Next stop freedom? –
An urban exhibition along the U5
1848. 1918–19. 1953. 1989.
Today we take democracy and freedom for granted. But we have always had to fight for them, and we must continue to defend them. This exhibition commemorates key moments and places in the history of Berlin’s struggle for democracy and freedom. This story is told along several U-Bahn stations on the U5 line between Alexanderplatz and Magdalenenstraße.
If I had to say what, in addition to peace, I value above all other things, then without qualification, my answer would be: freedom. Willy Brandt, 14 June 1987
Philipp Scheidemann proclaims the first German republic on 9 November 1918 from the west balcony of the Reichstag.
The Reichstag has been the seat of German parliament since 1894. Like the movement for for democracy and freedom itself, it looks back on a chequered history.
Following the March Revolution of 1848, a system of parliamentary government is intriduced in Germany for the first time. But it is not until 1918 that a true parliament democracy is established. Philipp Scheidemann proclaims the start of a new republic on 9 November 1918 from the west balcony of the Reichstag.
"The old and rotten, the monarchy, has collapsed; the people have won all down the line.” Philipp Scheidemann, 9 November 1918
In February 1933 the Reichstag is set on fire. The National Socialists take advantage of the incident to dissolve the country's freely elected parliament and establish a dictatorship, which launches the Second World War and plans and carries out the systematic murder of the European Jews.
After the war, Germany and Berlin are divided. The Reichstag, severely damaged, is loctated in what is now West Berlin. The East/West border runs directly behind the building. The parliaments of East and West Germany meet in East Berlin and in Bonn, respectively. Only on special occassions does the Bundestag (the West German parliament) meet in West-Berlin. Starting in 1971, these occasional meetings take place in the Reichstag (meanwhile somewhat repaired).
The divided city of Berlin is a centre of conflict during the Cold War. In June 1948, the Soviet Union imposes a blocade on West Berlin. Thousands of people gather in front of the Reichstag for a rally. Ernst Reuter, the mayor of West Berlin, calls for solidarity with the sourrounded city. His word - "People of the world, look upon this city" - go down in history.
The Reichstag lies directly on the border to East Berlin. Several people die in the attempt to flee across the Spree river to West Berlin. Commemorative white crosses have stood at the bank of the river (Reichtagsufer) since 1971. The barriers removed after the Wall came down on 9 November 1989.
An all-German parliament becomes possible only after the reunification on 3 October 1990. The following day, the Bundestag and the first free elected East German parliament (the Volkskammer or "Peoples chamber"), meet for a joint session in the Reichstag. After the first national elections are held in December 1990, a united parliament is formed. And starting in 1999, the Reichstag once again becomes the permenent seat of the German parliament.
Brandenburg Gate is Berlin's most famous landmark as well as the national symbol of Germany. After the Second World War and the founding of the two German states, it lies on the border between East and West Berlin, and comes to symbolize the divided city.
I always knew that a day would come when we would play there, and that the damn wall wouldn’t last forever. There’s just no way - it’s so sick, totally absurd. Udo Lindenberg, German rock musician, 2008.
In early 1953, the GDR finds itself in a serious crisis. As the SED dicatorship becomes entreched, it pursuses a repressive domestic agenda. One-sided economic policies lead to a severe shortage. As a result, people leave for the West in large numbers. In early June 1953, the Moscow leadership forces the SED the ease political and economic restictions. No cuts are made in the excessive production quota the workers have to meet. It is this issue that leads to a countrywide uprising on June 17.
The uprising is violentely suppressed. In East Berlin the Soviet military commander declares a state of emergency and sends in troops against the demonstrators.
A festival headlining stars that include David Bowie, Genesis and the Eurythmics takes place in West Berlin in front of the Reichstag on 6 June 1987. The concert can be heard across the Wall in East Berlin. Fans gather on the boulevard of Unter den Linden. Police and State Security services begin to drive people away away from the Wall and the mood quickly changes. Soon, they can be heard "the wall has to go!". Numerous people are arrested.
