The Best View in Berlin

Contenders for the best Berlin view - the TV Tower as viewed from Panorama Punkt
The TV Tower as viewed from Panorama Punkt | Picture by Shimri Toris

As BBS member, Nadav Gablinger says “Since Berlin is a flat city, from almost every roof you will have a beautiful view of the city.”

That’s the good news.

But just how do you choose the best Berlin view to wow your date, impress your Instagram followers or simply enjoy a new perspective?

We’ve compiled a list of 9 places to get that picture-perfect Berlin panorama, based on the recommendations of our members.

With options including rooftop eateries, historic war memorials, former spy stations, a quirky bar situated on top of a car park and a tower built on top of a disused bunker, you’re sure to find the perfect spot. Read on to find out which views are rated most highly by local guides.

Another view of Berlin from Panorama Punkt
Another view of Berlin from Panorama Punkt | Picture by Shimri Toris

The Best Central and Classic View of Berlin

Siegessäule / Victory Column

Built to commemorate the wars of German Unification at the end of the 19th century, the Victory Column was moved from its original location near the Reichstag to the Großer Stern under Hitler’s reign. For just a few Euros paid at the base, you can climb the 281 steps to the top for a stunning 360-degree view out across the Tiergarten.

“Perhaps the most rewarding is the view from the Victory Column, after squeezing past people up those narrow stairs; of course I am referring to pre-Corona times…”
Carlos Meissner

Panorama Punkt

Opened on Potsdamer Platz in 1999, Panorama Punkt offers excellent views of the city’s best-known landmarks. The most impressive views are from the rooftop, though you can also see a lot from the windows of the very comfortable bar. As well as views, this building boasts the fastest elevator in Europe – not that you get much time to enjoy it…

TV Tower

At 368 metres the Fernsehturm remains one of Berlin’s most striking landmarks, visible from all across the city. Still the tallest structure in Germany (and 3rd tallest in the EU), the TV Tower was completed in 1969 to mark the 20th anniversary of the GDR and was intended to symbolise that state’s power. For many the view is unparalleled. Why not pay a visit to the revolving restaurant too whilst you’re up there?

“The best view? Probably from the TV Tower but – a confession – I’ve never been up it!”
Finn Ballard

Monkey Bar

Visitors to the 10th floor of Bikini Berlin’s 25hours Hotel are in for a truly unique view from the Monkey Bar’s roof terrace. It’s called the Monkey Bar for a reason… Namely: from here you can see into the monkey enclosure of the neighbouring Berlin Zoo. Cocktail aficionados will feel right at home too, thanks to the extensive drinks list and expert mixologists.

Berlin view from Panorama Punkt including Tiergartern and Berlin Philharmonie
The Philharmonie and Tiergarten viewed from Panorama Punkt | Picture by Shimri Toris

The best off-the-beaten-track Berlin view

The Kreuzberg in Viktoriapark in… Kreuzberg

Opened in 1894, the Viktoriapark is in fact where you’ll find the original Kreuzberg (Kreuzberger Hill). The 66m (217ft) hill is topped with a cast iron monument commemorating the Wars of Liberation fought during the Napoleonic Wars and, in summer, is home to an artificial waterfall. The park is also located next to two vineyards.

Chiara Baroni and Sam Wiszniewski recommend this view.

Solar Restaurant, Excelsiorhaus

Inspired by the architecture of New York, Sobotka and Müller’s ’60s-built apartment complex is named after the Hotel Excelsior that used to stand in its stead before the Second World War. Today the building is home to 506 apartments and 39 businesses, including the much-lauded Solar Restaurant, where delicious food and drinks are served with a cracking view.

“The most interesting view, in my opinion, is from the Solar Restaurant in the Excelsiorhaus, which used to be the CIA’s spy station. In the basement there was a bunker that could hold 3100 people for 14 days.”
Nadav Gablinger

Klunkerkranich

Located on top of the Neuköllner Arkaden shopping centre, this hipster hangout is a much-loved spot to watch the sun go down at the beginning of a long Berlin night. Expect less polish than the roof terraces of Berlin’s pricier districts. Here, between the flowerbeds, you can enjoy drinks and Mediterranean-inspired food in a cosy, distinctly DIY atmosphere – all set to a soundtrack provided by local DJs.

“Klunkerkranich – impossible for visitors to pronounce and sometimes even harder to find. Get that pure Berliner Luft surrounded by plants, hipsters, and wooden crates while standing on top of Neukölln.”
Susan Grouchy

“Klunkerkranich has a special place in my heart because you’re in the thick of Neuköllln and it’s a great view of the TV tower to have while sipping on cheap lagers on a lovely patio!”
Chris Moniz

Aussichtsturm am Finkenberg, Döberitzer Heide

Brandenburg’s Döberitz Heathland was once a military training ground. Then, in the 2000s, the Heinz Seilmann Foundation transformed it into a 3,600-hectare nature reserve. On your way to the 15-metre observation tower – built on top of a disused bunker in 2011 – you can meander along pathways to take in the ground-level scenery and local wildlife.

“Worth the hike!”
Sam Wiszniewski

Teufelsberg

Literally translated as “Devil’s Mountain”, Teufelsberg actually comprises two man-made hills located to the south of Berlin. It was made by piling WWII rubble onto the shell of the Nazis’ never-completed Faculty of Military Technology. The site was then used as a spy station during the Cold War, before street artists and graffiti taggers made it there playground in the 90s.

“Teufelsberg is great because who doesn’t want to get a nice panorama of Berlin atop an 80 meter man made hill made of literal garbage? Plus the surrounding Grunewald forest is beautiful.”
Chris Moniz

A more philosophical view of Berlin…

According to Ben Fisher, sometimes it’s less about where you’re looking from and more what you’re looking at that matters.

“What makes for a great view? A skyscraper’s panoramic observation deck? A monumental building to have as a selfie background? Green meadows and tranquil river flowing nearby? I‘ll tell you where’s the best view in town – put on your worst outfit, grab a bottle of Sterni and hang around for 2 hours at the Warschauer Straße bridge, connecting Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, on a Saturday night. I’d argue it’s the best view in the galaxy.”

Whichever spot you choose to take in the city from on high, the truth is: the best view is up to you. As Jeremy Minsberg puts it:

“The best view in Berlin is where you find it. It can be at the Gate, a museum or a Hinterhof (back courtyard). Every day the view changes and expands”

Where’s your favourite view in Berlin? Did it make our list?

