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History - 1920s to First World War

History - 1920s to First World War (1C)

If we move forwards now to the 1920’s, we will find a period positioned between the end of the First World War with the consequent misery that the post-war era brought, and the rise of the Nazis in 1933. Despite this, for Berliners these years were the golden 20’s when the city enjoyed an enviable cultural scene: ground-breaking plays were put on, every day saw the premiers of glamorous films and cabaret shows. There was growth in many artistic fields on an unprecedented scale. Cinema, painting, music and poetry all flourished. This period was also known for its social and sexual liberation. 

However, the famous ´Wall Street` crash on the 25th of October 1929 had repercussions in Europe. The problem of widespread unemployment was very much apparent throughout Germany in 1930 and caused protests to resurface. 

In the elections of September 1930 a political party, until then almost unknown, won 107 seats. This was the German National Socialist Workers` Party, or Nazi Party, and was led by an Austrian named Adolph Hitler. 

Street clashes between communists and Nazis escalated until the president, Major-General Paul von Hindenburg intervened and appointed Hitler Chancellor on the 30th of January 1933. 

But Hitler wanted much more than this, though nobody imagined how far he would go in trying to achieve his aims, not even the conservatives and middle-classes that supported him. This was despite anti-democratic signs being evident, such as an anti-Jewish campaign and the existence of his political manifesto, Mein Kampf, my fight. 

The Reichstag was set alight on the 27th of February, Hindenburg signed emergency decrees and Hitler took power, enforcing dictatorial powers. He banned all other political parties and on the 1st of April 1934 he ordered a boycott of Jewish commerce. On the 10th of May the famous book-burning took place in Bebelplatz and culminating his powerful ascent, Hitler was self-proclaimed Fuhrer (leader) of the German state on the 1st of August.

Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, took place on the 9th of November 1938, when members of the SS destroyed synagogues and Jewish offices, houses and properties. The following years saw the deportation of 50,000 Jews to concentration camps, where two thirds of them were killed. In June of 1943 Berlin was declared judenfrei, free of Jews. Until 1943 the city remained unaffected by the war but in that year it became the target for allied bombing. More than 360 raids caused the death of approximately 50,000 inhabitants and meant the start of evacuation to safe areas. 

The final Soviet assault involving three armies, made up of a million and a half soldiers in total, started on the 16th of April 1945. By the 25th Berlin was completely surrounded. Hitler committed suicide in his bunker on the 30th of April and two days later Germany admitted its defeat. On the 8th of May the country signed its surrender.

Berlin was very badly damaged and its population had been greatly reduced. But its problems did not end there. When Adolph Hitler’s regime was defeated, the allies (Americans, British, French and Russians) divided Berlin into four sectors, each country controlling one of them. 

In 1948 the three western sectors joined together to form part of the German Federal Republic. However, the Soviet Union blocked its own sector of the city and created the German Democratic Republic in East Berlin. 

Thirteen years later, on the 12th of August 1961, the German Democratic Republic started to construct the so-called Berlin Wall to separate the two sides of the city, and definitively isolate West Berlin. Another of its aims was to stop the emigration of Germans from East to West Berlin, in search of a better life. More than 100,000 people from the east tried to escape over the interior border or the Berlin Wall, with hundreds of them being killed in the process. Recently, a document was found in an outhouse of the Stasi archives dated the 1st of October 1973. The report was destined for a special unit of border guards whose mission was to stop soldiers escaping to the west, something which happened frequently. The document shows that there was an explicit order to shoot anyone who tried to cross what was then called the wall of shame. 

Today it is not even known the exact number of people who died in their attempt to escape. According to the Wall’s Commemorative Museum, the number of dead reached 1,200. However, the Public Prosecutor’s Office can only prove that there were 270 deaths. It is said that the German Democratic Republic jailed more than 75,000 people for attempting to escape, but that 2,500 people managed to cross the wall and 270 were killed in their attempt to. 

The first victim was 24 year old Gunther Litfin, who died at Iehrstadt, next to the river Spree. And the last was the 20 year old student Chris Gueffroy, who was killed just three months before the popular uprising forced the wall to fall. 

The wall finally fell on the 9th of November 1989, when the government of the GDR declared that citizens had freedom of movement between the two parts of the city. With its destruction, one of the saddest episodes of recent history came to an end. Let us remember that this terrible wall measured 160 kilometres in length and was protected by very strict security measures. 

The remains of what is left of the wall give you a good idea of what this border was and what it represented. The two halves could not look more different.

Apart from the end of the wall, the city has experienced a process of openness and change. A feeling of hope still exists here today which looks like it will last forever.

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