Earliest Settlement
Electoral Residence Berlin-Cologne (colourised copperplate engravement from Kaspar Merian, 1562)When the glaciers receded northwards across Europe after the last Ice Age, they left a vast flat sandy plain through which rivers meandered aimlessly to the Baltic. On the northern bank and on an island in one of these rivers - the Spree - the twin settlements of Cölln and Berlin emerged sometime in the 12th Century. The inhabitants were primarily fishermen, but could further take advantage of trade between the Hansa merchants of the North Sea and Baltic, and the ore mountains of Bohemia to the south. They were also well placed to exploit trade between other parts of the Holy Roman Empire to the South-West and the lands to the East, plundered for furs, grain and timber by German knights.

The Great Elector and the Hohenzollern Dynasty
Through the Middle Ages this valuable trade and the two towns, which later merged to bear the name Berlin, were dominated by a succession of powerful local families, beginning with the Askaniers, and in 1415 falling into the hands of the Hohenzollern dynasty, whose Kurfürst was one of the Electors responsible for choosing the Holy Roman Emperor.Friedrich Wilhelm  receives a delegation of French Huguenots in Potsdam (Painting from Otto Vogel, 1885) As the administrative centre of the new princedom, Berlin survived plague and the Thirty Years War, but it stagnated economically and its fortunes didn't revive till 1640, when Friedrich Wilhelm, "The Great Elector " ascended to the throne. The young ruler cleaned up the city, and the population expanded rapidly as he invited waves of immigrants - agricultural specialists from the Netherlands, Jewish merchants and bankers recently expelled from Vienna, Protestant refugees from Poland, tradesmen from Italy, and, as a result of the Edict of Potsdam in 1685, 6,000 Huguenot refugees from France. Commerce and industry boomed, the Rivers Oder and Spree were linked with a canal, and a 30,000 strong professional army was created.

Crooked Fritz
The Elector's successor, "Crooked Fritz", was a spendthrift ruler obsessed with the desire to be crowned King of Prussia, which he achieved at the cost of Schloss Charlottenburgbankrupting the city. Nonetheless his reign saw the further growth of the city, including the building the suburbs - Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichstadt, north and south of Unter den Linden, the avenue that led from the palace, westwards to the hunting park which is now Tiergarten. His second wife, Sophie Charlotte, was a highly cultured woman and attracted philosophers, like Leibniz, to the city, and artists, like the sculptor Schlüter or architects Nering and Eosander, who were commissioned to build a palace for her. Around this palace, "Schloss Charlottenburg", developed the suburb Charlottenburg, now a city district.

Freidrich Wilhelm I. (Painting from Antoine Pesne, 1733)The Soldier King
The next Friedrich, nicknamed "The Soldier King", imposed an iron regime over the city, paying off his father's debts, creating a guard regiment of giants, expanding the army and turning it into the most modern in the world, famous for its coordinated infantry drill manoeuvres.


Friedrich II. (Painting from Anton Graff, 1781)Frederick the Great
In 1740 the Crown Prince Friedrich succeeded his father. Friedrich the Great combined a passionate interest in the arts - Knobelsdorff's Opera House and Sans Souci palace in Potsdam were built in this period - with an expansionist foreign policy, extending the Hohenzollern Kingdom to include parts of Silesia, West Prussia, Saxony and Bohemia, and provoking the power struggle with the Austrian Empire which was to continue into the next century. Although Berlin benefitted from its new world city status and the growth of the textile and metalworking industries, which serviced the army of 150,000, its citizens were taxed mercilessly, and despite the absence of censorship, the state was despotic, with an arrogant monarch and secret police.

The Growth of Nationalism and Revolt
Prussia's defeat by Napoleon was partly responsible for the growth in German nationalism that followed the French defeat at Waterloo. Berlin's first university was founded and its centre once again transformed, this time by the work of Schinkel, the architect who drew up the plans for the "Neue Wache" and the "Schloss Brücke" or bridge over the Spree. But the post-war atmosphere of repression led to a number of abortive attempts to overthrow the Prussian monarchs, including the 1848 uprising in Berlin when the citizens erected barricades throughout the city.