Discovering the Industrial History of Moabit

Berlin Guides Association Members in front ofthe Arminiusmarkthalle in Moabit
BBS Members in front of the Arminiusmarkthalle, Moabit – Photo by Alazne Artexe

At the end of June 2021, BBS member Bernd Breitkopf treated our members to his original ‘Industrial Moabit’ tour. Over the course of 2 fascinating hours, we made our way from Turmstrasse to the Tiergarten discovering traces of Berlin’s industrial history along the way.

As well as visiting the oldest house in Moabit and the Arminiusmarkthalle, and learning more about the 300 historical water pumps to be found in Berlin’s inner city, we heard about the life and impact of August Borsig…

Bernd Breitkopf demonstrates how to operate one of the istoric waterpumps in Moabit
Bernd Breitkopf demonstrates how to operate Berlin’s historic waterpumps – Photo by Alazne Artetxe

August Borsig was in the business of railway construction. 170 years ago, railway manufacture was one of the driving forces of industrialization in Berlin and the industry was of particular importance to Moabit – in more ways than one.

Interestingly, as Bernd enlightened us, Borsig also used the heat and steam from one of his machine factories to heat the greenhouses in a park that even impressed the Prussian King. On the plot of land on Stromstrasse between Alt-Moabit and the banks of the Spree, August Borsig had a spacious park laid out next to the ironworks, in which his home and various greenhouses were located.

Borsig was an active promoter of horticulture, having been a member of the “Verein zur Beförderung des Gartenbaues in den Königlich Preußischen Staaten” (Association for the Promotion of Horticulture in the Royal Prussian States) since 1835. He entrusted the creation of the park to none other than Peter Joseph Lenné, the ingenious landscape designer, while in-house architect Johann Heinrich Strack was responsible for constructing both the residential house (built in 1849) and industrial buildings.

With its many rare plants, the park was at least as famous in its day as the industrial works. Even King Frederick William IV was captivated by the garden paradise. After once paying a visit to the “Borsig Etablissement,” he is said to have remarked: “I would like to live like you, my dear Borsig, one day.”

BBS members on the Industrial Moabit excursion
Some of our members enjoying the first in-person excursion of the year

His admiration for the Moabit gem was justified, since on July 19, 1852, the first Victoria Regia blossomed  in Berlin in Borsig’s greenhouse. (The lily is native to Guyana and tropical South America.) It is also worth noting that park and greenhouse facilities were open to the public for a fee on Tuesdays and Fridays. The entrance fees went into the Borsig company’s workers’ disability fund.

August Borsig was only able to enjoy this and his entrepreneurial success for a few years, however. He died in 1854 at the age of only fifty as a result of a stroke. His grave is located in the Dorotheenstädtische Kirchhof, in the immediate vicinity of the place where his entrepreneurial activities began. His son Albert followed his father not only in the management of the company’s business, but also in the care and further development of the Moabit estate.

Thanks again to Bernd Breitkopf for the excellent tour, to Alazne Artetxe for the photography and to Konstanze Deeters for the report. Here’s to many more in-person events in our future!

Berlin Long Reads | Appetite for Destruction: The Strange Case of Berlin’s Disappearing Palaces

Berlin Long Reads | Appetite for Destruction: The Strange Case of Berlin’s Disappearing Palaces

In the latest of our Berlin Long Reads, BBS Member Ryan Balmer takes a hard look at the changing face of the Berlin City Palace.

The Plastic Palace

Berlin Palace under reconstruction, 2016
Condemned forever to become? Photo by Another Believer, 2016 – CC BY-SA 4.0

Last month, on the 20th of July, the Humboldt Forum opened its doors to the public. Berliners seem to thrive on the stirring up of local controversy so it would be a bold claim to suggest that it is the most divisive architectural project since the city’s reunification in 1990, but I would go further than that and argue that the destruction of East Germany’s (the DDR’s) ‘Palast der Republik’ and its replacement with a ghostly pastiche of an 18th Century Prussian Palace to house the Humboldt Forum is more than the latest grumbling point for the denizens of the German capital, and is actually the latest manifestation of an ongoing battle for the soul of Berlin.  In 1997, Andreas Huyssen wrote that “Berlin may well be on the way to squandering a unique chance” when it came to filling the voids in the city’s landscape and collective memory. Two years later, Daniel Libeskind – who had just completed the Jewish Museum in Berlin and thus knew a thing or two about the difficulty of filling those voids – warned that the pressing of a “historical reset button” would produce kitsch. The Humboldt Forum’s opening within those plastic-Prussian facades confirms both of those concerns.

The art critic Karl Scheffler’s 1910 description of Berlin as a city “condemned forever to become and never be”  seems to pop up everywhere – especially when researching bitterly contested city developments in the last 30 years. It’s also something that tour guides tell their clients when they complain about all the construction in the city, in the hope that Scheffler’s wistful words are charming enough to distract from the seemingly constant soundtrack of jack hammers. Unfortunately, it underpins an attitude that is often used as a response to city projects that are invariably fraught with budgetary, administrative and sometimes even structural issues. After the initial grumbling comes the collective, defeated shrug – if our new international airport can open nine years behind schedule, then anything is (im)possible. This can be partly explained by the economic doldrums the city was in in the years following reunification. Until very recently, Berlin was seen by much of the rest of Germany (or at least the parts of the former West Germany) as something of a dysfunctional city and an economic disaster zone. To put it simply, Berliners expect a certain level of teething problems with every major project and the Humboldt Forum certainly had its share of those.

An opening that was two years behind schedule and questions over who was actually going to foot the bill for such an ambitious undertaking are issues that are par for the course for any project of this size in Berlin.  There was also an embarrassing resignation from a member of the advisory board who suggested that the Forum was being used as a way of avoiding tough questions regarding the provenance of items from Germany’s former colonies. Bénédicte Savoy suggested that there were desperate attempts to stop the “radiation” of these controversies leaking out, describing the project as “like Chernobyl”. None of this is ideal but we should not let those issues get in the way of a more fundamental problem – this building should not exist in the first place. It represents a continuation of a clumsy and damaging policy with regards to the DDR and the experiences of its former citizens. Furthermore it represents a turning back of the clock to a supposed ideal time in the city’s history, wiping away the footprints of subsequent eras both good and bad from the landscape and ignoring one of the city’s true strengths – the wild eclecticism of its buildings and the meanings that they impart.

