On This Day | 26 February 1924: The Beer Hall Putsch Trial begins

26 February 1924: On this day in history, the Beer Hall Putsch trial began in Munich.

Beer Hall Putsch Trial defendants
Photo from Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-00344A / Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0

On the 8th of November 1923 at approximately 8:30 pm, Adolf Hitler jumped on a Munich beer hall table, fired a pistol in the air, and screamed “The National Revolution has begun!” But less than 16 hours later, it would meet a bloody end, and within the week most of the conspirators would be in jail awaiting trial.

The trial against the putschists began on the 26th of February in Munich. Constitutionally as a treason trial, it should have been held at the federal high court in Leipzig, however, Bavarian politicians stepped in and ensured it would be held in Bavaria, fearing discovery of their high-level connections to the Nazi movement and the plot. The location was to benefit Hitler. ‘The king of Munich,’ as he was known, did not lack for sympathetic ears in the courtroom. Lead judge Georg Neithardt was one such admirer, allowing Hitler to make speeches and cross-examine the prosecutions’ witnesses.

The trial gave Hitler something that he desperately craved – a national platform. After each of the trial’s 25 days, national newspapers carried reports of the trial, and with it, Hitler’s message all throughout Germany. In grandiose language, he took full responsibility for the putsch but claimed that there could be no treason against a government that had signed the Treaty of Versailles. Further, he claimed that he could not be judged by the proceedings, and instead history “will one day laughingly tear up the charges of the Prosecution.”

When handing the sentence down, Judge Neithardt praised the defendant’s “purely patriotic spirit and noblest will,” yet there was no denying they had committed the crime. He found all except Erich Ludendorff guilty of treason. It was in putschists’ sentences where the judge could find room for leniency. They ranged from a minimum of probation to a maximum of five years jail and a fine for Hitler and three others. Furthermore, Hitler was saved from mandatory exile to Austria. At the pronouncement of the sentence, the audience in the courtroom burst out in loud cheers. Due to ‘good behaviour’, Hitler would serve less than 9 months of the sentence.

These sentences were lenient not only when viewed in the context of history, but also contemporary events. The Hamburg communist uprising which took place a few weeks before the Beer Hall Putsch was ruthlessly prosecuted by the state. A special court tried 443 revolutionaries and executed most of the ring leaders. If the Weimar Republic had protected itself from its right flank in the same way as the left, it may have been able to save itself from the Third Reich.

Campbell Bews

This edition of On This Day in History was written by BBS member Campbell Bews.

It’s one of four events he chose to remember in February. See our blog to find out what else made the cut.

International Tour Guide Day | What makes guiding in Berlin so great?

Today – Sunday 21st February – is International Tour Guide Day. This time last year, our members were out and about, leading some of Berlin’s best guided tours. This year, we’re reflecting on what it is about working as a professional guide in the German capital so special.

Reflecting on International Tour Guide Day

This International Tour Guide Day, we’d love to know: What’s the best thing about being a tour guide in Berlin?

Apart from the validation? Meeting people from everywhere, and occasionally hearing strange personal stories from guests about their own Berlin histories, adding colourful depth to the city‘s history you read in books.
Sam Wiszniewski

Exploring the city on a daily basis, continuing to learn and study its history and meeting new people.
Chiara Baroni

Being outside and meeting people.
William Mollers

Sharing my passion of history and love of the city, and getting to know people, whom I can help, entertain and learn from, and on the off chance – even bond with.
Carlos Meissner

Being a tour guide, every day is different and new. It is exciting to show guests Berlin through my eyes and experiences.
Jeremy Minsberg

As a tour guide I have the privilege of getting an immediate response to my work. If I do a good job/tour (and I do my best to tailor the tour to my audience), I see it right away. People laugh, cry, argue and get involved in the tour.
Nadav Gablinger

To see the recognition and understanding in visitor’s faces when they visit places and experience up-close stories they have read so much about.
Finn Ballard

In a city full of contradictions, there’s always an interesting story to be told. Nothing is “just” the way it is – you can always uncover and expose sides hidden to the eye, and use them when trying to understand our present.
Ben Fisher

“There’s no place like it” is a massive cliché, isn’t it? It’s true though! Berlin is legendary. The history is infamous and the contemporary is fascinating – but it’s complex and there are layers. So taking the time to unpack all that and make it accessible for a guest – through stories and exploration – is incredibly rewarding.
Georgia Riungu

Wondering what to get the guide who that showed you everything this International Tour Guide Day?

