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History of Berlin's 775 Years

11/22/2012 03:30 PM

Teenage Angst

Berlin's Turn of the Century Growing Pains

Photos: Modern Berlin Was Born in The Late 19th Century - SPIEGEL ONLINE - International

By Eva-Maria Schnurr

Prior to 1870, visitors to Berlin found themselves confronted with little more than a swampy backwater. As the turn of the century approached, however, the city underwent vast and rapid change, becoming one of Europe's most modern metropolises by 1914. But along with industry and infrastructure, the changes also brought poverty and pestilence.


Editor's Note: Berlin is currently celebrating its 775th anniversary. In the coming days, SPIEGEL ONLINE International will be publishing a series of stories on the history of the German capital city. This is the second part of the series. The first can be read here.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


The air smells of dust and the ground is riddled with construction pits. Here a house is being torn down, there the skeleton of a new one stands nearly twice as high as the old building rows. Nearby, workers are leveling the sand for a new street.

The city is so full of construction sites and such a vast array of new buildings are coming into being, that anyone returning to the city after an absence of a couple months, or visiting after having consulted an outdated guidebook, is bound to feel out of place.

"I feel lost in Berlin. It has no resemblance to the city I had supposed it was. There was once a Berlin which I would have known, from descriptions in books … a dingy city in a marsh, with rough streets, muddy and lantern-lighted, dividing straight rows of ugly houses all alike, compacted into blocks as square and plain and uniform and monotonous and serious as so many dry-goods boxes. But that Berlin has disappeared … It is a new city; the newest I have ever seen … The main mass of the city looks as if it had been built last week," American author Mark Twain wrote in the Chicago Daily Tribune after spending half a year in Berlin, starting in October 1891.

If a city can be seen as a living organism, then the years between 1870 and 1914 were Berlin's adolescence, a time when the sleepy capital of the Kingdom of Prussia became a booming metropolis, a place both contradictory and disorderly, always shifting between extremes, sometimes sparkling and sometimes abject, sometimes ruled by military discipline and sometimes by bohemian excesses, but always willing to experiment, forging ahead impatiently toward the future.

The Chicago of Europe

Amazed by Berlin, Mark Twain called it "the Chicago of Europe," after the city considered at the time to be the most modern in the world.

Berlin is the most American city in Germany, many proud Berliners said in praise of their home. "A new Berlin emerged, with modern facilities, asphalt paving, an enormous network of tram lines and with all the comforts modern technology could produce," reflected author Edmund Edel, chronicler of Berlin's bohemian scene, looking back in 1908.

Berlin is the most American city in Europe, others complained with distaste, wrinkling their noses at this upstart culture, the big city materialism and "mishmash" of architecture and culture.

The city came to represent both promise and purgatory. The only thing everyone could agree on, it seemed, was a distinct lack of enthusiasm when Berlin became capital of the German Empire in 1871.

Even Chancellor Otto von Bismarck initially considered establishing the seat of his empire in the city of Kassel instead. He found the Berliners too liberal, too subversive and too prone to socialist intrigues, and the liberal press in particular bothered him.

Yet the inhabitants themselves were largely unconcerned by their city's new role. "It's nothing at all… the king has become an emperor," noted Marie von Olfers, who ran a literary salon in Berlin.

Breathtaking Pace

This elevation to imperial capital was only one final push along with many forces driving Berlin's transformation. In the years before and after the founding of the empire, many different processes of change combined to create "the greatest shake-up that this city, which was successively the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire, went through at any point in its history," says historian Michael Erbe.

Berlin caught up to other European metropolises at a breathtaking pace. The railroad provided the first catalyst, transforming Berlin in the 1840s into one of central Europe's most important rail hubs. Goods and commodities could now be transported long distances, an important development for mechanical engineering and for the trade in metals and textiles, as well as for the electrical industry, which established itself here in the city on the Spree River drawing many job-seekers to Berlin.

Industry was the true founder of the city, sociologist Werner Sombart argued around 1900. By 1864, over half the city's inhabitants were not native Berliners. These new residents came primarily from Brandenburg -- the region surrounding Berlin -- and Silesia, in what is today the Czech Republic and Poland. The economic boom after 1871, sparked by the receipt of five billion francs in reparations from wartime enemy France, only increased Berlin's draw, providing fertile ground for the establishment of banks, insurance companies and trade and industrial enterprises -- 250 new businesses registered in the year 1872 alone.

The government kept pace, putting its stamp on the city with awe-inspiring halls of justice, schools and palatial post offices, while the newly minted kaisers publicly displayed their power and their tastes with museums, grand boulevards and equestrian statues.

A Constant Coming and Going

The first place in which the new Berlin began to unfold was in the area around the city palace on the boulevard Unter den Linden. Once people had lived in the upper stories of these buildings, while stores and workshops at street level produced and sold day-to-day items, but now a modern city developed here, a place where people worked, governed and went out, but hardly anyone lived.

During the day, nobles, townspeople and the simply curious strolled along Friedrichstrasse, where they stopped to admire the city's first electrical interior lighting at Café Bauer, installed in 1884, indulged in a cool pale ale at the Pschorr Brewery's beer palace or took in an operetta at the Apollo Theater.

"The palaces receive their officers and civil servants; there is a constant coming and going: The crowd swarms out. The stock exchange employees drive to work with their own wagons or by cab; errand boys with "express" written on their red caps positions themselves on the most advantageous corners. Students stroll through the university grounds, savoring the atmosphere of the academic quarter before going in. A hearse on its low wheels heads home … and now the knitting old lady takes up position in front of the opera, calling out the program and the lyrics of the opera that will play tonight … Finally, the guards draw up. The Kaiser approaches the window to greet them. Berliners gaping and foreigners stretching their necks from their cabs all raise their hats," wrote young Frenchman Jules Laforgue, who served as a French reader for the empress, describing a morning in front of the Kaiser's palace in 1887.

In 1870, it was still possible to cross the city from one end to another in an hour by foot. Beyond the city's borders, woods and fields testified to the agrarian nature of the region. In 1892, German writer Theodor Fontane described the area around a lake called Halensee, now in urban western Berlin, as a "desert panorama, crisscrossed with asparagus beds and railroad embankments."

Not long after, though, the newly constructed avenue Kurfürstendamm transformed the area into the downtown center of the western part of the city. Stately apartments with 15 or more rooms lined this grand boulevard, where Wilhelm II had the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church erected in 1895 in memory of his grandfather Wilhelm I. Writers, artists and cabaret performers met here at the Café des Westens, which drew everyone from composer Richard Strauss to poets Christian Morgenstern and Else Lasker-Schüler.

"A circle of young men sits up front…Bleary-eyed, they have city dwellers' faces. Extremely elegant. Something restless, tough, strained in their gaze. They talk of Nietzsche, of the most recent horse races, of the theater premieres," Berlin author and cultural researcher Hans Ostwald described one coffeehouse scene.

Major industrial companies such as Siemens & Halske, AEG and Borsig moved from the city's center toward its outskirts, seeking space for their enormous factories. The city encroached onto the surrounding countryside, its boundaries with neighboring cities such as Charlottenburg, Spandau, Schöneberg and Lichtenberg becoming indistinct, although those communities remained officially separate until 1920.

From Pestilent to Pristine

Population growth was similarly dramatic in the city itself, which until 1920 had its boundary to the north at the edges of Wedding and present-day Prenzlauer Berg, to the south in what is today Kreuzberg, to the west in what is now Tiergarten to the east in present-day Friedrichshain. Berlin's population in 1849 was only around 412,000, but by 1880 it had passed the 1 million mark. By 1914, 1.84 million people lived in the city, which had become Europe's most densely populated.

Berlin's old baroque buildings were massively overcrowded even in the 1860s, and sanitary conditions were catastrophic. With few toilets, people relieved themselves in public if necessary and disposed of wastewater and excrement in the street gutters, where thick, stinking filth made crossing any road an adventure.

British health expert Edwin Chadwick called Berlin the "most foul-smelling, dirtiest and most pestilent" capital in the civilized world in 1872, declaring that its citizens could be "recognized by the smell of their clothes."

Relief came in the form of an underground sewage system, a "radial system" that used pressure pipes and pumping stations to direct wastewater to sewage irrigation fields at the city's outskirts. The before and after effect was astonishing: By 1900, Berlin was considered the cleanest large city in Europe.

This was one of the few successes achieved by Berlin's city planners. Administrative responsibilities here were fragmented. Although Berlin had its own magistrate and thus a certain degree of administrative autonomy, important aspects such as public health, police and the supervision of construction still fell to Prussian authorities, with the result that spats arose frequently over these different groups' responsibilities, and for the most part the metropolis was allowed to expand haphazardly, driven by speculators' greed.

