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History Of Berlin | How It Became Capital Of 5 Countries?

Written By Anne Kostick
Last updated: January 31, 2024

Imagine the stories that whisper through the tree-lined streets of Berlin. Full of twists and high drama, this city has stood at the crossroads of European destiny. Let's journey back in time together and find out how such a place changed hands across five distinct countries in less than a century.

Now, let us tell you straight: How did Berlin become the heartland for so many regimes? It was like a grand stage for leadership, rising from the historic capital of Prussia to becoming the bustling nerve center of today's Germany.

During this intense period, boundaries were drawn and redrawn; ideologies clashed and reconciled, all within Berlin's ever-echoing heartbeat.

The Evolution of Berlin: A Tale of 5 Capitals

Berlin has seen more history change around it than many cities could claim in lifetimes longer than ours. Born as a small town, Berlin grew up to be the heart of nations.

The Evolution of Berlin

It became the capital city for not just one or two countries but five different states within a span of less than a hundred years. Here's our tale about this unique city:

  • The Prussian Capital: Before becoming part of Germany, Berlin was the proud capital of Prussia, where it saw kings and empires rise.
  • The German Empire's Core: Next, in 1871, it rose as the capital city of the newly formed German Empire.
  • Weimar Republic's Hope: After World War I shook Europe to its core, Berlin became the center for Germany's struggling democracy as the Weimar Republic was established.
  • Nazi Germany's Stage: With the Third Reich's dominance came another chapter – Berlin now showcased Nazi power.
  • A City Split – East and West Germany: After the biggest war mankind had seen, Berlin got divided into two – each half becoming a capital again; one for East and another for West Germany during the Cold War.

Each name change brought with it not just geopolitical shifts but also deep transformations within society, changes in architecture, and daily lives shaped by each era's spirit - from royal grandeur to democratic dreams and ideological divides.

Also Read: Why Was The Berlin Wall Built? From Division to Confinement

Before Germany: Berlin as the Capital of Prussia

As we delve into the rich tapestry of European history, it's impossible to overlook the pivotal role that Berlin has played on the continent. There was a time when this metropolis was not yet the vibrant capital of Germany we know today. Instead, it held a seat of significant power and prestige as the capital of Prussia.

Berlin as the Capital of Prussia

Our journey through Berlin's past takes us to a period full of grandeur and ambition, where every cobblestone street and ornate building tells a part of an enthralling story — one where Berlin stood at the center of Prussian influence, leaving an indelible mark on history’s pages.

From Baroque to Bismarck

Long before our beloved Berlin became the beating heart of modern Germany as we know it today, it held a spot of deep importance in Europe. It was the proud capital of Prussia, a kingdom that shaped much of European history with its might and influence. Let's travel back in time to when Berlin was more than just a city; it was the center of an empire that reached greatness.

In those days, Berlin wasn't the vast spread of bustling streets and striking landmarks we recognize now. But even then, it stood out in Prussia for its grace and power. The city embodied the Baroque spirit, a style full of grandeur and detail—through its architecture and its people's way of life.

Prussian rulers had big dreams for Berlin. They wanted to make it into a place that showed off their kingdom's strength and culture. To do this, they invested heavily in building palaces, churches, and other grand structures that still wow visitors today. This was part of what made Berlin become known far and wide as an important city.

1. The Capital of the German Empire (1871-1918)

As we turn the pages of history, we come upon a remarkable chapter that began in the latter part of the 19th century. It was a time of monumental change and national pride when Berlin emerged as not merely a city but as the beating heart of an entire empire.

Berlin as The Capital of the German Empire (1871-1918)

From 1871 to 1918, our focus zeroes in on this dynamic period when Berlin, with its vibrant streets and rising edifices, became the capital of the German Empire.

During these years, our story unfolds to reveal how Berlin transformed into a hub of unity, fueling the aspirations and ambitions of a new nation on its quest for identity and influence.