In June 1987, American president Ronald Reagan visits West Berlin. He gives a historic speech in front of Brandenburg Gate, calling on Mikhail Gorbachev, his Soviet counterpart and the leader of the Communist Party, to reunite the divided city. His words – “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” – go down in history.
"I was talking with young people when I was there yesterday [...] and I think that some of them will come to the concert tonight" David Bowie, 6 June 1987
On 22 December 1989 after 28 years of partition Brandenburg Gate is reopened. West Germany is represented at the opening ceremony by Chancellor Helmut Kohl and former presidents Karl Carstens and Walter Scheel. The East German head of government Hans Modrow is there on behalf of the GDR. Thousands of Berliners attend the historic event.
On 18 March 2000 the square west Brandenburg Gate is renamed Platz des 18. März (Square of 18 March) to commemorate the revolutionary struggle for freedom in 1848
Berlin's Royal Palace and the building that replaced it, the Palace of the Republic, witnessed a succession of bitter struggles for freedom and democracy.
The Royal Palace is the residence of the King of Prussia and later of the German Kaiser until 1918. During the revolution of 1848, thousands of Berliners gather in front of the palace to assert their rights to political representation and democratic self-rule. The king makes concessions in an attempt to appease the masses, but then orders to remove the demonstrators by force. Clashes errupt across the citry between the revolutionaires and royal troops and hundreds die.
“If I had to say what, in addition to peace, I value above all other things, then without qualification, my answer would be: freedom.” Willy Brandt, 14 June 1987
The November Revolution of 1918 leads to the fall of the German monarchy. On 9 November 1918 two declarations of a new German state are made: one at the Reichstag proclaiming the start of a parliamentary republic and another, made at the royal palace by a Socialist: Karl Liebknecht, proclaiming a soviet (meaning "council") republic. There is fierce conflict regarding the form this future state will takes, as well as repeated, violent clashes involving armed forces. Fighting on the palace grounds over Christmas 1918 claims the lives of more than 70 people.
The failed proclamation of a socialist republic is a key historical point of reference for the German communist movement. The well-known photograph of Karl Liebknecht standing on the balcony of the royal palace is, however, a fake that was created later. It is not known with certainty where exacty Liebknecht proclaimed the "free, socialist republic" on 9 November 1918. The SED nevertheless integrated a reconstrcuted version of the balcony in the newly erected State Council Building, which today houses an international buisnes school. The balcony can still be seen there.
After the end of the Second World War and the founding of the two German states, the royal palace, now in ruins, is torn down. In its place the SDED erects the Palace of the Republic. It is here that East Germanys sham parliament, the Volkskammer, meets.
Built between 1973 and 1976 the Palace of the Republic with its distinctive facade is a prominent landmark of East Berlin. It is here that East Germanys sham parliament, the Volkskammer, meets. On the side of the old royal palace, new buildings are erected, including the Palace of the Republic, the State Council building (the seat of government), and the headquarters of SED (the state ruling party).
On 7 October 1989, inside the Palace of the Republic, the GDR holds the official celebration of the 40th anniversary of its founding. Meanwhile, in front of the building, people gather for the largest spontaneous protest rally in East Berlin since the uprising on 17 June 1953.
Life punishes those who come too late. Michail Gorbatschow, Soviet head of state and leader of the Communist Party, 6 October 1989 in East Berlin
In the Palace of the Republic in East Berlin the SED leadership under Erich Honecker celebrates the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR. Many state visitors are in attandance, among them the Soviet head of state and Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev. He urges his East German comrades not to dismiss the idea of reforms. His interpreter's saying becomes a popular saying in Germany: "Life punishes those who come too late."
Demonstrators walk on 7 October 1989 from Alexanderplatz towards the Palace of the Republic.
