Berlin Flak Tower From Above

•18/11/2011 • 1 Comment

The Flak Towers constructed around Berlin after the first British raids in 1940 were truly massive structures, with wall 3.5 metres thick, gas proofed and armed with 88mm Flak Guns or even heavier weapons. The majority were demolished after the Second World War.

This Time Life image shows the Flak Tower in the Tiergarten otherwise known as the ‘Zoo Bunker’ because of its proximity to Berlin Zoo. It was manned by a unit of 1st Flak Division and was armed with powerful 128mm Flak Guns. The British Army destroyed the bunker in 1947/48, had the rubble removed, covered the area over. Today nothing remains of this mighty structure.

Faces of the Berlin Airlift

•17/11/2011 • Leave a Comment

During the Second World War, HMSO published a large number of pamphlets about various aspects of the conflict and the war effort, including some surprising subjects like farming and London Transport. I was not aware that there had been any similar post-war publications until I came across one from 1949 about the Berlin Air Lift.

The Air Lift took place over eleven months from June 1948 and was one of the earliest attempts by the USSR to show strength during mounting tensions in the Cold War. The population of West Berlin would potentially starve or be forced to subjugate themselves to the East, now that the normal routes of supply had been cut. The Western Allies countered this with a massive airlift – the RAF alone flying more than 200,000 missions into Berlin and achieving a level of supply that outstripped what had previously been achieved by road and rail. Defeated, the East Germans lifted the blockade in May 1949.

The Berlin Air Lift was published by HMSO only a few months after the end of the blockade and while in some respects a propaganda tool, it contains some interesting images and maps of the operation. The photographers did a nice sample of ordinary aircrew and soldiers involved in the air lift, which give us a good insight into those involved. Some of the pilots were experienced airman and had been flying over Berlin in very different circumstances only a few years before!

I will add some more images from the publication in a later posting.


Early Days of the Berlin Wall

•15/11/2011 • Leave a Comment


I recently turned up these images from a source in Germany. They are part of a collection of 30-odd photographs taken in the 1960s of the Berlin Wall along Bernauer strasse; a place that would become one of the most famous parts of the wall and today is the site of the Berlin Wall visitor’s centre.

The wall at this stage is just a barrier and not quite the obstacle and sophisticated network that it was in later years. There are no watch towers and much of the ‘wall’ looks to be very temporary indeed.





One photograph shows a memorial to Olga Segler (below). Olga was eighty years old in 1961 and lived on the East side of Bernauer Strasse. She escaped by jumping out of a window but injured her back in the fall and died next day. A memorial, one of many to the victims of the Berlin Wall, was placed on the street soon afterwards.



1930s Image of the Neue Wache

•14/11/2011 • 1 Comment

I’ve just acquired a new image of the Neue Wache, which was once the tomb of Germany’s Unknown Soldier. It takes the form of a printed postcard showing a group of German soldier’s marching past in salute. The postcard was posted in Berlin in April 1937 so puts it firmly in the Nazi period. The band appears to be a Luftwaffe one by the insignia on view and it may date from the hive of activity that took place in Berlin in 1936 during the Olympics.

Berlin War Damage From Above

•06/11/2011 • Leave a Comment

This short, silent, film from Pathe News, shows the damage to Berlin as it was in mid-1945.It started off in the Toergarten, moves around a bit from the city to the Olympic Stadium and back, along the Spree river, the Kaiser’s Church and then moves on to the Allied Headquarters in Berlin. The shots of burning buildings are a little out of context and may come from an earlier period, possibly during Allied bombing pre-1945.The final sequence shows damage to Berlin after an air-raid by Allied bombers.

Unfortunately Pathe videos aren’t supported in WordPress so I can’t embed it in the post.

Martin Gropius Bau

•05/11/2011 • Leave a Comment

This is one of the recent images I acquired of Berlin during the Cold War. There are no captions on any of the images and it took a little while to figure out where it was, but eventually it transpired the building was Martin Gropius Bau. More of what that is shortly, but during the Cold War it sat in ‘No Man’s Land’ right up against the Berlin Wall. This makes sense with the image as the building is obviously derelict, the cars of the 1945 battle are clearly visible and the Wall is just visible to the right rear of the structure. The image was apparently taken from a tourist coach in the Western sector, while on a holiday there in July 1974.

Martin Gropius Bay, February 2011

Martin Gropius Bau is in the Mitte district of Berlin and was built between 1877 and 1881. It was originally an art museum and after WW1 it became the Museum for Prehistory and Early History and the East Asian Art Collection. By the time of the Third Reich it was close to Gestapo Headquarters and the Ministry of Aviation. Badly damaged in the final battles of 1945, it remained unusable until the 1980s, although was not properly accessible until after the wall came down. It’s red stone and renaissance influenced freezes have been completely renovated, and it is once again an art museum. Despite the renovation some of the WW2 damage is clearly visible, and in the street in front where the Berlin Wall ran, the route is marked in the road. The Topography of Terror exhibition is also close by.

Berlin Before The War

•03/11/2011 • Leave a Comment

I’ve just acquired an interesting book published in Berlin in 1948. Prepared by the Berlin Kunstverlag – Art Publishing Institute – it shows key buildings and locations in the city before the war – and of course, before the damage that the war brought. It was written by Otto Hagemann, a German politician, and Paul Ortwin Rave, an art historian who became Head of the Art Library in Berlin. The images appear to be mainly from the 1930s, but are carefully chosen so that no Nazi imagery appears. They give a fascinating insight into pre-war Berlin and show some of the key locations that featured in the fighting in April-May 1945 or were buildings that formed part of the Third Reich state.