An Empire's Dawn - The Significance of Berlin

In 1871, our story takes us to a turning point in history when Berlin became more than just a city; it became a symbol of unity for the newly-formed German Empire. After years of small kingdoms and states, Germany was finally one big country. This meant that people needed something to bring them together, and that's what Berlin did.

  • The Proclamation: It all started at the Palace of Versailles when Wilhelm I was declared the first Emperor ('Kaiser') of Germany. Imagine it: grand halls filled with important people, and right there at the center was Berlin, now the heart of a powerful nation.
  • Berlin's Growth: With its new status as capital, people rushed to live and work there—this made Berlin busy with life and buzz. Roads got busier, buildings shot up higher into the sky, and everything was growing.
  • A Center for All: Just like spokes on a wheel, railways connected Berlin to everywhere in Germany. This made it easier for everyone to come to the city – whether they were going there for work or just visiting.
  • Culture Boom: Art and science flourished like flowers in springtime – we're talking about music you can't resist tapping your foot to, paintings that grab your eyes, books that fill your head with stories, and scientists making discoveries that left mouths wide open in surprise.
  • Politics & Power: As you might guess, politics played a big part too – folks from all over Germany gathered here to make decisions for everybody else.

Berlin didn't just become important overnight; it took hard work from many people who believed this city could be something special—a place where every German could feel at home.

Also Read: Reasons Behind The Collapse Of The Soviet Union

2. The Capital of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933)

In the wake of World War I, a world torn asunder by conflict and despair looked on as Germany took its first trembling steps into a new era. The year 1918 marked the end of an age-old empire and the rise of something entirely different—the Weimar Republic, with Berlin emerging at its heart.

Berlin as The Capital of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933)

This period was a testament to resilience as Berlin adapted to embody hope amidst the ashes of a fallen monarchy. During this transformative time, let us explore how Berlin navigated through the shadows of hardship, embracing its pivotal role within Germany's fragile experiment in democracy.

Democracy amidst Despair

During a time filled with much sadness and struggle, right after the First Great War, Berlin found itself stepping into a new role. This was the beating heart of the Weimar Republic. It was a fresh beginning for Germany, which had been through so much pain and loss.

Let's look deeper into this part of Berlin's history:

  • The New Republic is Born: In 1918 after Germany lost World War I, there was big change. The country's leaders at that time were no more in power. This led to Germany becoming what we call a "republic." That meant that people would have more say and there would be no king.
  • Berlin Takes Center Stage: Berlin became very important in this new republic. It was where politicians met and made rules for how the country should run. They wanted to make sure such bad times wouldn't come again.
  • Tough Times Continue: Even though they hoped for peaceful days ahead, things did not get easier right away. There was not enough money going around and people found daily life hard.
  • Trying to Keep Democracy Alive: In these hard days, keeping democracy alive was tough work but very necessary. Leaders tried their best to make fair decisions while different groups disagreed about what should be done.
  • Cultural Boom: While politics were shaky, something special happened in Berlin too – a burst of new ideas in art and music filled the city streets! People came from all around just to see what Berlin could offer.

Berlin showed us that even when things are breaking apart around us we can still find ways to bring hope and new beginnings through change.

Also Read: Find Out Why Did the Renaissance Start in Italy?

3. The Capital of Nazi Germany - Third Reich (1933-1945)

As we look back at our city's checkered past, the years between 1933 and 1945 stand out as a period of drastic transformation. Berlin became the heart of Nazi Germany during what was known as the Third Reich. This era was marked by an intense wave of change that rippled through every street and alley in Berlin.

Berlin as The Capital of Nazi Germany - Third Reich (1933-1945)

It reshaped our city into a place that bore the ambitions and unspeakable atrocities carried out under Adolf Hitler's rule. Ideology, architecture, society – nothing in Berlin remained untouched by the profound shifts during these critical years in history.

A City Altered by Ambition and Atrocity

During the time between 1933 and 1945, something big happened in Berlin. It became the capital of Nazi Germany, a time that many call the Third Reich. This was no small change. Berlin went through some huge shifts, both in how people thought and how it looked.