Inside a state dinner with representatives from all socialist countries. Outside louds demonstrations with thousands of people demanding freedom and political reforms. Calls of "Gorbi help us", "Freedom", "Democracy now or never" and "The Stasi has to go!" are heard by the guests at the anniversary celebrations. There is something eerie about the mood the at Palace of the Republic on the evening of 7 October 1989. The menu for the banquet lists "Surprise" as the desert. And indeed, surprisingly, the guest of honour, Mikhail Gorbachev, leaves early, insulting the SED leadership. The police cracks down on demonstrators in a brutal show of force, and hundreds are arrested. Rows of policemen hold people back from the Palace of the Republic.
"We do not believe those who lie, until they stop lying, even if they talk quite differently now" Demonstrators in front of the Palace of the Republic, 4 November 1989
The largest independent demonstration in the history of the GDR takes place in East Berlin on 4 November 1989. Protestors march across the Schlossplatz past the Palace of the Republic towards Alexanderplatz.
The first free elections in the GDR take places on 18 March 1990, and are covered with great interest by the international media. Television broadcasters from around the world flock to East Berlin and report live from the Palace of the Republic. The politically conservative alliance, Allianz für Deutschland, emerges as the victor. The elections are also a referendum on whether the reunification of the two German states will be fast-tracked. Due to the prevailing ecnomic crisis, among other things, the alternative - a reform of the GDR - does not have the neccessary support.
After reunifciation the Palace of the Republic is closed down and the emblem of the GDR displayed on the facade is taken down.
The staircases were all that remained of the Palace in 2008. They stood were the Humboldt-Forum is built today. The building was closed due to heavy asbestos contamination in September 1990. Later, in 2006, the it is torn down. About 100 years after Liebknecht's proclamation and 30 years after after the end of GDR, there is again a palace in the centre of Berlin, partially a replica of the original that the SED leadership ordered to demolish in 1950.
On 29 October 1989, Günter Schabowski faces critical questions from roughly 20,000 people who have come to Rotes Rathaus for the Sunday Talk.
Communism has been swept from the world stage by those whom it pretended to make happy. It failed, both economically and socially. It proved to be a bloody dictatorship. And it was unable to reform. Günter Schabowski, 7 November 2004
By October 1989 the goverment is no longer able to suppress mass protest against the SED dictatorship in East Germany. As a result, the SED - the communist and state ruling party - is forced to change course. Concessions are made to appease people's desire for change. The SED is not prepared to relinquish its claim to power, however. To lend credibility to its pretence to reform, it organises "round table talks" throughout the country. The first was held on 29 October 1989 in front of the Rotes Rathaus, the seat of the government of East Berlin. Günter Schabowski, then head of the East Berlin chapter of the SED, consents to answer questions from a crowd of about 20,000 people. Any hopes that this approach would defuse the protests prove to be in vain. In fact, the crowd manages to impose a moment of silence for the victims of German partition.
A few days later the Wall came down. This accelerates the fall of the SED. The old state and party apparatus is now forced to involve the opposition in the shaping of social changes. Throughout the GDR "round tables" are established for this purpose. The East Berlin round table meets for the first time on 4 December 1989 at Rotes Rathaus. It functions as the de facto transitional government in East Berlin until the first free municipal elections on 6 May 1990.
Alexanderplatz has been a symbol of the struggle for freedom and democracy for over 170 years. During the revolution of 1848, barricades are erected here and it is the scene of violent street battles between royal troops and demonstrators demanding political representation and democratic self-rule. Chants of "We are the people" are heard for the first time. Black, red and gold have been the colours of Germany's democracy movement ever since.
The November revolution of 1918 leads to the fall of the monarchy in Germany. Once again, Alexanderplatz is the scene of bitter fighting between different political groups. The clashes are among the bloodiest in Berlin's history. Governement troops, in tanks and armed with flame-throwers, advance on Alexanderplatz police headquarters, occupied by leftist groups during a general strike in March 1919. War returns to Berlin as these clashes take on the aspect of a civil war.
