THE TRAGEDY OF BERLIN
LENIN INTENDED to transfer the centre of world revolution from Moscow to Berlin as soon as Bolshevism had conquered Germany; Hitler planned to make Berlin the "capital of the world" as Babylon and Rome had been. But while the German armed forces were being routed by the Russians at Stalingrad, the Americans and the English undertook to obliterate Berlin and all the great German cities. Hitler and his adversaries put a complete end to the pleasant custom (which had been accepted practice during the wars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), of not indiscriminately destroying the enemy's cities.
In our time Berlin and Vienna, the two former imperial residences, are among the few cities which are not growing. Among the cities with more than a million inhabitants they are the only ones that now have a smaller population than they did in 1914 (Istanbul only recently reattained its 194 population figure of 1.5 million). Their birth rates are among the lowest in world statistics, their suicide rates among the highest. Since the break-up of the Danube monarchy, Vienna has been like an oversized head on a tiny body. Berlin was a field of ruins in 1945 and is now cut in half by the Iron Curtain; the western half leads an insular existence which is unique in history.
Three hundred years earlier most of the German cities were brought to the brink of oblivion by another wave of destruction: the Thirty Years' War. At that time about half of all the Germans fell victims to the fighting and to the pestilences. Two-thirds of the people in the archbishopric of Magdeburg died, and in the duchy of Wiirttemberg three-fourths of its inhabitants perished. Leipzig was beleaguered and conquered five times, Magdeburg six times. There were 45,000 people in the city of Augsburg in the year 1618; in 1648 there were only 16,000.
It took about one hundred years for the wounds of the cities to heal. But the old magnificence that the cities possessed in the late Middle Ages was gone forever, and most of the German cities did not regain their former privileges. The Thirty Years' War depleted their wealth and left them with fewer rights than they have today; the city magistrate, for example, was not elected by the citizens, but was appointed by the sovereign.