspoke and accidentally opened the gates (for more information do watch this video of mine I made about this whole event that basically no one watched).

Then Berlin was remade into the capital of Germany and it was decided that the Reichstag building (until this point in the middle of the Berlin Wall) would be renovated and made into the capitol building, fit with a publicly accessible dome symbolically placed above the politicians.

So yeah, obviously I had to leave out quite a few things even besides all the stuff that I‘ve already covered in other videos but as mentioned earlier basically everything in Berlin has a story, Berlin‘s airports have a story, one‘s local U-Bahn station has a story, one‘s neighborhood has a story, those little gold stones in the sidewalk have a… bit of a more morbid story that should never be forgotten, but still a story nonetheless.

If you ask me, it’s kind of interesting to think that a city as relatively new as Berlin has such a story to tell (granted thousand-year-old Potsdam is probably sulking right next to them but still). Thanks for watching and if you want to see more, this video was made as part of a collaboration with a bunch of other history YouTubers talking about the history of their hometowns.

The playlist is right here in the end screen, description, and pinned comment if you want to see it. In fact, here’s a card for it as well. Be sure to like and share this video and subscribe to learn something new every Sunday.

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