Posts Tagged ‘Adolf Hitler’

The Battle of Berlin Ended WWII

Monday, July 17th, 2017


The Battle of Berlin was the last major European battle fought during World War II. It pretty much ended the war, but at a huge human cost. It was primarily fought between the Soviet and the German armies. Altogether, nearly 200,000 soldiers died during the last three weeks of World War Two, almost as many as the United States lost during the entire war.

Seelower Hoehen – preceding the Battle of Berlin

The Red Army considered Seelower Hoehen (Seelow Heights) – a region located about 56 miles east of Berlin – the “Gates to Berlin.” Soviet leaders speculated that breaking German positions at Seelower Hoehen would clear the path to the capital. To that end, on 15 April 1945, Russian forces launched one of the most powerful artillery barrages in history. After three days, the German Army was all but crushed, and mainly old men and the Hitler Youth were left to defend the area. German resolve to continue to fight was largely due to fear of Russian retributions. On 19 April 1945, the Red Army defeated the German forces once and for all and advanced on the capital.

The Battle of Berlin

The road to Berlin now lay open. By 20 April 1045, the Soviets began to bomb the city, and within a few days, the Red Army had completely surrounded Berlin. The Soviets completely outnumbered the Germans in terms of men and equipment.  Once they entered Berlin, the fighting became fierce. The city was taken street by street and building by building. Casualties on both sides were high. Over a three-week period, the Red Army fired more than two million artillery shells into the already devastated capital, a city that had been continuously bombed by British and American aircraft since 1943. The total tonnage of ordnance fired by the Russians during the Battle of Berlin exceeded the tonnage of all allied bombing of the city during the rest of the war.

Why did the Russians fight so hard for Berlin?

A generally accepted explanation is that Joseph Stalin, Premier of the Soviet Union, was desperate to get to Berlin before the Americans did. Why? Stalin wanted to seize the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut, a German nuclear research center in the southwestern part of Berlin. Stalin knew of the American atomic nuclear program and also knew that the Russian nuclear program – Operation Borodino – was lagging behind. It was Stalin’s hope that Soviet scientists would find information at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut that could advance the Russian program. As it turned out, Soviet scientists discovered three tons of uranium oxide at the institute, which facilitated the work on their first nuclear weapon.

Where was Hitler during the Battle of Berlin?

Cut off from the reality of the fighting above, Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany, was holding out in his underground bunker beneath the Chancellery. On 30 April, he committed suicide together with his mistress Eva Braun. They had married only hours before. Their bodies were partially burned in the rubble outside the bunker.

The End of the Battle of Berlin

On 2 May 1945, Germany surrendered. A Russian infantry soldier, Sergeant Shcherbina, raised the Red Flag on the top of the Reichstag The war was over. The final count was:


82,000 Russians killed during the battles of Seelower Hoehen and Berlin,

275,000 Russians wounded or missing in action,

2,000 Russian tanks destroyed,

2,100 Russian artillery pieces destroyed.

100,000 Germans killed,

200,000 Germans wounded,

480,000 Germans captured,

the City of Berlin reduced to rubble,

100,000 German women raped.



For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


Schwerbelastungskoerper for Germania

Monday, June 12th, 2017


The Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin (heavy load-bearing body) is a colossal concrete cylinder from the Nazi era. It is the only remaining tangible relic of Adolf Hitler’s vision of transforming Berlin into Germania, the capital of the world. Since 2002, Berlin’s borough of Tempelhof owns this one-of-a-kind concrete tube. Open to the public, the Schwerbelastungskoerper is located on General-Pape-Strasse, not far from Tempelhof airport.

Two enormous structures to anchor Hitler’s Germania

In the summer of 1936, Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, handed Albert Speer, his chief architect, two postcard-sized sketches that were about 10 years old. The rough drafts outlined two monumental buildings that were to define Germania: the Great Arch and the Great Hall. The triumphal Great Arch was to honor the soldiers killed in World War I and to be three times as large as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The Great Hall, a gigantic domed assembly hall, was to be Berlin’s most impressive building. It was to be so large that it would eclipse every structure in Berlin.

