Tag Archives: History

Twentieth Century Berlin on Film – The 1960s

Berlin in the 1960s - an escape attempt (screenshot from The Wall)

The 1960s was a decade of great social and technological advances and Berlin, as the main flashpoint between the ideologies of capitalism and socialism, saw more changes than most cities.

The loss of skilled workers to the West, as referred to in my Twentieth Century Berlin on Film – The 1950s post led the government of East Germany to take the extraordinary step of sealing its borders.  Officially referred to as the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart the Berlin Wall was built to halt an exodus that threatened to de-stabilise the fledgling state.

In 1963 the eyes of the world were on Berlin when the President of the United States of America, John F Kennedy, stood in front of the Rathaus Schöneberg and, in a show of solidarity with the people of West Berlin declared “Ich bin ein Berliner”.

“Niemand hat die Absicht eine Mauer zu errichten” – Walter Ubricht (1961)

At a press conference on 15 June 1961 in response to a question from a West German journalist, Walter Ulbricht, the leader of East Germany, uttered the now immortal words, “Niemand hat die Absicht eine Mauer zu errichten” – in English, ‘No one has any intention to erect a wall’.

The Wall – US Propaganda Film – Berlin Wall 1962

Less than two months later, in the night of 13 August 1961, East German soldiers began the process of marking out the border and rolling out barbed wire to prevent unauthorised movement between East and West Berlin.

The US propaganda film, The Wall, from 1962 includes some of the most iconic footage of the recently divided city – the scene at 6:23 where a woman runs into the barbed wire at the border makes me wince every time I watch it but is a clear indication of the desperation to leave.

A Royal Day in Berlin (1965)

Queen Elizabeth II travels to West Berlin in 1965, the first visit of a British monarch to Germany for more than half a century.

Berlin in Bildern – Hauptstadt der DDR (1968)

This clip from Das war die DDR shows Berlin in 1968 and includes footage of the Rotes Rathaus, the Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park and most notably the Fernsehturm still under construction.

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin “Counter-Intelligence Special Operations” (1969)

Taken from a US Army training film this footage from 1969 shows Checkpoint Charlie and other notable Berlin sights and outlines procedures for observing East Germans and other potential threats in Berlin.

Legendary Sin Cities – Berlin: Metropolis of Vice

Berlin - Metropolis of Vice (screenshot from the Legendary Sin Cities documentary)

Metropolis of Vice, an episode from the Legendary Sin Cities documentary series focuses on the potent mix of sex and entertainment in the Weimar era Berlin of the 1920s.

“Its very name became synonymous with perversion, debauchery and creativity. Berlin in the 1920s was the sex capital of Europe.”

In response to the hyperinflation of the 1920s, driven by poverty, the sex trade in Berlin exploded as a means to put food on the table.

“Berlin was what sexual daydreams wanted to be.  You could find almost anything there and maybe everything.”

In this environment, performers such as Claire Waldoff, Anita Berber and Marlene Dietrich thrived and became stars.  Word of Berlin’s raucous nightlife and attitude of sexual freedom spread and drew more artists and creative people to the city.

I first posted this documentary on Facebook and Twitter 6 months ago before I began my Sunday Documentary series.

Legendary Sin Cities – Berlin: Metropolis of Vice

Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin)

The Collegienhaus - the Old Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

Like Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart (Museum of Contemporary Art), I visited the Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin) with my first Museum Pass in 2010 and was determined to go back during my Berlin Museum Marathon in February this year.

The Zinc facade of the Libeskind Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Museum is housed in a combination of the Collegienhaus (Old Building), the former Superior Court of Justice for the Kurmark Brandenburg, and the striking and more instantly recognisable zinc façade of the Libeskind Building.

The new building, opened in 2001, is accessible only through a staircase from the Old Building, which it zig-zags away from and the walls are cut through by the irregular shapes of the windows and a series of voids.

A view out of an opening in The Libeskind Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

A cross shaped opening in The Libeskind Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

In  2000 Daniel Libeskind said that the museum voids refer to:

that which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: Humanity reduced to ashes.

The installation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishnman consists of more than 10,000 iron faces, representing the innocent victims of war and violence, that cover the floor of the Memory Void.

Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishnman in the Memory Void of the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Axis of the Holocaust leads to a heavy door that opens into another of the building’s voids, The Holocaust Tower.  As with all of the voids the walls are bare concrete and the tower is neither air conditioned nor heated.  Natural light enters through a space at the top of the tower.  The combination of these environmental factors creates a peaceful, if slightly disconcerting, atmosphere.