A Palace Destroyed

Berlin City Palace around 1702
Berlin City Palace around 1702 – Engraving by P. Schenk, based on a drawing by S. Blessendorf

A residence of some kind had occupied the site since the late 15th Century but what is supposed to greet visitors today – unless they approach from the east and are met with Franco Stella’s incongruously contemporary facade – is an approximation of what the palace looked like in 1918, around the time that the last German Kaiser, Wilhelm II was driven into exile by a population no longer willing to tolerate the carnage of the Great War. His dynastic ancestors the Hohenzollerns had ruled Brandenburg, Prussia and eventually all of Germany in various forms for centuries, but like many – though sadly not all –  old European royal families who had outstayed their welcome at this particularly tumultuous time in history, it was time to go.

Although the palace was repeatedly tinkered with and added to in the century leading up to the last Kaiser’s demise, it was Andreas Schlüter’s construction at the beginning of the 18th Century that forms the basis of what was rebuilt in recent years. Schlüter’s baroque design came to dominate and define the centre of what was still at that point a small provincial seat of power but one that was about to go through a great period of growth and change. Particularly in the latter half of the century when Frederick II or ‘The Great’ was on the throne, Prussia would begin to emerge as a significant European power for the first time. Around the palace can still be found architectural clues from these subsequent giddy periods in Berlin’s  history. Schlüter’s fingerprints are all over the former Zeughaus or ‘Royal Arsenal’ to the north-west of the palace, Karl Friedrich Schinkels neo-classical Altes Museum, built in the afterglow of Prussia’s ultimately victorious part in the Napoleonic wars lies to the North. Finally, to the north east we have the Berliner Dom, a somewhat garish but undeniably fun neo-renaissance cathedral ordered, unsurprisingly, in a fit of imperial chest beating by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Those last two buildings certainly have their flaws and detractors but what more than makes up for that is the stories they tell, the way it is possible to trace the history of the city through their forms. They fit into the Berlin tradition of statement architecture, of power and aspiration manifested through building.

To those with even a cursory understanding of Berlin’s history it seems almost redundant to explain why the 18th Century Schloss no longer exists. After a post-imperial period where neither the governments of the Weimar Republic nor the squalid dictatorship of the Nazis saw fit to use the building for any notable official capacity, it was horrifically damaged during World War Two and completely levelled in 1950 by Soviet / East German authorities with little appetite for rebuilding a structure steeped in a history that was widely seen at that time, including within other parts of Germany, as being partly responsible for two world wars.

The People’s Palace?

Berlin-Mitte, Marx-Engels-Platz: Palast der Republik
Berlin-Mitte, Marx-Engels-Platz: Palast der Republik – CC BY-SA 4.0

The DDR government, faced with a gaping void  in the historical centre of Berlin, opted to fill it with a new type of palace, one explicitly for the people.  Emily Pugh suggests however that it was also a resurrection of the pre-Nazi model of the Kultürhaus – a model of a community hub for meeting, education and entertainment that was briefly popular among German socialist communities. The Palast der Republik was home to the DDR Volkskammer (Peoples or Parliamentary Chamber) as well as a huge congress hall  but what brought the crowds – 11.8million visitors in the first year alone, according to one west German media outlet – were the cultural and leisure facilities: the exhibition spaces, numerous cafes and bars, the youth club, the discotheque and the bowling alley. This  choice of location and the radical departure from the styles evident on the surrounding buildings is surely what one would expect from a regime that portrayed itself at that moment as breaking from all of the old, rotten tropes and ideas that had brought not only Germany but Europe to its knees. It was an example of the kind of statement architecture that had characterised the immediate surroundings for centuries but unfortunately for some was a statement made by a type of regime and in a particular style that decades later was deemed to have no place in such a prestigious location.

There were predictable howls of derision from western media at the time. Despite  the often clear overlap of influences and styles with contemporary projects in west Berlin such as the enormous ICC Congress Hall opened three years later, Pugh asserts that “many critics assumed that GDR architects, and thus architecture were utterly cut off from developments in the rest of the world”. Some critics also seemed to ignore that, despite the supposedly radical ideas of its architects, the building actually was  most clearly influenced by a loose grouping of styles under the umbrella of modernism that briefly thrived in Berlin decades earlier in the pre-Nazi period. Surely a building that made a link, a historical continuity with such a lauded architectural period from the city’s history deserved pride of place? This was not a view shared of course by those who were perhaps content to see that brief flourish of utopian design for the people be washed away by jackbooted reactionaries in the first place.

These opinions are not restricted to a time when Cold War tensions could perhaps be viewed as mitigating the more extreme responses to the Palast der Republik by western critics. An article in the Economist from 2015 casually describes the building as an “architectural atrocity.” However, the positive description later in the same article, of the upcoming Humboldt Forum as an “agora of globalisation” would perhaps suggest a certain political bias on behalf of the writer.

There was another element of criticism of a kind that would come to characterise  the uneven East / West German relationship both before and after the unification process. The DDR citizens visiting – and reportedly rather enjoying – their visits to the Palast der Republik were derided by some western critics as being too easily distracted by low-brow pursuits such as drinking and socialising in the bars to even notice how supposedly garish and cheap the building was.This approach helps form a dangerous and unhelpful template of DDR citizens – if they were not shown to be suffering under the supposed unrelenting misery of communism, if they appeared in any way to be making the most of whatever they had, they were often depicted as naive and uncultured. Years after its demolition, there is also an attempt to misrepresent how the Palast der Republik was actually used. Wolf Burchard points out the irony in the fact that “while its architectural style was a clear repudiation of its predecessor’s elitism, it became the stage for all the great celebrations and banquets of the communist elite.”. This part is certainly true, but it is of course only half of the truth and deliberately obscures and ignores the popular use of the Palast der Republik.

The Palast der Republik was closed in September 1990, near the end of that chaotic period between the opening of the checkpoints in the Berlin Wall and the unification of the now sixteen German states. The building was not only inseparable from an undeniably corrupt, oppressive and collapsed regime but was also riddled with asbestos.  The latter issue was one it had in common with the ICC, although the hulking congress hall still stands in the far west of the city today, awaiting renovation or repurposing, and was given the deserved and all-important status of ‘historical monument’ or ‘Denkmalschutz’ back in 2019. After the asbestos was carefully removed from the Palast der Republik, a resolution was passed in 2002 to demolish what was left.

