Berlin: A reunited city that links modernity to the past through architecture and culture
As Germany’s largest city, it makes sense that Berlin is the capital of the country. Berlin became the capital of the German Empire in 1871 during the Industrial Revolution, which transformed the city into the economic center of Germany. By the early 20th century, Berlin became an important city for the German Expressionist movement, which influenced architecture, painting, and cinema. However, Berlin faced an economic downturn due to political unrest during the Weimar era in the 1920s. The economic and political vulnerability of Germany’s capital consequently contributed to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party’s rise to power in 1933.
Hitler continued to use Berlin as the capital of Germany throughout World War II and wanted to make it the largest city in the world. Assuming that Germany would win the war, he planned to change the name of Berlin to Germania and establish it as the “supercapital” of the Third Reich. However, the Allied powers defeated Germany in 1945, leaving Berlin destroyed and divided into four sectors among the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union. The sectors belonging to the United States, the United Kingdom, and France formed West Berlin while the Soviet sector became East Berlin. The Soviets implemented harsh conditions in its sector, such as dismantling industry and transport to West Berlin as a means of reparations for war damage in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the Allied powers transformed West Berlin into a thriving democratic and capitalist society.
By 1961 the Soviets completely sealed off East Berlin from Europe by building the Berlin Wall. The erection of the wall physically separated West Berlin from East Berlin for nearly three decades in response to the large number of East Berlin citizens escaping to the West. On August 19, 1989, Hungary opened its borders to Austria, which led to a chain of events that would change history. By September 1989, thousands of East Germans escaped by traveling through Hungary to Austria in order to reach West Berlin. With increasing pressure from East Germans, the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989. Crowds of West and East Berliners flocked to the wall to celebrate the East Germans’ new freedom. The two parts of Germany formally reunited on October 3, 1990, establishing the Federal Republic of Germany and Berlin became the capital once again.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, East and West Berlin have coexisted as one reunited city. However, the stark contrasts between the east and the west are still apparent in some areas of Berlin and serve as constant reminders of the events of the 20th century.
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