A review- even long after your tour- is always a wonderful way to show appreciation.

On This Day | 18 February 1902: Berlin’s first U-Bahn opens

18 February 1902: On this day in Berlin history, the first U-Bahn opens to the public.

Crowded streets, booming industry, and expanding suburbs – Berlin at the turn of the 20th century was a dynamic and modern city. Its population had rapidly increased from half a million in the 1850s to over 2 million by 1900. But rapid expansion came at the cost of easy transport connections, as Berlin’s arteries grew clogged by an increasing number of trams, buses, horses, wagons, and early automobiles.

Berlin's first U-Bahn line connected Zoologischer Garten to Stralauer Tor
One of the first U-Bahn Stations: Bülower Straße, 1903

Berlin’s planners looked towards the transport systems of their contemporary cities- London and New York- for potential solutions. Skeptical of an underground tube system like London’s because of the potential to damage their new subterranean sewerage system, the city decided on the New York alternative of a mainly elevated railway.

This first plan would predominantly be the basis for the current U1, connecting Bülowstraße (now the U2) and Warschauer Brücke (today Warschauer Straße). The decision to proceed through these working-class districts first was taken in order to avoid the well-healed areas around Leipziger Straße, whose residents insisted that the disruptive construction would not occur in their backyard.

Berlin's first u-bahn line was known as the Stammstrecke
The so-called “trunk route”

German company Siemens began construction on the 10th of September, 1896 and plans were finally agreed for an extension into the richer pastures of West Berlin. Furthermore, the city was confident their sewer system could be protected and an underground extension to Potsdamer Platz was added. The eventual 1902 system, called the “Stammstrecke” (trunk route) was three lines connected through a rail triangle or “Gleisdreieck,” making the total length of the railway 10.1 kilometres.

On the 18th of February, 1902 the first section was opened to the public. The Prussian minister of public works, Karl von Thielen presided over a flock of prominent Berliners eager to take their first trips. The line would forge connections between the West at Zoologischer Garten, to the centre at Potsdamer Platz, all the way to the East at Stralauer Tor (now defunct).

Campbell Bews

This slice of On This Day in Berlin history was written by BBS Member Campbell Bews.

It’s one of four events he has chosen to remember this February. See what else made the cut on our blog.

7 (and a ½ ) Songs about Berlin that we love

We asked our members to share with us their favourite songs about Berlin or by Berliners and they did not disappoint. From classic ballads to the anthem of the German squatter movement, the range of genres is about as diverse as you’d expect of a city like Berlin.

Read on to see if your favourite made our list and to find your newest Ohrworm!

7 (and a ½ ) Songs about Berlin that we love

Marlene Dietrich recorded several songs about Berlin 1. “Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin,” Marlene Dietrich
“I still have a suitcase in Berlin.” It happens to many of us.
Jeremy Minsberg

2. “Berlin,” Klaus Hoffmann
This was when Berlin was still divided, it was a different city then. I heard the song when I was still in school, in the late 70s. I had been to Berlin once, and I had fallen in love with it. And I loved the song!
Jo Eckardt

Hildgard Knef's song about Berlin is an ode to its toughness3. “Berlin dein Gesicht hat Sommersprossen,”   Hildegard Knef
“Berlin, your face has freckles” is a love-song for this rough city that never gives up.
Yan Katz

 

Ton Schein Sterben's song about a Berlin squat has become an anthem4. “Rauch-Haus-Song,” Ton Steine Scherben
This is my favourite song about Berlin because it’s the true story of my Lieblingskiez (favourite neighbourhood). It talks about the squat and underground culture that I love, and about one of my still favourite place in Berlin: das Bethanien. It’s very a funny song and became the real hymn of Kreuzberg.
Stéphanie Kieffer

5. “Kreuzberg,” Bloc Party
My favourite song about Berlin reminds me of living in my old Kiez but also the album that it’s from is generally very nostalgic.
Chris Moniz

 

Iggy Pop's hit song is about Berlin trains6. “Passenger,” Iggy Pop
I’ve known it since childhood but it was only after moving here that I learned his inspiration for the track was Berlin’s very own S-Bahn! The ride out to Wannsee is the most moving, according to Herr Pop. So give it a listen next time you’re heading out to Potsdam or the Bridge of Spies.
Georgia Riungu

