Our first stop after Bredenborn was Berlin, the capital and largest city of Germany. This is a city that was first documented as existing in the 13th century and has had many changing political identities and been part of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich. It is a city mostly known for what occurred there in the 20th century.
After World War I in 1918, the republic was formed by Philipp Scheidemann and in 1920 the Greater Berlin Act caused the city to expand immensely. It is a city that has for centuries been known for art, cinema, architecture, technology, and industry.
But Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power in 1933, which quickly changed this city forever. People in Germany began blaming the Jews and other minorities for many of the country’s problems that followed the loss of World War I.
Here you can see propaganda from a textbook of that time:
Berlin’s Jewish community, which had been around 160,000 people, was destroyed by the Nazis – this was about one-third of all Jews in Germany at the time. According to Reignhard Heydrich in 1938, anyone who was considered to have shown “asocial elements” or “hostile attitudes to society,” whether they were criminal or not, were qualified to be sent to concentration camps. This being extremely subjective, anyone who the Nazis did not want in their city or country could be sent to the camps or murdered without much explanation – this included Jews, homosexuals, and the Sinti and Roma population.
Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, occurred in 1938, in which Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues had windows smashed by the Nazis and many of these places were also burned to the ground.
Over 1,000 Jewish shops and businesses were demolished in Berlin, 10 of the city’s 30 synagogues were destroyed and 13 damaged, dozens of people were murdered, and 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to concentration camps. My grandfather and his family were very affected by this night in history. Jews were then expected to pay for the damage themselves and were forced to wear yellow Stars of David on their clothes at all times to identify themselves as Jewish. This was a time when people became desperate for survival and resorted to hiding, sacrifice, and betrayal.
This map illustrates more than 500 of thousands of sites where Nazi persecution and extermination took place – camps, ghettos, mass shooting sites, and starting points of deportation:
It is estimated that more than 6 million jews were murdered during the Holocaust – 1 million of them being children. My great and great-great grandparents were some of the victims of the Holocaust when they were murdered in concentration camps.
In 1943-1945, air raids and the Battle of Berlin caused major parts of the city to be destroyed and thousands of civilians were killed. The war ended in 1945 and large numbers of refugees from Eastern provinces began arriving. Germany was divided into four sectors by the victorious powers. The Western Allies, which included the United States, United Kingdom, and France, took over Western Berlin and the Soviet sector formed East Berlin.
These divisions within the country and the city increased tensions during the Cold War. East German territory surrounded West Berlin and East Germany decided the Eastern part would be its capital, a section that included the most historic portion of the city. The Berlin Wall was built between East and West Berlin in 1961 practically overnight, leading to a tank standoff at famous Checkpoint Charlie.
John F. Kennedy gave a speech in 1963 in which he proclaimed US support with the Western section of the city. During this time, Easterners were prohibited to travel into West Berlin or West Germany. People were desperate to escape East Berlin and many lost their lives in the process.
It was not until 1971, that a Four-Power agreement guaranteed access to and from West Berlin by car or train through East Germany.
The wall was not taken down until November 9, 1989 as the Cold War ended. In 1990, 118 artists from 21 countries painted a portion of the remaining wall, becoming a gallery expressing the joy widely felt over the falling of the Berlin Wall.
Berlin is one of those cities in which it feels every corner you turn has this immense heavy history, a lot of which still remains visible. The events of the twentieth century will always affect the city.