Ideological Changes:

  • New Rules: The Nazis made their own rules and ways of thinking the main thing in Berlin.
  • One Leader: Everybody had to follow one man, Adolf Hitler. He had all the power.
  • Saying "Us vs Them": There was a lot of talk about Germans being better than other people.

Architectural Makeover:

  • Big Buildings: Huge buildings got built to show off how strong Nazi Germany was.
  • Symbols Everywhere: Swastikas and other Nazi signs were put up all around the city.

Tragic Times:

  • People Hurting People: Many folks got hurt or killed because they were different or didn't agree with Hitler.
  • War Starts: World War II began, and Berlin would become a battlefield by its end.

That's just a brief look at what changed in our city during those times under Nazi rule. These years left marks on Berlin that people still talk about and learn from nowadays.

World War II - Changing Faces Once More

World War II brought with it the kind of change that reshaped maps and hearts alike. When we speak of cities impacted by the war, Berlin emerges as a prime example—a capital that stood at the forefront of monumental shifts.

Once a hub of power and progress, the city found itself fragmented in the aftermath. There was not just one Berlin anymore but several versions, each facing its own set of challenges as a new world order began to take shape.

We saw our city divided by ideologies, boundaries drawn not just on maps but through streets and communities. The tale of Berlin post-World War II is one of resilience amid destruction, an era when everything familiar about this historic capital was redefined.

Shattered but not Lost – Post-War Shakeup

After World War II, our beloved Berlin no longer looked the same. So much had changed so quickly. We'll walk you through the big changes that happened to Berlin right after the war.

  • Collapse: As the war ended, buildings lay in ruins and streets were full of rubble. The city that once stood proud was now broken.
  • Occupation: Soldiers from different countries came to control parts of Berlin. They came from America, Britain, France and Russia. Each took a section of the city for themselves.
  • Division: Soon enough, Berlin split in two – East and West. A wall went up dividing families and friends. It was more than just bricks; it symbolized a world split by big ideas about how to run countries.
  • Resurrection: Over time, both sides of Berlin started to stand back up on their feet—each side rebuilding in its own way.

It seemed like everything about Berlin changed after those hard years but something always stayed strong – its spirit.

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4. The Heart Divided – East & West Germany(1949-1989)

In the mid-20th century, our world witnessed a dramatic shift when Berlin, once a united hub of activity and culture, became a city split in two. From 1949 to 1989, this iconic metropolis sat at the epicenter of global tensions - a living symbol of the Cold War.

The Heart Divided – East & West Germany(1949-1989)

The stark divide created not just physical barriers but ideological ones, leading to two distinct identities within one cityscape. This period was marked by profound dichotomies that illustrated the sharp contrast between East and West Germany's differing ideologies and ways of life. Let us take an immersive journey into this historical divide that carved Berlin into two worlds apart.

Two Berlins; Two Worlds Apart

After the darkness of World War II, Berlin found itself at the heart of a split world. This great city was now two cities in one - East Berlin and West Berlin. Each side was a picture of the world's big fight between two ways of running countries: communism on one end and democracy on the other.

East Berlin: This part turned into the capital of East Germany, officially called the German Democratic Republic (GDR). It stood for a system where one party controlled everything and people had less freedom to say or do what they wanted. Life here was tough, with spies watching ordinary people and walls that kept them from leaving.

West Berlin: While it was wrapped up inside East Germany like an island in the sea, West Berlin flew the flag for freedom as part of West Germany, or the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Here, people could speak their minds and move around as they pleased. The Western way emphasized personal freedoms and buying what you wanted if you had enough money.

The differences were not just about ideas; they reached into every part of life:

  • In Homes: People in the West got stuff from all over—the best TVs, fancy clothes, even bananas! In contrast, in the East homes looked much alike with similar furniture—and bananas were rare treats.
  • On Streets: In the West walking around you'd spot stores full of wares while cars zipped by. Over in East streets were quieter without bright store windows or many cars.
  • In Minds: A big wall ran through hearts too - family and friends split apart because one half lived on democracy's side (West) while others under communism’s watchful eye (East).

