Berlin - A History of Germany's Capital

For most millennials, Berlin is the capital of Germany A city of culture with universities, museums, galleries and concert venues. A city of parks and open spaces as well as beautiful waterways and lakes. A city of enjoyment and partying with one of the biggest considerations being where to stay in Berlin for nightlife, or which Berlin holiday apartments to stay in.

Although Berlin’s past is often known about, it’s modern outlook often makes it harder to envisage. It is especially hard to appreciate just how close the Berlin’s less savoury past actually is.

Before the City

The oldest evidence of people in the area dates back from the ninth century BC, with evidence of primitive settlements being found from around 500BC.

The Developing City

The first permanent settlements in the Berlin area as we know it today took place in the twelfth century, but it is not until the thirteenth century that Berlin is actually considered to have come into existence. The first year of the city is often quoted as being 1237.

The two settlements of Berlin and Cölln merged in 1432 to form a much larger town and set the area onto the path of becoming a significant population centre.


Before Berlin became the modern version of itself that we know today it went through two significant stages. The first was as a town incorporated into what was known as the Margraviate of Brandenburg. This was originally part of the Holy Roman Empire but later on became a significant player in what was to become Germany and later on be considered one of the most significant parts of Central Europe.

The area lay in what is now the east of Germany and the west of Poland, the German states it covered are now known as Brandenburg and Berlin.

Berlin, the town, increased its significance within the Margraviate of Brandenburg when it became the location of the Royal residence in 1451.

In 1701, the Elector of Brandenburg, as the head of the Royal family was known, declared himself King of Prussia and Berlin entered its second significant stage. He built the Charlottenburg Castle and made Berlin the capital of the kingdom of Prussia.

Over the years it became larger and more advanced and the city of Berlin followed suit.

Prussia later became the largest and leading state in what was to be known as the German Empire from 1871 onwards. It would help to make Germany the most powerful country in Europe and Berlin the very epicentre of politics in the continent.

Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Berlin

Berlin had become a major powerhouse in Europe by 1870 but the city had become one of the filthiest places in the world. With no sewage system the city had raw waste running through the streets and had become rife with disease.

As the Imperial Capital of the German Empire this was obviously unacceptable. The government gathered the rich and powerful as well as the highly educated to put together a plan to make Berlin the symbol of success.

In 1884 the famous Reichstag was constructed and in 1896 the U-Bahn began construction. Music venues and museums were created or expanded and civic order was meticulously drawn up and put into place. The city became one of the most modern and celebrated in the world.

The Wars

After the First World War, Germany became a republic and Berlin remained as its capital. Nineteen-twenty was a significant year for the city as it formally acquired neighbouring towns under its name and the population doubled overnight to four million people.

Economically times were hard, Germany had big debts to pay back from the war and inflation reached astounding levels. Berlin suffered until around 1924 when growth started again and it became a centre for culture and nightlife, until the crash of 1929.

This crash encouraged the rise of the Nazi party which would eventually take Berlin and the country into another devastating war.

The Jewish population of Berlin numbered around 160,000 when the party came to power in 1933. Only 1,200 were able to hide in the city, most were sent to concentration camps nearby and worked in camps in Berlin itself.

By the end of the war itself the inner city part of Berlin had been almost completely obliterated by allied bombing. Outlying sections were barely damaged. Hitler himself committed suicide in a bunker in Berlin as the Russians took control.

The Wall

At the end of the Second World War the city was divided into four sections controlled by the Soviets, the French, the British and the Americans. This was later considered to be two sections, one for the Soviets and one for the allies. The capital became East and West Berlin.

In 1961 the Soviets built a wall, almost literally overnight, to try to stop people using Berlin as an escape route from East Germany into West Germany. This separated families for decades until the hated structure was brought down in 1990. The city was finally reconciled and could start to build again.

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