Capital of the Electorate of Brandenburg, of the Kingdom of Prussia, and eventually of united Germany; the city is also a Land in the German Federal Republic.
Berlin began as two small towns, Berlin and Kölln, on the River Spree, a tributary of the Havel and ultimately of the Elbe. It had become the principal residence of the Hohenzollern Electors by the reign of John Cicero (1486-99), though it was his uncle, the Elector Frederick II who paved the way by fully establishing his control in the 1440s. In the reign of Frederick III, from 1701 King Frederick I of Prussia, the small municipalities were joined together to form one municipality, whose 19th century constitution dated from 1809. As the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia and, from 1871, of the German Empire, Berlin tended to be regarded as a Prussian province, though it was not until 1920, during the Weimar Republic, that the city, together with Greater Berlin, was officially given separate status.
For the Nazi Party, Greater Berlin formed a Gau. It was a sign of Hitler’s growing control over the Party when, in 1926, Josef Goebbels threw in his lot with the Führer and became the Gauleiter, a position he held until his suicide in 1945.
In 1945 as the capital of a Germany which was divided into four occupation zones, Berlin was itself divided into four occupation sectors: American (the southwest), British (west), French (northwest), and Soviet (east). The city lay deep within the Soviet Zone; the three Western powers had rights of transit through land and air corridors, a provision of enormous importance in 1948. In that year the Cold War had destroyed the joint government of the city by the four commanders (the Kommandatura, as it was called) and western proposals for currency reform led to the Soviets’ closing of the land routes between Berlin and the west. The western sectors were supplied for many months by an airlift using the air corridors.
Berlin had made a major contribution to the development of the Cold War. Elections were held there in the autumn of 1946, which were contested by the Socialist Unity Party (SED), a merger of the Communist and Social Democratic Parties, brought about with Soviet help in their zone, but also by the Social Democratic Party, which had rejected the merger in the western sectors. The result was a Social Democratic victory, the SED having only a fifth of the vote; the Soviet hopes that Germany would go Communist through the ballot box were shown to be sheer illusion, and over the whole realm of Communist control in eastern Europe the chance of free expression diminished towards extinction.
In 1950 the Basic Law of the new German Federal Republic in the western zones made Berlin both a Land and a city (Stadtstaat) within the Republic, though the provision was suspended because of the international situation. The insecurity of West Berlin, surrounded by the German Democratic Republic, was counteracted by the legality that Berlin, pending a peace settlement, was still an occupied city, and, as 1948-9 had clearly shown, any attempt to infringe the rights of the three occupying powers would carry the risk of war. Thus paradoxically West Berlin’s freedom resulted from its being occupied by foreign troops and this necessarily inhibited too close an identification of the city with the Federal Republic. The Russians for their part had created the German Democatic Republic in their Zone; East Berlin became its capital, and in 1952 when the Republic was divided into districts in place of the Länder, (East) Berlin became one of them.
With the union of the two Germanies in 1990 the 1950 creation of (all) Berlin as a Land in the Federal Republic finally went into effect; the administration of Germany was transferred to the city during the 1990s. The old occupation arrangements were brought to an end through the Treaty on the Final Settlement with respect to Germany, 1990, and the last troops withdrew in 1994.