7. “Am Fenster,” City
This song takes me back to my first months in Berlin and to some beautifully interesting conversations with a man grown up in West Berlin who loved playing both West and East Berlin music.
Alazne Artetxe

…and a ½. Oft gefragt,” Annenmaykantereit
Okay not explicitly about Berlin… but they say Berlin in the lyrics!
Susan Grouchy

And you? What are your favourite songs about Berlin or by a Berliner? Let us know on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

On This Day | 10 Feb 1962: Powers, Abel and “Bridge of Spies”

10 February 1962: On this day in Berlin history, the US spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was exchanged for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel at the Glienicke Bridge, between West Berlin and Potsdam. A key event in the Cold War and one depicted in the Steven Spielberg film ‘Bridge of Spies’.

Glienicker-Brücke-Bridge-of-Spies
Glienicker Brücke (Glienicke Bridge)

The ‘U2 Incident’, which resulted in Powers’ capture came at a particularly tense period of the Cold War. Powers’ mission was to photograph missile bases in Kazakhstan and Russia, in aid of the US counter nuclear strategy. His Lockheed U2C spy plane took off from US base Peshawar in Pakistan on the 1st of May 1960. The Soviets were ready. When Powers’ plane entered their airspace, Soviet command scrambled several fighters to intercept him. However, they were unable to reach the plane due to the extreme height of above 21 kilometres. Eventually coming into range of a Surface-to-Air missile site in the Ural region, Powers’ plane was hit. The explosion to the rear of the aircraft left the plane careening out of control – but with the cockpit still intact, the pilot was able to eject and parachute to safety. He was arrested quickly and taken into Soviet custody, where he was sentenced to 10 years in jail.

U2 Pilot Francis Gary Powers
Francis Gary Powers | RIA Novosti archive, image #35172 / Chernov / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The timing was difficult for the United States. Powers’ arrest came just before the four power Paris conference between leaders of France, the UK, the USA, and the Soviet Union. Even more embarrassing, President Eisenhower had initially claimed he had no knowledge of the flight, but finally admitted the existence of the U2 spying program and justified their use as part of US defence planning. At the Paris conference, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev publicly demanded an apology. When Eisenhower refused, the conference was ended (after only two days) and an offer for the US President to visit the USSR was rescinded. The conference – far from easing the Cold War temperature – unexpectedly ratcheted up the heat leading into the cauldron of the 1960s.

Soviet spy Rudolf Abel
Rudolf Abel’s mugshot | FBI

Fortunately for U2 pilot Powers, the United States had a spy ready to exchange – Rudolf Abel. In 1957, Abel (real name William August Fisher) was arrested after a defecting Soviet spy informed on him. Without his former colleagues’ defection, it is likely Abel would have remained undetected, having come under no suspicion during his 9 years as a Soviet spy in the USA. Abel never considered defection himself, knowing that to do so would have forfeited his ever seeing his wife or daughter again. During his trial for espionage, his defence attorney, James B. Donovan argued Abel should be spared the death penalty, for the purposes of future spy exchanges.

Donovan’s arguments would prove to be prescient. In 1962, he would be sent to negotiate the exchange spy swap in Berlin. Although the CIA was opposed to the swap, President Kennedy approved it. In addition to Powers, an American student accused of espionage, Frederic Pryor, would also be traded for Abel. On February 10th, Abel and Powers were brought to the Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam, where they were exchanged. Pryor meanwhile would be handed over at Checkpoint Charlie.

A visit to the famous Bridge of Spies is a highlight of any Potsdam tour.

Campbell Bews

This slice of On This Day in Berlin History was written by BBS Member Campbell Bews.

It’s one of four events he has chosen to remember in February. See what else made the cut on our blog.

 

On This Day | 02 Feb 1943: Defeat at Stalingrad and Field Marshal Paulus’s Surrender

German POWs at Stalingrad 1943
German POWs at Stalingrad, 1943 | Source: English Wikipedia. Scan from the book “Battle of Stalingrad: Russia’s Great Patriotic War”, by I.M. Baxter & Ronald Volstad, Concord ,2004

2 February 1945: On this day in history, one of the most consequential battles of the Second World War – the Battle of Stalingrad – ends with the total defeat of Axis Forces. 6th Army Commander Friedrich Paulus surrenders and goes into Soviet custody, becoming the first German Field Marshal to be captured alive.