A Palace Condemned

Zweifel, Palast der Republik, 2005
Zweifel, Palast der Republik, 2005 – Jula2812 – CC BY-SA 4.0

When Andreas Huysmann wrote ‘The Voids of Berlin’ in 1997, the debate to rip down the Palast der Republik and build some approximation of the old Prussian palace was very much underway. Huysmann warned that the 1990s rush to remove or change many of the monuments, buildings and symbols of the DDR was often (but not always) unnecessary, arguing that it represented a ”a strategy of power and humiliation, a final burst of Cold War ideology” It would, at the very least, he suggested, create an increase in rose-tinted Ostalgie – the nostalgia for the East (Ost) that many former DDR citizens were beginning to feel in the economic slump of the late 1990s. At the time of Huysmann’s essay, disaffected Germans living in former DDR states were drifting into the arms of the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) – a party that emerged from the ruins of the SED, the Marxist-Leninist ruling party of the DDR. If only Huysmann could have seen twenty years into the future when many of those same regions would become the centres of power of a new party that tapped into feelings of resentment, humiliation and fear that have festered in some of those areas since unification. The AFD  (Alternative for Germany) party, Germany’s most successful far-right party since the war, has exploited those very feelings to make enormous gains particularly – but not solely –  in these areas in the last federal  election. It should be said that the party’s often rabid anti-immigration stance forms the core of their platform but their reactionary populism also seems to have won them a great deal of support from those in the former DDR states disillusioned by the modern German state.

Carol Anne Costabile-Heming sees the decision to replace the Palast der Republik with the home of the Humboldt Forum as symptomatic of a worrying trend “to reject structures and practices from the former East in favour of the perceived ‘better options from the west” which, apart from a further stripping away of the identity of the DDR state and its former citizens,  “distorts the memory of the historic space through the erasure of the DDR’s presence.”. Beyond that, she warns that turning the clock back to the final spasms of the German Empire purposely avoids conforntation and discussion not only of the DDR and its victims but also the Nazi period.

As the debate raged throughout the 1990s about whether to preserve the Palast der Republik or to rebuild the royal palace, the motivations of the various interest groups in favour of the latter option began to emerge.  Naturally, a subject of this nature attracted a predictable array of fringe fantasists excited by a return of Royal Prussia or Imperial Germany . It’s fortunate that, for the time being at least, these extreme desires remain popular with the kind of clammy-palmed soap-dodgers who have little influence outside of internet message boards. The most impactful of the interest groups responsible, such as the Berlin City Palace Sponsoring Association, instead claim to be fundamentally concerned with restoring the architectural balance of the area, as if there was a specific moment in time that these buildings, with their disparate styles and meanings all made some kind of harmonious sense. But by turning the clock back to a particular point in time, they are explicitly favouring that era over others. How can this possibly be viewed as an unpolitical act? How is it possible to deride Ostalgie whilst gazing, misty eyed into a distant past when the people simply had to cross their fingers and hope that whichever interbred monarch occupied the throne at the time wasn’t one of the mad ones that seem to pop up with alarming frequency?

Palace Politics

Berlin Palace under reconstruction, 2016
Photo by Another Believer, 2016 – CC BY-SA 4.0

The fundamental problem with nostalgic gestures is that they are almost always grounded in a fantasy, which at its most harmless can result in a Disneyfication of place and meaning and at its  most dangerous can help to feed the type of nostalgic populism oozing out across the globe at this precise moment. The very idea of a Berlin ‘golden age’ is preposterous in the first place. Even between the two wars during that brief flourish of possibility beloved by many on the left – the Weimar Republic – great swathes of the population were pretty miserable, for the most part. The vast majority of Berliners were too busy trying to feed their children to have the time or energy to appreciate the burgeoning  artistic, political and sexual revolutions happening around them. At least though, the ideas that were emerging were seeking to improve conditions for the masses rather than to display symbols of wealth and power for their own sake. Walter Gropius in his 1919 ‘Manifesto of the Bauhaus’ promised “the new building of the future…..which will one day rise towards the heavens from the hands of a million workers as the crystalline symbol of a new and coming faith” (Kolocotroni et al 302) If we must look into Berlin’s past for inspiration, it should be into the city’s rich history of revolutionary and avant garde design. Gropius, by the way, was not some kind of fanatical futurist, intent on smashing the old in order to build the new – he notably intervened to stop the demolition of  the former Museum of Applied Arts, built by his uncle in 1881,  showing that it is indeed possible to wish for a broad and representative range of styles in Berlin´s architectural landscape.

The sheer range of possibilities that opened up post-unification was bound to create and foster division. As Lutz Koepnick put it: “In particular the remaking of Berlin into a capital city of both collective memory and trans-national appeal seems to be on everyone’s mind”. Scheffler’s description of Berlin always becoming but never being was of a very different city but it remains useful in understanding the ongoing battle fought over every single one of these contentious locations. It’s worth bearing in mind that two of the most admired buildings to have been completed within that period faced some tough opposition from exactly the same kind of forces that backed the rebuilding of the Schloss.

Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum is a moving and powerful work that speaks to (almost) everyone who enters but it required the Berlin authorities to make a giant leap of faith for it to happen in the first place. The job of building the museum  was given to a man who had never actually built anything up to that point and upon being awarded the contract promptly handed back a request for double the budget he had been allocated. More importantly, in the face of suspicion from those appalled by the deconstructivist approach, what Libeskind provided the city with, is a provocative building that refuses to provide either easy answers or redemption. James Young suggests that the aim of the building “is not to reassure or console but to haunt visitors with the unpleasant  – uncanny – sensation of calling into consciousness that which has been previously – even happily – repressed” That such a design was accepted and embraced is testament to the fact the tradition of radical architecture and design still has a place in Berlin.