Ruler-straight streets sprang up, always at 90-degree angles, and along them kilometers of tenement houses with no front yards. The owners of these square-shaped lots squeezed in as many apartments as they could behind grand, stucco-decorated facades, nesting as many as seven buildings behind one another and leaving inner courtyards of just precisely the mandatory 28 square meters (300 square feet) necessary to use a fire extinguisher.
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The Downsides of Progress

The wealthy lived in the front buildings that faced onto the streets, while the rest of the population squeezed together in the rear buildings, as well as the buildings' damp cellars and drafty attics. To help make the rent, many families took in boarders as well. Photos from the early years of the 20th century show tiny rooms chock full of beds, often with six people or even more living in a single room, with laundry drying on lines and clothes stacked in the corners. One missionary in the city reported in 1871 of a building in which 250 families lived, with 36 families along a single corridor.

Berliners differentiated clearly between the upscale parts of the city -- those who could afford to do so built villas in Grunewald or Lichterfelde, or took up quarters in spacious apartments in Tiergarten or Charlottenburg -- and working class neighborhoods such as Luisenstadt (now Kreuzberg) and Wedding were home to laborers, whose wives also worked from home, sewing clothing for the textile industry. In 1905, while middle-class Tiergarten had an infant mortality rate of 5.2 percent, 42 percent of newborns died in proletarian Wedding.

These miserable living conditions, the talk of the entire town, were the downside of Berlin's evolution into a big city, and stood in stark contrast to the progress achieved by constant technological advancements. The rapid pace of development meant that the well-off and newly rich quickly left the proletarian portion of the population far behind.



New Modes of Communication and Travel
By 1850, telegraph lines connected the city with Frankfurt, Cologne, Hamburg, Breslau (today Wrocaw in Poland) and Verviers, Belgium, meaning that news and information arrived quickly. Mail carriers sorted letters even as they were on their way to deliver them to the recipients. By 1881, the first brave souls had installed a telephone. The first round of subscribers to the service numbered just 94, but not 10 years later, Berlin possessed 15,000 telephones.

This increasing tempo in both communication and travel left people feeling ever more hectic and nervous, but at the same time it made for an exciting time of unparalleled inventiveness. Faster and faster modes of transportation crisscrossed the city, and those who could afford to tried out each one as soon as they could: first the horse-drawn omnibus, then horse and steam-powered trolleys and finally the world's first electric trolley, inaugurated by Werner von Siemens in Gross-Lichterfelde, at the time still a separate town from Berlin, in 1881.

Soon these vehicles were creaking their way through the city streets, powered by overhead lines, as well as battery power in some of the fancier areas of town. The emperor banned streetcars from the grand boulevard Unter den Linden, but by 1914, 130 electric trolley lines traversed the city, charging a fare of 10 pfennig.

Like blood pulsing through an artery, Europe's first viaduct rail line linked the city from end to end, connecting Charlottenburg in the west to Schlesischer Bahnhof (today Ostbahnhof) in the east. "A tremendous edifice has arisen before us; such an assembly of bricks as has perhaps not been seen since the walls of Babylon and the aqueducts of Rome," enthused the Nationalzeitung, established by Bernhard Wolff, a Jewish Berliner and son of a banker.

The very first Sunday after its opening, the new trains transported 67,000 passengers. Tradesmen, bars and restaurants took up quarters in the archways beneath the elevated tracks. "People in Berlin love transportation," declared the "City Documents," a series of 50 publications released by journalist and researcher Hans Ostwald in 1905.

The Emerging Middle Class

The height of modernity, meanwhile, came in the form of a combined elevated and underground train line that ran between Stralauer Tor and Potsdamer Platz starting in 1902, although this particular experience was at first enjoyed by only a small segment of the population. The elegant stations and train cars fitted out with red leather and mahogany, and especially the steep price, made this an exclusive form of transportation used mainly by salesmen, businesspeople and civil servants.

This bourgeois segment of society was a relatively new phenomenon in the city on the Spree. Its members worked in the powerful institutions of the banking quarter between Französische Strasse, Mauerstrasse and Behrenstrasse, in the trading and insurance firms on Leipziger Strasse, served as professors at the state universities and research institutes or earned their living as doctors at new hospitals such as the Charité. Most numerous, though, were those employed by the government administration here in the formerly Prussian, now German, capital, which required more and more civil servants to run it.

Half of Berlin's residents came from the working class, while the other half consisted of the middle class and nobility -- and the middle class was growing powerful. The city's industrial boom had brought this segment of society money and social standing, and now its members put their all into distancing themselves -- through education and a picture-perfect family life of velvet curtains and plush sofas -- from the proletarian lower classes and the decadent nobility.

"All the gentlemen in whose company you find yourself are cultured, polite, well-bred people, albeit entirely unfamiliar with the smaller customs of great society, all occupied, each having his own well-ordered work, with presenting a healthy opinion on the literary and scientific efforts of the time. They have not the polish, the superficial gloss of the high society in the palace on Unter den Linden; they are no experts at tying ties and their garments date from the last years of the empire: Yet at the same time they are strangers to the petty idle chatter that blossoms in the environs of the Kaiser. They have a simple temperament and shy manners; yet their intellectual faculties are highly developed and in proper equilibrium; it is a pleasure to converse with them, and never without its benefits," wrote an anonymous French author around 1883, describing an evening at a middle-class home, at which the daughter of the family exhibited her talents on the piano for the assembled guests, after a dinner of roast venison, salad and fruit.

Pleasure, Not Politics

These Berliners got their information from liberal Berlin newspapers such as the Vossische Zeitung, the Nationalzeitung, the Berliner Börsen-Courier, the government-aligned Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung and, starting in 1878, the Berliner Zeitung (today's B. Z.). The circulation and coverage of all these newspapers increased steadily. Publishers such as Leopold Ullstein, August Scherl and Rudolf Mosse built themselves grand headquarters around Kochstrasse and often addressed political issues in their papers, many of which came in both a morning and an evening edition. They were subject to sometimes blatant political influences, especially from Chancellor Bismarck, who at times financed the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung from his own secret funds.

Still, most of the new middle class remained largely apolitical. "When it comes to politics, these people are fully as incapable of rendering an opinion and just as indifferent as those in high society," the anonymous French observer found.

Certainly Berlin's importance as a capital city could hardly be overlooked. Government buildings sprang up around Wilhelmstrasse, while the city's government quarter, including the Reichstag, was completed in 1894 after many delays. Yet many in the middle class had only a very limited interest in the decisions reached there, in part because the freely elected parliament hardly had the power to make real decisions. The arrangement of the city's electoral districts and the existence of a majority voting system also combined with the result that voters had comparatively little influence on parliament members' mandates.

Far more important than politics, and certainly more exciting, were entertainment and consumption. Berliners went to the theater, opera and vaudeville shows. They marveled at the first movies with their rattling film reels and went out to cafés with dancing, to card-playing clubs and to amusement parks.

These pleasure-seekers could find the programs for such events on advertising pillars known in German as "Litfasssäulen" after printer Ernst Litfass, who erected these purpose-built columns around the city. "At regular intervals all through the city are tidy round columns, around 18 feet (5.5 meters) high and as big around as a large barrel, with small black and white theater programs and other notices posted on them. You can almost always find a group of people gathered around these columns, reading the notices," noted Mark Twain.

New department stores such as Wertheim, Tietz, Jandorf and later KaDeWe on Kurfürstendamm likewise used advertisements to draw attention. These stores presented a previously unheard of range of enticing products under a single roof: dashing men's fashions, racy lingerie, thick carpets, sumptuous fabrics and furniture. The palace of consumption built on Leipziger Strasse in 1897 by businessman Georg Wertheim from Stralsund was even favored with a 1910 visit from Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife. "Athens on the Spree is dead, Chicago on the Spree has arrived," opined Walther Rathenau, son of the founder of AEG and himself later a liberal politician.

"Damned Always to Become And Never to Be"

Still, not everyone shared this optimistic view of progress. There were some who felt the city had lost its values, and who could no longer find their way amid the new metropolis' speed and restlessness. "The older gentlemen and others who valued comfort above all else moaned and complained. They lost one lovely little old house after another. They watched as entire neighborhoods, in which the Berlin of past centuries had moldered, were taken away from them, torn down and replaced with newfangled buildings," Edmund Edel scoffed in the "City Documents" series.

The old elite watched resentfully as these up-and-comers who were unconcerned with tradition, and many of whom were Jewish, gained standing in Berlin society, while at the same time the new middle class feared losing its own social status. Strains of anti-Semitism and anti-modernism crept into society.

Then there were those who could do no more than cast longing looks at the city's new shop window displays or dream of its opera premieres: the homeless, the neglected working children, the prostitutes -- people who had lost their footing with the rapid pace of development.

Berlin was a city under high tension. The economic boom had ignited an explosion and now all the city's individual parts were pulling in many directions, straining separately toward the future and held together only tenuously by the idea of a German capital.

