Berlin is the current capital of the reunified Federal Republic of Germany. It is also the capital of the German state of Berlin. The city was the focal point of conflict during World War III, being surrounded by the former East Germany on all sides, with the Berlin Wall being a symbol of the East-West tensions of the Cold War.
Berlin's history dates back to medieval times. The city itself is built on a swamp. Engineers were able to figure out how to support the structures of the city. On November 9, 1918, Berlin became the capital of the First German Republic. On March 5 1933, the National Socialist German Worker's Party became the ruling political party of Germany, with Adolf Hitler becoming the Führer.
In 1933 the Nazis began to persecute communists, social democrats, and labour unionists and to deprive the German Jews of their rights as citizens. Owing to voluntary and forced emigration, the Jewish population of Berlin decreased from 4.3 percent, or 170,000, in 1925 to 1.8 percent in 1939. The spectacle of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin only superficially veiled the reality of Nazi Germany, which was soon revealed by Kristallnacht. Five thousand Jews survived the Holocaust in the city of Berlin.
World War II
Berlin was bombed by the Allies in 1944-1945. It is estimated that around 52,000 people were killed in the bombings. In April 1945, the Soviet Red Army was advancing into Berlin after crushing the German defenses at Seelow Heights. A last stand occurred between the the remnants of the Wermacht and the Waffen SS, bolstered by civilian conscripts, police officers, World War I veterans, and Hitler Youth, against 2.5 million Soviet troops advancing into Germany. Soviet troops and tanks entered Berlin on April 20, 1945 on Adolf Hitler's 56th birthday. The same day, Hitler would hide in the Führerbunker alongside German high officials and their families. On April 29, 1945, Hitler married Eva Braun but both would commit suicide the following day. Karl Dönitz then took over position as Hitler's successor. On May 2, 1945, Soviet soldiers captured the Reichstag and planted the flag of the Soviet Union on the roof. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. American, British, and French forces then entered the city as part of the Yalta Conference agreement.
As per the agreements made at Yalta, Berlin was divided into 4 occupation zones. East Berlin was administered by the Soviet Union while West Berlin was divided between France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Technically, Berlin was surrounded by Soviet-occupied eastern Germany on all sides, which later became the German Democratic Republic (commonly known as East Germany) in 1948. Tensions rose among the occupational forces when the Soviet Union blocked Western Allied supplies from crossing into East Berlin. This resulted in the 1948 Berlin Airlift in which U.S. Air Force C-47 transport planes began air dropping food and supplies to citizens stranded on the eastern side of the city.
The Berlin Crisis of 1961 caused another stand off between American and Soviet tanks on each respective side of the city. From this, the Berlin Wall was constructed to prevent East Berliners from defecting or escaping into the western side. The Berlin Wall was heavily guarded by the Grenztruppen der DDR (English: Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic) armed with assault rifles and heavy machine guns backed by guard dogs. Countless died in the attempt to escape from East Berlin into West Berlin, though several also succeeded. From 1961 to 1989, the Berlin Wall would remain the iconic symbol of the East-West divide nature of the Cold War. By 1985 with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev initiating glastnost and perestroika, East Berliners were hopeful for a change in their country but these hopes died down when Gorbachev was disposed in a coup detat by Soviet hardliners.
Tensions between NATO and the Warsaw Pact began right after, with U.S. and West German troops facing off with their Soviet and East German counterparts on the wall.