Neues Museum Berlin after reconstruction, 2009
Neues Museum Berlin after reconstruction, 2009 – Photo by Lenie Butler – CC BY-SA 3.0

Slightly more recently, the reconstruction of the Neues Museum –  a short walk from the Humboldt Forum and tucked behind Schinkel’s Altes Museum – was also a subject of much debate.  Of the then five museums on the island, the Neues was the one that suffered the most devastation during the war. Restoration work only began very slowly in the 1980s but it wasn’t until 1999 that David Chipperfield was selected to rebuild the museum. Although his proposal was far less challenging than Libeskind’s was for the Jewish Museum, it also faced great opposition from similar quarters. Chipperfield’s idea was to maintain and restore as much of the old structure as possible but in an honest and poignant manner, making no attempt to hide the history of the building but never overwhelming or distracting from the collection itself. It’s a masterpiece and widely viewed as such these days but because Chipperfield did not embark on a faithful reconstruction, the Gesellschaft Historisches Berlin e. V.  (Historical Berlin Society) contacted Unesco and suggested that Museum Island should be put on the list of sites in danger of losing their Unesco Heritage Status. This same group that had behaved like an apoplectic toddler in this case was predictably one of the key backers of the rebuilding of the palace that now houses the Humboldt Forum.

None of these arguments are going to go away any time soon, and neither should they. It is healthy for a city to have opposing voices making themselves heard – certainly more healthy than the dominance of a mindset that favours rolling back to a fantastical and fictional point in Berlin’s history when everything was just right.  Where exactly does that road end? Should we also destroy all of the remaining Nazi era structures in the city because they too are symbols of a brutal regime – one that, let’s not forget, was far, far more brutal than the DDR? We still use the old Olympic Stadium from 1936, for example. Perhaps though, it is allowed to stand because in its clumsy neo-classicism it just about fits into the narrow field of styles acceptable to the kind of traditionalists and reactionaries behind the rebuilding of the palace.

Signs of the Palast der Republik in the Humboldt Forum – Photo by Ryan Balmer

I visited the Humboldt Forum a few days after it opened and despite my obvious prejudices found myself rather enjoying the experience at first.  Although Stella’s interior is occasionally reminiscent of an airport terminal, it is not without its charms. It was also quite poignant to see such a large number of people (presumably) enjoying the place, especially after such lengthy, bleak periods of Covid lockdown. There are frequent nods to the old Palast der Republik, in the form of displays and even some of the old signage directing people toward the bowling alley and the youth club. It all feels rather tokenistic, I thought, but better than nothing. Tucked away on an upper floor however, was a small terminal where one could watch footage of the events that took place in the Palast der Republik during the strangest time in its history. In the brief interim period between the removal of the asbestos and its complete destruction, the Palast der Republik was used for the staging of wildly innovative performances and exhibitions including one where visitors could explore the temporarily flooded building in little rubber boats. One of the clips that I and a gaggle of frowning German pensioners huddled around was of a concert held there in 2006, by the Berlin industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten (‘collapsing new buildings’). The footage was incredibly raw and affecting not just because of the incredible racket made by Neubauten but precisely because of where it was shot. It represented a brief period when the shell of a people’s palace was being used exactly as it should, as a showcase for all of the variety, innovation and freedoms that Berlin excels at, rather than a narrow idea of how the city should be viewed.

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Ryan Balmer Berlin Tour Guide

This Berlin Long Read was written by BBS member, Ryan Balmer.
Visit his profile to learn more about him and the tours he offers.
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Bibliography

  • Young, James E ‘Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin: The Uncanny Arts of Memorial Architecture’ Jewish Social Studies New Series, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Winter, 2000), pp. 1-23 (23 pages)
  • Burchard, Wolf ‘Royal Remains’ Apollo Magazine, March 2016
  • Huyssen, Andreas ‘The Voids of Berlin’ Critical Inquiry, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 57-81
  • Pugh, Emily ‘Architecture, Identity and Politics in Divided Berlin’ University of #Pittsburgh Press
  • Koepnick, Lutz ‘Forget Berlin’ The German Quarterly , Autumn, 2001, Vol. 74, No. 4, Sites of Memory (Autumn, 2001), pp. 343-354
  • Costabile-Heming, Carol Anne The reconstructed City Palace and Humboldt Forum in Berlin: restoring architectural identity or distorting the memory of historic spaces? Journal of Contemporary European Studies Volume 25, 2017 – Issue 4: City Margins, City Memories
  • Koloctroni, Vassiliki et al (eds) ‘Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents’ University of Chicago Press
  • ‘Berliners Wary as €600 Super-Museum is Latest Project to Overrun’ The Guardian, June 6th, 2019
  • ‘What would the Kaiser Say?’ The Economist vol 415 issue 8942, June 13th 2015

On This Day | 20 July 1944: Stauffenberg and the plot to kill Hitler

20 July 1944: On this day in Berlin history, Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg – along with the help of a number of other co-conspirators – attempted to assassinate the Nazi dictator and launch a coup d’état in “The 20th of July Plot”, a.k.a. Operation Valkyrie, a.k.a. The Plot to Kill Hitler.

At this time, Allied forces were stalled in Normandy and several members of the German Army General Staff and Army High Command feared that Hitler was leading Germany and its people into the abyss.

Claus von Stauffenberg was executed for his part in Operation Valkyrie: the plot to kill Hitler.
Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (1907-1944)

Over the course of WWII, senior staff officer Stauffenberg came to realize the criminal character of National Socialist policy. Following a severe injury that cost him an eye, his entire right hand, and two fingers on his left hand, Stauffenberg was transferred to the General Army Office of the Army High Command in September 1943. This is when he came in contact with a circle of opponents of the Nazi regime, including his new superior, General Friedrich Olbricht, who’d been a driving force behind the military efforts toward staging a coup against Hitler since 1938.

Olbricht informed Stauffenberg of his plans of a coup and put him in contact with Ludwig Beck and Carl Friedrich Goerdeler who, by July 1944, had created a circle of a range of senior German soldiers and officials committed to the idea that only the murdering of Hitler would create the conditions for a successful takeover of power.

So on this day – 74 years ago – Stauffenberg made his way to the so-called “Wolf’s Lair” in East Prussia (current day Poland) and was able to smuggle a time bomb in his briefcase. He succeeded in taking it into the meeting with Hitler, which had been transferred from a concrete bunker (where the effects of the blast would have been deadly) to a small wooden building on ground level. Stauffenberg primed the bomb to go off with his three remaining fingers, pushed his briefcase under the oak map table and left the meeting (and building) to answer a fictitious telephone call.