The city didn't manage to find calm. Art critic, journalist and admirer of Impressionism Karl Scheffler summed up the situation in 1910, in a sentence that has been quoted often ever since. Berlin, he wrote, was "damned always to become and never to be."

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein



URL:
The Late 19th Century Saw The Birth of Modern Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE


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The Age of Excess Berlin in the Golden Twenties

11/23/2012 06:00 PM

The Age of Excess

Berlin in the Golden Twenties

Photos: Berlin Reaches Cultural Heyday in the Golden Twenties - SPIEGEL ONLINE - International

By Mathias Schreiber

After the devastation of World War I, cultural life blossomed and reached its heyday in Berlin. The 1920s were a time in which all the arts, both old and new, were cold, raw, shocking and sharp-edged. But the "live fast, die young" ethos would be cut short by the rise of the Nazis.


Editor's Note: Berlin is currently celebrating its 775th anniversary. In the coming days, SPIEGEL ONLINE International will be publishing a series of stories on the history of Germany's capital. This is the third part of the series. The firstand secondparts can be read here.

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It was almost a miracle. The roar of battle in World War I, a death sentence for at least 15 million people, had hardly faded away before Berlin's art scene was suddenly teeming with life once again. And that was considerably before the 1920s had turned into the legendary "Golden Twenties" that followed the hyperinflation of 1923.

In 1920, the Otto Burchard Gallery held an exhibition of photomontages, collages and drawings called the "First International Dada Fair." It was the time of the cult of nonsense, when Wieland Herzfelde published a magazine with the provocative title Jedermann sein eigner Fußball (Everyman His Own Football).

The most important success of the Dada Fair was a trial in which the charges included "insulting the Reichswehr" or the German military in the Weimar Republic, and "incitement to class hatred." In a city that would have 147 political daily newspapers by 1928, only a short time later, the trial brought welcome publicity to artists, but it also brought them fines. The artist and caricaturist George Grosz, for example, was fined 300 Reichsmarks.

In a review of the Berlin exhibition, writer Kurt Tucholsky (1890-1935) was especially enthusiastic about Grosz (1893-1959), a Berlin native whose real name was Georg Ehrenfried Gross.

"It's very quiet in the small exhibition, and no one is really outraged anymore," Tucholsky wrote. "Dada -- well, okay. But there is one artist who shakes up the whole place. That one artist is… George Grosz … If drawings could kill, the Prussian military would certainly be dead … His portfolio 'Gott mit uns' (God With Us) deserves a place on the table of every good middle-class family. His grimacing faces of majors and sergeants are infernally haunting reality. He alone is Sturm und Drang, riot, ridicule and -- as is rarely the case -- revolution."

'Infernally Haunting Reality'

The expression "infernally haunting reality" neatly sums up the cultural environment in the German capital in the 1920s. One of Grosz's drawings depicts a disillusioned soldier in a steel helmet who wants to relax by the riverside in a large city, only to find a bloated corpse there, apparently a former comrade who had lost his desire to live.

The sarcastic title "Feierabend" or, quitting time, is a reference to both the death of the drowned suicide victim and the end-of-day feeling of the man looking at the corpse. The title -- perverted into a negative take on the original meaning of the expression, which actually refers to the pleasant feeling of reaching the end of the workday -- is sharp-edged, shocking and direct, exhibiting a keen view of real contradictions.

From this time on, this cold view of what writer Bertolt Brecht called the "asphalt city," and its sinister agents, became established in the most important branches of art and hastened by the new mediums of photography, radio, poster advertising, records, the daily press, cabaret and film. Raw truth replaced expressively blissful beauty. "Art is boring; one wants facts," author Alfred Döblin (1878-1957) wrote in defining this wave of reality-based art.

This art broke ranks with the Expressionists' subjective, emotional perspective. Indeed, by this point, Expressionism, a product of the first years of the century, was already passé, even though works by Expressionist painters from Germany were still being exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1922 and 1928.

New Objectivity with a Dash of Conviviality

The present consisted of grinning, cigar-smoking, salacious fat men who seemed preoccupied with eyeing the derrieres and breasts of whores. They wandered like ghosts through the pictorial worlds of painters like Grosz and Otto Dix. In the 1925 painting "Ungleiches Liebespaar" ("Uneven Couple"), Dix brings together a whore's body with a man's lust in an especially grotesque way.

In their almost caricature-like impression of the demimonde, the artists portrayed the social injustices of the day, such as the juxtaposition of the starving unemployed (133,000 in Berlin in 1928 alone) and nouveau riche businesspeople driving around in large convertibles with elegant women on their arms.

Early on, these painters also shaped the style that would come to dominate the second half of the 1920s, characterized by political provocation, cool meticulousness and a burning realism that hurts the eyes, a style summed up as "New Objectivity" -- the title of a 1925 exhibition at the Kunsthalle Mannheim that made cultural history.

In the restless, everyday life of Berlin's cultural scene, the sharp social criticism of this art movement came dusted with a swirling conviviality and a turbulent world of entertainment that offered up everything from variety to cabaret, chansons to popular songs ("Who on earth rolled the cheese to the station? / How impertinent! And how can they do such a thing? / The cheese tax hadn't even been paid yet!"), revues to operettas and six-day races to fashion shows. All of this was seasoned with the intelligent, quick and derisive sense of humor typical of Berliners.

This humor flared up in the socially critical chansons and street ballads of Claire Waldoff (1884-1957). "There is only one Berlin," "Oh God, how stupid men can be," "He who slings mud should be ashamed of himself, and he ought to throw something other than mud," she warbled, sometimes in cabarets and sometimes in pubs.

The "Comedian Harmonists," a Berlin-founded quintet of singers with a pianist that lyrically parodied the human comedy with its everyday erotic desires ("Veronica, the asparagus is growing!", "My little green cactus"), was not as drastic as Waldoff. One of their acts, "Tempo Variety," was especially typical of Berlin. These men who were cheerful in their melancholy recorded their first record in 1928, the first of more than 80 recordings made in the course of their international career.

Heyday of Credit

From 1924 to 1929, between the end of hyperinflation and the stock market crash in New York that led to the Great Depression, there was a short period of economic recovery in Germany that justified the economic connotation of the "Golden Twenties." Industrial production in Berlin, involving such international companies as Siemens, AEG and Borsig, grew by about 50 percent between 1924 and 1929.

Nevertheless, owing to the high cost of war reparations, Germany remained dependent on massive loans from American banks. As soon as the flow of money from the United States ran dry, as it did in 1929, "the building" of the Weimar Republic had to "collapse," as the historian Werner Conze wrote.

The cultural heyday of the years in which Berlin was lauded as the "city of 30 stages" (in fact, it had many more than that), was a heyday paid for on credit. Looking back on the period, playwright Carl Zuckmayer ("The Captain of Köpenick"), who lived in Berlin from 1924 to 1933, wrote: "The arts blossomed like a meadow just before being mowed. This explains the tragic yet brilliant charm that is associated with this era, often seen in the images of poets and artists who died prematurely."

The realization that this euphoria could not last undercoats the best works of art of these years with the metallic tone that soon became the trademark of artistic modernity. This applied, quite literally, to the refined simplicity of the anti-plush, steel-tube furniture of Bauhaus designer Marcel Breuer and the architecture of the same movement, fashioned from strictly functional steel skeletons. The Dessau school complex (1925-1926) of Berlin Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius (1883-1969) is exemplary of its typically angular contours and cubical, flat-roofed structures.

'Less Is More'

After the decorative excesses of the aging plaster facades from the turn of the century, these succinct forms seemed provocatively mute and naked -- and it isn't surprising that they were controversial. The Weissenhofsiedlung (Weissenhof development) in Stuttgart, built in 1927 under the direction of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was soon derided as an "Arab village."

The spatial geometry of the Bauhaus movement, which relied on generous expanses of glass and seemed intent on achieving an airy transparency, was reflected in the style of important villas that were being built in Berlin, as well as in that of unusual, publicly subsidized residential developments.

The designs were by Gropius, such as that of the Siemensstadt housing development, and by architects such as Bruno Taut (the Onkel Toms Hütte and Hufeisensiedlung developments in Berlin's Zehlendorf district), Hans Scharoun and Mies van der Rohe. The latter, whose "less is more" maxim became the most famous Bauhaus motto, was the director of the school when it was moved from Dessau to Berlin in 1932 and was forced to close under pressure from the Nazis just a year later.

Metaphorically speaking, the tendency toward metallic, unadorned expression also applied to the literature of the period, and certainly to the objectivist collage technique employed by Alfred Döblin in his novel "Berlin Alexanderplatz" (1929). Döblin blends together the sound of wind, the rhythmic thud of the steam pile-driver, quotations from newspaper advertisements, stock market reports, soldiers' songs, nursery rhymes and prostitutes' patois with expressive, poetic flights of fancy, and injects all of these noises and fragments of language into the protagonist's stream of consciousness.

