The Berlin Wall. Unifying two parts of town.

The Berlin Wall. Berlin-Mitte, January 2014. No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser

Everyone and your dog knows about the Berlin Wall – a cruel and unique construction that devided a city, a country, a continent and the world. Only recently, I found out that Berlin has a long experience when it comes to impressive walls. This is the history of the Berliner Stadtmauer (Berlin’s city Wall) – of which little is known about, and it is only estimated that it is build around 1250. By that time – there was no German capital: it wasn’t too long after the area was beconquered by a Margraviate which ruled from the mighty town of Brandenburg an der Havel. Actually, there wasn’t even one united Berlin: there were two minor settlements on opposing sides of the Spree river.

Berlin around 1300It is hard to make an impression of how life in this city was in the second half of the 13th century. People who visited the Petrikirche wouldn’t even say that they are from Berlin, but from Cölln. While Cölln was located south of the Spree -at the nowadays Museumsinsel (Museum isle) and Fischerinsel (Fisher isle)- at the northern side of the Spree, the settlement was named Berlin – where the God-fearing visited the Nikolaikirche. In total, a few thousand people may have lived in both settlements together. I am not even that good at medieval history – but besides visiting a church, I think that they spend their time fishing in the river, brewing beer and having a cow outside the city, before skinning it and tan some leather.

Not many historical documents from the 12th and 13th centuries survived the turbulent future they were born into. Therefore, the oldest document which give notion of Cölln dates from 1237 – seven years older than Berlin’s prove of existence. Yet, Berlin was given city rights in 1251, and Cölln around 1260. It is also somewhere in the 13th century, the decision was made to protect this regional epicentre of human life and interaction. The stone, later brick, wall up till two meter high was build – while guards at the six gates controlled who came into the towns for the next couple of centuries. All of these gates didn’t make it through the changes of history – and besides some drawings at wikipedia, there is nothing that remembers the historical defense of Berlin’s in the city’s public space. Of course, I got curious how sure we are about the year that The Wall was build. Yet, this is a bit of the problem. The general estimation says it dates back up till ±1250 and the oldest document who makes notion of The Wall dates back from 1318: so it must be older than that. According to Peter Haffiz, a chronicler who lived in the 16th century, the Berlin part of town was enclosed by a stone wall in 1247 already – but it seems a little too early. It comes as a reasonable thought that the settlements were given protection after they were declared a city in 1251 (Berlin) and ±1260 (Cölln) – but it’s not proven by documents. A certain archeologist stated that The Wall is build in the 1270s and 1280s. After The Wall was finished – Berlin and Cölln cooperated increasingly and shared a magistrate since 1307.

Taken everything into account, I’ve got the fair impression that Berlin and Cölln went through a rapid development in the 1240s and 1250s – but it seems a little early to take 1250 as the year that The Wall was build. Perhaps, the first steps were set after Berlin was given city rights in 1251 – but then, it would be reasonable to think that Cölln wasn’t allowed to build their part of The Wall before 1260. On top of that, it took probably a few decades to build this construction – so I think that 1260-1290 is the safest and closest estimation. Please share your thoughts if you don’t share my logic, or if you have more information about this topic.

Miraculously, there is a fragment of The Wall at the Littenstraße that survived all centuries. For various ages, this fragment has been a wall that seperated two houses from each other. I guess that the houses were heavily damaged during World War II, after which they were demolished. In 1948, the ruin is declared as a monument. Thirteen years later – this fragment was not the only wall in Berlin anymore. The difference is that the new Wall wouldn’t unify two different settlements into one city: it devided two parts of a metropole that belonged to each other for the next 28 years.

The Berlin Wall and the Fernsehturm. Berlin-Mitte, January 2014. No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser.

3 thoughts on “The Berlin Wall. Unifying two parts of town.

  1. I visited Berlin in 1959, before the Wall was built. The S-bahn had stopped running to East Berlin, but my friend and I were able to travel there for the day on the U-bahn

    • Hello Peter,
      thanks for another comment and sharing your experience! This article however, is not about the Berlin Wall which is build in 1961. It dates back to a century far before any S&U-Bahn was constructed!

      All the best,

  2. Pingback: Overview | Historical tales about the capital of the 20th century

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