A History of Berlin

By Tim Lambert

Early Berlin

The great city of Berlin began in the 13th century. Originally there were 2 settlements on either side of the Spree River, Colln and Berlin. Colln was first mentioned in 1237 while Berlin was first mentioned in 1244. The two towns grew rapidly and in 1307 they made an alliance. In 1360 Berlin-Colln became a member of the Hanseatic League. By the 15th century, they were flourishing towns with about 8,000 inhabitants. In 1432 Berlin and Colln were formally united. It would seem small to us but by Medieval standards, it was a large and prosperous town.

In the early 16th century the Reformation reached Brandenburg (the state that contained Berlin). The elector of Brandenburg became a Protestant in 1539. Berlin continued to prosper. However, like all towns in the 16th century, Berlin suffered from outbreaks of the plague. The plague struck Berlin in 1576, 1598, and 1699. Worse, like the rest of Germany was devastated by the Thirty Years War 1618-1648. Its population dropped to around 6,000.

However, Berlin recovered and in the late 17th century it flourished once again. Its population rose rapidly helped by French Protestants fleeing religious persecution. By the early 18th century the population of Berlin was over 50,000.

In 1806 the French entered Berlin. They occupied the city for 2 years. However, during the 19th century, Berlin continued to flourish. Berlin University was founded in 1810. In 1831 Berlin suffered an outbreak of cholera. However, from about 1830, Berlin was transformed by the Industrial Revolution. In 1838 a railway opened from Berlin to Potsdam. In 1848 like other European cities Berlin was rocked by revolutions but soon the old order returned. In 1871 Berlin became the capital of Germany. By 1877 its population had reached 1 million. By 1900 it was almost 2 million.

Modern Berlin

Like other cities in the mid-19th century, Berlin was overcrowded and unsanitary. However, things improved in the late 19th century. In the late 1870s, a network of sewers was built in Berlin. In the late 19th century Berlin gained electric light and telephones.

In 1919 a group of Communists attempted an uprising in Berlin. However, it was quickly crushed. Then in 1920, Berlin was amalgamated with several surrounding towns. However, the 1920s were a hard time for Berlin as it was for the rest of Germany and many Berliners were unemployed. Then in 1933, Hitler became dictator of Germany. In 1936 the Olympic Games were held in Berlin. Then in 1938 during Kristallnacht, many Jewish properties were looted and burned. In April 1945 the Russians surrounded Berlin. All resistance ceased on 2 May. The city was left in ruins but it soon recovered.

After World War II Berlin was divided into sectors, Soviet, French, British, and American. In 1948 the Soviets tried to annex the whole city. On 24 June 1948 cut all road and rail links to the allied sectors in West Berlin. However, the Allies started the Berlin airlift. For 11 months allied planes flew supplies into West Germany. On 12 May 1949, the Soviets backed down and ended the blockade. However, in 1961 the Communists surrounded West Berlin with a wall, and anyone trying to cross it was shot.

The Berlin Wall was demolished in 1989 with the collapse of Communism. Berlin became the capital of a united Germany in 1991. In 2006 Berlin hosted the World Cup. The same year, 2006 Berlin Central Station opened. Today Berlin is a flourishing city. In 2024 the population of Berlin was 3.6 million.

Brandenburg Gate