By 1931, the Great Depression had severely damaged the city’s economy. Politics were in chaos, as militias controlled by the Nazis and the Communists fought for control of the streets. President Hindenburg made Hitler Chancellor in January 1933, and the Nazis quickly moved to take complete control of the entire nation. On February 27, 1933, a left-wing radical set afire the Reichstag building; the fire gave Hitler the opportunity to set aside the constitution. Tens of thousands of the political opponents fled into exile or were imprisoned. All civic organizations, except the churches, came under Nazi control.
This is an amazing color film depicting the streets of Berlin from 1936, untouched by the horrors of war that is about to come.
Around 1933, some 160,000 Jews were living in Berlin: one-third of all German Jews, 4% of the Berlin population. A third of them were poor immigrants from Eastern Europe, who lived mainly in the Scheunenviertel near Alexanderplatz. The Jews were persecuted from the beginning of the Nazi regime. In March, all Jewish doctors had to leave the Charité hospital. In the first week of April, Nazi officials ordered the German population not to buy from Jewish shops.
The 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Berlin and used as a showcase for Nazi Germany (though the Games had been given to Germany before 1933). In order to not alienate the foreign visitors, the “forbidden for Jews” signs were temporarily removed.
Nazi rule destroyed Berlin’s Jewish community, which numbered 160,000 before the Nazis came to power. After the pogrom of Kristallnacht in 1938, thousands of the city’s Jews were imprisoned. Around 1939, there were still 75,000 Jews living in Berlin. The majority of German Jews in Berlin were taken to the Grunewald railway station in early 1943 and shipped in stock cars to death camps such as the Auschwitz, where most were murdered in the Holocaust. Only some 1200 Jews survived in Berlin by hiding.
Thirty kilometers (19 mi) northwest of Berlin, near Oranienburg, was Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where mainly political opponents and Russian prisoners of war were incarcerated. Tens of thousands died there. Sachsenhausen had subcamps near industries, where the prisoners had to work. Many of these camps were in Berlin.
In the late 1930s, Hitler and his architect Albert Speer made plans for the new Berlin—a world city or Welthauptstadt Germania. All the projects were to be of gigantic size. Adjacent to the Reichstag, Speer planned to construct theVolkshalle (The People’s Hall), 250 m high, with an enormous copper dome. It would be large enough to hold 170,000 people. From the People’s Hall, a southbound avenue was planned, the Avenue of Victory, 23 m wide and 5.6 kilometers (3.5 mi) long. At the other end there would have been the new railway station, and next to it Tempelhof Airport. Halfway down the avenue, there would have been a huge arch 117 m high, commemorating those fallen during the world wars. With the completion of these projects (planned for 1950), Berlin was to be renamed “Germania.”
The war postponed all construction, as the city instead built giant concrete towers as bases for anti-aircraft guns. Today only a few structures remain from the Nazi era, such as the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (National Ministry of Aviation), Tempelhof International Airport, Olympiastadion. Hitler’s Reich Chancellery was demolished by Soviet occupation authorities.