The battle had begun over five months before as part of the ‘Case Blue’ Summer offensives. The 6th Army was tasked with capturing Stalingrad and guarding the flanks of the army group invading the Caucasus oil fields. The city’s invasion began on the 23rd of August with a ruthless carpet bombing, turning the battlefield into flaming wreckage of twisted steel and listing concrete. When the 6th Army moved in, they were slowed to a crawl by bitter house-to-house resistance as the Soviets paid for time in their blood.

Friedrich Paulus after his surrender at Stalingrad.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-F0316-0204-005 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The battle would turn decisively when the Soviets launched a massive counterattack on the 19th of November. Through driving snow, they burst through the Romanian and Hungarian troops guarding the 6th army’s flanks and sealed them within Stalingrad. In response, Hitler ordered supplies to be airdropped into the city, but logistical difficulties led to a chronic lack of supplies, ammunition, and food.

Commander of the 6th Army, Friedrich Paulus had seen multiple reports of the building Soviet Armies at his flanks but had refused to believe their validity. Despite his soldiers running out of position in Stalingrad, he refused to debate Hitler’s orders or forcefully push for a breakout from the city.

With neither victory nor escape possible, Hitler expected Paulus to commit suicide. To harden his resolve, on 30th January, Hitler promoted him to Field Marshal, telling him that no one of this rank had ever been captured in German History. Ultimately Paulus’ Catholicism would not let him contemplate suicide, and he surrendered the next day. His remaining 91,000 troops would surrender two days later. Due to the terrible conditions in Soviet Gulags, barely 6000 would return to Germany.

Campbell Bews

This slice of On This Day in Berlin history was written by BBS Member Campbell Bews.

It’s one of four events he has chosen to remember in February. See what else made the cut on our blog.

 

OTD in Berlin History | 29 Jan 1929: All Quiet on the Western Front

29 January 1929: On this day in Berlin history, German WWI veteran Erich Maria Remarque published his famous novel All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues).

All Quiet on the Wester Front author Erich Remarque
Erich Maria Remarque, 1929 (ADN-ZB)

Although first technically serialized in the liberal Berlin newspaper Vossiche Zeitung in late 1928, January 1929 is when it hit stores as a book. Within the first year and a half of its release, All Quiet on the Western Front sold two and a half million copies in 22 languages.

Remarque explicitly states in the beginning of the novel that the story does not come with any political connotations. Nonetheless, this book is touted by many as the exemplar of anti-war literature.

The book details the experiences of protagonist Paul Bäumer (namesake of a real WWI German air ace) along with his school friends and comrades in the trenches of the Western Front from 1914-1918.

He traded in typical glossy heroics for the realness of boredom and random terror that warfare brings. Remarque claimed to have wanted only to tell the story of the typical soldier in the trenches from their own perspective and, by extension, told the story of an entire generation of men, both living and dead, who were destroyed by the war.

The novel was amongst those reduced to ashes by the Nazis during the book burnings of 1933. They saw it as pushing a pacifist, anti-German agenda and even attacked attendees at screenings of the movie adaptation in 1930.

Today, the phrase “all quiet on the western front” has entered colloquial English vernacular to denote something that is stagnant and unchanging – a testament to the book’s influence over 90 years later.

This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was written by BBS Member Chris Moniz.
It’s one of four events he chose to remember in January. See the rest on our blog.

OTD in Berlin History | 20 Jan 1942: The Wannsee Conference

20 January 1942: Today marks the anniversary of the odious Wannsee Conference.

The House of the Wannsee Conference
The House of the Wannsee Conference

Named for the south western suburb of Wannsee in Berlin where it took place, the conference is known for addressing and coordinating the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” Here, plans were laid out for the mass, systematic murder of Europe’s Jewish population.

Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Heydrich

SS general Reinhard Heydrich – who called and chaired the meeting – communicated that this would amount to approximately 11 million Jews. His figure was not just with Nazi occupied countries in mind, however, but was intended to encompass all of Europe – including neutral territories like Switzerland and Ireland. The 1935 Nuremberg Laws would act as the criteria to decide who was considered Jewish and Heydrich summarized that the extermination camps in occupied Poland would be used for the killings.

The meeting brought together 6 high-ranking members of the SS and 9 senior government officials, including the state secretaries from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior.

The inclusion of government officials was key. Part of the conference was informing agencies that would be relevant to fulfilling the “Final Solution”. Despite careful euphemistic wording, the participants knew mass murder was their goal and the meeting wasn’t as much about whether the government would take part as it was how to organize policy to enact it.

