On This Day – February 22, 1943 – 21 Year Old Resistance Leader Sophie Scholl is Found Guilty of Treason and Executed in Munich

Monday, February 22, 1943 in Munich


Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst

On a cold, February afternoon in Munich 77 years ago today, 21 year old Sophie Scholl, a pioneer and active member within the White Rose resistance group in Nazi Germany, was found guilty of high treason and beheaded by a guillotine in Munich for distributing anti-war leaflets at the University of Munich with her brother, Hans.

For decades, she’s been seen as a leading figure of the resistance movement against the policies of the Nazi government, having demonstrated a profound amount of courage and a great deal of social dissent in a controlled society of violent repression, censorship, and conformist pressure. At her trial she said the following:

“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

The Nazi court allowed no testimony for Scholl and the other defendants; this quote was her only defense.

Sophie Scholl’s bust on display at Walhalla

In 2003 the government of Bavaria placed her bust in the Walhalla Temple, something that would’ve been inconceivable when it opened in the 19th century (let alone during the Nazi period). Later that year, the German television network ZDF invited people from around Germany to participate in the so-called “Unsere Besten” (Our Best), a nationwide competition to choose the top ten most important Germans of all time. Young voters helped Scholl and her brother to finish in fourth place, above the likes of Einstein, Bach, Goethe, and Bismarck.

Else Gebel, who shared a cell with Scholl, recorded her last words before being taken away to be executed:

Sophie Scholl’s and Hans Scholl’s graves at the Friedhof am Perlacher Forst in Munich

“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause…? It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted…”

She was only 21 years old.

On This Day: January 30, 1933 Adolf Hitler is Appointed German Chancellor

Berlin, 11:30AM, January 30. 1933, Wilhelmstraße 73

Hitler flanked by Göring to his right and von Papen to his left

Despite losing 2 million votes in the November national election of 1932 and thus losing 34 seats in the Reichstag in Berlin, the NSDAP still remained the largest and sadly the most popular political party at a time when economic and political instability riddled Germany’s young democracy. 

And after Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher failed to secure parliamentary support at the beginning of 1933, the Catholic Center Party’s leader, Franz von Papen, and his cronies, led negotiations with President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler German chancellor, believing that they could tame him by dominating his cabinet with the old conservative elite. 

And so #OTD 86 years ago at around 11:30 in the morning, arguably the biggest blow to Germany’s young democracy up until that point came when Hindenburg appointed Hitler as German Chancellor at the Presidential Palace on Wilhemstraße in Berlin. 

Hitler at the window of the Reich Chancellery while a crowd of supporters gather below

While Herman Göring and Wilhelm Frick were the only two other cabinet members from the NSDAP, the new Vice-chancellor, von Papen, continued to assure all doubters that the vulgar, uneducated and inexperienced in government Nazis would be easy to control stating, “You are wrong. We’ve engaged him for ourselves…within two months, we will have pushed Hitler so far into a corner that he’ll squeak.”

That Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor was no ordinary change of government became immediately clear, as his Propaganda Minister, Josef Göbbels, organized a torchlit parade consisting of members of the SA, SS, and Steel Helmets that went through the Brandenburg Gate and through Berlin. One pro-Nazi newspaper enthusiastically estimated that 700,000 marchers took part in the parade, while less than amused papers put the number at just over 100,000, and the hostile sources put the number of uniformed marchers at no more than 20,000. Crowds of onlookers lined the streets to watch the marchers and the spectacle was typical of the kind of stage-management which German society could now expect from Göbbels’s propaganda machine.

Uniformed marchers and curious onlookers watching the celebration parade at the Brandenburg Gate

Even the 86 year old Hindenburg, whose health was deteriorating fast and whose mind was becoming more senile by the day, took some interest in the parade. One of his entourage later told the British writer John Wheeler-Bennett:
He had been standing stiffly at the window for a while when his attention began to slip and his mind to wander back to the glorious early days. “Ludendorff!”, the befuddled old man said, “How well your men are marching, and what a lot of prisoners they’ve taken!”

WWI General and German President, Paul von Hindenburg

Needless to say, the person directly responsible for appointing Hitler as Chancellor of Germany earlier in the day was confused. But many people who took part in that evening’s celebration weren’t. Hindenburg was presented by the National press as the central figure in the jubilation, helping several people – who had felt nothing but shame and disgrace for the previous 14 years since the end of WWI – feel a revival of the spirit of 1914 that was felt at the outbreak of the Great War. These would all be sentiments with which every Nationalist could agree.