More than thirty years later, on 17 June 1953, Berliners rise up against SED dictatorship established after the war in the eastern aprt of the city, and protest for freedom and democracy at Alexanderplatz and other places. The Berolina-Haus, then seat of the East Berlin's government, is stormed by the demonstrators in the afternoon.
"The history of our people's struggle for freedom has often been a history of failure - of attempts, mistakes, and defeats. An we cannot pick and choose our past. But for our own sense of identity, for the identity of our community and society, we certainly can chose which traditions we take as our inspiration and which we want to build on." Bundespräsident Roman Herzog am 18. Mai 1998
In the decades that follow, people stage protests at the busy square again and again, undeterred by widespread surveillance. Starting in the summer of 1989, a handful of civil rights activists gather at Alexanderplatz regularly to protest fraud in the elections. On 7 October 1989, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR, the largest demonstration to take place in East Berlin since 1953 starts from here and heads towards the Palace of the Republic. The demonstrations reach their peak in the autumn of 1989, when several hundreds of thousands protesters gather ar Alexanderplatz on 4 November 1989.
On 4 November 1989 hundreds of thousands of people take part in the demonstration which East Berlin artists, in cooperation with the opposition movement Neues Forum (New Forum) have called to the public to attend. Permission for the event has been requested from the authorities and been granted. The SED orders the police and state security services to appear willing to reform. Banners show, however, that the public has no longer confidence in the state party.
Aerial view of Alexanderplatz on 4 November 1989. A huge crowd gathers in the centre of East Berlin to express their displeasure with the policies of the SED regime and to demand democratic change in their country.
The SED leadership holds an extravagant ceremony on 7 October 1989 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR. Members of the party and state leadership take the salute at a military parade on karl Marx Allee, near the Schillingstraße U-Bahn station.
Undeterred by the upheavals of the previous several months - ever greater numbers of people fleeing the country and the establishment of new opposition movements and parties - the SED clings to the ritual.
But the public no longer have any faith in these productions. Instead, many people now pin their hopes for reform on Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He has been introducing new policies there since 1985 and has gained a reputation as a reformer. It is only through change, he believes, that the Communist Party can retain its hold on power and the Soviet empire can be saved. Under the influence of Glasnost (openess) and Perestroika (restructuring), political reforms come to be considered feasible throughout the entire Eastern bloc. The SED, however, refuses to even consider taking the path of reform.
Residents of Karl Marx Allee watch the military parade from their flats.
Mikhail Gorbachev attends the celebrations in East Berlin on 7 October 1989 as a special guest of honour. While the military parade goes smoothly for the most part, more and more people gather to protest at Alexanderplatz in the afternoon. From there, they set off towards the Palace of Republic. The crowd - about 3,000 people strong - chant "Gorbi, help us!", "Freedom!" and "We are the people". As the offical reception takes place in the papalce, protestors outside are driven away by the police. In the evening clashed escalate as the security forces become violent. Hundreds of people are arrested.
On the evening of 7 October 1989 security forces assult demonstrators in East Berlin's city centre, as here on the corner of Mollstraße and Karl Liebknecht Straße. Hundreds of people are arrested.
Strausberger Platz: principal site of the uprising on 17 June 1953 in East Germany.
In early 1953, the GDR finds itself in a serious crisis. As the SED dictaorship becomes entranched, it pursues a repressive domestic agenda. One-sided economic policies lead to severe shortages. In early June 1953 the Moscow leadership forces the SED to ease political and economic restrictions. No cuts are made in the excessive production qutoa that workers have to meet however. This fact leads workers to hold massive protests in June 1953. They stage a walk-out two large construction sites in East Berlin. Already on 16 June constrcution workes gather at Strausberger Platz for a first rally. The next morning thousands gather again Strausberger Platz. The crowds grows quickly over 10,000 people.