Inside The Holocaust Tower at the end of the Axis of the Holocaust at the Jewish Museum Berlin

At the end of the Axis of Emigration, is the Garden of Exile, a series of 49 concrete stelae, taller than those of the Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe, but similarly arranged in a regular pattern on sloping ground.  Here, the stelae are filled with earth and trees grow from them.  The same disorienting effect results.

The Garden of Exile at the end of The Axis of Emigration at the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Axis of Continuity leads to a staircase and the exhibition space above, where the permanent exhibits present two millennia of German Jewish History.

Paintings on display as part of the permanent exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin

Silver on display as part of the permanent exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin

Yellow fabric with Jewish Stars by Geitel & Co at Jewish Museum Berlin

Inevitably some of the most notable and heartbreaking exhibits are holocaust related.  The museum has the following explanation of the yellow star:

Beginning in September 1941, all Jews were required to wear a yellow star: “Jews six years of age and older are prohibited from appearing in public without a Jewish star…It is to be worn visibly on the left side of the breast, firmly sewn to the clothing.”

The stars were manufactured by the Berlin flag maker Geitel & Co.  Great lengths of cloth were stored on the premises of the Gestapo-controlled “National Union of Jews in Germany”.  For a processing fee of 10 pfennig, the Jews had to purchase the yellow star and sew it to their clothing.

For more information about the Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin), including opening hours and prices see their website.

Sunday Documentary: Cold War – Berlin 1948 – 1949

The Berlin Airlift (screenshot from the documentary Cold War - Berlin 1948-1949)

Part 4 of the fascinating and extensive Cold War documentary series by the Cold War International History Project, Berlin 1948 – 1949, deals with the response of the Western Allies to the Soviet Blockade of Berlin – the Berlin Airlift (Die Luftbrücke).

Surrounded as it was by East Germany, West Berlin was dependent on a corridor through the East with a single Autobahn and one railway line for its supplies.  Following a breakdown in the democratic process between the four conquering powers in June 1948, the Soviets exploited this weakness, blocking the road and rail routes in an attempt to force Britain, America and France out of Berlin.

Much to Stalin’s surprise, the Western Allies sustained the population of West Berlin by flying in the necessary supplies of food and coal.

At the height of the operation planes landed every 45 seconds at Tempelhof Airport and in the 11 months of the airlift more than 2.3 million tonnes of goods and fuel were flown in by almost 278,000 flights.

In May 1949, recognising the success of the Berlin Airlift, the Soviet blockade was lifted but of course the Cold War would escalate and continue for many years.

Cold War – Berlin 1948 – 1949

Stolpersteine 204: Remembering The Eisenstädt Family – Gunter Demnig at work

Stolpersteine Berlin 204: In memory of Kurt Eisenstädt, Käte Eisenstädt and Berl Eisenstädt (Erkelenzdamm 9)

On 28 March I ticked a very important item off my to do list when I saw Gunter Demnig at work laying Stolpersteine in Berlin.  Three Stolpersteine were placed outside Erkelenzdamm 9 in Kreuzberg in memory of Kurt Eisenstädt, Käte Eisenstädt and Berl Eisenstädt.

I got to witness these Stolpersteine being laid because one of the stones, the one for Berl Eisenstädt, was sponsored by NotMs Parker of the wonderful Kreuzberg’d blog.

It was clear to the small group gathered at Erkelenzdamm 9 just how much the laying of these memorials to the Eisenstädt family meant to NotMs Parker.

Gunter Demnig holding a Stolperstein outside Erkelenzdamm 9 in Berlin Kreuzberg

She told us that she had come across Berl Eisenstädt’s name in a list of Jews transported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered shortly after his second birthday.  The proximity of his age to that of her own sons at the time had touched her deeply.  Knowing of Gunter Demnig’s Stolpersteine initiative she was determined that others should know the fate of this little boy.

As explained on Kreuzberg’d in the post Stolperstein For The Little Berlin Eisenstädt, what she was not aware of at the time was that Berl’s parents’ fate had been discovered by two other people, who had also requested Stolpersteine.

Gunter Demnig digging a hole to lay Stolpersteine in memory of the Eisenstädt family outside Erkelenzdamm 9 in Berlin Kreuzberg

Gunter Demnig enlarging a hole to lay Stolpersteine in memory of the Eisenstädt family outside Erkelenzdamm 9 in Berlin Kreuzberg

Gunter Demnig laying Stolpersteine in memory of the Eisenstädt family outside Erkelenzdamm 9 in Berlin Kreuzberg

Gunter Demnig sweeps a newly laid group of Stolpersteine in memory of the Eisenstädt family outside Erkelenzdamm 9 in Berlin Kreuzberg

You can see more about the Stolpersteine at Erkelenzdamm 9 on Kreuzberg’d.