Why the Schwerbelastungskoeper was built

In March 1928, Albert Speer created Project no. 15: Soils tests to determine whether Berlin’s sandy and swampy soil could support such large monuments. A test cube with 33-foot sides was to be constructed. In the end, it turned out to be a cylinder, close to 100 feet high with a 33-foot diameter underground and a 69-foot diameter above the surface. Between April and November 1941, almost 14,000 U.S. tons of concrete were poured at a cost of 400,000 Reichsmark.


Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin-Tempelhof, relic of the Nazi era. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin-Tempelhof, relic of the Nazi era. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

But because of the start of World War II, the Schwerbelastungskoerper remained unfinished. When the heavy load bearing capacity of the soil underneath was finally measured in 1948, the colossus had sunk 19.4 cm (7 inches) in a period of two and a half years. The maximum acceptable settling without additional stabilization of the ground prior to construction was 2 cm. In other words, without additional work, the Great Arch and the Great Hall could not have been built.

The Schwerbelastungskoerper below ground. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

The Schwerbelastungskoerper below ground. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Fate of the Schwerbelastungskoerper

After the Second World War, plans to blow up the Schwerbelastungskoerper were discarded because of the dangers explosives might have presented to nearby train tracks and apartment buildings. For a while, the German Society for Soil Mechanics used the cylinder to perform various tests on site. But after 1983 the structure was no longer needed and the Schwerbelastungskoerper was abandoned. For a number of years, the cylinder was neglected, and the area around it became overgrown. Now it is open to visitors. From an adjacent observation platform, the visitor can even overlook the area that Hitler once envisioned as the heart of Germania.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Germania – Hitler’s Utopian Quest

Monday, June 5th, 2017


In 1937, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler assigned his chief architect, Albert Speer, the task of developing a plan for transforming Berlin into the “capital of the world.” Hitler envisioned a metropolis with monumental architecture that would rival those ancient Egypt, Babylon, Rome and Athens. He named this utopian dream Germania. The plan was so impressive that even the New York Times described the project as “perhaps the most ambitious planning scheme of the modern era.”

Speer’s model of the proposed Germania

Speer went to work and within a year presented Hitler with a model of his grand design. At the core of the model were two broad boulevards, which would run through the heart of Berlin: a north-south axis and an east-west axis. He called the three-mile long north-south boulevard Prachtstrasse (Street of Magnificence). In the north, the Prachtstrasse terminated in a Volkshalle (People’s Hall); its southern end terminated in a triumphal arch. In Speer’s design, the Volkshalle rose to a height in excess of 700 feet. Its dome was to be sixteen times larger than that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Hall would accommodate 180,000 people.


Model of Hitler's proposed Germania. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Model of Hitler’s proposed Germania. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Speer’s triumphal arch was close to 400 feet high so that Paris’ Arc de Triomphe would easily fit inside its opening. Oodles of proposed new civic and commercial buildings along the north/south axis would link these two massive monuments. Roads, would to be realigned, Berlin’s parks would be revamped and two new rail stations would replace three existing timeworn termini. Speer proposed that entire suburbs would to be constructed to provide modern housing so that over 200,000 Berliners could move out of the slums and into the heart of the city. Furthermore, a plethora of new administrative buildings and commercial developments would be constructed. To see a model of Hitler’s utopian metropolis visit Mythos Germany in the Gesundbrunnen subway station. For hours and fees contact

Did Germania come to pass?

Albert Speer designed many grand structures in and outside of Berlin. In Berlin, he completed the Olympic Stadium in 1936, Hermann Goering’s Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium) in 1936 – the largest office building in the world at the time with over 4 miles of corridors – and Hitler’s new Reich Chancellery in 1938. But only a tiny fraction of Hitler’s grandiose plans for Germania ever came to pass before the project came to a halt on account of World War II. Today, only Speer’s almost 14,000 U.S. ton Schwerbelastungskoerper (heavy load bearing body) near the Airport Tempelhof still stands. It was built to determine whether Berlin’s sandy and swampy soil could support Germania’s large monuments.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of



Albert Speer Designed for Ruin Value

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Albert Speer (1905-1981) was Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. Speer’s career skyrocketed after joining the Nazi Party in 1931. Blessed with strong architectural and organizational skills, he became a powerful man during the Nazi era, both in government and in politics. As part of Hitler’s inner circle, Albert Speer designed many well-known projects. Always on a grand scale, his projects included the Zeppelinfeld Stadium in Nuernberg, the Reich Chancellery and above all, Germania, Hitler’s utopian notion of transforming Berlin into the capital of the world.

