Posts Tagged ‘Emperor Wilhelm II’

Berliner Dom Transforms Multiple Times

Monday, October 9th, 2017


The Protestant Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) is located on Museum Island in the heart of Berlin, alongside the River Spree. It is Berlin’s largest church and a frequent venue for concerts and readings. The massive dome that soars above the main nave has become a well-known landmark in the city’s historic center. Despite the name, the Berlin Cathedral is not an actual cathedral since the church is not the seat of a bishop. Instead, it has the status of a parish church. During the Hohenzollern dynasty (rulers of Prussia) and during the reign of the German Emperors, the Berliner Dom was the court’s church.


Tops of Berliner Dom, two spires and Television Tower. Photo © Gundi Seifert, 2017.

Tops of Berliner Dom, two spires and Television Tower. Photo © Gundi Seifert, 2017.


History of the Berliner Dom

The Berliner Dom has a long history. It started as a modest Roman Catholic church in the 15th century, became a Protestant place of worship, was elevated to the status of supreme parish church and survived several demolitions and reconstructions.

FIRST CHURCH – In 1451, Prince-Elector Friedrich II (Irontooth) of Brandenburg moved into the newly erected Stadtschloss (City Place) on the southern part of Museums Island. Read: Berlin’s Museum Island The Stadtschloss included a Catholic chapel. In 1454, Friedrich II elevated that chapel to a Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church.

SECOND CHURCH -Friedrich II wanted a freestanding church, and in 1465 he had one constructed on the present site, across from the Stadtschloss. Read: Stadtschloss Berlin Reconstruction The new church was an unpretentious building. Following the Reformation, it became a Lutheran church and also served the Hohenzollern family as their court church.

THIRD CHURCH – In 1747, that second church was completely demolished and replaced by a Baroque building. Then, between 1820 and 1822, the Baroque church was remodeled into a neo-classical edifice.

FOURTH AND PRESENT CHURCH – In 1894, Emperor Wilhelm II ordered demolition of the neo-classical building and the construction of the much bigger, present-day cathedral to ensure that the Protestant Berliner Dom compared favorably to the Catholic St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Construction of the current structure was completed in 1905.

War Damage and Reconstruction of the Berliner Dom

In 1944, toward the end of World War II, a firebomb hit the Berliner Dom and severely damaged the dome itself and much of the structure. Following the division of Germany and Berlin, the Cathedral was located in East Berlin. Despite plans to raze the church, East German government officials had a temporary roof installed to protect what remained of the church’s interior. In 1975, they ordered the demolition of the cathedral’s northern wing. It had survived the war intact but had to go because it housed the Denkmalskirche, a Memorial Church and Hall of Honor for the Hohenzollern dynasty. At the same time, as many crosses as possible were removed from the cathedral. Fortunately, however, the East German government decided to reconstruct the remainder of the church in simplified form.

By 1984, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, restoration of the interior began. Following reunification work continued, and in 1993, the Berliner Dom reopened. The cathedral was consecrated for the second time in 1996 while restoration work continued until 2002.

What not to miss when visiting the Berliner Dom

The Berliner Dom is considerable more ornate than most Protestant churches. Aside from an abundance of marble columns and gilded ornaments, the cathedral’s dome, pipe organ, Imperial Stairwell and crypt are particularly worth seeing.

The DOME of the Berlin Cathedral reaches a height of 322 feet. The outer structure was rebuilt with a simplified cupola and spires. The dome is intricately decorated with mosaics, created by Anton von Werner.

The cathedral’s richly decorated IMPERIAL STAIRWELL was already used by the German Emperor. After climbing 267 steps to the viewing gallery, visitors are rewarded with splendid views of the entire interior of the Berliner Dom and of central Berlin.

From 1545 on, the royal family of Hohenzollern used the church as the family burial place. The Hohenzollern CRYPT contains nearly 94 coffins, sarcophagi and burial monuments from four centuries. Cathedral The only Hohenzollern ruler not buried here is Kaiser Wilhelm II, who abdicated in 1918, at the end of the First World War.

The reconstructed PIPE ORGAN has more than 7,000 pipes and was originally built by Wilhelm Sauer in 1905.