The colossal book describes in meticulous detail the ultimately vain struggle of Franz Biberkopf, a furniture mover who has been released from prison, to build a new life. This first important big-city novel in the German language was also the first great 20th-century novel about the working classes. It was made into a film in 1931, starring Heinrich George as a good-natured and childlike Franz Biberkopf.



Berlin Gets Bigger and Bolder
The language of Marxist poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) is austere and direct, flirting with Biblical simplicity, as in the play "Trommeln in der Nacht" ("Drums in the Night"), in which a soldier spends the revolution in a comfy bed. The play was performed at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin in 1922, shortly after it premiered in Munich. In the Munich production, the legendary banner containing the words "Don't stare so romantically!" hung above the stage.

In the revue-like gangster drama "The Threepenny Opera," an entertaining gothic tale of love, crime, class hatred and greed based on the English dramatist John Gay's 18th-century piece "The Beggar's Opera," Brecht combines socially critical polemics with erotic sentimentality. He creates conflict among the villain, Macheath, his girlfriend Polly Peachum and his treacherous ex-lover, Pirate Jenny. The social clichés Brecht touches on -- oh, those truly brutal gangsters! -- are softened by the many suggestive lyrics, such as: "Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear. And he shows them pearly white. Just a jackknife has Macheath, dear. And he keeps it out of sight." Kurt Weill composed the music. The premiere was performed in 1928 at the Berliner Theater on Schiffbauerdamm, where the play ran for almost a year. In 1929, it was performed on 19 German stages.

The journalist Willy Haas later described the enormous success of Brecht's hammer-like aesthetic in these words: "The time was ripe for the caustic cynicism, brutality and tough knockout of the songs of Brecht and Weill. Every young man who was attuned to the times wore this brutality in his buttonhole as the slogan of the day." The metallic or, as it were, cool tone had become fashionable.

In 1922, in a piece for the Vossische Zeitung newspaper, Döblin used Berlin's typical bluntness in describing the city's 'fast-paced tempo' as Berlin's calling card: "This excitement of the streets, shop and cars is the heat that I must constantly beat into myself when I work. It is the gasoline that powers my engine."

In 1921, the "Automobile Traffic and Training Road" (AVUS) was opened. It was the world's first autobahn, though it was primarily used as a racing and test track. At the time, the private automobile was a luxury product for the upper crust. Even though Berlin's population had surged to 4.3 million, only 50,000 private cars were registered in the city. Many horse-drawn carriages still struggled through the bustle of traffic alongside buses, streetcars, trucks and motorcycles. It was only in 1924 that the first traffic signals were built, at Potsdamer Platz, to direct the city's traffic. A policeman operated Berlin's first traffic light by hand, standing on a covered, elaborate traffic tower, an import from the United States.
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Part 2

'The Raging Reporter'

Another structure that symbolized Berlin's obsession with speed was the Rudolf Mosse publishing house. The building was strikingly renovated by the architect Erich Mendelsohn between 1921 and 1923, after the façade had been heavily damaged in street fighting between government troops and members of the Spartacus League, a Marxist revolutionary movement, shortly after World War I.

Mendelsohn went beyond static Bauhaus geometry with the sensibility of rapid movement. He made the rounded corner of the 10-story press building more dynamic by adding continuous cornices and long, horizontal windows known as ribbon windows. The curvature of this "dynamic" corner facing an intersection is reminiscent of tram tracks and foreshadows vehicles -- streetcars and automobiles -- rushing around the corner. Commenting on the design, the journalist and architect Adolf Behne described it as "not Potsdam or Neu-Ruppin," but "big city, modern city, concentrated, powerful life, confidence, affirmation, will and the pace of work."

Mosse, the Jewish publishing house, owned the Berliner Tageblatts newspaper. The symbolism of the building's façade, with its evocation of speed, was also the ideal complement to the communicative machinery of the modern daily press, whose triumphal march through society was just beginning at the time. The industrialized big city became a laboratory for the acceleration of almost all aspects of life, and the daily press served as both its amplifier and venue.

The portrait the painter Christian Schad made of the "raging reporter," Egon Erwin Kisch, in 1928, illustrates this link between journalism and the zeitgeist. Kisch published his collected works in 1924, in a book entitled "The Raging Reporter." Schad painted Kisch as a proletarian, with a naked, slightly pudgy, delicately tattooed upper body. A knife pierces the left side of his chest, and a dominatrix occupies the middle of his stomach. The subject's gaze is very direct, as if he were observing and journalistically examining the person looking at the painting. Like a manifesto, this portrait affirms the equality of literature and reportage under the banner of an objectivity that reflects the new role of science and technology.

Succumbing to the Magic

In 1920, Berlin's six districts added 14 more to become "Greater Berlin," a city whose cultural appeal was reinforced by the lives of its artists. Schad, the painter who created important portraits of the New Objectivity movement, was from the Bavarian town of Miesbach and had lived in Munich before succumbing to the siren call of the Prussian metropolis. And Kisch, who had lived in Berlin since 1921, was a Jew from Bohemia, born in Prague in 1885.

A number of important artists and intellectuals succumbed to the magic of this notoriously agitated city on the boundary between Western and Central-Eastern Europe: from the physicist Albert Einstein, the sculptor Georg Kolbe, the French-American dancer Josephine Baker, who captivated Berlin in 1926, to authors Robert Musil, Lion Feuchtwanger, Erich Maria Remarque (his 1928 antiwar novel "All Quiet on the Western Front" became an international best-seller), Erich Kästner, Franz Kafka (who lived in Berlin from 1923 to 1924), Ricarda Huch and Gottfried Benn, not to mention composers Paul Hindemith and Ferruccio Busoni.

Great directors of the day began their careers in Berlin, including Wilhelm Furtwängler, Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer. Berlin's uniquely colorful theater world was filled with such outstanding actors as Heinrich George, as well as directors Leopold Jessner, Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator. After a failure at the Volksbühne theater, Piscator, a leftist, established his own, 1,100-seat theater on Nollendorfplatz, funded by a beer brewer. It was one of 75 Berlin theaters with private financial backers. Piscator's practice of frequently exposing the fly loft and creating distance with film projections came to epitomize the anti-illusive "epic theater" in the style of Brecht.

"The audience is good enough to fill the ranks … but it actually gets in the way. After all, it doesn't understand anything. What's important is the criticism," Berlin-born journalist Kurt Tucholsky wrote in 1929, with delicate irony, on Berliners' wild enthusiasm for the theater. Audiences and theater managers alike awaited the reviews in the daily newspapers, often printed only a few hours after premieres, as if they were sports scores. An artist's career could be decided by the criticism or praise of an influential theater critic, such as Alfred Kerr.

Printed theater reviews already existed in the days of German writer Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781), but the acceleration of the intense interaction between reviews and the reaction of audiences was new. At the same time, theatergoers, who were predominantly liberal and left-leaning, were also an increasingly isolated minority in the crisis-ridden metropolis, where ordinary people had no contact with the theater and its critics.

The Golden Era of Berlin Film

In addition to the daily press, another accelerating factor was a new medium whose products depended on a lot of technology: film. In 1921, Berlin already had more than 400 film theaters, with about 150,000 seats. In the era of silent films, which ended around 1929, up to 70 musicians created dramatic sound backdrops for performances, as they did in Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's 1922 vampire film "Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror." As if to compensate for the technical coldness of the new medium, the film, with its pantomime and makeup, takes atmospheric Expressionism almost to the limit of the tolerable.

The most famous silent film of the time was Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis." Using highly suggestive crowd scenes, which demonize the modernity of the big city, Lang confronts two worlds: the "Club of the Sons," carefree and divorced from reality, and the underworld of the machine workers, with their robot-like movements. A love story traverses the precarious bridge across the social gulf separating the classes.

The first German film with sound was the 1929 musical comedy "Melodie des Herzens" ("Melody of the Heart"), made remarkable by its star Willy Fritsch, who received a new role in a film every year between 1920 and 1930. The first sentence that was spoken in the film was: "It's because I'm saving for a horse."

At almost the same time, the first important German sound film was made at the UFA studios in Berlin: Josef von Sternberg's adaptation of Heinrich Mann's novel "The Blue Angel," the story of Immanuel Rath, a high-school teacher in a German provincial town who is derided by his students as "Professor Unrat" ("Professor Garbage") and then later runs away with a calculating cabaret performer.

He meets the scantily clad performer in the dressing room of a cabaret theater, an encounter that will be his undoing. He falls for her, and he ruins his life in the process. The amusing play on the eternal subject of "the intellectual and trivial life" drew Hollywood's attention to Marlene Dietrich, and the song she sang in the film, "Falling in Love Again (Can't Help It)," became an international hit.