The full details of the book are: Berlin by Otto Hagemann & Paul Ortwin Rave (Deutscher Kunstverlag Berlin 1948).

View from the Brandenburg Gate looking down Unter Den Linden.

Anhalter Bahnhof.

Retro Berlin Photos

•02/11/2011 • Leave a Comment

I’ve just acquired a small collection of photographs of Berlin during the Cold War period. The images are all on 35mm slides and some date from 1974, while others from 1990. In essence they are someone’s holiday snaps but they give a fascinating insight into Berlin during this period.

The image above shows the Russian WW2 Memorial on Straße des 17 Juni. I will be posting more of these images in the future but I wanted to post one today and test out the Google Maps functionality with WordPress, to link the image with a map of the area. This should prove useful for later posts on Berlin.


Berlin Battle Damage

•02/11/2011 • 1 Comment

The first Allied bombs fell on Berlin in 1940, and night bombing by the RAF continued until 1943, when it was replaced by daytime raids made by the US Army Air Force. Much damage was done to Berlin during this period, but in many ways the real damage was not done until April and May 1945 when the Battle for Berlin began. During this period every possible type of artillery shell and rockets of all calibre’s fell on the city. As the fighting spread from street to street tanks fired at buildings at point blank ranges, and heavy machine-guns raked walls with gunfire. Berlin was literally a shell when the fighting ceased.

Battle Damage on the walls of the Music School, right by the Spree river.

Nearly seventy years later one of the great things about visiting Berlin is that you don’t have to walk very far to find evidence of this battle damage. Buildings in the Unter Den Linden, and all the streets off of it, buildings either side of the Spree river, and the main landmarks of the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag all show evidence of it. Take a journey on the S-Bahn and look out the window where it goes over-ground; damaged walls, houses, factories and bridges will all be seen. In some cases attempts have been made to patch it up, but the new stone or brick used to fill the holes only exposes the damage more.

Battle Damage at ‘Museum Island‘, Berlin

But are these scars important? Yes. In an ever evolving city sign-posts to the past are just as important as new developments. Modern visitors to Berlin can only understand the city today in terms of what happened to its buildings in WW2. They must ask ‘why is there this damage?’ – as it is clear that so many of them, Germans included, do not really know what unfolded in the streets of the city in 1945. Many will believe it relates to the Cold War, not Hitler’s War. And for the military historian the damage indicates where some of the fiercest fighting took place; close to Invalidenstraße recently I saw the lower levels of one building where windows to the cellars looked out onto the street, the walls were peppered with machine-gun fire. A forgotten insight into an assault on the position by Soviet troops.

Next time in Berlin don’t just look up, but look everywhere. The scars of battle are still there – and they tell us as much about Berlin as any guidebook.

Germany’s Unknown Soldier

•31/10/2011 • 8 Comments

As the 11th November approaches here in Great Britain, thoughts turn to the remembrance of those who fell in the two World Wars and more recent conflicts. In Germany such sentiments on a national level are unheard of, but it wasn’t always so. In the years following the Great War of 1914-1918 France, then Britain and finally America selected unknown soldiers from the shell-torn battlefields to be buried in a place of honour. During the Weimar period in Germany there was no thought of such a thing; the feeling of defeat and the more pressing problems of the economy and competing political ideas made it impossible. But by the 1930s Germany was changing, and in 1931 the architect Heinrich Tessanow was commissioned by the Prussian state government to convert the Neue Wache in the Unter Den Linden into what was known as the ‘Memorial for the Fallen of the War’. The Neue Wache had once been a Prussian guardhouse and it was adapted to resemble a tomb, with a central plinth.

‘Memorial for the Fallen of the War’ in the 1930s.

It seemed that finally Germany was coming to terms with its losses in the Great War, numbered at more than 1.8 million dead alone. But then Hitler came to power in 1933 and the Nazis played heavily on the sentiments of the past. The ‘Memorial to the Fallen of the War’ became a centre piece of Nazi culture and the Third Reich hierarchy were regularly photographed here paying their respects, and while ranks of men from the Nazi war machine marched past in salute both before and after Europe went to war in 1939.

It is also believed that either during the original redesign by Tessanow or during the Third Reich period the body of an unknown German soldier was reburied here. I say ‘believed’ as this part of the history of the building seems shrouded in mystery. A number of online sources confirm that the Neue Wache is the tomb of Germany’s unknown soldier and some contemporary 1930s also seem to confirm it.

The Neue Wache in May 1945.

The building was badly damaged in the Battle for Berlin in April-May 1945, and after 1945 formed part of the Russian Zone, eventually East Germany. The memorial was guarded by DDR soldiers and recast as a memorial ‘Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism’. When the Wall came down and Germany was re-united the Neue Wache was again rededicated, this time as the ‘Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Tyranny’, the centre-piece of which was a Käthe Kollwitz sculpture – the Tessanow plinth had long since gone, but it’s bronze wreath is preserved in the Deutsches Historiches Museum.

DDR Soldiers guard the Neue Wache. (Source Flickr User)

Today a visitor will see Kollwitz’s statue, see images of the DDR guards and learn it is a memorial to the Victims of War but all mention of it being a tomb of an Unknown Soldier has long since been left out of the tourist guides. Hitler’s hand touched the national conciseness of the Great War so heavily – he was a veteran of the war, and propagated the importance of those veterans – that it is forever tainted with the stain of Nazism. The Unknown German Soldier, if indeed he still lies buried in the Neue Wache, symbolises Germany’s own unknown – a lack of knowledge or appreciation that the Great War wiped out a generation of young Germans in the way it did elsewhere in Europe. He lies forgotten as an anonymous victim of an anonymous war, perhaps forever overshadowed by the events in Berlin, in Germany, which took place after 1918.