Unfortunately, someone else present around the table, possibly irritated at stubbing his foot on the case, pushed it further under the table where it stopped behind a thick oak support just before the bomb went off.
The explosion killed four people, destroyed the building, but left Hitler dazed, deaf, his clothes in shreds, and with an injured arm.

By this point, Stauffenberg was on his way to catch a flight back to Berlin, but had seen the explosion from a distance and assumed right away that the assassination had worked. He arrived at the War Ministry where he and his co-conspirators tried to take over the building; but as news began to filter through that Hitler was not dead, the situation was suddenly reversed. Stauffenberg was soon shot – but not killed – arrested and then taken with his co-conspirators to the War Ministry courtyard and executed by firing squad.

Unfortunately, Hitler’s power would now reach a new peak in Germany. The Nazis’ wrath of revenge for this attempt on his life was initially aimed at those directly involved in the attempted coup with more than 170 people – in at least 55 trials before the People’s Court – sentenced to death.

Upwards of another 150 people involved in the coup attempt, or merely “suspected”, were initially imprisoned without trial and eventually murdered as late as April 1945.

The destroyed Wolfsschanze after the plot to kill Hitler
The Wolfsschanze, after the explosion. | Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1972-025-12 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Moreover, in August 1944, this attempt on Hitler’s life prompted him and Heinrich Himmler to launch “Operation Thunderstorm” which called for the arrest of all politicians from the former Weimar Republic, in order to prevent a potential democratic reconstruction in Germany. This resulted in the imprisonment of more than 5,000 people – many of whom did not survive.

Stauffenberg, and all of those who helped him in the plot to kill Hitler, put their lives on the line to end the National Socialist dictatorship of Germany in July 1944. And if the war had stopped shortly thereafter (and it’s quite possible that it may not have – but if it had), millions of military casualties and innocent lives could possibly have been saved, as it’s very likely that it would’ve provoked the Allies to at least reconsider their Unconditional Surrender demand of Nazi Germany.

At any rate, Stauffenberg and those who assisted him, are heroes for trying to end the life of the most ruthless, blood-thirsty, evil men in history.

Today, in the courtyard where Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were brutally murdered on July 20, 1944, is the entrance to the Memorial of the German Resistance Museum, which informs us about those individuals and the network of peoples who risked their lives standing up to National Socialism during the Third Reich.

James McDonough

This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was written by BBS Member, Jim McDonough

and originally appeared on our Facebook page.

On This Day | 19 July 1988 : Bruce Springsteen plays East Germany

19 July 1988: On this day in Berlin history, Bruce Springsteen played the largest ever concert in the history of East Germany.

On a dusty field next to a race track in the district of Weissensee, an estimated 300,000 people gathered from all corners of the republic to see “the Boss” play. Although only 160,000 tickets had been sold, the sheer mass of the crowds forced organisers to open the gates, a rare moment of disorder in the strict communist society.

Bruce Springsteen played the Largest concernt in the history of East Germany on 19 July 1988
Bruce Springsteen playing at Weissensee, East Berlin | Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1988-0719-38 / Uhlemann, Thomas / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The concert was approved by East German officials as a way of appeasing a citizenry who were becoming ever more enticed by life beyond the iron curtain. Springsteen was deemed acceptable by the powers that be due to his working class background and his critical stance on US society. Instead of acting as a release valve however, Springsteen’s epic 4-hour performance offered East Germans an invigorating taste of the freedom which lay just out of reach.

Stasi officials, planted among the crowd that day, surely questioned their superiors’ decision to allow the concert when the ecstatic crowd engulfing them began hollering “Born in the U.S.A.” at the top of their lungs. Adding to their concern, the working class hero from New Jersey then pulled a paper from his pocket and began in somewhat wobbly German a short speech which his East German chauffeur had translated for him.

I am not for or against any government,” Springsteen began “I have come to play rock and roll for you in the hope that one day all barriers will be torn down.” As the crowd roared he launched into Chimes of Freedom, a rousing anthem for the downtrodden written by Bob Dylan.

The speech didn’t make it onto the slightly delayed television coverage broadcast, nevertheless these words and the reaction of the crowd must have sent an ominous chill down the spine of the East German leadership.

Some believe Bruce Springsteen’s concert in Weissensee that day was the spark that started the fire which, 16 months later, would engulf the country in revolutionary fervour and bring down the Berlin Wall. More pragmatic observers point to wider political developments, such as growing pressure from West German politicians and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika.

In truth, the fateful events of November 9th, 1989 were a culmination of many things. For those who attended the concert that day though, there’s little doubt that Springsteen’s performance energised their desire for change and spurred them and their compatriots on to the revolution which would change the world.

However you look at it, the legendary concert of July 19th, 1988 is an integral and inspiring part of Berlin’s history.

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Chris Cooke. It’s one of four noteworthy events he’s chosen to remember this summer. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

On This Day | 1 July 1989: The first Love Parade

Love Parade 1996
Love Parade 1996, am Großen Stern | Photo by Gerd Danigel CC BY-SA 4.0

1 July 1989: On this day in Berlin history, a crowd of around 150 people gathered on west Berlin’s Wittenbergplatz to take part in the very first Love Parade.

Unperturbed by the drizzle, the brightly dressed rabble set off down Kurfürstendamm. Among the writhing crowd rolled three flatbed trucks, their trays loaded with giant sound systems filling the surrounding streets with the rhythmic bleeps and beats of techno. The bemused onlookers, suddenly distracted from their coffee and cake, surely didn’t know what to make of this peculiar procession with its strange pounding music invading the city’s most expensive shopping district. For the police accompanying the demonstration, the peaceful demeanour of the attendees must have come as a relief. Far from the violent protests of Kreuzberg, these youngsters were marching in the name of “Friede, Freude und Eierkuchen” (“Peace, Happiness and Pancakes”). Clearly there would be no need for batons or tear gas today. What no-one could suspect, neither those watching nor those taking part, was that this ragtag procession would grow to become the largest techno party in the world.

The Love Parade was the brainchild of locals DJ Matthias Roeingh known as Dr Motte, and artist Danielle de Picciotto. The creative couple wanted to coax the magic which they had discovered in the underground clubs and parties of West Berlin into the open. Techno had arrived in the embattled city via England and had already begun to captivate its young citizens. It was an exciting new sound which seemed a perfect fit for the abandoned spaces of war ruined Berlin and one which de Picciotto and Roeingh felt could unite the disenchanted masses of their marooned city in a positive movement. According to all involved the first Love Parade was a resounding success. When, unexpectedly, the Berlin wall fell a few months later, it was the driving bass beat of Techno that would come to define the wild cultural revolution which followed.

