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Berlin Now and Then: The Reichstag part One

Serving a similar function as the US Capitol Building in Washington DC, the Reichstag is the seat of the German Parliament and where Battle of the Reichstag Berlin 1945the German government conducts the business of running the country. Prior to German unification in 1871, there was no official,  centrally-administered German government and, as a result, no use for a building where a national Parliament could meet. Yet after unification (not to be confused with re-unification) under Emperor Wilhelm I (aka: the Prince of Grapeshot) and Otto von Bismark (aka: the Iron Chancellor), the Reichstag was built to accommodate this new need. As legend has it, following World War One, when Wilhelm II (Wilhelm’s successor) saw the added inscription Dem Deutschen Volk (To the German People), he  was not amused by the clear democratic overtones. Today the Reichstag and its glass dome is one of the most easily-identifiable landmarks in Berlin, if not Germany. The Reichstag was designed by German architect Paul Wallot and its cornerstone was laid by Wilhelm I in 1884.

The building occupied a particularly important role in the Twentieth Century. Aside from being the seat of government, in 1933 the Reichstag mysteriously caught fire. A Dutch communist named Marinus van der Lubbe was blamed and executed for starting the fire. His guilt was never really established as the event was probably a false flag operation anyway.

However the fire was quite significant as it led to the Verordnung des Reichspräsidenten zum Schutz von Volk und Staat (Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State ) more commonly known as the easy-to-pronounce Reichstag Fire Decree. With support from newly-appointed Chancelor Adolf Hitler, President Hindenburg (aka: Field Marshal “What do you Think”?) issued this decree which in effect legalized the persecution of anti-Nazi activities. In a more general sense, the fire was also used to spread fear of Communist terrorism in Germany and can be considered one of the watershed events of the rise of the Third Reich. You can also read about the Enabling Act to learn more about how NSADP used legal measure to take control of Germany by allowing Hitler’s party to rule by decree.

Due to its significance, understandably the Soviet Red Army viewed the Reichstag as the “Lair of the Fascist Beast” and the building became not only the living symbol of Nazism, but the top military target in Germany as well. At the same time, the Reichstag, with its thick stone walls and deep cellar, became the location of the Third Reich’s last stand. You could say that, quite literally, the Second World War in Europe ended on the stairs of the Reichstag.

Berlin before and after Battle of berlin Reichstag Martin  88mm

A wrecked German 88mm gun shows the intensity of fighting that took place on the lawn in front of the Reichstag.

Berlin before and after Reichstag Martin Bike

Damage to the Reichstag’s dome can be clearly seen, as well as an incredibly good-looking chap on a very sweet bike

Berlin before and after battle of Berlin Reichstag Tank

Here a line of Soviet tanks cruise down Ebertstrasse just behind the Reichstag

While Hitler sat in his bunker under the Reich Chancellory building, elements of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army crossed the bridges over the Spree and came within gunfire range of the Reichstag at the end of April 1945. Within the Reichstag itself, remnants of the German army fought a battle battle to the very last man in the cellars of the Reichstag.

Stalin himslef set a deadline for the taking of the Reichstag: May 1st, May Day, the Communist version of the Fourth of July. The event was recreated for the photographers and you can  see a newsreel  of members of the 150th Rifle Division (Alexai Berest, Mikhail Yegorov and Meliton Kantaria) erecting the Russian Victory Banner over the Reichstag on May 8, 1945. The photo of the event is quite similar in significance to the Joe Rosenthal picture of Marines raising Old Glory on Iwo Jima.

Berlin before and after Soviet Soldiers Assaulting Reichstag battle of berlin

A squad of Red Army soldiers rush the Reichstag carrying a Russian flag. Probably a propaganda shot taken after the fighting had ended.

Berlin before and after Reichstag Russian Soldiers from right

A mixed group of Red Army soldiers, officers and officials pose for a photo before the shattered Reichstag

Berlin before and after Reichstag Stairs

Damage to the stairs and columns of the Reichstag

Berlin before and after Reichstag Russin Soldiers from left

A group of Red Army officers pose for a photo in front of the Reichstag.