The Nuremburg Laws
The Nuremburg Laws

Although violence and discrimination towards Jews began immediately after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, the Wannsee Conference signifies a clear, methodical shift towards highly organized extermination.

The villa in Berlin where the meeting took place now serves as a Holocaust memorial. Visit the House of the Wannsee Conference for more information.

 

 

This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was written by BBS Member Chris Moniz.
It’s one of four events he has chosen to remember this January. See what else makes the cut on our blog.

OTD in Berlin History | 16 Jan 1945: Hitler enters the Führerbunker

26 January 1945: On this day in Berlin history, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler entered the Führerbunker under the gardens of his Reich Chancellery in Berlin.

With the bunker acting as the final headquarters for the Nazis, Hitler was joined by much of his senior staff – as well as dozens of medical and administrative personnel. In April, 1945 – nearing the end of World War II in Europe – his long-time lover, Eva Braun and propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels would also take up residence here.

Plan of the bunker by Christoph Neubauer

The Führerbunker itself was actually a complex of two connected bunkers – the upper Vorbunker (1936), and the lower Führerbunker (1944). Made with the intention of withstanding the strongest known Allied bombs at the time, the Führerbunker was deeper underground than the Vorbunker (about 8.5 meters or 28 feet beneath the surface) and offered even more protection. The roof boasted almost 3 meters (9.8ft) of thick concrete.

Ruins of the bunker after demolition in 1947

Although Hitler attempted to make life underground more comfortable by bringing in furniture and oil paintings from the Chancellery, conditions were nonetheless desperate. The bunker laid underneath the water table of Berlin, creating a very damp environment and the unremitting noise from the bombings would make sleep difficult.

By April 16, 1945 the Soviet Red Army would enter Berlin, marking the beginning of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. As Soviet troops encircled the city, Hitler’s final visit to the surface above occurred on his birthday – April 20, 1945 – when he awarded young boys from the Hitler Youth the Iron Cross medal for bravery.

Less than forty hours after marrying Eva Braun in the bunker, Hitler and his new wife eventually committed suicide on April 30, 1945.

This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was written by BBS Member Chris Moniz.
It’s one of four events he has chosen to remember this January. See what else makes the cut on our blog.

OTD in Berlin History | 10 Jan 1927: Fritz Lang premieres Metropolis

10 January 1927: On this day in Berlin history, Austrian-born film-maker Fritz Lang premiered his polarizing but legendary silent film Metropolis.

Frits Lang's Metropolis movie poster
1927 UFA movie poster

The dystopian piece of science fiction was written and filmed during the interwar period of Weimar Germany along with his then wife, Thea von Harbou, who had written the original novel of the same name that worked as the basis of the eventual movie’s plot. The first showing took place in the biggest cinema in Germany at the time – the newly renovated Ufa-Palast am Zoo near Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten.

Although not necessarily the first science fiction movie ever produced – as is often mistakenly claimed – it was nonetheless among the first feature length films of the genre. Drawing imagery and themes from the German Expressionist movement of the time, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was greatly inspired by famous authors such as H.G Wells and Mary Shelley. It did, however, transcend its own artistic pigeonhole and was a significant influence on the film noir aesthetic that would eventually take Hollywood by storm.

Despite its modern reputation and high critical praise, Metropolis was initially met with mixed feelings. By the time of the world premiere in Berlin, the film’s length had already been significantly cut down – yet many still found it far too long and laborious. H.G. Wells himself described it as “silly” and derivative of both his own works and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Lang and Harbou in their Berlin apartment in 1923 or 1924, about the time they were working on the scenario for Metropolis
Lang and Harbou in their Berlin apartment in 1923 or 1924

Not everyone was so condemning, however. Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels took the messages about the pitfalls of political bourgeoisie and their suppression of the “forces of Labor” to heart and, soon after the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933, he informed Lang that Hitler wanted him to make films for the NSDAP.

Lang, being of Jewish heritage, and becoming increasingly dismayed by his wife’s growing sympathies towards the Nazi Party, finally left Berlin on July 31, 1933 and was a naturalized citizen of the United States by 1939.

 

You can learn more about Metropolis and Berlin’s rich film history at the Deutsche Kinemathek – the Museum for Film and Television at Potsdamer Platz.

This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was written by BBS Member Chris Moniz.
It’s one of four events he has chosen to remember this January. See what else makes the cut on our blog.