Since 1871, Berlin has been Germany's capital and largest city, both in terms of population and size. After London, Berlin is the second largest city in the EU. Berlin is also one of the 16 federal states of the Federal Republic of Germany. The city has a population of 3,664,088 (as of 30 September 2021). Berlin lies on the Spree and Havel rivers at the centre of the federal state of Brandenburg, of which it is not part.
Berlin was the capital of Prussia and after the creation of the German Empire it also became its capital. After World War II, Berlin was divided into zones of occupation between the USSR and the Allies (although it was in the Soviet zone of German occupation). Later, the Allied zone of occupation was transformed into West Berlin, which had a special status but was actually part of the FRG. The lack of a clear physical border between the zones led to frequent conflicts and a mass exodus of specialists from the GDR to West Berlin, so that on 13 August 1961 the government of the GDR separated West Berlin with the so-called "Berlin Wall". The Berlin Wall, which lasted until 1989, became one of the symbols of the Cold War.
Berlin is located in eastern Germany, 70 kilometres from the border with Poland. The city of Berlin itself lies entirely within the state of Brandenburg. The historic centre of Berlin is situated in the lowlands of the river Spree, between two moraine hills called Barnim and Teltow. An important part of the modern town is also situated on these hills: most of the districts of Reinickendorf and Pankow are located on Barnim, while the districts of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Steglitz-Zehlendorf, Tempelhof-Schöneberg and Neukölln are mostly located on the Teltow uplands. The city lies in a temperate climate zone. The average annual temperature is +9.2 °C. The warmest months are June, July and August with temperatures of +16.6 °C to +18.4 °C and the coldest months are December, January and February with -0.5 °C to +1.8 °C.
Köln, part of the city of Berlin-Köln and situated on an island on the river Spree, is first mentioned in 1237. As early as 1244, the subsequent growth of Berlin and the settlement of inhabitants on the north bank of the Spree led to the unification of the settlements. In 1307, the two cities built a common town hall. The actual name "Berlin" (German "Bär" meaning bear) has nothing to do with the bear depicted on today's coat of arms of the city. It is more likely that the word is derived from the Slavic "berl" — marsh.
In 1415, Friedrich I. founded the Margraviate of Brandenburg and ruled there until 1440. From then on members of the Hohenzollern dynasty ruled in Berlin until 1918, first as Margraves of Brandenburg, then as Kings of Prussia and finally as German Emperors (Kaiser). The change of power was not always welcomed by the townsfolk. In 1448, for example, a town rebellion against the construction of a castle by Elector Friedrich II "the Iron" (Friedrich II von Brandenburg) is mentioned. This protest, however, was not successful, and the population was in turn deprived of many economic and political freedoms. In 1451, Berlin was proclaimed the seat of the Brandenburg margraves and electors, and lost its status as a free merchant city.
The Thirty Years' War (between 1618 and 1648) took its toll on the city: a third of its houses were destroyed and half its population lost. Friedrich Wilhelm I, known as the Grand Elector of Brandenburg, took over from his father in 1640. His policy was characterised by the encouragement of immigration and a high degree of religious tolerance. Already in the second year of his reign he established the suburbs of Friedrichswerder, Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichstadt. In 1671, they granted asylum to 50 Jewish families from Austria. By the Potsdam Edict of 1685, he invited French Huguenots to Brandenburg. More than 15,000 Frenchmen arrived, 6,000 of whom settled in Berlin. Around 1700, 20% of Berlin's population was already French, and the cultural influence of France was enormous. There were also already many immigrants from Bohemia, Poland and Salzburg.
In 1701, the coronation of Friedrich I made Berlin the capital of Prussia. In 1709 the cities of Berlin, Cologne, Friedrichswerder, Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichstadt were united. But in fact these suburbs had long been considered part of Berlin. By 1861 Berlin had acquired new suburbs, such as Wedding, Moabit, Tempelhof and Schöneberg. In 1871, Berlin was proclaimed the capital of the newly formed German Reich (empire).
At the end of World War I in 1918, the German Republic was proclaimed in Berlin. In 1920, the law on the foundation of Greater Berlin (Groß-Berlin-Gesetz) followed, uniting many towns, landed estates and districts around Berlin. It was followed by a population of over 4 million people in Berlin. After the National Socialists seized power in 1933, Berlin became the capital of the Third Reich. For propaganda purposes, the Nazis organised the World Summer Olympics in Berlin in 1936. A master plan was drawn up for the development of Berlin, with a view to its future role as the world capital of Germany. But these plans were disrupted by the Second World War.
During and after the war, much of Berlin was destroyed by numerous bombings and street battles in 1945. After the capture of the city by the Red Army and the surrender of Germany, Berlin, like the rest of Germany, was divided into four sectors under foreign administration. The Western Allied sectors (USA, UK and France) were established in the western part of the city, and the Soviet sector in the eastern part. The political confrontation between the Western Allies and the Soviets led to an economic blockade of West Berlin in 1948 and 1949, for which the Western Allies organised an airlift to supply the city.
With the formation of the FRG in the west of Germany and the GDR in the east — both in 1949 — the Cold War intensified, including in Berlin. While the FRG established a new capital in Bonn, the GDR established its capital in East Berlin. The conflict between East and West on the territory of Berlin culminated in the construction of the Berlin Wall (Berliner Mauer), which was initiated by the Soviet GDR on 13 August 1961. East Berlin and West Berlin were so completely separated from each other that it was only possible to cross from one territory to the other through the respective checkpoints.
The Berlin Wall did not fall until 1989, under pressure from the population of the GDR, and this happened against the background of the general weakening of the Soviet Union. Already in 1990, the two German states were united into one, the Federal Republic of Germany, and under the treaty of unification, Berlin was to regain its status as the capital of a single state. In 1991, the Bundestag concluded an open public debate on the location of the German government. On 1 September 1999, the German government and parliament began their work already in Berlin.
In the west and south-east of the city, there are vast areas of woodland. If you consider that almost every street in the city is decorated with trees, it can be said that Berlin is a green city. Berlin has over 2,500 green spaces, parks and recreational areas. They cover a total area of around 5,500 hectares.
The Tiergarten Park (Großer Tiergarten) is located in the city centre. It is Berlin's oldest and largest (210 hectares) park for over 500 years. In the past, the Tiergarten was an area of forest in front of the city gates, which the city's nobility used for horseback riding and hunting. Gradually, the city grew around the park. Today, the park stretches from Berlin Zoo Station (Zoologischer Garten Berlin) to Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburger Tor) and is in close proximity to government buildings and the parliament building.
At the junction of the East-West Axis and 17th June Street is the Berlin Victory Statue (Siegessäule), built in 1939. Alongside Tiergarten, Treptower Park is one of the city's largest parks. It was created between 1876 and 1882 by Berlin's first garden building director, Johann Heinrich Gustav Meyer. The crafts exhibition was held there in 1896.
The Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem (Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem) stands out among the parkland. The Botanischer Garten and Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem is situated in the south east of the city and is a popular recreational area for Berliners. Berlin also has 2 zoos: The Berlin Zoological Gardens and the Berlin menagerie. The Berlin zoo is the oldest zoo in Germany (founded in 1844) and at the same time the largest one with 14,000 animals of 1,500 species. The second zoo was established during the GDR in 1954 and is the largest zoo in Europe with 160 hectares.