How Berlin became the third largest city in the world

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How Berlin became the third largest city in the world





© WELT / Anna Wagner
The history of the city of Berlin began in the High Middle Ages with the establishment of two trading locations. In the course of the 19th century, Berlin became one of the most populous cities in Europe. Source: WELT / Anna Wagner


Both times the decision depended on the extreme left. Without the votes of the socialist USPD, it would have been Greater Berlin Law of April 27, 1920 just as little existed as without the SED successor party PDS on June 20, 1991 Decision to make the federal capital (and not Bonn) the seat of government of united Germany. And in both cases it was undoubtedly democratically minded, but too local-patriotic Rhenish-Westphalian Catholics, who almost failed the only sensible solution


View from the town hall tower to the castle, cathedral and Unter den Linden, historical photo, circa 1920, Berlin, Germany, Europe | Use worldwide, no distribution to resellers.


© picture alliance / imageBROKER
View from the town hall tower to the castle, cathedral and Unter den Linden, historical photo, circa 1920, Berlin, Germany, Europe | Use worldwide, no distribution to resellers.


A hundred years ago she decided Prussian Constituent Assembly only with a narrow relative majority in the third reading (165 against 148 votes with five abstentions and 82 absent MPs) for the formation of a separate municipality of Greater Berlin.


View from the tower of the Red City Hall to the castle, cathedral and Unter den Linden around 1920 Source: picture alliance / imageBROKER


© picture alliance / imageBROKER
View from the tower of the Red City Hall to the castle, cathedral and Unter den Linden around 1920 Source: picture alliance / imageBROKER


The decisive factor was the approximately 20 votes of the USPD (several of its MPs had already adopted the even more radical Communists at that time. The SPD alone held only 145 of the 401 mandates. It was on its coalition partners, the left-liberal DDP and the Catholic Center no leave on this issue.

It was quite similar 29 years ago when the Bundestag on the future seat of parliament and the federal government had to decide between the federal capital Berlin and the previous seat of government Bonn: 17 deputies of the then exclusively East German socialists voted for Berlin, only one for Bonn.

Had they abstained – as declared opponents of the reunification and the Basic Law that they were – or even voted for Bonn, the already narrow majority for Berlin would have wobbled or would not have come about. A bad sign of democracy that decisions that are as important as natural depend on radical forces.


Elevated railway at Halleschen Tor around 1920 Source: picture alliance / imageBROKER


© picture alliance / imageBROKER
Elevated railway at Halleschen Tor around 1920 Source: picture alliance / imageBROKER


But was the decision for Greater Berlin of a hundred years really as important as that of the future seat of government and parliament in 1991? Wasn’t this just a municipal reorganization? Such arguments existed in favor of supporters in 1920, but they were advanced. Because in reality it was a question of whether democracy should be hindered or made possible.

The Imperial capital Berlin had in fact grown for decades beyond its external borders, which had recently been expanded in 1860. The surrounding cities of Lichtenberg, Köpenick, Neukölln, Schöneberg, Wilmersdorf and Charlottenburg and further to the west of Spandau were, in terms of their population, independent cities (Charlottenburg was by far the most prosperous municipality in all of Prussia in 1913), but still related to what was then Berlin.

In 1911, the was to ensure the common tasks such as road construction, supply and disposal with water, traffic, but also maintenance of ventilation aisles for the city center Zweckverband Groß-Berlin been founded. But he did not meet expectations, since local politics in Berlin and in the surrounding communities continued to focus on their own interests.


The Charlottenburg Town Hall, completed in 1910, symbolized the self-confidence of the richest city in Prussia Source: picture alliance / akg-images


© picture alliance / akg-images
The Charlottenburg Town Hall, completed in 1910, symbolized the self-confidence of the richest city in Prussia Source: picture alliance / akg-images


This involved, for example, the settlement of companies (trade tax was the most important source of income for municipalities before the First World War); here the individual municipalities partially competed against each other with tax dumping. But about the promising designation of building land – if necessary, regardless of the green areas that should bring fresh air to the city center.

Another question was even more important politically: the imperial capital (within the borders of 1860), with just under two million inhabitants, was clearly dominated by the labor movement and its party, the SPD. Social democracy was also the strongest force in the surrounding seven cities. As the entire Brandenburg province, which also included large agricultural parts of the Mark Brandenburg, the surrounding area of ​​Berlin was mostly Protestant-conservative.

The reactionary DNVP and the national liberal DVP feared that if the former capital and the municipalities of the alliance also became a political metropolis, this would strengthen the dominance of the SPD in Prussia and the Reich as a whole.


The Schölerpark in Wilmersdorf 1920 Source: picture alliance / akg-images


© picture alliance / akg-images
The Schölerpark in Wilmersdorf 1920 Source: picture alliance / akg-images


The center was driven by a similar, but different, concern: the Prussian provinces in the west, in Westphalia and along the Rhine could lose influence in the whole of Prussia and thus in the Reich compared to the “juggernaut” of Greater Berlin. Therefore, most of the center members stayed away from the decisive votes.

Although the result was scarce, it exulted Wilhelm Pfannkuch, SPD politician and one of the pioneers of the Greater Berlin Act: “It has finally been achieved – the longing of the overwhelming majority of the population of the Greater Berlin economic area has been fulfilled, the unitary community has become a fact!”

The 78-year-old promised himself a lot: “The freest right to vote forms the solid foundation on which the right to self-government of the unitary community is based.” However, Pfannkuch, who had risen to the top of the SPD as a treasurer, also knew: “The conflict of interests of the individual Members of the unitary community will not go out overnight. But for the compensation of the special interests that want to assert here and there the free right to vote will form the healing corrective. ”


Berlin Mayor Adolf Wermuth 1920 Source: picture alliance / akg-images


© picture alliance / akg-images
Berlin Mayor Adolf Wermuth 1920 Source: picture alliance / akg-images


However, that was a clearly exaggerated hope. After all, according to the law of April 27, 1920, which formally came into force on October 1 of the same year, Greater Berlin consisted of the previous Berlin and seven other, previously independent cities, plus 59 rural communities and 27 estate districts. Its area increased 13 times, from 66.93 to 878.1 square kilometers. This made Berlin the second largest city in the world after Los Angeles. With 3,879 million inhabitants, the German metropolis ranked third worldwide behind London and New York.

But Pfannkuch’s hopes were not fulfilled politically. The independent mayor Adolf Wermuth stepped down from Greater Berlin in November 1920, after seven weeks as head of the city. Previously, bourgeois parties and parts of the SPD had shot at the mayor, who had been in Berlin since 1912.

His successor was the previous treasurer Gustav Böß, a DDP man. He tried to merge the disparate entity of Greater Berlin into a municipal community, but also failed due to particular interests: District offices repeatedly blocked the politics of the city government. Berlin has not been extremely difficult to govern, not only since German unity in 1990.

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