The Building Blocks of Berlin

1183 words | 4 page(s)

Since originating as a trading post in the 13th century, Berlin has flourished, becoming one of the most influential cities in Germany. Today as the capital of Germany, Berlin is a vast city with a population of 3.4 million people and spans extending over 889 square kilometers. It is widely considered a hub of culture, art, music, food, and education. Much like today, during the 18th and 19th centuries, Berlin was a thriving metropolis. It was home to great advancement during its inclusion in the Kingdom of Prussia, specifically from the years 1700 to 1848. Before the year 1700, many impoverished individuals called “Old Berlin” home. In the 17 and 1800s, Berlin began to see a change that made many consider it a different type of city and name it “New Berlin”. Prices soared, causing displacement of the original inhabitants to nearby villages outside of the city (Poling 248). Even though people were displaced, making the population of “New Berlin” drastically different from “Old Berlin”, Berlin became a thriving metropolis during this time because different types of education were founded, voting was opened to the public, unity was formed amongst the people, and great effort was put into the advancement of the army.

Education has always been the key to success. With the availability of universal primary schooling to his soldiers, King Friedrich Wilhelm I made the first steps towards the betterment of Berlin through his reign. King Friedrich Wilhelm I was an essential building block to Berlin’s education system. Not only did he make primary school universal for his soldiers, but he also founded the first hospital and medical school in Berlin. In 1710, the foundation of the Charite Medical School marked the beginning of what would become one of the largest teaching hospitals in all of Europe. Its initial purpose was to be a safe haven for those less fortunate such as unwed mothers and the elderly. In the 1720s, King Friedrich Wilhelm I turned the hospital into a completely military hospital. The hospital had three purposes; “it was a hospice for the poor (until 1798), a state hospital, and a teaching facility to train future military physicians for the steadily growing Prussian army” ( In 1810, part of the reconstruction after Napoleon can largely be attributed to the foundation of the University of Berlin by the minister of education Wilhelm von Humboldt. The University of Berlin was later renamed Humboldt University. Colleges and universities had existed in Germany long before the University of Berlin, but it did help with the modernization of the German universities. Modernization of the universities was the academic freedom that came from parting with the church and state. “The foundation of the university of Berlin was just one, indeed important, step in a larger development” (Dhondt 588). Education was a building block to Berlin’s society in the 18th century and will continue to be a building block for developing cities around the globe for centuries, as will democracy.

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Democracy is defined as rule by the people. Voters can effect change in their country with just one vote, but currently only in 123 out of 192 countries ( can do so. In 1809, Berlin was given its first mayor. Elected and presented before the King for approval, Karl Friedrich Leopold von Gerlach served as mayor of Berlin from 1809-1813. One might argue that the voices of many were not heard because only the wealthy could vote and thus making this not as large of a step in the development of Berlin’s political systems as it seems. However, this was the first step in the voting process for Berlin and catapulted the city into more of a thriving metropolis.

39 years later in 1848, only 5% of the population of Berlin could vote, however progression takes time. “No year since 1517 has has been as vital to German history as 1848” (Rechner 39). One of the largest challenges that plagued Germany at the time was its lack of unity. In 1848, Germany found its strength and unified itself. The King’s “German Ride” in March of 1848 brought the residents of the city of Berlin together. They were united under the triumph in the revolution. Red, gold, and black were strewn throughout the crowds (Rechner 42). “Prussian patriotism was strongest of all the local patriotisms of Germany” (Rechner 43). While the ideas of patriotism and unification did not last, they made a large impact into the building of the foundation of the Kingdom of Prussia.

A kingdom’s army shows its strength. Under the leadership of King Friedrich Wilhelm I and Friedrich II, Berlin’s military power amplified tremendously. The goal for the army set forth by King Friedrich Wilhelm I was to grow the military to a size of 80,000 men. To do this, he installed a draft. All able bodied men were expected to serve for the betterment of their country. However, men did not care for this very much and as a result many families fled to avoid conscription. This caused a pause in the growth of Berlin until the draft was ended in 1730. During the Kingdom of Prussia, the army was not always growing. After the death of Friedrich II in 1806, the German army went on a downward spiral. Napoleon stormed the Bradenburger Tor in 1806, marking the start of his and his troops stay until 1808. 40 years later, although the military was still not thriving as it had under the rule of King Friedrich Wilhelm I, it did allow for Berlin to learn and grow as a city.

Economically, the city of Berlin was in good shape and the population grew from 200,000 to 400,000 in the first half of the 19th century, making it the fourth-largest city in Europe. Due to new education, public voting and unity, and advancement in the army, the city of Berlin thrived in the 18th and first half of the 19th century. Berlin as a part of the Kingdom of Prussia greatly shaped the Berlin we see today. Without the building blocks that Berlin gained as a part of Prussia from 1700-1848, it is doubtful that it would have evolved into the mecca of Germany that it is today.

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