Politics of Berlin
Berlin has become an independent state with the day of the German reunification on October 3, 1990, making it one of the three city states among today's 16 German Bundesländer beside Hamburg and Bremen.
Former West-Berlin (originally Greater Berlin, including the eastern part was intended) had been a state since the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany on May 24, 1949, but been dependent on the allied-status. East-Berlin had been capital of the German Democratic Republic from 1949 to 1990, although this had been a violation of the allied agreement.
Berlin is governed by the Senat of Berlin which consists of the Regierender Bürgermeister (governing mayor) and up to 8 senators, holding ministerial portfolios. The governing mayor is mayor of the city and representative of the Bundesland (state) at the same time. Presently, this office is held by Klaus Wowereit (SPD); for earlier mayors, see the list of Mayors of Berlin.
For a map and a list of the old and new borough names, see Boroughs of Berlin.
Each Bourogh is governed by a so called Bezirksamt consisting of five Stadträte (town councillors) and a mayor. The Bezirksamt is elected by the district-parliament, the so called Bezirksverordnetenversammlung. Though the Boroughs of Berlin are not independent municipalities, the political power of the district-parliaments is quite weak and dependent on the Senat of Berlin.
The district-mayors form the council of mayors, called Rat der Bürgermeister under leadership of the Governing Mayor to advise the Senat.
see also: History of Berlin
At about 720 two Slavic tribes settled in the Berlin region. The Heveller settled at the river Havel with their central settlement in Brennabor which later has bacome the town of Brandenburg. Close to the river Spree in todays borough of Berlin Köpenick the Sprewanen were found.
The Heveller founded another place at the river Havel in about 750. This seems to be the closest settlement to the area which is today known as Berlin and was called Spandow (todays Spandau). Spandau and Köpenick which had been protected with barriers around 825, had been the major settlements and later towns in the area until the early 11th century.
Berlin and Cölln
Berlin itself is one of Europe's younger cities with its origin in the 12th century. The city developed out of the two settlements Berlin and Cölln on both sides of river Spree in todays borough Mitte. With the date October 28th, 1237 Cölln is first documentary mentioned, Berlin in 1244. Unfortunately the great town center fire damaged most written record of those early days in 1830.
Both cities formed a trade union in 1307 and participated in the Hanse. Their urban development parallel took place for 400 years until Cölln and Berlin finally unified under the name of Berlin in 1709, including the suburbs Friedrichswerder, Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichstadt.
Urban development between the 15th and 17th century
The first City Palace had been built at the embankment of the river Spree from 1443 to 1451. At that time Berlin-Cölln counted about 8,000 inhabitants. In 1576, the bubonic plague killed about 4,000 people in the city.
In 1640 Frederick William took regency in the principality of Brandenburg. During his government Berlin reached 20,000 inhabitants and became significant among the cities in Central Europe for the first time.
Some years later (from 1674 on), the Dorotheenstadt was constructed in a bow of the river Spree northwest of the Spree-island where the Palace was situated. From 1688 on the Friedrichstadt was built and settled.
In 1709, Berlin-Cölln was joined together with 'Friedrichswerder', the 'Dorotheenstadt' and 'Friedrichstadt' under the name of Berlin, with 60,000 inhabitants.
Weimar Republic and Third Reich (Third Empire)
The overall impression one gets when visiting Berlin today is one of great discontinuity, visibly reflecting the many ruptures of Germany's difficult history in the 20th century. Although it was the residence of the Prussian kings, Berlin's population did not greatly expand until the 19th century, mainly after becoming the capital of the German Empire in 1871. It remained Germany's capital during the Weimar Republic and under the Nazis' Third Empire. During this period Adolf Hitler had great plans for Berlin, because he thought that Berlin was one of the ugliest cities in the world, and he hated it. Therefore he and his architect Albert Speer made enormous plans for the new Berlin. Around the place where the Reichtag lies today they planned to construct an enormous dome, The Great Hall, 250 meters high and seven times broader than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It was supposed to be large enough for 170.000 people and the sweat and heat produced by those people was thought to be able to generate clouds and rain inside the dome. From the The Great Hall, a southbound avenue was planned, the Avenue of Victory, 23 meters wide and 5.6 km long. At the other end you would have had the new railway station and next to it Tempelhof Airport. Additionally, halfway down the avenue there would have been an huge arch 117 meters high and so large that the Arc de Triomphe in Paris would fit inside it. It was projected to be a monument commemorating those fallen during World War I and World War II. The project was to finish in 1950 and for Berlin to be re-named to Germania at that occasion. But the construction never started, Hitler decided it was madness starting such a project during a war, so construction was postponed. Hitler also thought the Allied airstrikes very practical, mostly because it made tearing down the old Berlin so much cheaper. Today only Görings Reichsluftfahrtministerium (National Ministry of Aviation) and a series of streetlights, bear witness of the large-scale plans of Germania.