Unfortunately, von Papen’s and his cronies’ careless dismissal of Hitler and the NSDAP – as well as Hindenburg’s infamous appointment – can be seen as some of the vital roots to what would later become a world tragedy of unprecedented proportions.


The Berlin Guides Association is comprised of professional, expert guides working in Berlin, throughout Germany and across Europe. Our passion is sharing our knowledge of German history and culture with visitors to Berlin and from around the world. We are Berlin’s official tour guide association.

Blog Bibliography

Evans, Richard J. (2003). The Coming of the Third Reich. New York: Penguin Group ISBN 1-59420-004-1

100 Years Ago Today – January 15, 1919 – Rosa Luxemburg & Karl Liebknecht Arrested and Murdered

The abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II marked the end of five centuries of Hohenzollern rule in Berlin and nearly four decades of Prussian imperialistic rule

With the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and thus the collapse of the German Empire at the end of WWI, revolution broke out everywhere and political movements on both the left and right erupted like a stick of dynamite throughout Germany.

Amid the chaos, violence, power struggles and the possibility of new opportunities, one of the key democratic institutions of the German Revolution of 1918-1919 was the establishment of the council – which had been popular organizations first invented in the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917. Like Germany at the onset of January 1919, the councils were a sign of desperate conditions and a search for new forms of political representation in the age of high industrialization and total war. There would be sailors councils, workers councils, workers and soldiers councils, and even councils organized by artists and by agricultural workers.

SPD leader Philipp Scheidemann proclaiming a German republic from a west window of the Reichstag in Berlin on 9 November 1918

Their activities were often confused and chaotic – their politics rudimentary – but they were everywhere, and they were a grassroots form of democracy that allowed a wider range of political participation that was addressed in a broader range of issues that had ever existed in Germany before.

And out of this fray of dramatic change and political uncertainty rose the voices of Social Democratic Party leader Philipp Scheidemann, and famed radical socialist antiwar activist, Karl Liebknecht, as well as his co-leader, Rosa Luxemburg.

Scheidemann, acting on behalf of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), had proclaimed a German republic from the window of Berlin’s Reichstag building at the end of WWI, which would establish democracy for the first time in Germany’s history with the founding of the so-called Weimar Republic. Meanwhile, just just blocks away, Liebknecht proclaimed a socialist republic from the window of the Berlin city palace, which had just been the dynastic seat of the Prince Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, Prussian kings and German emperors of the House of Hohenzollern for centuries.

Spartacist leaders and KPD pioneers, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht

Luxemburg and Liebknecht had previously founded and led the Spartacist League – a Marxist revolutionary movement established toward the end of WWI which would lay the roots of the establishment of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) on January 1, 1919.

Luxemburg’s and Liebknecht’s chief aim was simple: They believed that power and wealth should be shared equally among the population. The KPD would quickly refuse to participate in the parliamentary elections, preferring instead to place its faith in the workers’ councils, as expressed in the former Spartacist manifesto:

The question today is not democracy or dictatorship. The question that history has put on the agenda reads: Bourgeois democracy or socialist democracy? For the dictatorship of the proletariat is democracy in the socialist sense of the word. Dictatorship of the proletariat does not mean bombs, putsches, riots and anarchy, as the agents of capitalist profits deliberately and falsely claim. Rather, it means using all instruments of political power to achieve socialism, to expropriate – dispossess of property – the capitalist class through and in accordance with the will of the revolutionary majority of the proletariat.

Spartacist militia in the streets of Berlin

In short, Germany’s post-war revolution fostered two perceivable paths forward: Social democracy or a council republic – with the latter being similar to the one which had been established by the Bolsheviks in Russia.

In the first week of January in 1919, Liebknecht and Luxemburg decided that the SPD led, young republic was tenuous and vulnerable enough to challenge, so they launched an armed rising in Berlin with the the aim of overthrowing the provisional government and creating a soviet republic.

“Today we can seriously set about destroying capitalism once and for all. Nay, more; not merely are we today in a position to perform this task, nor merely is its performance a duty toward the proletariat, but our solution offers the only means of saving human society from destruction” – Rosa Luxemburg

On 5 January, their movement occupied public buildings, called for a general strike and formed a revolutionary committee. They denounced the SPD led provisional government and the forthcoming elections. A few days of savage street fighting took place as workers with rifles haphazardly swarmed the streets of Berlin.