The demonstrator's main demands are reductions in work quotas, the release of political prisoners, the resignation of the government and, last but not least, Germany's reunification. At 1:00 PM, the military commander of the Soviet sector declares state of emergency. In a show of force, the uprising is quickly brought to a bloody end by heavily armed troops and tanks. More than 50 demonstrators lose their lives as a result of the uprising. Their demands for free elections are finally met after the Peaceful Revolution of autumn 1989 and in the first free elections on 18 March 1990.
This is not the first uprising to make history at Strausberger Platz. More than 100 years earlier, violent clashes take place here between freedom fighters and goverment forces. During the March revolution of 1848 thousands of demonstrators fight for a liberal government, a repeal of censorship laws, and freedom of press. Barricades are errected at Strausberger Platz on 18-19 March 1848, and the subsequent fighting claims hundreds of lives.
Demaged block of flats at Strausberger Platz. In early 1919 the national government declares a state of emergency in Berlin and cracks down on strikers with extreme force and violence. This leads to civil-war-like street battles that result in widespread destruct and large numbers of dead and wounded.
Commemoration ceremony for the victims of the Chinese democracy movement in front of Samariterkirche, 28 June 1989.
The struggle for freedom and democracy enjoys a long tradition the Berlin worker's district of Friedrichshain. After the November Revolution of 1918, fighting escalates into what might almost be called a civil war. In March 1919, in particular, there are repeated clashes between revolutionairies and government troops in Frankfurter Allee. Strett battles claim the lives of about 1,200 lives throughout the city.
That prayer and candles could bring a dictatorship to its knees – this was something that, at times, not even we dared to hope. Margot Käßmann, former head of the German Evangelical Church, 2009.
In the lead-up to the 1953 uprising, there are strikes in the district. On the morning of 17 June, workers march down Frankfurter Allee towards the city centre. Soviet tanks advance down the street and put down the uprising in the afternoon.
The Samariterkirche (Samartian church) is an improtant centre of dissident acitivty in the GDR in the 1980s. Its blues services, co-organised by pastor Rainer Eppelmann in 1979, combine concerts with religious services and prove to be very popular. The church also hosts the Samariter congregation's "peace circle", one of the GDRs most well known dissident groups. Among other things, it documents electoral fraud in the election of May 1989. In June dissidents beat mourning drums in the church to protest the violent suppression of the Chinese democracy movement. Throughout the Peaceful Revolution, the church serves as a meting place for dissident groups.
Headquarters of the State Security Service (MfS), located between Ruschestraße and Magdalenenstraße.
"Use your imagination against the Stasi and Nasi" is the motto of a demonstration organised by the opposition movement, Neues Forum, on 15 January 1990. The organisers have a clear objective: to shut down the headquarters of the Office of National Security (Amt für Nationale Sicherheit or Nasi), as the Stasi has renamed itself.
In February 1950, four month after the founding of the GDR, a secret police agency - the Ministry for State Security, or Stasi - is established. Their mission is to ensure, by all means possible, the continued rule of the communist party (the SED). They are directed to crush any opposition in its infancy.
Starting on 4 December 1989, druing the Peacful Revolution, Stasi branch offices throughout the GDR are occupied by demonstrators. The want to prevent the reported ongoing destruction of the vast collection of Stasi-files.
The best thing about East Germany was its end. Tom Sello, 27 November 2017.
Thousands of demonstrators gather in front of the complex on the afternoon of 15 January 1990 to prevent further destruction
of records. They occupy the headquarters and bring about the end of the State Security Service by peaceful means. The SED
loses one of its last instruments of power over the citizenry of the GDR, and an era of surveillance and oppression comes
to an end.
Demonstrators gain access to some of the buildings in the srawling complex of the Stasi headquarters and search the offices. The areas containing politically charged documents remain undiscovered.
Bürgerkomitees (citizen commitees) try to monitor the disbanding of the secret police and prevent the destruction of files. But the preserved records remain sealed. Protests in September 1990 finally force the authorities to permit public access to the secret service files. In today's reunited Germany, access to the these files is regulated by law.