On a cold and windy November night in 2016, I arrived in Berlin with a large suitcase, my laptop and a head full of dreams. Fast forward three years and I’m typing this, celebrating my third anniversary with the city. Like many others before me, I came to Berlin not knowing how long I’d stay – and like most others, the city quickly mesmerized me with its quirkiness and feeling of freedom that literally hangs in the air. Little did I know that this ‘feeling of freedom’ isn’t something new about Berlin – or a recent representative of the city. In fact, it goes hundreds of years back. Back to when Berlin was the prettiest capital of Europe – and back to when Germany was ruled by Kings and, later on, Emperors.
In modern times, Berlin is famous for its eclectic and vibrant nightlife, its massive expat community and, in recent years, its reputation of being ‘the Silicon Valley of Europe’. But in this post trilogy, I’d like to take you back in time to understand what has shaped Berlin as we know it today. Past and present is always linked, but perhaps for Berlin, it’s a little more obvious than anywhere else. Lastly, I’d like to introduce you to a few places where you can still get that ‘golden age’ feeling. From hotels to restaurants and open squares; notes of the grandiose past certainly still lingers in the air and reminds you that Berlin is more than sub-cultures and rough city life.
Berlin is taking shape
Let’s begin in the year of 1671 when fifty Jewish families from Austria came to live and work in Berlin. Around the same time, the king of Germany, Frederick William, invited the French Huguenots to Brandenburg. He wanted the Protestants to relocate to Brandenburg and he succeeded. More than 15.000 Huguenots came to Berlin. These two events are good examples of an open-minded and diverse city taking shape; to this day, this still characterizes Berlin.
Around 1700, a large amount of refugees from Poland, Salzburg and Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic) arrived and added even more diversity to the city, and the year after – in 1701 – Berlin was officially named the capital of Prussia; the old word for Germany.
The period of time following is, in my opinion, the most interesting, as it had a heavy influence on the Berlin we know today. The 18th and 19th century brought growth and prosperity for Germany, and as the country grew, so did Berlin!
Around 300 years ago, in the beginning of the 18th century, the city became the focal point of culture and arts – and a growing army. In fact, Charité – Berlin’s famous hospital and medical school – was built in 1720, and it’s still one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe. Number of inhabitants at this time: somewhere between 60-70.000.
The 19th Century: a blooming capital arises
In the first half of the 19th century, Berlin was a blooming capital with a good economy. The population grew to 400.000, which made it the fourth-largest city in Europe.
Today, Berlin is world famous for its entrepreneurial scene, but that’s nothing new, either. In the middle of the 19th century, pioneers began using steam engines – simply because the city needed water supplies. Of course the industrial revolution changed everything here (as it did everywhere else). More growth meant a larger city and even more inhabitants, which resulted in Berlin becoming the capital of a unified Germany in 1871. Industrial suburbs such as Wedding and Moabit were incorporated into the city around the same time.
Unfortunately, the city was in a very poor and primitive condition at this time, and many found it to be intolerable for a world nation capital like Berlin. That made a whole army of urban planners and engineers remodel the city completely. In the year of 1909, Berlin stood so bright and organized that it became the perfect representative of a modern capital. In 1902, the U-bahn was completed and now the fun could really begin! The roaring twenties were emerging in the distance, and Berlin quickly became the epitome of high culture and extravagant behavior – not to mention eccentric personalities.
Are you ready to dive into the most colorful chapter so far? You’ll find it by clicking here.
“Berlin” by David Clay Large