With the model of Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution in Russia happening before their eyes, the mainstream Social Democrats feared that the revolutionaries might institute the kind of ‘red terror’ that was now taking place in Russia. According to historian Richard J. Evans:

“Afraid for their lives, and conscious of the need to prevent the country from falling into complete anarchy, the SPD sanctioned the recruitment of heavily armed paramilitary bands consisting of a mixture of younger men, and known as the Free Corps (Freikorps), to put down any further revolutionary uprisings.”

Memorial tablet dedicated to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht outside of Mannheimerstraße 27 today

Significantly outnumbering the Spartacists and having the backing of the republic, the Free Corps came storming into to Berlin to suppress the uprising.

Liebknecht and Luxemburg retreated for their lives and escaped to an inconspicuous neighborhood apartment building at Mannheimerstraße 43 (today Mannheimerstraße 27) in the heart of Berlin’s Wilmersdorf district.

After laying low for a couple days, it was on this day – January 15, 1919 – that Wilmersdorfer Bürgerwehr (vigilance committee) members Bruno Lindner and Wilhlem Moering – along with three others – arrived at Mannheimerstraße 43 just after 8:00PM. They rang the Marcusson family’s door bell, where the two had been seeking refuge, forced their way into the building and up to the apartment where Liebknecht and Luxemburg were.

The entrance to Mannheimerstraße 43 (today house number 27)

The men had been tipped off and the source of where they’d gotten their information of Liebknecht’s and Luxemburg’s whereabouts is still uncertain today.

Before the two Spartacus leaders were arrested and eventually taken to the famous Eden Hotel for further questioning, (Liebknecht was first taken to a nearby school in order to determine his identity), Luxemburg had quickly borrowed a pair of wool socks from Mrs. Marcusson before venturing out into the cold January night in Berlin.

Hallway and staircase that led to Liebknecht’s and Luxemburg’s hiding spot at Mannheimerstraße 43

Outside the apartment where Liebknecht and Luxemburg took refuge from January 13 – January 15, 1919.

After hours of torture and interrogation while in police custody, Liebknecht’s and Luxemburg’s lives would be brutally brought to an end at the hands of the  Free Corps who had been egged on by the mainstream Social Democrats looking to protect the young republic from the leftist movement; revolutionaries in a number of other German cities were also put down or summarily murdered to eliminate any future threat to the new republic.

While being transported to Moabit Prison, Liebknecht was shot in the back after the car he’d been riding in had pulled over to the side of the road not far from the Eden Hotel. His body was then taken away.

Rosa Luxemburg Memorial along the Landwehrkanal in Berlin-Tiergarten

After being gruesomely beaten with a rifle butt and shot in the head, Luxemburg was  flung into Berlin’s Landwehrkanal (a canal running east to west immediately south of the city center). Four and a half months later, after the canal’s ice had thawed, Luxemburg’s body was found and Mrs. Marcusson of Wilmersdorf would immediately recognize her stockings and other items of clothing on the corpse when pictures of the body surfaced.

The famous Eden Hotel situated on the three corners of Budapesterstraße/Kurfürstendamm/Nürnberger Straße. It was here that the Central Council of the German Socialist Republic had set up its offices on the second floor, and where Luxemburg and Liebknecht were interrogated that night

These events would ultimately create a very troubled atmosphere for the next few months and they’d also leave a permanent legacy of bitterness and hatred on the political left for the next several years. Moreover, they would decidedly doom any kind of cooperation between Social Democrats and Communists in Germany’s new republic.

Mutual fear, mutual recriminations and mutual hatred between these two parties became their only common ground with one another from that point onward. And when it came time to combat the rise of National Socialism in the national government years later, representatives of the Social Democrats and Communists still weren’t able to put their differences aside.





Evans, Richard J. (2003). The Coming of the Third Reich. New York: Penguin Group ISBN 1-59420-004-1

Uwe Soukup, “Luxemburg und Liebknecht: Das letzte Versteck,” Der Tagesspiegel, January 11, 2010

Weitz, Eric D. (2007). Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy. New Jersey: Princeton University Press ISBN 978-0-691-01695-5


Berlin Guides Association’s December 2018 Excursion to Weimar & the Buchenwald Concentration Camp Memorial

The start of our city tour on the first day


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

As part of our commitment to furthering and enhancing our education as ambassadors of German history, the Berlin Guides Association took its monthly excursion to the city of Weimar last month to explore all its rich history and to learn more about the city’s reputation as a center of art and culture.