Love Parade 2001
Love Parade 2001 | Photo by Arne Müseler | CC-BY-SA-3.0

Over the next decade, the Love Parade would boom, reaching a reported 1.5 million attendees in 1999. With this massive increase in scale, organisers sought out a new stomping ground in the four lane causeway of Straße des 17 Juni. Built during the nazi regime as part of Adolf Hitler’s planned transformation of the city, the boulevard, originally intended for Nazi military parades, now became the centre of an annual celebration of unity, acceptance and freedom.

As the Love Parade grew though, so too did its opposers. Many bemoaned the growing commercialisation of the event, pointing at floats like that provided by Lego and claiming it had merely become a PR vehicle for corporations. The state government of Berlin, tired of footing the growing bill for security, medical staff, and the clean up, revoked the parade’s status as a political demonstration. Now organisers would have to cover those expenses on their own. Disillusioned by these issues, Dr Motte decided to sell ownership of the Love Parade in 2006 to Rainer Schaller, owner of Germany’s largest fitness centre chain McFit.

Under new ownership, the Love Parade departed for the heavily industrialised Ruhr area of Western Germany. Over the next four years it would be held in Dortmund, Essen and Bochum before reaching a tragic conclusion in Duisburg in 2010. During the event, the first to be held in a fenced off area, overcrowding of a particularly confined space led to the deaths of 21 people with a further 600 injured and many more traumatised. Despite glaring oversights during the planning procedure, courts rejected the legal case against the organisers stating there was no evidence of negligence, a decision which remains fiercely controversial to this day. The Love Parade disaster of 2010 was a horrific end to an event which had begun with such optimism in the summer of ‘89.

What began with three trucks, homemade costumes and a smattering of free spirited Berliners, grew into one of the largest parties on the planet. For many, the grim fate of the Love Parade exemplifies the damaging effects of commercialisation and greed. In spite of this, plans are reportedly afoot to revive the iconic dance party in Berlin in the summer of 2022, with Dr Motte again at the helm. Although this may seem unimaginable in today’s society of social distancing and isolation bubbles, perhaps, under the right management, a Love Parade is exactly what the world needs now to recover from months of fear and isolation.

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Chris Cooke. It’s one of four noteworthy events he’s chosen to remember this summer. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

On This Day | 22 June 1990: The Removal of Checkpoint Charlie

22 June 1990: On this day in Berlin history, the infamous control post at Checkpoint Charlie was hoisted off its foundations, placed on the back of a lorry and driven away. This simple act, executed to the sounds of a military brass band, was the closing stanza in a story which began in the messy aftermath of World War Two.

The Checkpoint Charlie control post was removed on 22 June 1990
Removal of the infamous Checkpoint Charlie control post marked a new era | Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-0622-028 / Grimm, Peer / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Situated at the official crossing point between the U.S. and Soviet sectors of Berlin, the unassuming steel hut – as well as its smaller wooden predecessor – had been a conspicuous outpost on the front line of the Cold War for generations. Its removal, watched by thousands around the world, represented the easing of East-West tensions in Europe and the beginning of a bright new age in Berlin.

Attending the ceremony that day were representatives of the four powers which had occupied their respective sectors of the city since 1945 (France, Great Britain, USA and the Soviet Union). Seven months after the peaceful revolution of November 9th 1989, they were in Berlin to coordinate the withdrawal of their military forces, as well as to iron out the process of German reunification. Among the guests of honour seated before them was former mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt. In office when the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, Brandt was one of many looking on that day – whether leaning from the windows of surrounding buildings, standing to attention in uniform, crouching behind the lens of a camera or even peering from beyond the East German border – who had witnessed very different scenes at this volatile flashpoint between east and west.

Collectively they had held their breath as, 29 years earlier, US and Soviet tanks stared each other down, engines revving and arms at the ready, just one shot away from nuclear war. They had mourned the brutal death of Peter Fechter, the 18 year old East Berliner gunned down by East German border guards and left to bleed to death in the death strip, just metres from the freedom he sought. Most recently they had joined the celebrations just a few months prior when the traffic barriers were raised and thousands flowed freely through the checkpoint, embracing the stunned border guards and revelling in their new and unexpected freedom.

Checkpoint Charlie, 2008
Checkpoint Charlie, 2008 | Image by Hajotthu CC BY 3.0

It was these events and more which were running through the onlookers’ minds as they watched the diminutive beige Porta-cabin dangling on the end of a wire cable above them. For the citizens of that long divided city Checkpoint Charlie had been a beacon of hope and for some it’s departure was bitter sweet. But, with the iron curtain in tatters and the Soviet Union heading towards dissolution, the time had finally come – as British foreign minister Douglas Hurd so poignantly put it – “to bring Charlie in from the cold”.

Today, the only things blocking one’s path at the historic site of Checkpoint Charlie are selfie seekers and tour buses. The hut one finds on location, complete with sandbag bunker and American flag, is a replica of the original wooden building. The building which was removed with such ceremony 31 years ago can be found in the Allied Museum in Dahlem, a suburb in the west of the city.

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Chris Cooke. It’s one of four noteworthy events he’s chosen to remember this summer. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

On This Day | 22 June 1941: Operation Barbarossa

22 June 1941: On this day in history, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. With a force of over 3 million, it is widely recognised as the largest invasion in military history.

Map showing Operation Barbarossa - the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union
Axis Invasion of the Soviet Union, 22 June to 25 August 1941 | Image courtesy of The Department of
History, United States Military Academy

After stunning successes in western Europe, Hitler was certain that victory over his ideological enemy to the east would be swift and decisive. Spurred on by this misguided belief, the German military was completely unprepared for what they would encounter on their advance. An unfathomably vast land, a tenacious and seemingly unlimited opposing force and brutal winters would ensure Stalin’s Red Army eventually gained the upper hand. Despite the failure of the German offensive, the invading forces would inflict untold misery on the Soviet population during a horrific wave of violence which, 80 years later, the world is still coming to terms with.