Berlin before and after Reichstag German Soldier

A German soldiers, perhaps a member of the Volksturm, awaits his fate

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February 4, 2013 Posted by | Berlin Now and Then | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Berlin Now and Then: Mitte vol. 1

These pictures are of various, not so well-known places around the center of Berlin, which in Berlin is known as Mitte (middle). These particular photos are not really part of a set, so I am just lumping them together under the title “Mitte”.

The first picture is of the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Rheinhardtsrasse. Friedrichstrasse is a main avenue in Berlin and the Friedrichstrasse Bahnhoff (train station) is one of Berlin’s more important stations.

Berlin now and then battle of berlin Mitte Friedrichstrasse Rheinhardtstrasse Sd.Kfz

German Sd.Kfz and refugees

In this photo, which was probably taken after the Battle of Berlin, we can see some civilian refugees streaming past a German Sd.Kfz. or Sonderkraftfahrzeug (special purpose vehicle). This type of tank/truck hybrid could be considered an ancestor of the Humvee and could be referred to as a half-track  but that was a term for the US versions of these. Regardless, the Sd.Kfz.  came in so many different configurations that I wont even try to guess what the proper model is with any authority. But, well, this could be a Sd.Kfz. 251.

Berlin now and then Friedrichstraße tank

A German Sturmgeschiutz assault gun

Again on Friedrichstrasse but closer to a bridge crossing the Spree this German tank destroyer assault gun was knocked. From the looks of the picture, this was taken some time after the Battle of Berlin as, at least to some extent, life seems to be getting back to normal. This particular vehicle is called a “Stug” Sturmgeschutz (literally: assault gun). Its  designed to travel along with the infantry and serve as a close mobile artillery support by knocking out bunkers, defensive potions, vehicles and perhaps a light tank. Assault guns aren’t tanks, tanks have moving turrets, assault guns do not.

Berlin now and then  Mitte Bode Museum

Ill be truthful and admit I’ve never actually been to the Bode Museum. Apparently it is full of things that would actually interest me greatly. The museum is named after Wilhelm von Bode, perhaps considered a bit of a fraud in the art world. Regardless, I’d guess this picture shows damage received during the Bombing of Berlin, but it very well could have been taken after the Battle of Berlin.

This was the Reichsbank and is located on Kurstrasse to the Eastern part of Berlin Mitte. Today this is the office of the Bundesbank, the German national bank, which was established after World War two,  in 1957. This is actually a strange picture as it appears to be a picture of an American M4 Sherman tank. Therefore, either this tank was loaned to the Soviets during Lend Lease and fought its way to Berlin. Or, this actually is an American tank that appeared with the Americans who arrived after the Battle of Berlin.

EDIT: Im not sure what I was thinking. That tank is surely not an M4 Sherman. I will go sit in the corner and think about what I’ve done.

Coming back to museums,and its hard to not speak of museums when talking of Berlin,  here we have a lone Red Army soldier walking past the ruins of the Neues Museum. The Neues Museum sits on Museum Island and is home to the 3,300 year old Bust of Nefertiti, which Ill have to admit, I still haven’t seen. The Neues Museum still has bullet holes in its facade and was so badly damaged during the Battle of Berlin that it was not reopened until 2009.

This photo was taken “way out west” at Charlottenburger Tor (yep, another one of those gates). Here we have six, Canadians, Tommys of the United Kingdom, standing on a statue of I have no idea who. To make it clear, the Soviets captured Berlin, but later the other Allied nations like the US, the UK, and France arrived to participate in the occupation. As I said, the gate is in Charlottenburg, the West, and I only went there to take this picture. Afterwards, I turned back to my home in the East and got under the covers.

Clearly long after the Battle of Berlin, Soviet soldiers march past a memorial to fallen Red Army soldiers in Tiergarten. If I remember correctly, it was meant for the soldiers who died taking the Reichstag. The Red Army lost some 80,000 men taking Berlin  and you can see the Reichstag’s damaged dome in the back. Today this area is full of tress, but after the Battle of Berlin the area had been stripped bare. First by bombs,then later by civilians for firewood. There are many Soviet Memorials in Berlin, one of my favorite being the Soviet Memorial in Treptow.

November 21, 2012 Posted by | Berlin Now and Then | , , , | 5 Comments