Weimar’s City Palace which had been the home of the Dukes of Saxe-Weimar since 1552


Around 20 of our members took a tour of the city and followed the traces of its classicist and post-classicist past, as well as the traditions of its modern movement – which included the city’s famous Bauhaus history.


Weimar’s Theater

Furthermore, our guides visited the Weimar Theater which was the birthplace of the so-called Weimar Republic – Germany’s first attempt at democracy which lasted from 1919-1933. This was the venue where the 423 delegates of the first ever democratically elected National Assembly of the Republic convened from 6 February – 30 September 1919.

Some of Weimar’s splendid architecture


Some of our members out to dinner after a long day of exploring


Buchenwald Concentration Camp Memorial

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Main entrance into Buchenwald Concentration Camp

The following day our members ventured just a little over 6 miles northwest of Weimar to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp Memorial site where they received a private tour from one of the camp’s guides.



In operation from 1937-1945, this camp was first established by Heinrich Himmler’s SS to detain political opponents of the NSDAP, persecute Jews, Sinti and Roma, and imprison the so-called “enemies of the state” – such as, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, ex-convicts, and various other people deemed “unfit” for German society in the Third Reich.

The foundations of many original barracks are all that remain except for one in this part of the camp.



After the onset of WWII, Buchenwald became an important place for so-called “undesirables” from all across Europe to be sent to. Around 280,000 were imprisoned at Buchenwald and its 139 sub camps and more than 56,000 would perish there as the result of torture, medical experiments, exhaustion, and murder.



Our members with their tour guide on the infamous “Appellplatz” (roll call ground) just within the camp’s entrance

When the Americans reached Buchenwald in April 1945, Allied Supreme Commander, Dwight Eisenhower recorded: “Nothing has ever shocked me as much as that sight.”



Our guide did a fantastic job uncovering the realities of life and death in the camp while also unraveling the complex history of not only the Holocaust itself, but also how the Soviets turned Buchenwald (located in their occupation zone after the signing of the Nazi unconditional surrender) into a so-called “Special Camp” for their own enemies, political dissidents and others whom they felt necessary to imprison.

If you travel to Germany in the future, a visit to Weimar and or the Buchenwald Concentration Camp Memorial is definitely worth considering. From Berlin, it takes roughly 2 1/2 hours to reach by train; and from Munich, a train journey will take just under 3 hours.

(A special thank you to Berlin Guides Association member, Maria Bergman, for providing the pictures for this blog post).

The German “Day of Fate”

When it comes to German history, November 9 is a date like no other.

It’s a day packed with four colossal events from the twentieth century that have gotten people to refer to today as Germany’s “day of fate.”

In with the new and out with old: Saturday, November 9, 1918

Kaiser Wilhelm II

With the German Imperial Army on the brink of defeat at the end of WWI – and with political and social revolutionary forces sweeping through the country, Prussian King and German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II, was advised and urged to abdicate from his throne. In part, this was largely a symbolic gesture of compliance to show the Allied nations that Germany was fully committed to setting up a democratic system – as outlined in US President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points – in the hope that the country would receive a fair treatment at the forthcoming peace conference at Versailles.

With the German Empire shaking apart and monarchies crumbling by the day, word got out that communist leader Karl Liebknecht was going to pronounce a communist republic. To prevent this, the Social Democratic leader, Phillip Scheidemann, made his way to the west windows of the Reichstag in Berlin and announced the birth of a democratic republic by shouting, “Long live the German republic!”

The seeds of what would become known as the Weimar Republic – Germany’s first attempt at a democracy – had just been planted, and centuries of history of numerous German monarchies had come to an end.

Arguably human history’s most evil villain steps onto the world stage: Friday, November 9, 1923

With economic instability and political chaos riddling Germany’s young democracy, Adolf Hitler and his cronies from the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP or Nazis) – along with the respected WWI General Erich Ludendorff – staged a putsch in Munich on the night of November 8, 1923. Inspired by Benito Mussolini’s successful march on Rome in 1922, the idea was to seize control of the Bavarian government and make a march on Berlin to establish an authoritarian dictatorship under Hitler and the Nazis.

