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Berlin after 1945

Berlin in ruins


The Berlin garrison capitulates on May 2, six days before the end of the Second World War in Europe. Large parts of the city are in ruins [Film].
After the war ends on 8 May 1945, much of Berlin is nothing but rubble: 600,000 apartments have been destroyed, and only 2.8 million of the city’s original population of 4.3 million still live in the city. In accordance with an agreement signed by the Allies, the city is divided into four sectors and administered jointly by the occupying powers, the United States of America, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.


Growing conflicts of interest between the victorious powers with regard to the postwar order in Europe in general and Germany in particular put an end to the Allies’ joint administration of the city. Berlin becomes a Cold War hotspot.


The unification in April in the Soviet occupied zone and East Berlin of the KPD and the SPD to form the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands – SED), pushed through by the Soviet military administration and the KPD, leads to severe conflicts between the Allies and between local party organizations.

On October 20, with voter turnout of 92.3 percent, Berlin elects its first city assembly since the end of the war. The SPD receives 48.7 percent of the vote, the CDU 22.2 percent, the SED 19.8 percent, and the LDP 9.3 percent.


Conflicts over currency reform, among other things, trigger a Soviet Union blockade [Film] of the western sectors from June 1948 to May 1949. The western Allies respond with the Berlin Airlift, an unprecedented operation supplying the entire city by air. The western victorious powers become protecting powers and friends.
The blockade also puts an end to the joint administration of Berlin. Increasing harassment by SED supporters forces the city assembly to convene its sessions in the western half of the city, starting on September 6. A Magistrat, or city council, headed by Lord Mayor Friedrich Ebert and dominated by the SED is then formed in East Berlin on November 30. The city government has now been split in two.

Berlin Airlift

On September 9, Ernst Reuter gives a speech to more than 300,000 Berliners gathered in front of the ruins of the Reichtag building, appealing to the “people of the world” not to abandon “this city and its people.”

On December 4, the Free University of Berlin (Freie Universität Berlin) is founded in West Berlin in opposition to the old Friedrich Wilhelm University (known as Humboldt University starting in 1949) in the city’s eastern half.


The elected city assembly and lord mayor move into temporary quarters at the town hall of the western borough of Schöneberg. This temporary arrangement was to last for more than 40 years.

The difficulties caused by the blockade give rise to the first comprehensive package of financial aid measures for the isolated city, funded by an emergency levy. One visible expression of these measures is the two-pfennig “Notopfer Berlin” stamp introduced in the western occupied zones on April 1 and used until 1956 to raise money for Berlin.

The Soviet Union ends the blockade of Berlin’s western sectors on May 12, and the western Allies respond by dropping their economic sanctions against the Soviet occupied zone. Access to West Berlin through the Soviet occupied zone remains difficult, however. Until reunification in 1990, travel is permitted only on transit routes designated by the eastern side and via the air corridors agreed on by the Allies during the war.

On 23 May 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany is founded in Germany’s western sectors. Berlin retains its special status as a territory under Allied supervision (and keeps that status until reunification on 3 October 1990). On 10 May 1949, the Parliamentary Council names Bonn the provisional capital of the new state.

When the German Democratic Republic (GDR) is founded in the Soviet sector on 7 October 1949, East Berlin becomes its capital. In the years that follow, the two halves of the city become intricately linked with the social systems of their respective state governments.


The demolishing of the old City Palace in East Berlin starts in September with the goal of erasing a symbol of “Prussian feudalism.”

On October 1, the constitution adopted already in 1948 by the elected city assembly for the entire city goes into force. The city’s division, however, restricts the constitution’s practical validity to the three western sectors (the federal state of Berlin). East Berlin remains without a constitution until 1990.


On January 18, the House of Representatives, which meets at the Schöneberg Town Hall, elects Ernst Reuter (SPD) the first Governing Mayor of Berlin. He remains in office until his death on 29 September 1953.

In East Berlin, the 3rd World Festival of Youth and Students takes place in August with 26,000 people from 104 countries in attendance. The sector’s borders are still open, and West Berlin, too, is visited by many foreign visitors and members of the Free German Youth (FDJ).


A law (Gesetz über die Stellung Berlins im Finanzsystem des Bundes [Drittes Überleitungsgesetz]) passed on January 4 by the West German parliament gives West Berlin a legal claim to the financial assistance needed to ensure its survival.

In East Berlin, within the framework of the “national building program for Berlin,” construction begins in February to transform Stalinallee (called Karl-Marx-Allee as of 1961) into “Germany’s first socialist street.” The apartment houses built in the “gingerbread style” of the Soviet Stalinist era are today classified as historical monuments and are still very much in demand as housing.