Dietrich's coldly brilliant acting and the brawny appeal of her male counterpart, Emil Jannings, promised a great future for German film. But the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933 separated the on-screen lovers. Dietrich backed the Americans in World War II, while Jannings, because of his involvement in Nazi propaganda films, was banned from the screen for life after the Allied victory.

Intellectual Turning Point

The culture of 1920s Berlin was an intellectual turning point after World War I, the great seminal catastrophe of the 20th century. World-famous artists and authors, whose names are still remembered today, were part of it.

What motivated them? It was undoubtedly the lively, intense exchange of ideas that this prickly city adored. But it was also the attempt to escape the emotional and material hardships following the lost war, as well as a desire to leave the empty pomposity of the Wilhelmine Gründerzeit period.

The traditional image of humanity that was still so palpable in neo-Gothic churches around the turn of the century was now giving way to an experimentally mobile search for humanity that was interested in science and technology and oriented toward an open future.

In some respects, Berlin's cultural fireworks of the 1920s are reminiscent of a motto of the rock 'n' roll and hippie eras that became "hip" 50 years later: "live fast, die young." Some of the great designs of this early German modern age would only have the chance to mature after World War II.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan



URL:
Spiegel Series on Berlin History, the Golden Twenties - SPIEGEL ONLINE


Related SPIEGEL ONLINE links:
Photo Gallery: Berlin in the 1920s
Berlin Reaches Cultural Heyday in the Golden Twenties - SPIEGEL ONLINE - International
Teenage Angst: Berlin's Turn of the Century Growing Pains (11/22/2012)
The Late 19th Century Saw The Birth of Modern Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE
The Late Bloomer: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Germany's Capital (11/21/2012)
The Late Bloomer: The Rise Fall and Rebirth of Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE
Lost Places: Photographer Documents Ruins of East Berlin (08/01/2012)
Artists Photographs Disappearing Sites of Her Childhood in Eastern Germany - SPIEGEL ONLINE
Berlin's Forgotten Half: Excavations Shed Light on History of Cölln (03/30/2012)
SEOZ: Archaeological Finds Shed Light on History of Berlin's Twin Cölln - SPIEGEL ONLINE
SPIEGEL GESCHICHTE 5/2012 - Inhalt
SPIEGEL GESCHICHTE 5/2012 - Inhaltsverzeichnis



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The Ruthless Rise of the Nazis in Berlin

11/29/2012 06:05 PM

Conquering the Capital
The Ruthless Rise of the Nazis in Berlin

By Uwe Klussmann

In the mid-1920s, Joseph Goebbels was given the difficult task of fostering support for the growing Nazi Party in Berlin, "the reddest city in Europe besides Moscow." But, by 1933, a combination of street brutality and political smarts succeeded in catapulting the party past rival parties.

Editor's Note: Berlin is currently celebrating its 775th anniversary. In the coming days, SPIEGEL ONLINE International will be publishing a series of stories on the history of Germany's capital. This is the fourth part of the series. The first, second and third parts can be read here.

On that gray Nov. 7 in 1926, there was no indication that the short 29-year-old man who walked with a limp and had just stepped off of a train at Berlin's Anhalter Station would shape the destiny of the German capital. Joseph Goebbels, a career official with the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), or Nazi Party, had arrived on what seemed to be an impossible mission. As Gauleiter, or regional party leader, he had been tasked with leading the fight for power in Berlin.
At the time, the splinter group led by Adolf Hitler had 49,000 members throughout all of Germany. It was in sad shape in the capital, where it could only boast a few hundred members. In a report written in October 1926, a party official wrote of the "complete breakdown of the Berlin organization," which he described as a self-destructive, confused group that was almost beyond repair.

The party office at Potsdamer Strasse 109 could only reinforce this impression. It consisted of a dark basement room that reeked of cigarette smoke, sweat and beer. Party members referred to it as "the opium den."

At the end of the year, Goebbels rented a more acceptable office for the party on Lützowstrasse. He kicked the do-nothings and the troublemakers out of the party and called upon the remaining members to participate in various campaigns.

Goebbels had been in office for hardly a week before he organized a march through the Neukölln district, a communist stronghold, that devolved into a street riot.

Goebbels wanted Hitler's party to show its colors in Berlin, which he described as "the reddest city in Europe besides Moscow." Together, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) captured 52.2 percent of the vote in the 1925 municipal elections. Berlin's new Nazi leader decided to combat the left's superiority in numbers with a frontal attack.

He went to the Pharussäle, a meeting hall often used by the KPD for its mass rallies in Berlin's Wedding district, and gave a speech on the subject of "The Collapse of the Bourgeois Class State." This provoked the communists.

On Feb. 11, 1927, the Nazi Party meeting turned into a violent brawl between the two groups. Beer glasses, chairs and tables flew through the hall, and severely injured people were left lying covered with blood on the floor. Despite the injuries, it was a triumph for Goebbels, whose thugs beat up about 200 communists and drove them from the hall.

A Strategy of Provocation

Goebbels turned Berlin into a violent laboratory for the future dictatorship, availing himself of the services of the uniformed Sturmabteilung ("Assault Division"), or SA, whose members were known as the "brownshirts." The SA combined soldierly romanticism, the hatred of younger people for the older elites, and the rage of Berlin's working-class in the eastern part of the city against its wealthier western districts.

For the Nazi Party, the brownshirts -- who included the unemployed, the underemployed, apprentices and high-school students -- were "political soldiers." In Goebbel's view, their task was the "conquest of the street." In the melting pot of Berlin, these primarily young men were supposed to reconcile and embody two previously hostile worldviews: nationalism, which Goebbels believed had to be "reshaped in a revolutionary way," and a "true socialism" free of Marxism.

Berlin's Jews became the lightning rod for this experiment, which aimed to bring the social and political tensions of the metropolis to the breaking point. Goebbels, who had done his doctoral work under a Jewish professor, assigned the Jews the scapegoat role.

"The Jew" was a "negative aspect" that had to be "eradicated," Goebbels wrote in 1929. He viewed the Jews as simultaneously embodying capitalism, communism, the press and the police. His simplistic slogan "The Jews are to blame!" proved to be a slow-acting poison.

As the head of Berlin's Nazis, Goebbels chose Bernhard Weiss, the Jewish deputy chief of the city's police force, as a target of his anti-Semitic agitation. Goebbels nicknamed him "Isidore" and, after Weiss sued Goebbels for libel and won, he called him "Weiss, whom one isn't allowed to call Isidore." Goebbels derided Weiss's police officers as "Bernhardiner" ("St. Bernard dogs") and "Weiss guardsmen."

Young party members sang satirical songs about "Isidore" and wore "Isidore" masks -- and they often had the laughs on their side. Indeed, the Nazis used coarse humor as a sharp weapon in their struggle with the Weimar Republic. "We scoffed at an entire system and brought it down with resounding laughter," Gunter d'Alquen, the young editor-in-chief of Das Schwarze Korps (The Black Corps) wrote in 1937. This was the official newspaper of the Schutzstaffel ("Protection Squadron"), or SS, which was founded in 1925 as a sort of Praetorian Guard for Hitler.

Goebbels believed that "horseplay is necessary." At a showing of a film adaptation of the pacifist novel "Im Westen nichts Neues" ("All Quiet on the Western Front") on Dec. 5, 1930, at the Mozartsaal cinema on Berlin's Nollendorfplatz, members of the SA released white mice into the audience. Screaming women caused the film to be interrupted while SA men roared with laughter. Goebbels himself was sitting in the audience.

He justified his strategy of provocation by saying that the Nazis could be accused of many things, but certainly not of being dull. Street battles and brawls at political meetings forged a sense of unity and camaraderie among party members in Berlin. On May 1, 1927, Hitler spoke to them for the first time at the dignified Clou concert hall. Goebbels enjoyed Hitler's confidence and was moved to tears by his speech about "space and the people."

Party members in Berlin loved the man they called "our Dr. Goebbels" because he spent time in direct contact with them. He comforted the severely wounded, held the hands of the dying and attended the funerals of the dead.

Modest Initial Success

Goebbels, who was unable to fight in World War I because of his deformed right leg, proved to be the top soldier of an army fighting an insidious civil war. During it, the Nazis survived severe challenges. Five days after Hitler's speech at the Clou, the police banned the Nazi Party in Berlin. But that didn't stop its ascent. Goebbels, who had read the memoirs of August Bebel, a Marxist politician and co-founder of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany, had learned a lesson from the Social Democrats' struggle against Bismarck's anti-socialist laws.

The Nazis established seemingly harmless groups, such as bowling, savings and swimming clubs. Using the motto "Not dead, despite the ban," Goebbels established the newspaper Der Angriff (The Attack) in July 1927, initially as a weekly. The subheading, "For the Oppressed -- Against the Exploiters," targeted working-class readers.

