Berlin is the capital city of Germany and one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.4 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city and is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union. Located in northeastern Germany on the River Spree, it is the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg Metropolitan Region, which has about 4½ million residents from over 180 nations. Due to its location in the European Plain, Berlin is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate. Around one third of the city's area is composed of forests, parks, gardens, rivers and lakes.
First documented in the 13th century, Berlin became the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia (1701–1918), the German Empire (1871–1918), the Weimar Republic (1919–33) and the Third Reich (1933–45). Berlin in the 1920s was the third largest municipality in the world. After World War II, the city, along with the German state, was divided - into East Berlin — capital of the German Democratic Republic, colloquially identified in English as East Germany — and West Berlin, a political exclave (surrounded by the Berlin Wall from 1961 to 1989) and a de facto (although not de jure) state of the Federal Republic of Germany, known colloquially in English as West Germany from 1949 to 1990. Following German reunification in 1990, the city was once more designated as the capital of all Germany.
Berlin is a world city of culture, politics, media, and science, hosting 147 foreign embassies. Its economy is primarily based on high-tech industries and the service sector, encompassing a diverse range of creative industries, research facilities, media corporations, and convention venues. Berlin also serves as a continental hub for air and rail transport and is a popular tourist destination. Significant industries include IT, pharmaceuticals, biomedical engineering, biotechnology, electronics, traffic engineering, and renewable energy.
Berlin is home to renowned universities, research institutes, orchestras, museums, and celebrities and is host to many sporting events. Its urban setting and historical legacy have made it a popular location for international film productions. The city is well known for its festivals, diverse architecture, nightlife, contemporary arts, public transportation networks, and an extremely high quality of living.
12th to 16th centuries
The earliest evidence of settlements in the area of today's Berlin are a wooden rod dated from approximately 1192 and leftovers of wooden houseparts dated to 1174 found in a 2012 digging in Berlin Mitte. The first written records of towns in the area of present-day Berlin date from the late 12th century. Spandau is first mentioned in 1197 and Köpenick in 1209, although these areas did not join Berlin until 1920. The central part of Berlin can be traced back to two towns. Cölln on the Fischerinsel is first mentioned in a 1237 document, and Berlin, across the Spree in what is now called the Nikolaiviertel, is referenced in a document from 1244. The former (1237) is considered to be the founding date of the city. The two towns over time formed close economic and social ties. In 1307 they formed an alliance with a common external policy, their internal administrations still being separated.
In 1415, Frederick I became the elector of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which he ruled until 1440. During the 15th century his successors would establish Berlin-Cölln as capital of the margraviate, and subsequent members of the Hohenzollern family ruled until 1918 in Berlin, first as electors of Brandenburg, then as kings of Prussia, and eventually as German emperors. In 1443 Frederick II Irontooth started the construction of a new royal palace in the twin city Berlin-Cölln. The protests of the town citizens against the building culminated in 1448, in the "Berlin Indignation" ("Berliner Unwille"). This protest was not successful, however, and the citizenry lost many of its political and economic privileges. After the royal palace was finished in 1451, it gradually came into use. From 1470, with the new elector Albrecht III Achilles, Berlin-Cölln became the new royal residence. Officially, the Berlin-Cölln palace became permanent residence of the Brandenburg electors of the Hohenzollerns from 1486, when John Cicero came to power. Berlin-Cölln, however, had to give up its status as a free Hanseatic city. In 1539, the electors and the city officially became Lutheran.
17th to 19th centuries
The Thirty Years' War between 1618 and 1648 devastated Berlin. One third of its houses were damaged or destroyed, and the city lost half of its population. Frederick William, known as the "Great Elector", who had succeeded his father George William as ruler in 1640, initiated a policy of promoting immigration and religious tolerance. With the Edict of Potsdam in 1685, Frederick William offered asylum to the French Huguenots. More than 15,000 Huguenots went to Brandenburg, of whom 6,000 settled in Berlin. By 1700, approximately 20 percent of Berlin's residents were French, and their cultural influence on the city was immense. Many other immigrants came from Bohemia, Poland, and Salzburg.
Since 1618, the Margraviate of Brandenburg had been in personal union with the Duchy of Prussia. In 1701, however, the dual state formed the Kingdom of Prussia, as Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg now crowned himself as king Frederick I in Prussia. Berlin became the capital of the new Kingdom. This was a successful attempt to centralize the capital in the very outspread state, and it was the first time the city began to grow. In 1709 Berlin merged with the four cities of Cölln, Friedrichswerfer, Friedrichstadt and Dorotheenstadt under the name Berlin, ”Haupt- und Residenzstadt Berlin".