The invasion of the Soviet Union had long been central to Hitler’s vision. He had raved about the need for Lebensraum, or living space for the German “Volk” since his days as a rabble-rousing upstart in the beer halls of Munich. This desire was clear to any who had read his book Mein Kampf, published in 1924. For Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Operation Barbarossa should have come as no surprise. Nevertheless, despite continued warnings – not only from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill but also from Soviet diplomats and spies – it seems that the Soviet leader was caught off guard. Although many aside from Stalin saw the Nazi offensive coming, no one was prepared for what followed.

Operation Barbarossa saw German troops crossed the Soviet borde1r on 22 June 194
German troops crossing the Soviet border, 22 June 1941 | Photo by Johannes Hähle

The eastern European theatre of World War Two was not merely a war of expansion, this was a war of extermination. Following the German front line were SS Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing squads, whose task it was to round up the civilian population and murder anybody deemed undesirable by Nazi ideology. These mass shootings, such as that of Babi Yar outside Kiev in which 30,000 people were shot in just two days, would claim the lives of around 2 million innocent people, including 1.3 million Jews. As the war progressed, new more efficient forms of mass murder would arise in the form of industrial killing centres like Auschwitz and Treblinka. It was here in the east where the depravity of Nazi ideology would reach its full and horrifying extent.

“Kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down” this sentiment was repeated like a mantra by Nazi leadership during the planning stages of their eastern offensive. In practise, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. The “Great Patriotic War” as it’s still known in the former Soviet states, galvanised a vast and fragmented population, arousing a fierce nationalism which would spur their soldiers on all the way to Berlin. The atrocities committed against their country folk, the evidence of which was clearly seen during the Red Army’s advance towards Europe, only heightened the soldiers’ lust for revenge.

Operation Barbarossa is recognised as the definitive turning point of World War Two, perhaps only matched by Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour later that year, which would ultimately tip the balance against the Axis powers. By bringing the Soviet Union into the war, Adolf Hitler had unknowingly sealed his fate as well as that of his so-called Third Reich. Today, we remember the date not only in terms of a large-scale military offensive, but as a turning point in human history. The massacre of Jews, Sinti and Roma, Slavs, Homosexuals and many more in the gas chambers, ghettos and killing fields of eastern Europe, prove the importance of combating the vilification and dehumanisation of certain groups of people. A lesson which, 80 years on, is as relevant as ever.

Chris Cooke - Berlin Tour Guide
This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Chris Cooke. It’s one of four noteworthy events he’s chosen to remember this summer. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

On This Day | 29 May 1917: John F. Kennedy is born

President John F. Kennedy was born 29 May 1917
President John F. Kennedy

29 May 1917: On this day in history John Fitzgerald Kennedy, descendant of Irish immigrants and son of an ambassador, would be born into one of the United States’ most formidable political families.

The future 36th President enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Massachusetts and spent a dilettante season as a ranch hand before enrolling at Harvard to study international affairs. He embarked upon a tour of Europe immediately before the outbreak of World War Two, and wrote a thesis on the Munich Agreement which would later be published under the title ‘Why England Slept.’

Despite the various health complaints which left him in lifelong pain, he served in the US Navy, and once had to swim to safety when his patrol boat came under fire from a Japanese destroyer. Following VE Day, Kennedy returned his attentions to politics, and was elected to the House of Representatives in the early days of the Cold War. A decade on, he announced his candidacy for the presidential nomination. Though many found him too green, he would defeat Richard Nixon to become, at 42 years old, the youngest elected president. His presidency would last for only half its term, before his assassination on November 22nd, 1963.

Berlin fondly remembers the speech which JFK gave at the Rathaus (town hall) in the American-occupied borough of Schöneberg, to an audience of 120,000, less than six months before he would be murdered. Speaking in solidarity with the West Berliners and promising to protect them from Communist encroachment, Kennedy proclaimed:

“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.”

Since a ‘Berliner’ is also a certain foodstuff (as is a hamburger, frankfurter, and so on) people to this day leave doughnuts on the steps of Rathaus Schöneberg each November 22nd.

 

This edition of On This Day in history was written by BBS member Dr Finn Ballard. It’s one of four events he chose to remember in May. See our blog to find out what else he picked.

On This Day | 26 May 1940: The Battle of Dunkirk begins

Have you heard of ‘Dunkirk Spirit,’ or seen Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film on this remarkable mass evacuation?

Soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force fire at low flying German aircraft during the Dunkirk evacuation
Soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force fire at low flying German aircraft during the Dunkirk evacuation | Image via the Australian War Memorial

26 May 1940: The ten-day Battle of Dunquerque which would culminate in the flight of Allied forces from France across the North Sea to the British mainland began on this day in history.

After the winter-long stalemate nicknamed the ‘Phoney War,’ the German Army had moved with astonishing speed – not least, new research concludes, due to the quantity of amphetamines they were consuming – and meticulous planning, occupy the Low Countries and bypass the Maginot Line on which France had relied.

The capitulation of France within weeks had marked for Germany one of the most spectacular military victories in world history. As the Germans ploughed on toward Southern France and the calamity worsened, both French troops and the British Expeditionary Force found their efforts at counter-attacks frustrated and, to evade total encirclement, were compelled to retreat.

British troops were lined up on the beach while awaiting evacuation from Dunkirk
British troops were lined up on the beach while awaiting evacuation | Image via Imperial War Museums

After a visit to Paris left him dismayed by the despondent state of French high command, Churchill began planning ‘Operation Dynamo,’ the evacuation of 338,000 troops by sea. Civilian fishing vessels and lifeboats (the ‘little ships’) were pressed into action to assist the Royal Navy.

The soldiers, strafed by the Luftwaffe, abandoned their weaponry and leapt homewards. Thousands of French troops were captured, to become prisoners of war. Almost all the best troops Britain and France had to offer had been either evacuated to the United Kingdom or had been killed.

The Germans sliced their way south, toward Paris, like a knife through butter.

Yet the successful evacuation of hundreds of thousands led the Battle of Dunkirk – described by Churchill as a ‘miracle’ – to be received as a success back at home. Following the German capitulation in 1945, Dunkirk become emblematic of an indomitable British fortitude – and pluckiness.

This edition of On This Day in History was written by BBS Member Finn Ballard.

It’s one of four events he chose to remember this month. Take a look at our blog to see what else is covered.