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 my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



The Captain from Koepenick Ruse

Monday, May 30th, 2016

The Captain from Koepenick was an out-of-work ex-convict who became a legend in Germany after impersonating a Prussian First Guard officer. His real name was Wilhelm Voigt. His is a true story. Voigt decided to masquerade as a military officer because he was caught in a vicious circle: He could not get a passport because he was unemployed, and he could not get work because he didn’t have a passport. The Captain from Koepenick (Der Hauptmann von Koepenick in German) has been the basis of numerous films, plays, television shows and musicals.

Who was the Captain from Koepenick?

Wilhelm Voigt was born in 1849 to a shoemaker’s family in Tilsit, East Prussia (now Sovetsk, Russia). From the age of 14, he was in and out of prison for petty crimes. Upon his umpteenth discharge from the penitentiary in 1906, Voigt decided to start an honest life but found himself caught in a dilemma: His prison record made it impossible for him to obtain residency, and without prove of residency he could not get work. A passport could have fixed his problem. Therefore, he purchased a used captain’s uniform and commandeered several grenadiers to Koepenick’s Town Hall near Berlin, Germany (now part of Berlin). Indoctrinated to obey officers without question, they followed his orders. The fake Captain from Koepenick then arrested the mayor and city treasurer and ordered them to be hauled to the Neue Wache in Berlin for questioning (http://www.walled-in-berlin/j-elke-ertle/neue-wache-in-berlin/). In the meantime, Voigt tried to steal a passport from the passport department. When he found out that Koepenick’s Town Hall did not handle passports at all, he turned to Plan B and ordered confiscation of the entire town treasury. The faux Captain of Kopeenick made off with 3,557.45 marks (about €21,000 in today’s money).

The unmasking of the Captain from Koepenick

Despite returning the money, Wilhelm Voigt was sentenced to four years in prison. However, two years into his sentence, Prussian Emperor Wilhelm II pardoned him, and Voigt was a free man. After his release, the faux Captain of Koepenick immediately capitalized on his newfound fame: He gave speeches, toured in Europe and the United States and published his autobiography. Finally, in 1910 he was issued a passport to Luxembourg where he remained until his death in 1922.

What makes this a timeless story?

The Captain from Koepenick ruse demonstrates the absurdity of unconditional obedience and absolute authority. Uniforms (clothes) should not make a man. Even today, Wilhelm Voigt is still considered a hero in Germany. His story is taught in German schools as an example of courageous resistance to unjust government and authority.

The Captain from Koepenick Legacy

First buried in Luxembourg, Wilhelm Voigt was reburied in Berlin in 1999. A statue of the “Captain from Koepenick” in uniform stands in front of Koepenick’s Town Hall. The uniform itself is on exhibit inside the Town Hall. A plaque describes the deception.

Statue of Wilhelm Voigt impersonating the Captain from Koepenick, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

Statue of Wilhelm Voigt impersonating the Captain from Koepenick, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,


To watch a video of the 1956 movie “Der Hauptmann von Koepenick” online, visit 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


















Usedom – Germany’s Sunniest Region

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Usedom is an island in the Baltic Sea. Shared by Germany and neighboring Poland, its Polish name is Uznam. Prior to 1945, the entire island was part of Germany. However, following World War II and in keeping with the Potsdam Agreement, the eastern part of the island was relinguished to Poland. At the same time, the native German inhabitants were expelled westward and replaced by Poles. Many of the Poles who repopulated the vacated area had been expelled themselves by the Soviets from what had been eastern Poland.

Today, Usedom’s 172 square miles are split between the two countries. About 80% of the island belongs to Germany. However, almost 60% of the isle’s total population of 76,500 inhabits the Polish part of the island. Following World War II and before German Reunification in 1990, Usedom’s German part of the island was part of East Germany.

Usedom’s Geography

The major German cities on Usedom include the city of Usedom in the west, the Dreikaiserbaeder (Three Emperor Spas) Heringsdorf, Ahlbeck and Bansin in the southeast Zinnowitz and the Amber Spas (Koserow, Loddin, Ueckeritz and Zempin) in the northeast, and the small port of Peenemuende in the north of the island. A tiny fishing village in the 1930s, Peenemuende has a darker history. Hitler launched the V-2 rocket here. Today, very little of the weapons factory remains because most of it was destroyed during Allied raids.

