Berlin in Focus: Cultural Transformations in Germany

By Barbara Becker-Cantarino | Go to book overview

1
Reflections on a Changing Berlin

Barbara Becker- Cantarino

Berlin has been the primary site of political, social, and cultural transformation in modern Germany. Unlike any other German city, Berlin, known as the "Athens on the Spree and City of Crisis," 1 has witnessed, influenced, and mirrored the political metamorphosis of Germany during the entire twentieth century. The years 1918, 1933, 1939, 1945, 1961, 1989, and 1990 represent special markers in political and social upheaval; in each the city of Berlin figured prominently as a locale and as a symbol: World War I and the 1918 November Revolution led to the establishment of the Weimar Republic; Hitler's rise to power, with the burning of the Reichstag on February 27 and 28, 1933, was a visible sign and sinister omen; the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, signaled the beginning of World War II, with the war eventually ending with the Red Army's conquest of Berlin in April 1945 and the Wehrmacht's unconditional surrender signed in Reims and in Berlin on May 7 and 8 of that year; the division of Berlin and Germany was most painfully enacted and visibly demonstrated by the initiation of construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, and unexpectedly breached on November 7, 1989; and German unification, marking the end of the postwar era, took place on October 3, 1990.

The abruptness of political and social transformation during this century has meant that the relationship between Berlin as a cultural site, its varying groups of inhabitants, and Germany at large had to be renegotiated repeatedly. During the past decades, Berlin has also been the trendsetter for German avant-garde and counterculture groups, albeit often to the chagrin of more conservative forces in the rest of Germany--East and West.

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