The imperial capital

Berlin’s City Palace (1913)


Berlin becomes the capital of the German Reich. This boost in political status, industrialization, and the economic boom of the next few decades give rise to many new businesses in the city. Berlin becomes the empire’s political, economic, and scientific capital.


The Berlin city planner James Hobrecht starts work on an extensive drainage system for the capital. The first municipal hospital opens in Friedrichshain.


The General German Workers’ Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein – ADAV) founded by Ferdinand Lassalle in 1863 and the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei – SDAP) founded in 1869 under the leadership of August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht unite in Gotha in May to form the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany (Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands – SDAP) based in Berlin. In 1890 the party renames itself the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands – SPD). The SPD dates its own founding to the founding of the ADAV in 1863.


The population grows to more than a million.


Legislation outlawing the organizations, publications, and meetings of Social Democrats, viewed as “enemies of the German Reich,” is introduced and not repealed until 1890.


Siemens & Halske present the world’s first electric railway at the Berlin Industrial Exhibition. In 1881 the world’s first electric streetcar is introduced in Lichterfelde.


The log road connecting the city with the royal hunting lodge in Grunewald is revamped to form a splendid avenue, Kurfürstendamm, modeled on the Champs-Elyseés in Paris and extending to Halensee. Housing in the “new west” around Kurfürstendamm draws prominent, wealthy residents, and the area becomes a popular place for the cultural scene to meet.


The Deutsches Theater opens on Schumannstrasse. The Neues Theater on Schiffbauerdamm follows in 1892 and later becomes the home of Berthold Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble.


The first May Day celebrations of the workers’ movement take place in Berlin on May 1. An absolute majority of Berliners votes for Social Democrats in the Reichstag elections.


The Berlin mechanical engineer Otto Lilienthal makes the first successful gliding flight in history (25 meters). Lilienthal died in a flying accident in 1896. The Lilienthal memorial at the “Fliegeberg,” his artificial hill in Lichterfelde, and today’s Otto Lilienthal Airport in Tegel commemorate him and his pioneering achievement.


Berlin has a population of almost 1.9 million; including the population of the 23 suburbs, a total of 2.5 million people live in the greater metropolitan area. According to a 1903 housing survey, Berlin is the world’s largest tenement city. It has a total of one million apartments, 400,000 of which have only one room; another 300,000 are two-room apartments.


Berlin’s first U-Bahn (underground railway) line goes into operation between Warschauer Brücke and Knie (today’s Ernst-Reuter-Platz).


As the “Captain of Köpenick,” the cobbler Wilhelm Voigt dons a soldier’s uniform and orders real soldiers to occupy the Köpenick Town Hall, arrest the mayor, and confiscate the town treasury.


The department store Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) opens at Wittenbergplatz in the city’s “new west.”


The Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Promotion of Science (now the Max Planck Society) is founded. In addition to the sciences, culture, business, and research flourish. Figures like Max Liebermann and Walter Leistikow (Berlin Secession 1898), Max Reinhardt, Rudolf Virchow, Adolf von Harnack, Max Planck, and Theodor Mommsen enhance Berlin’s international reputation.


Berlin joins with Charlottenburg, Schöneberg, Wilmersdorf, Lichtenberg, Spandau, and the Niederbarnim and Teltow districts to form Greater Berlin.


The population within the city boundaries climbs above two million.


During the First World War, it becomes more and more difficult to feed the millions of people living in the city. Hunger and war-weariness lead to massive strikes in Berlin towards the end of the war.


Revolution in Berlin: on November 9, Chancellor Prince von Baden declares the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and hands over the government to Friedrich Ebert (SPD). Philipp Scheidemann proclaims the “Free German Republic” from a balcony of the Reichstag, while Karl Liebknecht proclaims the “Free Socialist Republic of Germany” from a balcony of the Berlin palace.