At first, the Nazis enjoyed only modest success. Some 39,000 Berliners, or 1.6 percent of the city's entire population, voted for Hitler's party in the May 1928 election to the Reichstag, as the parliament was called. However, Berlin's ban on the Nazi Party was lifted for the election campaign. When Goebbels became one of 12 Nazi members of the Reichstag, he did so with the challenging words: "We have nothing to do with the parliament. We reject it from within."

Indeed, the strategy of the Berlin branch of the Nazi Party was to serve as an extra-parliamentary opposition, forming cells on the street and in businesses, using the communist approach as a model. In 1928, the party staged a rally with several thousand supporters, filling the Sportpalast winter sports venue on Potsdamer Strasse.

In 1929, the party headed by "bandit-in-chief Goebbels," as the communists called him, captured 5.8 percent of the vote for city council, securing 13 seats in the city's parliament.

The Weimar Republic's "system," which the Nazis attacked, was relatively stable for a long time. But that changed in late October 1929, when the stock market in New York crashed. Mass unemployment rose sharply, increasing the potential for urban unrest.

Battling All Sides, but Mostly Left

Berlin's Nazis waged a political war on two fronts. One front was against the Social Democrats and the established parties running the city and the country. The other was against the communists, whose ranks swelled when people uprooted by the crisis were driven into their arms.
In its struggle with the propagandists of world revolution, the Nazi Party had only one chance to differentiate itself from the reactionary right wing. In Der Angriff, Goebbels polemicized against the "black, white and red fat cats," referencing the colors of the flag of the German Empire favored by many right-wing nationalists. "You say 'fatherland,'" he wrote accusatorily, "but what you're talking about are percentages."

He saw workers disappointed by the stolid SPD as a target group. He called the SPD "Germany's most shameless party" and held it responsible for "poverty, hunger, fat cats and thin workers." The Social Democrats, Goebbels said in August 1930, were "no longer the protagonists of a true, purposeful socialism," but instead had become the "lackeys and beneficiaries of market capitalism." In fact, with its aging and corruptible politicians, the SPD made things easier for the Nazis in Berlin.

The bigger challenge for the Nazis was the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), headed in Berlin by Walter Ulbricht, who would go on to become the de facto leader of post-war East Germany. The activist party had its strongholds in Berlin's blue-collar neighborhoods, like Friedrichshain and Wedding, and it had a powerful paramilitary organization in the Roter Frontkämpferbund (Alliance of Red Front-Fighters).

Politicians who hoped to succeed in Berlin's "red" neighborhoods had to speak a language understood there. In a flyer distributed in September 1931 to unemployed workers waiting at a government agency in Berlin, Goebbels wrote that the party was turning to "workers without work and without hope, exposed to the most horrible form of desperation," and he promised "to destroy the system of capitalism and replace it with a new, socialist order."

In their appeal "to all of the unemployed," the Nazis cleverly called into question the strength of the leftist parties, the SPD and the KPD. Goebbels courted the proletarians by treating them like cheated brides, addressing them as "you who have been left forsaken by your seducers."

Goebbels was familiar with the communists' weak points, namely, the often out-of-touch language of their officials and the control Soviet leaders exerted over them. In Der Angriff, Goebbels wrote that the KPD, as a "Russian foreign legion on German soil" created "with Russian money and German human resources," was alienating many members of the proletariat.

Helped by a "Martyr"

Horst Wessel was one of the Nazi propagandists who knew how to gain the support of workers. Born in 1907, he had graduated from a high school that emphasized the classics but dropped out of university before earning a degree. Wessel saw himself as a socialist who had been shaken by the "great social impoverishment and servitude of the working classes in all professions."

Wessel, the son of a Protestant pastor, was 19 when he joined the Nazi Party in 1926. By 1929, he had advanced to become head of an SA squad in Friedrichshain. Within a few weeks, Wessel's rhetorical skills had helped him recruit dozens of new members. Together, they would become the legendary "SA-Sturm 5."

Indeed, next to Goebbels, there was no one who spoke more often than Wessel for the Nazi Party in greater Berlin. Wessel's speeches even succeeded in convincing former communists to join the SA. With Goebbels' approval, they were permitted to bring their musical instruments, oboe-like wind instruments called shawms, to Nazi events.

Wessel and his friends sought to establish contact with proletarians in dark back courtyards and noisy taverns, on street corners and at unemployment offices. In doing so, they adhered to the third of the "Ten Commandments for National Socialists" penned by Goebbels: "Every national comrade, even the poorest, is part of Germany. Love him as you love yourself."

He soon became a hated figure in the "Commune," as the Nazis called the KPD. On Jan. 14, 1930, Albrecht Höhler, a communist pimp, shot the SA officer, who was living with a former prostitute, in the mouth. Wessel died of complications from the attack on Feb. 23.

His funeral illustrated how just out-of-control Berlin had become. Communists attacked the funeral procession and tried to seize the coffin. Before the funeral, they had painted the words "A final Heil Hitler to the pimp Horst Wessel!" on the wall of the Nikolai Cemetery.
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Part 2 The Ruthless Rise of the Nazis in Berlin

Attracting Workers Away from the Communist Party

But the killing of one of its most powerful propagandists didn't weaken the Nazi movement in Berlin. Communists, in particular, increasingly became the victims of armed SA members. In one version of their song, "We March Through Greater Berlin," they sang "The red front, break them to pieces." In another version, the words were changed to: "beat them to a pulp."

The Nazi Party continued to attract new members, and Wessel became their martyr. In the SA "storm bars" -- which, according to the police, grew fivefold, to 107, between 1928 and 1931 -- SA members in their brown uniforms sang the anthem Wessel had supposedly written: "The flag on high! The ranks tightly closed! The SA marches with quiet, steady step."

Half a year after the Wessel's death, it was clear that Berlin was on the verge of a political earthquake. On Sept. 10, 1930, a crowd of more than 100,000 people turned up outside the Sportpalast, trying to gain get in for a rally attended by Hitler.

In Reichstag elections held four days later, the Nazi Party became the second-strongest party in the country, capturing 18.3 percent of the vote. In Berlin, where it became the third most powerful party after the KPD and the SPD, it garnered 396,000 votes, or more than 10 times as many as it had just two years earlier.

The Nazis had become the political center of power and trendsetter in politics. Even the communists, who had initially hoped to fight off the Nazis with fists, brass knuckles and revolvers (their motto was: "Beat the fascists wherever you encounter them!"), were now courting Hitler's followers. In an appeal by the district office for Berlin-Brandenburg on Nov. 1, 1931, the KPD praised the "National Socialist workers" and "proletarian supporters of the Nazi Party," calling them "honest fighters against the system of hunger."

Indeed, the Nazis had broken the KPD's monopoly as the only protest party among Berlin's working classes. In August 1930, the KPD official newspaper Der Parteiarbeiter (The Party Worker) complained that new comrades in KPD were not finding "the spirit of camaraderie that is needed to be able to cooperate with friends." But the Nazis didn't have these kinds of problems.

Instead of the KPD's rigid ideological fare, the SA homes offered hot soup and solidarity. In 1932, there were 15,000 SA members in Berlin. During the Christmas holidays, unemployed party members were invited to the homes of the members who still had work in what Goebbels called the "socialism of action."

The concept gradually took hold in "red" Wedding, where the number of party members grew from 18 to 250 between 1928 and 1930. In a district where the majority voted communist, the Hitler Youth held "public discussion evenings" with titles such as "The Swastika or the Soviet Star."

Workers who had lived in the Soviet Union were popular guests at Nazi agitation evenings. They gave vivid accounts of the miserable lives of workers and the reign of terror of the secret police. One of the star attractions at the Nazi political circus was Roland Freisler. During World War I, Freisler had spent time as a prisoner of war in Russia. He would later become president of the Nazi-era People's Court, which handled a broad array of "political offenses" and became notorious for its frequent death sentences.

Popularity Breakthrough

In 1932, when the ranks of the unemployed throughout the Reich swelled to more than 6 million, and to 600,000 in Berlin alone, the Nazi Party achieved its breakthrough to become a major party, counting 40,000 members in its regional organization. In March 1932, the party mobilized about 80,000 people for a rally in the Lustgarten park (on what is now called Museum Island), which became a trial run for future events. On April 4, some 200,000 people congregated on the square between the Zeughaus building (currently housing the German Historical Museum) and the Berlin City Palace to cheer on Hitler.

The previous January, general student body elections in Berlin had demonstrated that university students were also anxious to support Hitler. The Nazis captured 3,794 of the 5,801 votes cast, or almost two-thirds. The Hitler wave had even reached children, who entered the German Youth, a subdivision of the Hitler Youth for younger boys, and the League of German Girls. In 1932, many an astonished grandmother was confronted with a 10-year-old granddaughter insisting: "Grandma, you must vote for Hitler!"

