Posts Tagged ‘Battle of Berlin’

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. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/berlin_01.shtml

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-reichstag-prominent-berlin-landmark. 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.

http://www.military-history.us/2015/05/the-battle-of-berlin-16-april-2-may-1945/

 

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Berlin’s Café Kranzler in name only

Monday, July 10th, 2017

For most of 175 years, Berlin’s Café Kranzler was a legendary confectionery, an institution, a place to see and be seen. Berliners revere coffee houses, particularly if the sun is out and sidewalk seating is available. Already back in 1845 they maintained, “A coffee house is part of our social wellbeing, to complement our social life.” Their love affair with cafés continues to this day.

Café Kranzler survived two world wars, the Nazi era, several owners and a changing clientele. But in 2000, it closed its doors forever. Only its landmark red and white awning survives, being on the cultural heritage register.

Café Kranzler’s predecessor

In 1825, the Viennese confectioner Johann Georg Kranzler opened his first modest pastry shop/café on Friedrichstrasse at the corner of Behrenstrasse in the central district of Mitte. The establishment took off, and Mr. Kranzler was able to enlarge his café nine years later, to include the entire first and the second floors of the building.

Café Kranzler – parent house

In 1833, Johann Georg Kranzler closed his original pastry shop and purchased a building right on Berlin’s famous boulevard, Unter den Linden No. 25 at the corner of Friedrichstrasse. Here he opened a café and named it Café Kranzler. It sported a sun terrace and an ice cream parlor. He served Viennese specialty coffees and pastries as well as Russian ice cream. Within a short time, the café became THE meeting place for Berlin’s literary society and bourgeoisie. Here one could meet, discuss and debate. Café Kranzler was the first café in Berlin to place small tables and chairs in the sidewalk and to offer a smokers’ room. The establishment quickly gained the reputation of being one of the city’s finest cafés.

Following Mr. Kranzler’s death in 1866, his heirs sold the café to the Hotel-Betriebs-Aktiengesellschaft. But Café Kranzler’s name and fame continued to live on until the building was completely destroyed on 7 May 1944 during an air raid. The café never re-opened at the Unter den Linden location. Instead, its new permanent home became the already established branch location on Kurfuerstendamm at the corner of Joachimstaler Strasse, near the Zoo station.

 

Former Café Kranzler at Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse after having been completely destroyed by British and American air raids. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-J31402, 1945. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Former Café Kranzler at Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse after having been completely destroyed by British and American air raids. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-J31402, 1945. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Café Kranzler – branch location

In 1932, the Café Kranzler branch on Kurfuerstendamm had opened under the name of Restaurant and Konditorei Kranzler (Restaurant and Patisserie Kranzler), operated by Kempinski Hotels. In 1945, during the Battle of Berlin it, too, was completely destroyed, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-battle-of-berlin-ended-wwii/ and the café did not open its doors again until 1951, long after Berlin’s division.

At the time of the reopening, the café was housed in a one-story structure (ground floor plus an upper story), which was replaced in 1957/1958 with a two-story building (ground floor plus two upper stories) and a rotunda at the top. The rotunda had a red and white striped awning, which became an easily recognizable landmark. After the second re-opening in 1958, Café Kranzler quickly became a magnet for tourists and socialites and grew into something akin to an institution in West Berlin. It was the Kranzler that I knew and loved in the 1960s. Despite being spread over three floors, until the end of 1999, its guests preferred to sit in the sidewalk and watch the world go by.

In 2000, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, all that changed. Café Kranzler had to close its doors for the third time because the city implemented massive redevelopment plans for the area. In 2001, it re-opened as Neues Kranzler Eck, part of a shopping center and operated by the clothier Gerry Weber. The fashion designer occupied the ground and upper floors, and Café Kranzler was limited to the use of the rotunda. In fact, the café became something of an afterthought. It could only be accessed via a staircase inside the clothing store or via an elevator at the end of a long hall. Gone were the days as well of enjoying a coffee in the sidewalk while people-watching. The sidewalk was now off limits to Kranzler guests. It was a café during the day and a bar at night https://www.welt.de/print-welt/article504686/Mit-dem-Cafe-Kranzler-verabschiedet-sich-auch-das-alte-West-Berlin.html

But more changes were to come. In 2016, The British fashion label Superdry replaced Gerry Weber on the first two floors. The spiral staircase leading to the rotunda was re-opened, and The Barn, a specialty coffee roasting firm, now occupies the rotunda of the once legendary Café Kranzler. The world-class relic is gone and exists in name only.