Hitler and Ludendorff before their trial begins

Unfortunately for Hitler, the putsch was haphazardly planned as he’d failed to guarantee the support of the police and the army before it began; and to add insult to injury, the stubborn old Ludendorff was late in turning up for the putsch, which allowed the Bavarian Minister President Gustav Ritter von Kahr to eventually make a quick phone call to Bavaria’s reserve army to confront the Nazis.

As soon as Hitler’s forces finally began marching through the streets in the early morning hours of November 9, 1923, Bavaria’s reserve army squashed the uprising in a matter of minutes. Hitler was quickly arrested two days later and charged with high treason against the German government.

At his trial a few months later, Hitler took advantage of exploiting this opportunity as a propaganda platform – and was astonishingly allowed by a group of sympathetic conservative judges – to use his inexplicably gifted oratory skills to turn his trial into a political showcase. Among his rambling, he would ultimately highlight his desire to take back what had been taken from Germany after WWI and make it clear that his ultimate (racial) goal was to protect and defend the purity of the German people.

Despite the fact that the judges found him guilty – issuing a 5 year prison sentence – they also awarded him the possibility of parole after 9 months, which he was easily granted just before Christmas of 1924.

This so-called “Beer Hall Putsch” of November 8/9 1923 did two things for Hitler. First, it taught him an important lesson: One cannot take control of government by force; rather, he needs to democratically come into power and then he can destroy through politics. Second, the political circus and eloquent ranting at his trial got his name in newspapers outside the borders of Munich which permeated from the Bavarian capital all the way up to the shores of the Baltic and North seas.

Alas, within a decade of the Beer Hall Putsch, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.

The National Socialist ideology radicalizes: Wednesday, November 9, 1938

Ever since the Nazis came to power in 1933, Jews throughout Germany had been made to feel like second class citizens.

First it began with an increasing amount of verbal harassment and physical violence.

This culminated into a boycott of Jewish goods and businesses, as the harassment and violence continued.

Pretty soon, Jews were stripped of their German citizenship and their assets were seized.

In short, the Nazis were hoping that Germany’s Jews would just simply ‘take a hint’ and leave Germany.

Finally, the bottom fell out on November 9, 1938 when Nazi thugs torched over 4,500 synagogues throughout Germany, and destructively vandalized Jewish owned shops and businesses in what became known as “Kristallnacht” or the “Night of Broken Glass” or “November Pogrom in Germany.”

Moreover, around an estimated 30,000 Jews were viciously rounded up and sent off to concentration camps, with around a 100 alone being murdered on that infamous night.

On this tragic day – 80 years ago today – Nazi anti-Semitism transitions from ‘legal’ persecution to a continual wave of violent attacks and deportations; and it would only be a matter of time before it resulted in a murderous conclusion on a scale of unprecedented proportions.

An innocuous blunder: Thursday, November 9, 1989

The times were changing in East Germany in the fall of 1989.

The East German people themselves had been courageously putting an enormous amount of pressure on the East German government to relax its travel restrictions and the leaders of the regime knew that some sort of change was quickly needed.

At a live press conference that included the attendance of journalists from around the world, on the evening of Thursday, November 9, 1989 an East German bureaucrat and spokesman named Guenter Schabowski read the minutes of a high profile meeting that took place earlier in the day.

Towards the end of his minutes in hand, Schabowski read out loud that there had been extensive discussion in that morning’s meeting that would allow East Germans to leave East Germany on visa.

Suddenly he was asked when this would take effect.

Given the fact that he wasn’t at that morning’s meeting – thus having no idea when exactly it would – he just hastily paged through his notes and quickly said, “Ab sofort” (immediately).
Through the help of the West Berlin media playing this blunder over and over on the radio waves shortly thereafter, word spread like a wild fire and it ultimately resulted in sending thousands of East Germans towards the East Berlin and West Berlin crossing points, where baffled guards eventually let them through and thus culminating into the “Fall of the Berlin Wall.” Yet, celebrations on November 9 have long been shunned due to the troublesome events that are mentioned above.

The “day of fate” or “Schicksalstag” as it’s said here in Germany is indeed a tumultuous date in the country’s history with events that have directly or indirectly affected the lives of millions of people throughout the world.

Possibly The Most Haunted Place in Berlin

Halloween in the Hauptstadt: Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Spandau Citadel: Built from 1559-1594 on a natural island formed by the juncture of the Spree River and Havel River

Today is Halloween and in a city with a past as tumultuous as Berlin’s, people often wonder where the haunted places and spookiest corners around the German capital are.