Albert Speer (1905-1981) Adolf Hitler's chief architect. Photo courtesy of Spartacus Educational.

Albert Speer (1905-1981) Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. Photo courtesy of Spartacus Educational.

Speer designed for “ruin value.” That meant that buildings had to be constructed in such a way that they would make aesthetically pleasing ruins. It would guarantee, his thinking was, that Nazi Germany ruins would remain symbols of greatness throughout history, akin to ancient Greek and Roman ruins.

Albert Speer’s Rise to Power

Albert Speer was a third generation architect from an upper-middle-class family. He met Hitler for the first time when the organizers of the 1933 Nuernberg Rally asked him to submit designs for the rally. Speer quickly became close to Hitler, which guaranteed him a steady stream of government commissions. Before long, he was the Party’s chief architect.

When Hitler asked Speer to build him a new Reich Chancellery in 1938, Speer’s design included a 480-foot Marble Gallery, almost twice as long as the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles. Damaged in the Battle of Berlin in 1945, the Reich Chancellery was eventually dismantled by the Soviets. They used the stone to build the Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park. As Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer applied his organizational skills toward the end of the war to overcome serious war production losses due to Allied bombings. Under his direction, German war production continued to increase despite the bombings.

Albert Speer during the Nuernberg Trials

Following World War II, Albert Speer was tried at Nuernberg and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his war crimes and crimes against humanity. He served the full sentence, most of it in the Spandau Prison in former West Berlin. He was released in 1966. During his testimony, Speer accepted responsibility for the Nazi regime’s actions. However, he claimed to have been unaware of Nazi extermination activities. That assertion was proven to be false. He did, however, deliberately disobey Hitler’s orders when the dictator issued the Nero Decree in March of 1945. The Nero Decree demanded the destruction of infrastructure within Germany and all occupied territories to prevent their use by Allied forces.

What remained of Albert Speer’s “grand” designs

Little remains of Albert Speer’s designs, short of plans and photographs. In Berlin, only the Schwerbelastungskoerper (heavy load bearing body), not far from Tempelhof airport, still stands and is open to the public. The concrete cylinder was built in 1941/1942 to determine the feasibility of constructing giant buildings on Berlin’s sandy soil – envisioned for Germania – without additional stabilization. In Nuernberg, the partially demolished tribune of the Zeppelinfeld Stadium survived.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

November 9 – a weighty date in Germany

Monday, January 9th, 2017


November 9 is a weighty date in German history. Depending on the year, it conjures up acts of brutality or widespread euphoria. In 1938, Nazis in Germany and Austria plundered Jewish homes and businesses, torched synagogues and killed and deported Jews during the night of 9 November to 10 November. The night became known as Kristallnacht (crystal night).

On 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell after having separated family and friends for 28 years, which prompted a jubilant celebration.,,

Events preceding Kristallnacht

In the 1920s, most German Jews were fully integrated into German society. When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the situation changed. Hitler branded the 500,000 Jews living in Germany (about 0.86% of the total German population) as enemies of the State. He blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I and for the hyperinflation in the 1920s and quickly introduced policies that restricted their rights. Jewish citizens lost the ability to work in civil service, to get accepted into university and to marry non-Jewish Germans. Many Jews left Germany, but as the number of Jews wanting to leave increased, so did the restrictions against them.

In August 1938, authorities revoked residence permits for foreigners, including those of German-born Jews of foreign origin. In the so-called Polenaktion on 28 October 1938, more than 12,000 Polish-born Jews were expelled from Germany. The deportees were put on trains to the Polish border. But Polish border guards sent them back to Germany because Poland no longer accepted “Jews of former Polish origin.” The deportees ended up walking back and forth between Germany and Poland for days. Among those expelled were the Grynszpans, Polish Jews who had emigrated to Germany in 1911 and settled in the north of Germany. Their teenage son Herschel was living in Paris when he received a postcard from his parents on 3 November 1938, describing their expulsion. Four days later, Herschel went to the German embassy in Paris with a revolver in his pocket. He was directed to the office of Ernst vom Rath, a German embassy official. Young Grynszpan fired five bullets at vom Rath who succumbed to his wounds two days later.