If you’re wondering what Stolpersteine are and would like to know more about the project check out my first Stolpersteine post.

Stolpersteine 198 – 203

Stolpersteine Berlin 203e: In memory of Berthold Goldschmidt (Reichenberger Strasse 181)

I have updated my Stolpersteine Gallery with photos of the Stolpersteine I saw in Berlin over the last week (with the exception of one very special group of stones that I will post about soon).

These Stolpersteine were dedicated to: Heinrich Thieslauk (Warschauer Strasse 60); Robert Becker, Jenny Becker, Erna Becker and Erich Becker (Warschauer Strasse 61); Hans Litten and Martha Litten (Grünberger Strasse 43-45); Wilhelm Selke (Ritterstrasse 109); Willi Otto Büttner (Reichenberger Strasse 184); Morduch Raichlin, Erich Lustig, Frida Raichlin, Ida Lustig, Arthur Itzig, Gertrud Itzig, Amalie Itzig, Gerd Itzig, Cäcilie Lazarus, Tana Stern and Berthold Goldschmidt (Reichenberger Strasse 181).

My first post about Stolpersteine explains the background to these memorials to the victims of National Socialism created by artist Gunter Demnig.

Sunday Documentary: Baader-Meinhof – In Love With Terror

Baader-Meinhof - In Love With Terror (screenshot from the BBC Documentary)

The BBC documentary Baader-Meinhof – In Love With Terror tells the story of the Red Army Faction (in the original German Rote Armee Fraktion), more commonly referred to as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, a terrorist organisation formed in West Germany in 1970.

The common name of the militant group comes from the names of two of the founder members Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof who were opposed to what they saw as the fascist and capitalist forces of the state.

The organisation outlived its founders, who died in prison in 1976 and 1977, but was formally dissolved in 1998.

I hope you will agree that the quality of the documentary and the intriguing story compensate for the poor picture quality.

Baader-Meinhof – In Love With Terror

Click on the links for subsequent parts: Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7.

Stolpersteine 194

Stolpersteine Berlin 194: In memory of Eliser Ehrenreich and Martha Gerson (Mommsenstrasse 69)

I have added photos of the Stolpersteine I saw in Berlin over the past week to my Stolpersteine Gallery.

The Stolpersteine I saw were memorials to: Eliser Ehrenreich and Martha Gerson (Mommsenstrasse 69)

You can find out more about artist Gunter Demnig his Stolpersteine project, that recognises the individuals who suffered at the hands of National Socialism, in my first post about Stolpersteine.

Famous Berliners: President John F Kennedy (JFK)

John F Kennedy (JFK) Ich Bin Ein Berliner (Associated Press)

Image: Associated Press

He was born in Brookline, Massachusetts and never lived in Berlin but President John F Kennedy is probably the most famous ‘Berliner’.

In a speech on the steps of Rathaus Schöneberg on 26 June 1963 Kennedy declared:

All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”

It was a defining moment at the height of Cold War tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union.  A warning from Kennedy to his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Krushchev, that the Americans would not foresake the West Berliners and a show of solidarity for a people adjusting to life in the shadow of the Berlin Wall.

It is probably one of the most iconic moments of 20th century political history.

A plaque on the facade of Rathaus Schöneberg commemorates this significant event.

John F Kennedy (JFK) Plaque at Rathaus Schöneberg Berlin commemorating his "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" speech

Contrary to popular belief Kennedy didn’t make a linguistic faux pax with the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’.

It is an oft repeated story that in using these words Kennedy said ‘I am a doughnut (or donut for the Americans).

It’s true that in many parts of Germany a jam filled doughnut is known as a Berliner but in Berlin the doughnuts are known as Pfannkuchen and the citizens are Berliners.

Here’s a video of part of John F Kennedy’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech for anyone who hasn’t seen it before or those inclined to watch it again.

President John F Kennedy – ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ Speech

Stolpersteine 192 – 193

Stolpersteine Berlin 193: In memory of Klara Jacob (Silbersteinstrasse 97)

I have added photos of the Stolpersteine I saw in Berlin over the past week to my Stolpersteine Gallery.

The Stolpersteine I saw were memorials to: Felix Mechelsohn (Adalbertstrasse 95A); Klara Jacob (Silbersteinstrasse 97).

If you’d like to know more about this very worthy project by artist Gunter Demnig that recognises the individuals who suffered at the hands of National Socialism you should read my first post about Stolpersteine.