The divided city
After World War II, Berlin, just like Germany itself, was divided into four sectors by the Allies: one each for the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union. The Soviets occupied East Berlin, and the other three occupied West Berlin. Berlin was in the middle of the Soviet sector of Germany and became a natural focal point of the opposing sides in the Cold War. Starting on June 26, 1948, Stalin's "Berlin Blockade" of West Berlin led the western Allies to supply it through the Berlin Airlift.
The Soviet sector of Berlin, East Berlin, became the capital of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) when the country was formed from the Soviet sector in 1949. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), formed from the other three sectors, had its capital in Bonn. On August 13, 1961, the Berlin Wall was constructed, separating West Berlin from the rest of East Germany.
The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989. By the time Germany reunified in 1990, the Wall was almost completely demolished, with only small sections of ruins remaining, and once again Berlin was made the capital of a unified Germany.
Even though Berlin does have a number of impressive buildings from earlier centuries, the city today is mainly stamped by the key role it played in Germany's history in the 20th century. Each of the governments which had their respective seat in Berlin — namely the 1871 German Empire, the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, the GDR, and now the reunified Germany — initiated ambitious construction programs, each with its own distinctive character. Berlin was devastated by bombardments during World War II, and many of the old buildings that were left were eradicated in the 1950s and 1960s in both the West and the East. Much of this destruction was caused by overambitious architecture programs, especially in order to build new living or business quarters and main roads. It would not be an exaggeration to say that no other city in the world offers Berlin's unusual mix of architecture, especially 20th century architecture. The city's tense and unique recent history has left it with a distinctive array of sights.
Not much is left of the actual Berlin Wall. The East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain near the Oberbaumbrücke over the Spree preserves a portion of the Wall. By observing the architecture it is still possible to tell if one is in the former eastern or western part of the city. In the eastern part, many Plattenbauten can be found, reminders of Eastern Bloc ambitions to create complete residential areas with fixed ratios of shops, kindergartens and schools. Another difference between former east and west is in the design of little red and green men on pedestrian crossing lights (Ampelmännchen in German); the eastern versions received an opt-out during the standardisation of road traffic signs after re-unification, and survived to become a popular icon in tourist products.
Historical sights in the city centre
Sights of modern Berlin
Sights with panoramic views
Famous streets and boulevards
Education and Science
Universities of Applied Sciences
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 many houses in the city center of former East Berlin (today the district Mitte) were partially destroyed. Many had not been rebuilt since World War II. Illegaly occupied by young people, they had become a fertile ground for all sorts of underground and counter-culture gatherings. It also was home to many nightclubs, including the world-famous Techno clubs Tresor, WMF, Ufo and E-Werk.
The art scene in Berlin is extremely rich, and the city offers one of the most diverse and vibrant nightlife scenes in Europe. Most Berliners take great pride in their city's reputation as one of the most socially progressive cities on the continent.
Berlin's annual Carnival of Cultures, a multi-ethnic street parade, and Chistopher Street Day celebrations, Central Europe's largest gay-lesbian pride event, are openly supported by the city's government and are visited by millions of Berliners each year.* (http://www.berlin-tourist-information.de/english/unterwegs/e_uw_berlinprogramm_gay.html)
Despite the city's declining overall population and relatively high unemployment levels, a significant number of young Germans and artists continue to settle in the city, and Berlin has established itself as the premeire center of youth and pop culture in German-speaking Europe.
Signs of this expanding role were the 2003 announcement that the annual Popkomm, the world's largest music industry convention, would move to Berlin after 15 years in Cologne. Shortly thereafter, German MTV also decided to move its headquarters and main studios from Munich to Berlin. Universal Music opened its European headquarters on the banks of the River Spree in an area known as the mediaspree (http://www.mediaspree.de)which is planned to develop into one of Europe's leading centers of media-related industries.
Transport and Traffic
Berlin hosted the 1936 Summer Olympics.
"Berlin ist arm aber sexy." ("Berlin is poor, but sexy.")
(Klaus Wowereit, Governing Mayor, in a television interview, 2004)
"Ihr Völker der Welt ... schaut auf diese Stadt" ("People of this world ... look at this city")
(Ernst Reuter, Governing Mayor, during the Berlin blockade, 1948)
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