Young men who read Der Angriff, which began publication as a daily newspaper in November 1930, were opinion leaders in offices and factories. In early November 1932, the National Socialist Factory Cell Organization, together with the KPD's Revolutionary Union Opposition, organized a strike against wage cuts at the Berlin Transport Authority. Nazis and communists picketed alongside each other and joined forces to beat up strike breakers.

The strike cost the party a large number of votes in the Nov. 6, 1932 Reichstag election, especially in middle-class neighborhoods. But Goebbels was pursuing a strategic goal in the city, where the KPD was now the strongest party. "Our fixed position among the working people," he wrote in his diary, could not be allowed to totter.

Goebbels promised the "right to work" and "a socialist Germany that gives bread to its children once again." This awakened the hopes of the 31.3 percent of Berlin voters who voted for the Nazi Party in the last Reichstag election of March 1933. Only those who paid close attention to what Goebbels was saying could divine where the journey was about to go under Nazi leadership.

One such case was a 1932 radio broadcast in which he propagated the "creation and acquisition of space," which was code for Hitler's push to expand eastward. Another was in a speech he gave on Feb. 5, 1933, at the grave of a Berlin SA leader who had been shot to death. In this case, he offered radio listeners a taste of what was to come: "Perhaps we Germans don't understand what it means to live, but we are extremely good at dying."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


URL:
How the Nazis Succeeded in Taking Power in 'Red' Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE
RELATED SPIEGEL ONLINE LINKS:
The Age of Excess: Berlin in the Golden Twenties (11/23/2012)
Spiegel Series on Berlin History, the Golden Twenties - SPIEGEL ONLINE
Teenage Angst: Berlin's Turn of the Century Growing Pains (11/22/2012)
The Late 19th Century Saw The Birth of Modern Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE
The Late Bloomer: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Germany's Capital (11/21/2012)
The Late Bloomer: The Rise Fall and Rebirth of Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2012
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This has been a great series.
I'm interested to read how Hitler turned the unemployment and hyper inflation around.
Hopefully in the next installment.
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Before the Wall The Soviet Fight for Postwar Berlin

12/05/2012 06:10 PM

Before the Wall
The Soviet Fight for Postwar Berlin

Photos: Photo Gallery: Soviet Sticks and Carrots in Postwar Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE - International

Although Berlin was split into four sectors in 1945, the Soviets were determined to see a unified city under their control. Their tactics for undermining the other occupying powers ranged from seductive to brutal, and a desperate blockade backfired into a 40-year divide.

Editor's Note: Berlin is currently celebrating its 775th anniversary. In the coming days, SPIEGEL ONLINE International will be publishing a series of stories on the history of Germany 's capital. This is the fifth part of the series. The first , second , third and fourth parts can be read here.

The first edition of the Deutsche Volkszeitung, which appeared on newsstands in the devastated city of Berlin on June 13, 1945, brought some intriguing news. The newspaper contained the first postwar appeal by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany. It read: "The path of forcing the Soviet system on Germany would be wrong." The Communist Party of Germany (KPD), which had advocated a "Soviet Germany" until 1933, was now calling for the establishment of "a parliamentary democratic republic with all democratic freedoms and rights for the people."
Of course, most Berliners gave little thought to the future structure of the nation as they wandered hungrily through the ruins. KPD Chairman Wilhelm Pieck's son Arthur, a captain in the Red Army, described the mood among residents of the German capital in a confidential letter to his father on May 7, 1945: "The food situation is catastrophic. There is no electricity and no water. The few pumps or wells are insufficient, and people stand in line all day at the pumps and in front of the few shops. Although everyone is happy that the bombing has stopped and the war is now over for Berliners, the mood is gloomy and depressed. Men and women alike cry very easily. Most people have lost everything, their homes, possessions and money, and have nothing left."

Very few Berliners paid any attention to a poster describing "Order No. 2" of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD), dated June 10, 1945, which provided for the formation of "anti-fascist" parties. Four parties were established in Berlin within a few weeks. In addition to the Communists, they included the Social Democratic Party (SPD), a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Stalin wanted to set the course before the Western allies, as agreed in July 1945, took over the western half of Berlin as occupying powers.

On May 19, the Soviets appointed a Berlin municipal administration, headed by nonpartisan civilian Arthur Werner. The engineer, in office until October 1946, was a figurehead, while KPD officials like Arthur Pieck and Karl Maron, who would later become the East German interior minister, held key positions in the city administration.

The new city administration restored the power supply, and it opened theaters, schools and, in August, the German State Opera. It also tried to fight dysentery and typhus epidemics that began in July, killing thousands of emaciated Berliners.

KPD spokesman Walter Ulbricht urged his comrades to "create a new, trusting relationship" with the Social Democrats, with the aim of quickly merging the two parties. The SPD, and initially its leader in the eastern zone, Otto Grotewohl, opposed a merger under pressure. But Grotewohl, an amateur painter who was determined to bring about harmony, soon began to blur the contours of Soviet policy.

Making Communists Out of Democrats

A secret directive from the SMAD information administration, issued in the spring of 1946, showed how important a single, unified party headquartered in Berlin was to Moscow. It stated that all regional divisions were to submit a report on preparations for a unity party by 10 p.m. every evening.

The information administration included several hundred experienced Red Army veterans who had worked in units "operating within the armed forces and population of the enemy" during the war. The head of the information administration was Colonel Sergei Tyulpanov, an economist and social scientist who had studied in Heidelberg for a while and lived on Ehrenfels Street in Berlin's eastern Karlshorst neighborhood.

Tyulpanov was Stalin's most effective ideological warrior in Germany because he made the impression that he was not a rigid Stalinist. This is how Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov, the conqueror of Berlin, described Tyulpanov's mission in a May 1945 speech to party officials at the Soviet garrison in the German capital: "We have taken Berlin by storm, but now we must win the souls of the Germans. It will be a difficult struggle, and now this is precisely where our front line lies."

Tyulpanov's weapon was amiability. When he met with Berlin's leading Social Democrats, he was gregarious and full of smiles, asking them whether they had any special requests. Sometimes those requests could include a BMW, such as the one that was given to Max Fechner, an SPD politician who would later become East Germany's justice minister.

Many SPD officials in the eastern section of Berlin acquiesced, sometimes because they were coerced and sometimes in the hope that they could dominate the new party. Still, Berlin's Social Democrats wanted the general membership to vote on a possible merger with the KPD.

However, the Soviets barred the SPD's East Berlin members from participating. The outcome of the vote in the western sectors shows why: On March 31, 1946, only 2,937 of the 32,547 Social Democrats in West Berlin voted for an immediate merger, 14,763 voted for an alliance between the SPD and the KPD, and 5,559 voted against either an alliance or merger.

Nevertheless, the SPD and KPD Unity Party convention, held on April 21-22, 1946, at the Admiralspalast theater, became an emotional event for the more than 1,000 delegates and hundreds of guests. In front of portraits of August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, as well as a banner that read "Onward Socialists, Let Us Close the Ranks," the audience heard Beethoven's "Fidelio" overture and Grotewohl's promise that the decades-long "battle between brothers" had now come to an end.

Democracy Fails for the Socialists

The Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), which counted some 1.3 million members when it was founded, insisted that it didn't want´a "single-party system." Instead, it advocated the "expansion of self-administration on the basis of democratic elections."

Half a year later, citizens of the German capital, including those in its eastern half, were indeed allowed to vote freely on the composition of a city council. The politicians on the ballot in October 1946 were Christian Democrats, Liberals, Social Democrats and members of the SED. The result was a disaster for the latter, with only 20 percent voting for the SED and 48.7 percent for the SPD. Even in the Soviet sector, the SED received only 30 percent of the vote. It was to be the last free election in the eastern sector for more than 43 years, until the March 1990 election of the East German Volkskammer, or People's Parliament.

Life became increasingly difficult in the eastern sector for those Social Democrats who had joined the SED. At the second SED convention, held in September 1947, Pieck announced: "The Soviet peoples have shown us the way to make socialism a reality." In June 1948, when the SED called for the "eradication of harmful and hostile elements" in its "new type of party," panic erupted among the Berlin members. Many Social Democrats fled to the West, including, in October 1948, Erich Gniffke, a member of the SED Central Secretariat.

Gniffke criticized the SED for pursuing "a policy of deceiving itself and others." Christian Democrats and liberals who had come to terms with the Soviet occupying power in the east also came under growing pressure.

At first, the Soviets tried their hand at what Tyulpanov called "positive methods." Moscow's governors hosted lavish banquets for poorly nourished officials of the CDU and the Liberal Democratic Party. Ernst Lemmer, a CDU politician in Berlin, later recalled the scenes of hollow-cheeked guests feasting on saddles of mutton and roast suckling pig. With the vodka flowing profusely, Soviet officers kept their guests in good spirits with toasts to the "great German people." Under these circumstances, many a middle-class politician soon found his defenses weakening.