 

Café Kranzler with tenants Superdry and The Barn. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, April 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Café Kranzler with tenants Superdry and The Barn. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, April 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

For readers who are familiar with Café Kranzler, wasn’t there a time in the 70s when Café Zuntz occupied one of the floors? If you remember anything about that, please share it with me.

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park

Monday, June 26th, 2017

 

The Soviet War Memorial (Ehrenmal) in Treptow Park is one of three Soviet war memorials erected in Berlin following World War II. They honor the roughly 80,000 soldiers of the Red Army who fell in the Battle of Berlin, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-battle-of-berlin-ended-wwii/ the final major offensive in the European theatre and one of the largest battles of World War II.

In the last days of the war, between 6 April and 2 May 1945, the Red Army battled bitterly the remnants of the German Army, the old men of the Volkssturm (National Militia) and the Hitler Youth. During that battle, more than 70,000 people were killed. The dead included more than 22,000 Soviet soldiers, 20,000 German soldiers and 30,000 civilians. To commemorate their victory, the Soviets built three lavish war monuments in Berlin: One is located in the park of Berlin-Treptow, the other two are located in Berlin-Pankow and in Berlin-Tiergarten. All three serve not only as war memorials but also as war cemeteries.

The Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park was built between 1946 and 1949 on the site of a previous sports field. Some 5,000 soldiers of the Red Army found a final resting place in this enormous park.

 

Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Experiencing the Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park

After entering the War Memorial through a stone arch, the first monument the visitor comes upon is the statue of Mother Russia, a woman weeping for the loss of her sons. From there, a wide tree-lined path leads to two giant Soviet flags made of red granite. The granite and stones came from Hitler’s demolished New Reich Chancellery, designed by Albert Speer, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/albert-speer-designed-for-ruin-value/ and http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/germania-hitlers-utopian-quest/. The New Reich Chancellery was badly damaged during the Battle of Berlin and completely dismantled by the Soviet occupation forces after World War II had ended. Statues of kneeling soldiers flank the granite flags.

 

Mother Russia statue, Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Mother Russia statue, Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Sixteen stone sarcophagi line the sides of the paths of the Soviet War Memorial. The paths lead to a giant statue in the center of a grassy rotunda. Each sarcophagus represents one of the Soviet Republics in existence at that time. The sarcophagi are decorated with military reliefs and engraved with some of Stalin’s quotes. The imposing statue in the center of the rotunda depicts a Soviet soldier holding a German child in his arm while crushing a swastika at his feet with a sword. According to Marshal Vasily Chuikov, Army Commander during the Battle of Stalingrad, the 40-foot statue commemorates the selfless act of Sergeant of Guards Nikolai Masalov.

Statue of Soviet soldier holding a German child in his arm while crushing a swastika at his feet with a sword. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Statue of Soviet soldier holding a German child in his arm while crushing a swastika at his feet with a sword. Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Masalov is said to have risked his life under heavy German fire to save a three-year-old German girl whose mother was killed. Although many Berliners voice doubt regarding the truthfulness of the story, it is nice to think that some people preserve their humanity, even when at war. What is definitely true is that Svetlana Kotikova served as the model for the German child. She was the daughter of Alexander Kotikov, the commander of Berlin’s Soviet sector who served in Berlin from 1946 on. During the Berlin Airlift http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-airlift-unprecedented-feat/, Kotikov represented the Soviets on the Allied Kommandatura. Commandant Frank L. Howley represented the United States. When Howley asked to be excused shortly before midnight on 16 June 1948 because he had a heavy scheduled the following day and left his Deputy in charge, Kotikov stomped out of the meeting and refused to participate in future meetings. The quadripartite governance of Berlin, in effect, came to an end because of his actions. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allied-kommandatura-governs-berlin/

 Upkeep of Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park

Initially, the Russian government paid for the upkeep of the Soviet War Memorial. But as part of the Two Plus Four Treaty of 1990 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/two-plus-four-treaty/ and the German-Russian agreement on the upkeep of war graves in 1992, Germany agreed to assume the responsibility for maintenance and repair for all war memorials and military graves in the country.

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com