On This Day in Berlin History | 16 October 1906: The Captain of Köpenick

 

The “Captain’s” uniform

16th October 16 1906: On this day in Berlin history, a man dressed as a Captain of the Prussian Guards entered the town hall of Köpenick outside of Berlin. The moustachioed “Hauptmann” briskly ordered the eleven soldiers accompanying him, as well as the gendarmerie officials present, to cordon off the area. He then gave the police chief leave, who subsequently took the chance to head home for a bath.

Placing the town secretary and Mayor under arrest, the uniformed man seized the town’s treasury of almost 4,000 mark “for inspection” stating “irregularities in connection with the public sewage works”. Ordering his soldiers to guard the town hall for a further half an hour, he then left with the funds (about the equivalent of 22,000 euro today). After reportedly downing a glass of beer “in one go”, he boarded the train back to Berlin and disappeared.

 

Voigt’s arrest sheet

 

The man’s name was Wilhelm Voigt, and actually he was not a Captain at all. In truth he was a shoemaker and ex-convict who had found the uniform in a second-hand store. Noticing the authority his new garb endowed him with, he had seized the opportunity to undertake this caper. Exploiting Prussian society’s tendency to blindly obey anyone in uniform, his plan had succeeded without a hitch.

 

 

Voigt’s grave bears the inscription ‘The Captain of Koepenick’

 

Unfortunately for Voigt, his run of luck soon came to an end when police were tipped off by a former cellmate of his who knew of the plan. He was sentenced to four years in prison but incredibly was later pardoned by Kaiser Wilhelm II who seemed to admire the ingenuity of the heist.

The “Captain of Köpenick” became somewhat of a celebrity in Germany and beyond and his legacy continues to be celebrated as an example of an individual getting the better of the establishment.

 

 

 

 


This slice 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 October. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

On This Day in Berlin History | 8th October 1923: Tempelhof Airport opens

Tempelhofer Feld from the air

8th October 1923: On this day in Berlin History, Berlin’s Tempelhof airport opened its gates for the very first time. From that time until its closure in 2008, Tempelhof was to be centre stage for the German capital’s aviation history.

 

C47 planes at Tempelhof Airport, 1948

The original layout was dramatically changed in 1935 when, two years after Adolf Hitler took control of Germany, construction began on what British architect Sir Norman Foster was to call “the mother of all airports”. The 1.2 km long main terminal building (designed by Ernst Sagebiel to resemble an eagle with wings spread) is still one of the largest buildings in the world.

During cold war division the airport was marooned West Berlin’s window to the world, a vital connection during Stalin’s blockade of the city in 1948/49. The subsequent airlift, in which U.S., British and commonwealth air forces flew in almost 2,500,000 tonnes of vital cargo, ensured the pilots as well as the airfield a special place in the hearts of the embattled locals.

 

Visitors to Tempelhofer Feld in May 2010

After reunification, plans were made to replace the three existing commercial airports with one. Despite the construction running around four times over budget and ten years behind schedule, the last flight left Tempelhof in November 2008.

In 2010, the space (an area larger than Monaco) was given over to the public. The Tempelhofer Feld has since become one of the inhabitants’ favourite green spaces and encapsulates that unique blend of history, re-invention and freedom which is quintessentially Berlin.

 

This slice 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 October. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.

On This Day in Berlin History | 3rd October 1990: German Reunification

Fireworks at the Brandenburg Gate for German Reunification

3rd October 1990: At the stroke of midnight on this day in Berlin history, the flag of the Federal Republic of Germany was hoisted above Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. The ceremony marked the moment or German Reunification. After half a century divided, East and West Germany became a single country once more.

There were fireworks and champagne, revellers embraced. There was certainly reason to celebrate. The Berlin Wall, which had been breached so dramatically a year prior, had become nothing more than an increasingly tattered canvas for graffiti artists. The 1,500 km inner German border which for decades had divided the country so brutally was all but gone. It was an exciting new beginning for a nation which had experienced so much trauma over the previous century.

Revellers in front of the Bundestag 3 October 1990.

 

But the jubilation that night belied an undercurrent of uncertainty. Especially for those millions of East Germans who suddenly found the country they grew up in no longer existed. German Reunification was achieved by the accession of the German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

In other words, the five East German states were simply absorbed into West Germany. This sudden merging of two very different countries caused serious complications. In the East, factories closed down, young people left and unemployment soared, problems which three decades later still persist. In 1991 a “Solidarity Tax” was introduced which has since funnelled billions of Euro from western states to eastern, a cost bemoaned by many in the west.

The Berlin Wall by the Brandenburg Gate

 

People speak of the “Mauer im Kopf” or the “wall in their head” to describe the very real cultural divide between “Ossis” and ”Wessis”. Clearly, although the first German Unity Day was celebrated on this date thirty years ago, the actual reunification continues to be a work in progress.

 

 


This slice 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 October. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.