Friday, May 8, 2015

Berlin 1945

The Second World War ended in Europe seventy years ago this weekend.

Below are a couple of extraordinary color films of Berlin.

The first is a German government film made in 1935 urging German citizens to visit Berlin during the coming 1936 Olympics.

The second is a film made sometime in the summer of 1945 shortly after the war ended.
Almost all of the same places that appeared in the first film are here too ten years (and a million miles of history) later.  The apocalyptic destruction is breathtaking; miles and miles of ruined and burned buildings.  What is doubly amazing is that there was anyone still living in all that silent devastation.

 An extraordinary photograph of the inside of the Führerbunker in the garden of the Reichskanzlei in Berlin in 1945 by William Vandivert.  The inside was burned by SS troops and looted by Soviet soldiers.  Vandivert was the first Westerner allowed inside the captured bunker where Hitler, his mistress Eva Braun, and Goebels with his entire family died by their own hands.

Another photograph by William Vandivert of the ruined Reichskanzlei.  While Soviet artillery pummeled the nearby Reichstag building, gunners mostly spared the Chancellery.  Stalin wanted to take Hitler alive and so ordered his advancing soldiers to redirect their fire.

 A photograph by Frank Ramage from the summer of 1945 showing Berliners towing their surviving possessions looking for a place to live.

Another photo that I think is by Frank Ramage, though I'm not sure, showing boys and girls playing in the Spree River near the bombed out ruins of the Reichstag.

For much of its history, Berlin was known as a free-wheeling libertine cosmopolitan city famous for its nightlife; its cabarets and roof-top parties.  Religious minorities from Huguenots to Jews found refuge in a once famously tolerant city.  Since the early 19th century Berlin was famous/notorious for its tolerance of homosexuality.  The tolerant, and even indulgent, attitude of Berlin and its police encouraged the largest, most varied, and most famous gay subculture in Europe for almost a century drawing men and women from all over the continent and beyond.  It is no accident that the word 'homosexual' was coined in Berlin, and the very idea of homosexuality as an identity along with the very first political movements for gay emancipation began in Berlin.

And yet, the city today is most famous for a single episode in its history when it was the capital of a mad regime that criminalized an entire nation through aggression and genocide.   That vulgar criminal regime nearly destroyed Europe in the biggest and deadliest armed conflict in all of history.   Berlin was nearly erased, then divided, and slowly rebuilt returning to something like its original cosmopolitan self.

Photograph by William Vandivert of a smashed globe and a fallen bust of Hitler from the ruins of the Reichskanzlrei in Berlin in 1945

"An entire gullible nation believed faithfully in Santa Claus.  But Santa Claus was really the gas man."  - Gunter Grass, from The Tin Drum

Thus always to supremacism in all of its forms.


As Gerrit reminds us, Hitler hated Berlin precisely for its libertinism, its insolence, and especially for its cosmopolitanism.  Berlin was the one major city in Germany where the Nazis failed to win in the 1932 elections.  Hitler wanted to tear Berlin down and rebuild it as the capital of his global racist empire and rename it Germania.  But that is for another post.

Berlin remains a major German city that I have not visited.  Not yet anyway.


Gerrit said...

I think Isherwood's stories are the best English description of Berlin in the early thirties; I also think Dutch Author Jaap Harten's 'De getatoueerde Lorelei' is even better, with much detail on the gay prostitution scene, but never translated - he is a minor author.

Hitler hated Berlin.

Counterlight said...

You are right. Hitler really hated Berlin and wanted to tear it down and rebuild it as Germania.

I remember reading somewhere that an interviewer once asked Isherwood why he spent so much time in Berlin. "Boys, boys boys!" he answered.

Gerrit said...

....and I am wrong:

Track it down and read it!

Counterlight said...

I will.