The largest city on the Polish side of the island is Swinoujscie. Its German name is Swinemuende.

Usedom – the Sun Island

Usedom is often called the “Sun Island” because it receives more sunshine than any other region in Germany or Poland. And since Germans are famous for their insatiable appetite for sunshine, the island’s average 2,000 hours of sun per year makes it a choice coastal resort. But sunshine is not the only reason Germans like to vacation on Usedom. Its wide variety of attractions include the island’s 25 miles of white sand beaches, its string of elegant 19th century villas, its renowned medical and wellness spas and its unspoiled nature. In 1990, the entire island was designated a nature preserve. Its interior features castles, lakes and historic villages. A five-mile promenade connects Usedom’s Dreikaiserbaeder. On one side, elegant Wilhelminian villas line the boardwalk. On the other side, sun worshippers relax in wicker beach baskets, known as Strandkoerbe (for more information on the history of the Strandkorb, visit Small pine forests separate the villages.

Strandkoerbe (wicker beach baskets) line the beaches of Usedom, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Strandkoerbe (wicker beach baskets) line the beaches of Usedom, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Usedom’s History

Usedom has been settled since the Stone Age. Since the late 19th century the island has been a popular summer resort. Two German emperors — Friedrich III (1831 to 1888) and Wilhelm II (1859 to 1941) — were frequent visitors. Wealthy Berliners built their palatial villas on the island. Even during the Cold War Usedom retained its exclusivity because top Communist party functionaries enjoyed the grand island villas. Many of the officials came to savor the Freikoerperkultur (FKK) on the beaches. (for more on FKK in Germany, visit Although FKK beaches still exist on Usedom, nudity-seekers are greatly outnumbered by spa-goers.


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.



Heinrich Zille and his milieu

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Heinrich Zille was a German illustrator and photographer and one of the most famous Berliners of the first half of the 20th century. He was best known for his tongue in cheek portrayals of Berlin’s working class. He sketched during the late 1900s and into the roaring 1920s. At that time, a great majority of the city’s population (96%) rented.

Workers’ lived in Mietskasernen

Berlin grew rapidly during the industrial revolution. In search of prosperity, scores of people moved from the countryside to the cities between 1860 and 1914. Unfortunately, the move often pushed them into even deeper poverty. Although menial work was available in Berlin, housing was extremely difficult to find. Many of these transplants ended up living in deplorable conditions. The most common accommodation was a one-room apartment in a Mietskaserne (tenement barracks). These barracks were five stories high and had front, rear, and cross buildings surrounding several courtyards. The relative posh front building housed the middle class. The working class occupied all of the back buildings. These structures in the rear might consist of three to eight building groups, separated by small rectangular courtyards. The courtyards were only large enough to allow for a fire truck to turn around. Entire families lived in a few square feet and under conditions that seem unimaginable today. Many lived in damp basements, attics and spaces under stairs. The windows of lower-level apartments were often blocked by courtyard businesses. Many shift workers shared a room and the same bed. Some of the buildings housed as many as 3,000 individuals (20% of the apartments did not have running water, 34% did not have a toilet and 72% did not have a bathroom). Stoves burning charcoal briquettes provided the heat.

Heinrich Zille sketches his milieu

Heinrich Zille sketched the social settings in which the Berlin working class went about their everyday business. Because he sketched the unpleasant and often hopeless conditions of the common worker, German Emperor Wilhelm II referred to Heinrich Zille as a “gutter artist.”

Zille’s milieu could be found in the courtyards of tenement buildings, in the back alleys and in seedy bars. His illustrations showed children, ragged and unwashed, dirty and with bloody noses. He sketched the dark entrances of the tenements, the hanky-panky in courtyards and stairwells and families at weekly markets. He sketched kids playing in mud, basement businesses with signs “Buying rags and bones” and mothers ready to drown themselves to escape their hopeless life.

Heinrich Zille's "Blumenerde" - potting soil - (reproduction, part of the Axel Springer collection and presented to customers of the Berliner Morgenpost

Heinrich Zille’s “Blumenerde” – potting soil – (reproduction, part of the Axel Springer collection and presented to customers of the Berliner Morgenpost)

Many of Heinrich Zille’s works can be seen at the Zille Museum in Berlin’s Nikolai Quarter of Berlin, Provost Strasse 11.


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.