The English Garden is opened on March 29 by the British foreign minister Anthony Eden in West Berlin’s Tiergarten park.

Uprising on 17 June 1953


On June 16, construction workers on East Berlin’s Stalinallee go on strike in protest against a state-mandated rise in work quotas. On June 17, the strike becomes an uprising that spreads to many other cities in the GDR and culminates in the demand that the SED regime be removed and free elections held in all of Germany. The uprising is brutally crushed by Soviet troops, and several hundred people are killed, more than a thousand injured, and many arrested. On August 4, the West German parliament declares June 17 a national day of remembrance, the “day of German unity.”

The refugee transit camp Marienfelde opens on August 22 in West Berlin to take in people fleeing the GDR.


The “Berliner Ensemble” headed by Bertolt Brecht moves into a theater of its own, the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in East Berlin’s Mitte borough.


East Berlin’s Tierpark zoo opens at Schlosspark Friedrichsfelde on July 2.

The airline “Deutsche Lufthansa der DDR” (known as Interflug after 1959) puts the Schönefeld airport, taken over from the Soviet occupying power, into operation on September 16 as the GDR’s first commercial airport.

The Berlin Town Hall, rebuilt after the war, is officially handed over to East Berlin’s lord mayor, Friedrich Ebert, on November 30.


Construction of the city expressway begins in West Berlin.


The new construction in the city center in the 1950s culminates with the International Building Exhibition (Interbau) held in West Berlin. Core pieces of the exhibition are the Hansaviertel area, designed by many different international architects and in conscious opposition to the socialist housing erected along Stalinallee, and the Congress Hall (Kongresshalle) in the Tiergarten park.

The hundred-thousandth apartment to be constructed in West Berlin with public funding since 1945 is officially handed over on June 21.

The restored New Guardhouse (Neue Wache), built in 1818 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel on the avenue Unter den Linden in East Berlin, is reopened in August. From 1960 to 1990 it serves as a GDR “Memorial for the Victims of Fascism and Militarism.” Since 1993 it has been a “central memorial” of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Willy Brandt (SPD) is elected Governing Mayor of Berlin on October 3 in West Berlin. He holds this office until December 1966.


In September, in one of the few joint projects to take place during the Cold War, the restoration of Brandenburg Gate, badly damaged during the war, is concluded when the quadriga (restored in West Berlin) is returned to the top of this historic monument (located in East Berlin).

On November 27, Soviet party and government head Nikita Khrushchev responds to the constant stream of refugees leaving the GDR for the West via Berlin by issuing an ultimatum to the three western Allies, demanding that they withdraw from Berlin and that West Berlin be turned into a “demilitarized free city.” Khrushchev’s ultimatum is the first grave threat to West Berlin’s survival since the blockade of 1948/1949.


On June 18, Germany’s president Theodor Heuss (FDP), takes Bellevue Palace (Schloss Bellevue), located in the Tiergarten park, as his official seat in Berlin.


In response to rising coercive measures in the GDR (forced collectivization), almost 200,000 GDR residents flee to West Berlin over the course of the year via the sector’s open borders.

17 August 1961: Escape from the eastern sector


On July 25, U.S. president John F. Kennedy announces that the western protecting powers have three essential interests in Berlin: 1. the right of the Allies to be in Berlin, 2. their right of access to Berlin, and 3. the survival and right of self-determination of West Berlin.

In July, 30,415 GDR residents leave the country for West Berlin, the highest number in a month since 1953.

On August 13, the GDR starts construction on a wall that runs along the sector border and seals the two parts of the city off from one another.

On August 19, U.S. vice-president Lyndon B. Johnson and retired general Lucius D. Clay arrive in Berlin to take a look at the GDR barricade. Germany’s chancellor, Konrad Adenauer (CDU), visits the city on August 22.

On August 25, the first Internationale Funkausstellung, an electronics exhibition, to be held since 1939 opens at the trade fair grounds around the radio tower.

On December 17, the new building of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Gedächtniskirche), designed by Egon Eiermann, is consecrated in Charlottenburg by Bishop Otto Dibelius.