In 1740, Frederick II, known as Frederick the Great (1740–1786), came to power. Under the rule of Frederick II, Berlin became a center of the Enlightenment. Following France's victory in the War of the Fourth Coalition, Napoleon Bonaparte marched into Berlin in 1806, but granted self-government to the city. In 1815, the city became part of the new Province of Brandenburg.
The Industrial Revolution transformed Berlin during the 19th century; the city's economy and population expanded dramatically, and it became the main rail hub and economic center of Germany. Additional suburbs soon developed and increased the area and population of Berlin. In 1861, neighboring suburbs including Wedding, Moabit, and several others were incorporated into Berlin.
In 1871, Berlin became capital of the newly founded German Empire. On 1 April 1881, it became a city district separate from Brandenburg.
At the end of World War I in 1918, a republic was proclaimed in Berlin. In 1920, the Greater Berlin Act incorporated dozens of suburban cities, villages, and estates around Berlin into an expanded city. This new area encompassed Spandau and Charlottenburg in the west, as well as several other areas that are now major municipalities. After this expansion, Berlin had a population of around four million. During the Weimar era, Berlin became internationally renowned as a center of cultural transformation, at the heart of the Roaring Twenties.
On 30 January 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power. Nazi rule effectively destroyed Berlin's Jewish community, which had numbered 160,000 in 1933, representing one-third of all Jews in Germany. Berlin's Jewish population fell to about 80,000 as a result of emigration from Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1939. After Kristallnacht in 1938, thousands of the city's Jews were imprisoned in the nearby Sachsenhausen concentration camp or, starting in early 1943, were shipped to death camps, such as Auschwitz. During World War II, large parts of Berlin were destroyed in the 1943–45 air raids and during the Battle of Berlin. Among the hundreds of thousands who died during the Battle of Berlin, an estimated 125,000 were civilians. After the end of the war in Europe in 1945, Berlin received large numbers of refugees from the Eastern provinces. The victorious powers divided the city into four sectors, analogous to the occupation zones into which Germany was divided. The sectors of the Western Allies (the United States, the United Kingdom and France) formed West Berlin, while the Soviet sector formed East Berlin.
All four Allies shared administrative responsibilities for Berlin. However, in 1948, when the Western Allies extended the currency reform in the Western zones of Germany to the three western sectors of Berlin, the Soviet Union imposed a blockade on the access routes to and from West Berlin, which lay entirely inside Soviet-controlled territory. The Berlin airlift, conducted by the three western Allies, overcame this blockade by supplying food and other supplies to the city from 24 June 1948 to 11 May 1949. In 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in West Germany and eventually included all of the American, British, and French zones, excluding those three countries' zones in Berlin, while the Marxist-Leninist German Democratic Republic was proclaimed in East Germany. West Berlin officially remained an occupied city, but as a corpus separatum it politically was very closely aligned with the Federal Republic of Germany despite Berlin's geographic location within East Germany. West Berlin issued its own postage stamps, which were often the same as West German postage stamps but with the additional word "Berlin" added. Airline service to West Berlin was granted only to American, British, and French airlines.
The founding of the two German states increased Cold War tensions. West Berlin was surrounded by East German territory, and East Germany proclaimed East Berlin (described as "Berlin") as its capital, a move that was not recognized by the western powers. Although only half the size and population of West Berlin, East Berlin included most of the historic center of the city. The West German government, meanwhile, established itself provisionally in Bonn.
As a result of the political and economical tensions brought on by the Cold War, on 13 August 1961, East Germany began the building of the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin and similar barriers around West Berlin, and events escalated to a tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie on 27 October 1961. West Berlin was now de facto a part of West Germany with a unique legal status, while East Berlin was de facto a part of East Germany.
Berlin was completely divided. Although it was possible for Westerners to pass from one to the other (but only through strictly controlled checkpoints), for most Easterners travel to West Berlin or West Germany was no longer possible. In 1971, a Four-Power agreement guaranteed access to and from West Berlin by car or train through East Germany and ended the potential for harassment or closure of the routes.
In 1989, with the end of the Cold War and pressure from the East German population, the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November and was subsequently mostly demolished, with little of its physical structure remaining today; the East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain near the Oberbaumbrücke over the Spree preserves a portion of the Wall.
On 3 October 1990, the two parts of Germany were reunified as the Federal Republic of Germany, and Berlin again became the official German capital. In June 1991, the German Parliament, the Bundestag, voted the to move the seat of the (West) German capital back from Bonn to Berlin, which was completed in 1999.