Even kids felt it—with youth clubs teaching different histories depending on which side of Berlin they grew up on.

5. From Division to Unity – Post-Wall Era till Today (1990-Present)

As we look back at history, we find that cities, much like people, go through tough times and bright days. Berlin, a city that was once split in half by a wall of concrete and fear, found itself on a journey from division to unity—a remarkable story of reconciliation and healing.

Berlin From Division to Unity – Post-Wall Era till Today (1990-Present)

Since the iconic moment when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 to the present day, Berlin has been mending its broken heart. In this chapter of its life, we'll see how this legendary city transformed from being a land of two tales to one unified metropolis—restoring its soul piece by piece.

Reunification – Restoring a City’s Soul

After years of separation, Berlin's story took a turn in 1989, when the wall that cut the city in two came down. The fall of the Berlin Wall was more than just bricks tumbling; it was about hearts coming together and a split land becoming whole again.

  • The Fall of the Wall: On November 9, 1989, an announcement made history. East Berlin's gates opened up. People from both sides rushed towards each other in joy and tears. It felt like waking up from a long, hard dream. That night marked Berlin's first step back to being one city.
  • Germany Stitches Itself Together: Less than a year later, on October 3, 1990, East Germany joined West Germany and we saw the birth of a refreshed nation. They call this day "German Unity Day," now celebrated each year to remember when they stitched themselves back into one fabric.
  • Berlin's Capital Status Restored: When countries come together like this, big decisions are needed. So in June 1991, lawmakers decided that Berlin should be Germany's capital once more. The government started moving stuff from Bonn to Berlin around 1999.
  • Rebuilding City Scars: Even after becoming the capital again, Berlin had work to do. Buildings needed repair or rebirth where the wall used to stand—like healing old wounds with new life.
  • 25 Years Without Wall: In November 2014, they lit up balloons along where the wall once ran.
  • 30 Years United: Come November 2019 Germany marked three decades since their big leap towards unity.

Each celebration is like a birthday for their second chance at freedom and kinship.

Looking at it all makes us think about how much can change over time - even for big cities with tough pasts like Berlin. Now it stands bright as ever—a symbol not just as Germany’s heartland but also as proof that even the deepest divisions can heal over time.

Also Read: 15 Famous Graffiti Wall Art With Strong Message


How did World War I impact Berlin?

World War I brought great hardship to Berlin, with severe shortages and inflation. It set the stage for political upheaval, turning the region from an empire into a republic.

What was life like in East and West Berlin during the Cold War?

Life in East Berlin was marked by communist influence with restrictions on freedom, while West Berlin experienced more democratic values, economic growth, and cultural expression.

How did reunification affect citizens’ lives in previously divided sections of Berlin?

Reunification brought about joy but also challenges. It eased travel restrictions and united families but also required economic and social adjustments as two different systems merged into one.


As we reflect on the historical transitions of Berlin, it's remarkable to witness a city's perpetual rebirth. Our journey through Berlin's role as the capital of five different regimes proves its resilience amidst geopolitical changes.

With every shift in power and ideology, Berlin adapted, maintaining its place as a central hub that has influenced not just European but global history. Over less than a century, this city has been reshaped time and again, emerging stronger after each transformation.

Charles Eames

Anne Kostick has been Editor-in-Chief since September 2007. Previously, Anne was a principal at Foxpath IND, a publishing, consulting and editorial services company specializing in the transition to and from traditional content publishing and online content management, development and publishing. Her clients included trade book publishers, technology and financial services Web sites, and arts and cultural institutions. Previously, she worked as Licensing and Product Development Director, Senior Acquisitions Editor and Director of Electronic Publishing for Workman Publishing, and as Senior Acquisitions Editor for Harry N. Abrams/Stewart, Tabori & Chang. In the online world she worked as Director of Content Development for Anne has a B.A. in Greek and Latin, with a minor in Theater, from Beloit College. She is the author of several books for children, as well as a definitive collection of jokes.

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