The Citadel in Spandau is an old 16th century fortress which some sentimental Berliners might tell you is still haunted by the “Weiße Frau (white lady) of Hohenzollern” today.

Years before Berlin became a royal and eventually an imperial capital, it served as the official seat of the Margraviate of Brandenburg – a major principality of the Holy Roman Empire – after the House of Hohenzollern took over as prince-electors in Berlin from 1417 onward.

Joachim II Hector of Brandenburg served as prince-elector from 1535-1571. He was a robust leader who was concerned about the interests of his principality and was extremely generous to his servants.

Joachim II Hector – Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire from the Margraviate of Brandenburg (1535-1571)

Not so particularly kind to his wife, however.

In the same year that he became prince-elector, he married a lady from Poland named Hedwig. In 1549 she was involved in a tragic accident, severely injuring her abdomen and making it very difficult for her to walk. Joachim II consequently decided to have a relationship with a lady named Anna Sydow, who would eventually live in the Grunewald hunting lodge (which Joachim II had built) west of Berlin and gave birth to two of the Elector’s children there.

Ten years before Joachim II died, he made his son, Johann Georg, promise him to protect his beloved mistress, Anna Sydow, long after he was gone. But as soon as Johann Georg came to the throne in 1571, he went against his father’s wishes and had her immediately arrested and taken to the Spandau Citadel where she was imprisoned until her death in 1575.

“The Weiße Frau” Anna Sydow haunting the halls of the Citadel

Just days before Johann Georg passed away in 1598, he supposedly saw her spirit appear to him as a “Weiße Frau” who would subsequently return to haunt the halls of the Spandau Citadel in the years thereafter.

But finally in 1709, while the Berlin City Palace was being reconstructed, the skeleton assumed to be Anna Sydow’s was found. It was then given a proper burial with the hope that the Spandau Citadel would no longer be haunted.

Yet according to another legend, Anna Sydow was walled in alive at the Grunewald hunting lodge, which means that the skeleton assumed to be hers in 1709 could very well have been the remains of someone else.

Either way, if you happen to visit the Spandau Citadel in the future, be sure to keep your eyes open for the Weiße Frau who could still be haunting the fortress’ halls today.

Happy Halloween from the Berlin Guides Association!

The Berlin Guides Association is comprised of professional, expert guides working in Berlin, throughout Germany and across Europe. Our passion is sharing our knowledge of German history and culture with visitors to Berlin and from around the world. We are Berlin’s official tour guide association.
Visit our website for more information and to check out our tour page: https://berlinguidesassociation.com/tours

Berlin Guides Association September Jazz Tour

September’s BBS Excursion: Exploring Berlin’s Jazz History

Last week one of our wonderful guides, Anja Gellenkamp, led a group of two dozen eager explorers through the streets of Berlin-Mitte to uncover several forgotten entertainment venues that once defined Berlin’s heady Jazz scene of the 1920s and 30s.

As opposed to the more raucous American styles to have been found in places like New York and Chicago, Berlin-Mitte was renowned for its more conservative – watered-down – version of ‘Jass’ – so-called ‘Berliner Melange’. Equally, the windy, blues-jazz that could’ve been found in smoke-filled bars up and down the Mississippi River was always a long way from Berlin’s Spree River!

Many Berliners, however, were fascinated by American jazz during the Weimar Republic because Jazz from America meant modern, at a time when Germany was on the front lines of a political and societal revolution following WWI. If Berlin didn’t quite have the exact same noises and rhythms as New Orleans, Kansas City, or Chicago, it didn’t really matter at the end of the day. Jazz was modern, it was exciting and Berliners enjoyed it with as much empathy as those jazz enthusiasts on the other side of the Atlantic did.

One of the ‘forgotten venues’ our group found was the Weisse Maus – pictured now as the Quartier 205 shopping mall. Once home to famous Weimar era dancer Anita Berber and an extreme version of Schadenfreude Theatre where visitors would be invited on stage to embarrass themselves with unusual acts.

V-J Day: Victory in Japan – Sunday, September 2, 1945

The highly anticipated ‘unconditional surrender’ is finally signed by the Government of Japan: Today, 73 years ago: Sunday, September 2, 1945 on the USS Missouri in the Tokyo Bay.