Large housing estates are built in West Berlin on the city outskirts until the end of the 1970s (construction on Gropiusstadt begins in 1962 and on Märkisches Viertel and Falkenhagener Feld in 1963)

The city center of East Berlin, as the capital of the GDR, is outfitted with large representative buildings around Alexanderplatz and Marx-Engels-Platz. Alexanderplatz is given the “Haus des Lehrers” (House of the Teacher) and the Kongresshalle (Congress Hall) in 1964, the “Haus der Elektroindustrie” (House of the Electronics Industry) in 1969, the department store Centrum-Warenhaus (today’s “Kaufhof”) and the hotel “Stadt Berlin” (today’s “Park Inn”) in 1970, and the “Haus des Reisens” (House of Travel) in 1971, while the Staatsratsgebäude, a government building (today’s European School of Management and Technology), is completed at Marx-Engels-Platz in 1964, the foreign office in 1967 (torn down in 1995), and the television tower in 1969. Apartment houses are also built during these years on Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse and at the Rathauspassagen (1968-1972), as well as on Karl-Marx-Allee as far as Strausberger Platz (1959-1965).

President Kennedy in Berlin


On January 17, Soviet party and government head Nikita Khrushchev visits East Berlin.

U.S. president John F. Kennedy visits the city on June 26 and in his famous speech [Film] in front of the Schöneberg Town Hall assures the people of Berlin of his solidarity with them.

On December 17, the signing of the first entry permit agreement allows West Berliners to visit relatives in the eastern part of the city and is valid for the period from 19 December 1963 to 5 January 1964; 1.2 million West Berliners take advantage of this opportunity to visit family. Further agreements follow in 1964,1965, and 1966.


On April 7, the German Bundestag holds a plenary session in Berlin’s Congress Hall (Kongresshalle). In protest against this “unlawful” involvement of West Berlin in the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany, the GDR issues an order forbidding Bundestag members to use its transit routes to Berlin. Soviet military aircraft disrupt the session with low flights over the Congress Hall and the sonic boom of supersonic planes.

The Europa Center opens on May 2 at Breitscheidplatz in Charlottenburg.


Willy Brandt resigns as governing mayor on December 1 and assumes the office of deputy chancellor and foreign minister under Chancellor Kurt-Georg Kiesinger.


The GDR’s first industrial collective, VEB Kabelwerke Oberspree (KWO), is established on January 1 in the East Berlin industrial area Oberschöneweide.

On June 2, the Berlin student Benno Ohnesorg is shot by a policeman during a student protest against the visit of the Shah of Persia to West Berlin (a commemorative relief can be seen today at the Deutsche Oper opera house). His death and the clashes that followed focus public attention on the student movement in Berlin. With their opposition to the universities’ outdated traditions and hierarchies, the paralysis of the grand coalition government, and the injustice of a global order based on oppressing and exploiting the Third World, this movement becomes the nucleus of the later “ausserparlamentarische Opposition” (APO), a left-wing movement dedicated to promoting opposition to the government from outside the parliament.

When Line 55 between Charlottenburg and Spandau is shut down on October 2, the streetcar era comes to an end (for the time being) in West Berlin. Streetcars remain in service in East Berlin until reunification: afterwards, some lines are extended back into western boroughs.


The attempt to assassinate the Berlin student leader Rudi Dutschke on April 11 on the avenue Kurfürstendamm marks another dramatic climax in the conflicts surrounding the student movement in Berlin.

On the 24th anniversary of the failed attempt on 20 July 1944 to overthrow Adolf Hitler, the Stauffenbergstrasse Memorial and Educational Center (today the German Resistance Memorial Center) is opened at the Bendlerblock on July 20.

The New National Gallery (Neue Nationalgalerie), designed by Mies van der Rohe, opens at the Kulturforum in West Berlin.

World clock at Alexanderplatz


U.S. president Richard Nixon visits West Berlin on February 27.

The world clock at Alexanderplatz goes into operation on October 2.

Willy Brandt (SPD) is elected chancellor on October 21 and indicates his interest in pursuing negotiations between the two German states.

On December 16, the western Allies propose talks to the Soviet Union aimed at solving problems related to Berlin.


Construction on 11- to 25-story apartment houses on Leipziger Strasse in East Berlin’s Mitte borough begins in January.

Negotiations over Berlin between the four former Allies, the Second World War’s victorious powers, begin on March 26 in the building of the Allied Control Council in West Berlin.

On April 19, a 19-meter-high Lenin monument is unveiled at Leninplatz (known as Platz der Vereinten Nationen starting in 1992) in the East Berlin borough of Friedrichshain. It is dismantled in 1991.


Ten direct telephones lines are reconnected between West and East Berlin on January 31 for the first time since 1952.

Negotiations on “issues of interest to both sides” begin on June 3 between the Berlin Senate and the GDR government.

On September 3, the ambassadors of the four victorious powers sign the Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin in the building of the Allied Control Council in West Berlin. It clarifies the ties between Berlin and the Federal Republic of Germany, thereby facilitating a number of practical arrangements benefiting the people of the city. It goes into force on 3 June 1972, along with subsequent agreements on transit traffic and travel and visitor possibilities.

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