The Industrial Revolution
And the city itself was changing for other reasons. The Industrial Revolution was heralded in by the introduction by British engineers of steam power for factories and transportation, but very soon local engineers like August Borsig were commandeering the production of locomotives, Werner Siemens founded an electrical engineering company, and the north side of the city became densely packed with factories and foundries, such as the AEG Turbinenhalle.

Otto von Bismarck (Painting from Franz Lenbach, 1890)Bismarck and the Modern City
By 1845 the population had expanded to 400,000 as the city sucked in workers to run the new plants. Housed in "Mietkaserne" - rent barracks, living and sanitary conditions were terrible for the new arrivals, though through regulations implemented, first by Hinckeldey, the President of Police, and then through Bismarck, "the Iron Chancellor", slowly fire services, sewage disposal, piped water, and even a social welfare system were introduced, even if cynics suggested that these measures were intended to keep the working population from disturbing the status quo.

A United Germany
After Prussia's victory over the Austrians in 1866 and the French in 1871, it was in a position to assume control over all of Germany, and Wilhelm I was proclaimed Emperor of united Germany, finishing the work commenced with the introduction of an all-German customs union 37 years earlier. The new Empire suffered from an inferiority complex having been left far behind in the competition for overseas colonies, and an incompetent foreign policy combined with the battle for markets between the industrialised nations of Europe set the stage for the 1914-1918 War.

The Great War and the Golden Twenties
In Berlin opposition to the war grew rapidly, and after the Armistice, chaos reigned - a mutiny of the fleet in Kiel, the abdication of the Kaiser, the simultaneous declaration of 2 competing republics in Berlin and three months of street-fighting in the capital. Eventually Berliners had their first ever taste of democracy as Friedrich Ebert was elected President of the Weimar Republic, and the city enjoyed the Golden Era of the Twenties - Cabaret on the Ku'damm, films made at Babelsberg by Pabst and Lang, theatre by Reinhardt and Brecht, the modern art movement known as Dada, orchestral music composed by Berg and directed by Klemperer.

The Crash and the Rise of the National Socialists
But the economic and political instability of the new republic was clear. Hyperinflation in 1923 was followed by the Crash in 1929, and by 1932 Berlin alone had 636,000 unemployed. The tiny National Socialist Worker's Party had been systematically exploiting the crises through the 20s and when the Social Democrat government collapsed in 1930, it stepped into the gap. By 1932 they had won the national elections and a year later Hitler became Chancellor, though Berlin itself had voted three to one against the Nazis. Through the 30s the sickening events unfolded. The flight of artists and those wealthier Jewish families that could afford it, the burning of the books on Bebelplatz, supervised by Goebbels, Minister for Propaganda, the attacks on Jewish property culminating in "Kristallnacht", the race laws, the construction of the first concentration camps, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the dithering of the British and French governments, and eventually, the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of war.

The Second World War and Defeat
With far greater air power, and an arms industry that had been long prepared, the German armies initially swept the field, with victories in France, North Africa, North-Western and Eastern Europe. But as America was drawn into the war, with the defeat by the Russians at Stalingrad and of Rommel in North Africa, and after the D-Day landings, it became clear that Hitler's days were numbered. He committed suicide on 30th April 1945, leaving a city defended by pensioners and nine year olds facing a Russian army of 1.5 million. 11 square miles of the city had been reduced to rubble, over half a million homes were destroyed, out of a Jewish population of 160,000, only 6,500 remained in Berlin, the rest living in exile, deported, gassed or worked to death, more than half a million civilians had died in bombing raids, of disease, starvation, or had been drowned in the underground (U-Bahn) tunnels when the SS dynamited the system to prevent the Russians using them to capture the City Centre.

It seemed impossible the City which had had a pre-war population of 4 million people could - should? - survive. But somehow, out of the ashes grew a new, more civilised city

For the development of Post-War Germany and Berlin, see Politics.

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