Aboard the deck of the ship named after President Truman’s beloved home state – the USS Missouri – Japanese officials arrived to sign the surrender documents that would finally and officially bring World War II to a close.

The scene surrounding this ceremony in Tokyo Bay was awe-striking.

With a fleet of navy ships anchored in the Bay, while American flags rippled in the wind, the colossal figure that was General Douglas MacArthur conspicuously appeared aboard the USS Missouri.

Today, it might be hard for us to understand the aura surrounding General MacArthur at that time. Called to active duty in the U.S. Army as major general, and named as the commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) as early as July 1941, Americans would collectively come to see him as a kind of God – an infallible God – who had averted failure on several occasions and led successful campaigns – primarily in the Philippines – all the way up until the end of WWII in the Pacific.

The General only stood around 5 feet 9 inches tall, but many have said that – if you’d stood in his presence – it would’ve felt as if he were standing around 6 feet 6 inches tall. And he had all the props: The open collar shirt, the sun glasses, the crunched hat, and pipe. Furthermore, he took unclear directives and interpreted them in his own way. General Douglas MacArthur was the modern day ‘American Caesar.’

As the ‘American Caesar’ stood on the Missouri’s deck monitoring the proceedings, his face was so expressionless that he looked as though he was – as historian A.J. Baime would say – “(already) a bust that would sit in a museum.”

Finally, after it’d been proclaimed by President Roosevelt in 1943, reconfirmed by President Truman at Potsdam in the summer of 1945, slightly revised in the second week of August 1945, and finally ‘agreed to be accepted’ on August 14, 1945, unconditional surrender was a signature away.

The Japanese government (on behalf of the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mamoru Shigemitsu – and on behalf of the Japanese armed forces, Yoshijiro Umezu) officially accepted the Potsdam Declaration by signing the highly anticipated unconditional surrender on this day: Sunday, September 2, 1945.

World War II was now over. Victory in Japan – or V-J Day – could officially be celebrated, and General Douglas MacArthur had now become the supreme ruler of  80 million people in Japan.



Long Live the Berlin Eckkneipe

“The most beautiful place is always in the bar (Der schönste Platz ist immer an der Theke),” as Toni Steingass, the German singer and song writer, sang in 1950.

The Eckkneipe classic: “Bump & a Beer”

There’s a certain kind of bar in Berlin that offers coziness and an undeniable sense of content.

Whereas Vienna has its coffee houses, London its pubs, Paris its Bistros, and Barcelona its Bodegas, Berlin has its Eckkneipen (corner bars) which have been synonymous with an unmistakable popular way of life that’s rooted in the city’s historical development.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution transformed Berlin into an economic powerhouse and the city’s size expanded dramatically. Additional suburbs began to develop as the population continued to increase, and Berlin thus became a largely working-class city.

Photo of a Berlin Eckkneipe taken around 1900

Despite the city’s initial efforts to increase its housing, workers often lived in dark, damp, poorly heated and ventilated dwellings that soon became the breeding grounds for rampant disease, violence, and crime.

It was absolute misery for several of Berlin’s new working-class.

After putting in an exhausting and physically demanding 12-hour shift, one could rarely relax in such a horrendous place at the end of the day.

Therefore, to unwind and to avoid the misery at home, workers gathered for a bump and a beer (a glass of beer and a shot of hard liquor) at the nearest Eckkeneipe where they could relax – as if they were at home – and wash down their hopeless fate with other like-minded people.

Eventually, living conditions would improve and most people wouldn’t have to rely on their local Eckkeneipe to find solace after a long day’s work  (unless if they were deliberately trying to avoid a particular person at home!). Yet, the Berlin Eckkeneipe had given its patrons a sense of belonging to a community – a community in which everybody had an identity among each other in a very large and overcrowded city.

Today’s new wave of young faces that frequent Berlin’s Eckkneipen

By 1931, the renown German author, Erich Kästner, supposedly counted 20,100 Eckkeneipen throughout Berlin.

Today there are probably around 2,500 Eckkeneipen throughout the German capital.  Because of the city’s booming real estate market and the fact that former undesired neighborhoods have now become trendy hangouts among a new age of residents in Berlin, there’s been a dramatic change in the demographics of those who visit an Eckkeneipe today. A bunch of older folks sitting on barstools, drinking as much as they can and smoking like chimnies have now become a dying breed. There’s now a whole new demographic of people who just want cheap beer, a chance to play darts or pool, and blast Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” on the jukebox.