The majority of Berliners were starving and freezing, especially during the harsh winter of 1946 to 1947. Coal was in short supply, the so-called "fat rations" issued through ration books were deplorably small, and tuberculosis was spreading throughout the city. Berlin had mutated into a slum.


The Carrot-and-Stick Approach

In this situation, the Soviets used a system of rewards and punishments. A secret Tyulpanov dossier from April of 1948 reveals how the Soviets tried to entice reluctant politicians with food. "The most progressive leaders of the LDP," the document reads, were to frequently receive "food packages, food stamps, gifts and sometimes money, as an expression of 'concern for their health.'" On the other hand, "compromising material" was to be used against "leaders and party officials with reactionary views," as well as against the press, for the purpose of "cleansing the party leadership."

Anyone who fell into disfavor with the Soviets had to flee. In December 1947, the Soviets deposed Berlin CDU leaders Lemmer and Jakob Kaiser, who just three months prior had portrayed their party as a "breakwater against Marxism" at a CDU convention in eastern Berlin. In early 1948, Berlin's CDUn was split into two parts, one in the west and one controlled by the Soviets. The branch in East Berlin issued the slogan: "Ex oriente pax," or "peace from the East." The LDP was also split in two at the beginning of 1948.

In early 1947, Berliners already had an idea of what was in store for them. In a March 1947 cable to Moscow classified as "secret," Tyulpanov reported: "There is a vigorous discussion within the population of Berlin over whether Germany will remain a single country or be broken into pieces. At the same time, there is a growing fear that Germany could be divided up due to the opposing political views and ambitions of the Allies."

Berliners faced the dilemma of having to align themselves with either the United States or the Soviet Union. In September 1948, Tyulpanov, writing in the SMAD newspaper Tägliche Rundschau under the German pseudonym "R. Schmidt," demanded that Berliners show loyalty to Moscow: "It is very clear that, in a zone occupied by the troops of a socialist country, only truly democratic parties stand a chance of further development."

Behind this statement stood the threat of violence. In Berlin's eastern sector, the Soviets also had personnel who knew how to treat political adversaries with ruthlessness.

In January 1946, the Soviet State Security office in Germany, headquartered in Berlin, managed 2,230 employees and 2,304 German informants. Ivan Serov headed the German branch. The short general, son of a czarist prison supervisor, specialized in the deportation and subjugation of resistant peoples, from the Baltic Sea to the Caucasus.
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Part 2 Before the Wall The Soviet Fight for Postwar Berlin

Eastern German Prisons Swell

In Germany, he remained true to his reputation. In July 1947, there were more than 60,000 prisoners in camps in the Soviet occupation zone awaiting a court sentence. These prison camps included "Special Camp No. 3" on Genslerstrasse in Berlin's Hohenschönhausen district.

Until late 1945, the camp was primarily used to incarcerate low-ranking Nazi officials as well as prominent sympathizers, such as actor Heinrich George, who had played leading roles in films meant to boost morale during the war, such as "Kolberg." But starting in 1946 and 1947, more and more Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and Liberals ended up in the cells without heat, running water or windows.

Many inmates didn't make it. According to official statistics, 886 prisoners died in Hohenschönhausen between July 1945 and October 1946 alone, most as a result of malnutrition and disease.

In the Soviet-controlled sector of Berlin, the phrase "they picked him up" was synonymous with the despotic rule under which Soviet citizens had already suffered in the past. By March 1948, 6,455 Berliners had "disappeared." Neither attorneys nor courts could do these people any good, and the families often never learned what had happened to their loved ones.

As documents from Moscow that were long kept secret reveal, Soviet generals were fully aware of the devastating consequences of these methods. Major General Ivan Kolesnitchenko, the head of the SMAD in the eastern state of Thuringia, wrote in a November 1948 report: "The 'disappearance' of people as a result of the activities of our operative sectors is already the cause of great dissatisfaction within the German population. I would venture to say that this approach by our security officials elicits severe anti-Soviet propaganda and hatred of us among the Germans."

The Soviet occupying power faced a dilemma: Its option of a neutral Germany, with Berlin as its undivided capital, was obsolete by December 1947, in the wake of failed negotiations among the foreign ministers of the United States, the Soviet Union, France and Great Britain over the future of Germany.

Soviets Misjudge the Berlin Airlift

The Americans and the British prepared for the creation of a West German nation, one that would be part of an alliance they dominated. A key step in this direction was the monetary reform enacted in the western zones on June 20, 1948. The Soviets responded by cutting off the road and rail connections between West Germany and West Berlin.

Meanwhile, emissaries from Moscow were explaining the purpose of the measures to SMAD staff. As Alexander Galkin, who is now 90 and was a major in the SMAD at the time, recalls: "We were told that the Soviet zone was being destabilized by the presence of Western troops in this zone, West Berlin, and that the troops were an interfering factor and had to disappear."

But Galkin sensed early on that the blockade would fail. "It could only have been devised by people who knew nothing about the mood in the western part of Berlin, or the transport potential of the British and American air forces," he said.

At the end of June, the Western Allies began bringing supplies into West Berlin through three air corridors. The "raisin bombers," as West Berliners soon called them, brought grain, powdered milk, flour, coal, gasoline and medical supplies to the western part of the city. Authorities in East Berlin used their weekly newsreel, "Der Augenzeuge" ("The Eyewitness") to remind Germans of the Allied bombardments ("Back then, these philanthropists showed up with bombs and phosphorus"), but the propaganda was ineffective in West Berlin.

While American Douglas DC-3s roared over the skies of Berlin, the city was breaking into two parts. When the Berlin city council refused to defer to the SED, the party began organizing riots against the assembly, starting in late August 1948. On September 6, the delegates moved the city's parliament to West Berlin, despite the protests of the SED parliamentary group.

Three days later, Mayor Ernst Reuter, speaking at a rally of more than 300,000 people in front of the Reichstag building, made an appeal to the West for solidarity: "You people of the world, you people of America, England, France and Italy! Look upon this city and recognize that you may not surrender this city and this people -- that you cannot surrender them!" The partition had begun. In November 1948, the SED formed a separate "Democratic Municipal Administration," by acclamation of coerced "workers."

Blockade Over, Division Just Beginning

It's an irony of history that the Communists in East Berlin chose as their mayor Friedrich Ebert, the son of the first president of the Weimar Republic and a former Social Democrat, while a former top Communist official, Ernst Reuter, led the resistance against the Soviets in the West. In Lenin's day, Reuter was a people's commissar in the USSR's Volga German Republic, and in 1921 he was briefly the general secretary of the KPD.

The political air war over Berlin ended in defeat for the Soviets. On May 12, 1949, after about 280,000 airlift flights, sometimes at the rate of one flight a minute, the Soviets ended the blockade. It had cost 39 Britons, 31 Americans and 13 Germans their lives.

West Berliners, relieved that they had escaped Stalin's grasp, tried to ignore the other side. The city was divided for the long term. West Berlin remained a dependent entity and a protectorate of the occupying powers for decades. The occupiers' intelligence agencies could spy on Germans as they pleased, and they had veto power over the appointment of department heads, including those at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency.

The SED, which now controlled East Berlin, initially emphasized patriotic fervor. "As the mayor of Greater Berlin," Ebert said at an SED party conference in January 1949, "I repeat the pledge of the people of the capital not to end the fight for German unity and the creation of a unified, democratic republic with Berlin as its capital a single hour before this goal is achieved and the banner of German unity and German freedom flies over the entire country."

But Ebert could hardly have imagined the circumstances under which German unity would be achieved 40 years later.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


URL:
Soviets Used Carrot-and-Stick Approach to Undermine West in Postwar Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE
RELATED SPIEGEL ONLINE LINKS:
Photo Gallery: Soviet Sticks and Carrots in Postwar Berlin
Photo Gallery: Soviet Sticks and Carrots in Postwar Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE - International
Conquering the Capital: The Ruthless Rise of the Nazis in Berlin (11/29/2012)
How the Nazis Succeeded in Taking Power in 'Red' Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE
The Age of Excess: Berlin in the Golden Twenties (11/23/2012)
Spiegel Series on Berlin History, the Golden Twenties - SPIEGEL ONLINE
Teenage Angst: Berlin's Turn of the Century Growing Pains (11/22/2012)
The Late 19th Century Saw The Birth of Modern Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE
The Late Bloomer: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Germany's Capital (11/21/2012)
The Late Bloomer: The Rise Fall and Rebirth of Berlin - SPIEGEL ONLINE
The Forbidden Journey: How Two East Germans Fled to China to Go West (10/19/2012)
A Daring Escape from Communist East Germany to the West via China - SPIEGEL ONLINE
SPIEGEL GESCHICHTE 5/2012 - Inhalt
SPIEGEL GESCHICHTE 5/2012 - Inhaltsverzeichnis

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2012
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