What happened during Kristallnacht in 1938?

When news of the death of Ernst vom Rath reached Nazi officials, they decided that the Jews would have to pay for vom Rath’s death. During the night of 9 November to 10 November, Nazi storm troopers destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses, set fire to more than 900 synagogues, killed 91 Jews and deported some 30,000 Jewish men to concentration camps.

The sounds of breaking glass shattered the air and littered the streets throughout Germany and parts of Austria, which gave rise to the term “Kristallnacht.”

Kristallnacht had also provided an opportunity for Hitler to totally remove Jews from German public life. He ordered that henceforth Jews would be prohibited from practicing most professions in the private sector; Jewish businesses could not be reopened unless non-Jews managed them; Jewish children would be barred from attending school and Jews would lose the right to hold a driver’s licenses or own an automobile. The Nazis held the Jewish community liable for the damages caused during Kristallnacht and imposed a fine of one-billion Reichsmark. In the ten months following Kristallnacht, more than 115,000 Jews emigrated from the Reich. The majority went to other European countries, the US and Palestine. At least 14,000 went to Shanghai.

Kristallnacht and the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989

Decades later after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany chose to declare 3 October 1990 – the day of German reunification – a national holiday rather than 9 November 1989. The main reason cited was the association of the latter date with the anniversary of Kristallnacht, which had occurred more than 50 years earlier.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of





Recreation of Hitler Bunker

Monday, November 21st, 2016


In October 2016, more than 71 years after Adolf Hitler committed suicide, Historiale, an organization which runs the Berlin Story Bunker Museum, recreated part of the Hitler Bunker (Fuehrerbunker) for the public’s benefit. The privately funded museum vows that it will not allow the exhibit to become a neo-Nazi shrine. It says it is merely responding to tourist demand. Tourists are curious where the Hitler Bunker was located and what it looked like inside Historiale claims. But the nearby state-funded Topography of Terror Museum, built on the site of the former Gestapo headquarters, blasts the museum’s bunker recreation as a Disneyland-style approach to Berlin’s past.

History of the Hitler Bunker

The Hitler bunker was the last air raid shelter used by Adolf Hitler during World War II. It was located beneath the garden of the Chancellery (Reichskanzlei) near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. The bunker consisted of about 30 small rooms that were protected by 13 feet of concrete.

Hitler moved into the Fuehrerbunker in January 1945. By 19 April 1945, the Soviets began to encircle the city. On 20 April, Hitler made his last trip to the surface. As fierce street fighting raged outside, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony inside the bunker. On 30 April, the day following the wedding, he is said to have shot himself while Braun took cyanide.

The Hitler bunker was discovered by Red Army and Allied troops in the spring of 1945. The Soviets leveled both Chancellery buildings between 1945 and 1949, but the underground bunker complex largely survived until 1988–89 when the East German government ripped out the interior and filled the site with rubble.

What does the actual Hitler Bunker site look like today?

To keep the Hitler Bunker site from attracting attention, the government of the reunited Germany built apartment buildings and a parking lot where the emergency exit for the Fuehrerbunker was once located. In 2006, an information board was installed to mark the location of the former Hitler Bunker. The board is located at the corner of In den Ministergaerten and Gertrud-Kolmar-Strasse near Potsdamer Platz.

Site of former Hitler Bunker in 2014, photo © J. Elke Ertle,

Site of former Hitler Bunker in 2014, photo © J. Elke Ertle,

Information Board at the formerl Hitler Bunker site in 2014, photo © J. Elke Ertle,

Information Board at the former Hitler Bunker site in 2014, photo © J. Elke Ertle,

Where is the recreated Hitler Bunker located?

The recreated Hitler Bunker is located in a former underground air raid bunker at the Anhalter Bahnhof, about one mile from the actual bunker site. The permanent exhibit contains a life-sized recreation of Hitler’s underground living and workrooms (although the furniture is not original). There is a picture of Friedrich der Grosse (Frederick the Great) on the wall, a grandfather clock in one corner and an oxygen canister in the other. The bunker is filled with black and white photographs of Hitler and his entourage.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Two Common Autobahn Fallacies

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

I just have to mention the word “Autobahn,” and the eyes of my male friends light up instantly. “Still no speed limit, right?” Their question sounds like a curious mix of awe and envy because Germany’s Autobahnen (motorways) are famous for their absence of speed limits.