Bienenkorb Eckkneipe
Hermannstraße – Neukölln

Yet, “Long Live the Berlin Eckkeneipe” means that, despite our changing world, tradition and behavior together don’t change. Today when you enter the front door, it’s customary to say “Hallo” or “Guten Tag” to everyone with whom you make eye contact because most regulars who frequent an Eckkneipe simply expect a proper hello from each patron who walks in.

Times may have changed, but tradition doesn’t.

Head to an Eckknesipe while you’re in Berlin. Usually, there’s just one person running the bar, so don’t grow impatient if it takes a minute or two for him or her to get to you. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a special art when it comes to pouring an Eckkeneipe beer, so be patient after you’ve ordered.

Feel free to strike up a conversation with the person nearest to you because remember, it’s all about feeling content and relaxed as if you were at home.





Frederick The Great Dies: On This Day – August 17, 1786

The historic Berlin and Potsdam based House of Hohenzollern produced nine kings who ruled the Kingdom of Prussia, and three emperors – who carried the post-1871 title ‘German Emperor’ – from 1701-1918.

This dynasty played a pivotal and extremely influential role when it came to shaping the politics and history of central Europe for over two centuries.

Every Prussian King or German Emperor was either named Friedrich or Wilhelm; or together, Friedrich-Wilhelm (obviously this family lacked a ‘how to name your baby’ book in those days).

But these two names would eventually resonate with the times and go on to be synonymous with the word ‘Prussia.’

Without a doubt, Prussia’s most significant ruler sat on the throne for 46 years from 1740-1786, ingeniously using Prussia’s army to bring large territorial gains to its kingdom and to mold Prussia into a European powerhouse by the time he passed away #OTD, August 17, 1786.

His name was Friedrich II (Frederick II). But history now commonly refers to him as “Frederick the Great.”

Born in 1712, he was raised under strict military discipline and was dominated by the overbearing, aggressive, and decidedly obnoxious personality of his father – the “Soldier King” – Friedrich Wilhelm I, who had no sympathy for Frederick’s sensitive character or his musical and intellectual pursuits as a young boy.

In 1730, after the young Fredrick had had enough of his dad’s physical and psychological abuse, he tried to escape the Kingdom with a dear friend of his. Unfortunately for Frederick, he was quickly caught, imprisoned, and forced to watch his friend be beheaded

To save his own life, he reconciled with his dad, the King, and obeyed his orders to marry a lady named Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern (whom his dad had chosen for him), and moved 40 miles north of Berlin to the city of Neuruppin where he was able to take command of his own regiment.

Upon taking the throne in 1740, Frederick the Great claimed Silesia (current-day southwest Poland) from Austria. The cause for Frederick the Great’s claim to this area did not prevail for many years and it would subsequently cost him three exhausting wars: The First and Second Silesian Wars in 1740-1742 and 1744-1745, respectively, and then the so-called “Seven Years’ War” from 1756-1763

In the end and after all that mess, the result was that he’d brilliantly and successfully turned Prussia into one of the most powerful kingdoms in Europe, and had ultimately laid the foundations of Prussian imperialism which would be achieved less than a century later in 1871.

Frederick, the enlightened ruler, who preferred to see himself as the “first servant of the state,” built his charming Sanssouci Palace on a terrace of vineyards in Potsdam in 1747. Here, he passionately played his flute, collected art, and debated philosophy with prominent guests like the writer and philosopher Voltaire.

Yet, it was here at his beloved Sanssouci that “Old Fritz” – as he was commonly referred to as later on in life – passed away at the age of 74 – 232 years ago today.

Contrary to his will, his mortal remains were buried until 1944 in the Garrison Church in Potsdam. After a tumultuous odyssey during WWII, his coffin was laid to rest at the Hohenzollern Castle in southwest Germany for nearly forty years.

Finally, on the 205th anniversary of his death #OTD, August 17, 1991, his wish had finally been granted, and his coffin was laid to rest in the crypt on the terrace at Sanssouci that had been made for this purpose during his lifetime.

With potatoes normally decorating his grave (“Der preußische Kartoffelkönig” or “Potato King” was one of several nicknames he gained over the years for his faith in the humble vegetable that he thought his farmers should concentrate on growing), he now rests in peace alongside his beloved greyhounds at Sanssouci.