Autobahn Fallacy # 1

“True,” I want to tell my friends, “but also a bit misleading. There is hardly a significant stretch of Autobahn that allows you to press the pedal to the metal.” But I usually just let it go. Why not let them feel the excitement of the wind in their hair. If only for a brief moment. In reality, German motorways have no posted speed limit, UNLESS…. and that one little word changes everything. There is no speed limit for cars and motorbikes UNLESS the motorway traverses an urbanized area or unless the stretch is accident-prone or under construction. And since German summers are short, construction zones are ubiquitous. There are few stretches that allow a motorist to test the car’s muscle.

Autobahn by Langsdorf Credit: Wikipedia

Autobahn by Langsdorf
Credit: Wikipedia

Autobahn Fallacy # 2

Generally, Adolf Hitler is credited with the planning, design and construction of the German Autobahn. Another half-truth. The Nazis initially rejected the Autobahn as a “luxury road.” But after coming to power in 1933, Hitler embraced the Autobahn project as his idea. His propaganda machines called it Strassen des Fuehrers – roads of the Leader. Although about a quarter of Germany’s current motorway network was originally constructed during the Third Reich, the initial planning and design work had been done much earlier. Stufa (Studiengesellschaft fuer den Automobilstrassenbau – study group for road construction) began planning a German highway network as early as 1924, long before Hitler. Next, a private initiative (HaFraBa) designed and partially built a “car only road” from Hamburg via Frankfurt am Main to Basel in Switzerland. HaFraBa completed parts of that road in the late 1930s and early 1940’s prior to the start of World War II. And the very first stretch of today’s Autobahn was completed in 1932, also prior to Hitler’s ascent to power. It stretched between Cologne and Bonn and was inaugurated on 6 August 1932 by Konrad Adenauer, then Mayor of Cologne and later Chancellor of West Germany. The stretch of Autobahn was initially known as Kraftfahrstrasse (motor vehicle road). Today, that same stretch is called Bundesautobahn (Federal motorway) 555.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


Stauffenberg tries to kill Hitler

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was a primary conspirator in the attempted assassination of German dictator, Adolf Hitler, along with military leaders Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler. By 1944, a small group of high-ranking German officials had come to believe that assassination was the only option to prevent Hitler from continuing to pursue the suicidal course he had started.

Stauffenberg’s background

Claus von Stauffenberg was born in 1907 at his family’s castle in the south of Germany. He attended the War Academy in Berlin and joined the army in 1926. He served in combat in all of Hitler’s major battles and was seriously wounded during a military operation in North Africa, which cost him his left eye, right hand and the last two fingers of the left hand. During Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Stauffenberg became aware of and took exception to the atrocities committed by the German Army against Soviet prisoners of war, the Jews and other civilians in Russia. After being promoted to Colonel in June of 1944 and appointed Chief of Staff to Home Army Commander General Friedrich Fromm, Stauffenberg gained direct access to Hitler’s briefing sessions.

Claus von Stauffenberg

Claus von Stauffenberg

The coup to kill Hitler

Following Hitler’s and his military leaders’ presumed death, the plan called for three men to take control of the German Army: Friedrich Fromm, Ludwig Beck and Erwin von Witzleben. The men were also to seize key government buildings, radio stations and telephone centers. Stauffenberg was to become State Secretary of the War Ministry. On the fateful day of July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg and his aide, Werner von Haeften, flew to a briefing with Hitler and other officials at the Wolfschanze–Wolf’s Lair–Hitler’s military headquarters on the eastern front. Stauffenberg, who had never met Hitler before, carried a bomb in his briefcase. He placed it on the floor of the briefing room and seemingly left to make a phone call. Shortly thereafter the bomb exploded. Assuming that the assassination had succeeded, Stauffenberg and Haeften returned to Berlin to put the second part of the planned coup into motion. However, co-conspirator General Friedrich Olbricht had failed to seize key government buildings, radio stations and telephone centers in the interim. And worse, the news came that Hitler had survived the blast with only a badly injured arm. The plot unraveled quickly and the following day, Stauffenberg was executed by firing squad.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.