Ruined Berlin in Valery Faminsky’s eyes

These pictures were taken by Soviet war photographer Valery Faminsky (1914–1993) during the Fall of Nazi Berlin in May 1945. This archive was discovered recently in Moscow. He photographed the Red Army’s combat from Ukraine to Berlin.

Photographer Arthur Bondar heard that the family of Faminsky was selling the album and negatives after his death in 2011, so he acquired the archive in 2016.

These amazing pics of World War Two were taken during April 22nd to May 24th 1945, as Faminsky accompanied Soviet troops during their final assault of Third Reich’s capital. One of the most valued aspects of this album is that they are recorded far away from Soviet propaganda: images showing the troops daylife during their march to Berlin, the population, the ruins of the big city…the true face of destruction accomplished by the Allies. He also documented the care of wounded soldiers in Berlin for the medical authorities.

A truly witness of the reality of war, enjoy it.

[The Reichstag’s burnt out main entrance and portico.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Another view of the destroyed Berlin Reichstag building, looking East.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Ruined Waldermarstraße.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Civilians and their families fled the city, Schlesischer Bahnhof, 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Bomb craters and trenches among rubble near Kroll Opera, Berlin. Smoke columns rises from recent street fightings.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[An old-woman among destruction at Pfarrstraße, Berlin.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Roßstraßenbrücke at Wallstraße. Note bombed out apartments in the background.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A panorama view of the ruined Roßstraßenbrücke at Wallstraße.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A Berliner old man stands next to a warning from Berlin Wehrmacht’s Kommandantur.]

Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Berliner Frau sits next to her suitcase in an abandoned street.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Bombed out building and debris in the Nazi-capital.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A wrecked Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109. Closer look reveals early canopy frame and braced horizontal stabilizer, so this is an old Emil version, the best fighter in the world in 1939 but outclassed by 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[A lost horse in the middle of Falckenstein Straße, Ecke Schlesische Straße. Sadly, it would became soon food for Berliners…]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Helsingforser StraßeTwo images of destruction: the combined action of Western Allies bombing campaign and the final Russian assault.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

[German civilians -notice they are all old men and women, abandoned the defeated city as Soviet troops conquered Berlin.]

[Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

Last summer we can saw all this impressive images in an exhibition in Berlin. Bildband Berlin opened this show during 12th May – 12th July 2018 at Immanuelkirchstr. 33 (Prenzlauer Alle). Also we can adquire this complete album in a fabulous German/English 184 pages-edition “Valery Faminsky – Berlin Mai 1945” at their bookshop.


All photos: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.


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Bombensturm! (Part IV)

HC Bombs:

[RAF ground crew push a 4,000-lb blast-bomb towards the bomb-bay of a Vickers Wellington of No 419 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force at RAF Mildenhall in 1941.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (TR 11).]

The strategic method to destroy German cities employed by Bomber Command in area bombings was based on fires caused by the incendiary bombs, and to ignite it, Great Britain had to devise a new type of weapon that would accelerate and facilitate its jump from house to house, block to block, eliminating also any obstacle that would stop it - walls and piles. It was necessary a great power, which generated a formidable expansive blast wave.

In October 1940, the Air Staff required to design and develop this new range of weapons to “dehouse” the enemy’s cities: these would be named ‘High capacity’ bombs or HC.

Based on the Blitz experiences, the British learn how effective were the air-mines dropped by Luftwaffe bombers and their destructive effects in the city. An air-mine was a sea mine adapted to be dropped on land targets, usually attaching it to a parachute. A clockwork mechanism would detonate the mine 17-25 seconds after impact, detonating at roof level (the force of the blast would disperse laterally) to maximize the explosion in built-up areas and to obtain a huge ‘blast-effect’. The Luftwaffe used several types of these bombs, the most common were the 500 kg Luftmine A and the 1,000 kg Luftmine B and had a high charge ratio of 60-70 percent. They were first used against land targets on 16 September 1940 in the early stages of the air-assault against Britain.

[A German 1,000 kg-Luftmine B (LMB) fitted with a MA1 magnetic acoustic detonator (as
indicated on the nose) being loaded onto a transportation trolley prior to a bombing sortie from a french aerodrome.]

[Photo: Chris Goss. Heinkel He 111: The Latter Years - the Blitz and War in the East to the Fall of Germany. Pen & Sword Books Ltd. 2018.]

[In this photo we can see Police and Army bomb disposal officers with a defused German 1,000 kg Luftmine B during the Blitz in Glasgow, 18 March 1941. The image allow us to appreciate the size of this bomb.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (H 8281).]

The British idea was to create a blast bomb, in a certain way inspired by those German “air-mines”, filled with a high charge ratio in the lightest possible structure, a thin steel case. HC-bombs usually used high charge to weight ratios of 70-88%. The bomb was filled with HE Amatol and sometimes this one was also mixed with TNT and aluminium powder to form ‘Torpex’ and ‘Minol’. Their lightweight construction meant that they collapsed on impact so that they had to be instantaneously fused, delayed action not be an option here. In addition, its high weight made these bombs to fell straight, blowing off roofs and windows like paper so that the small 4-lb incendiary bombs could reach the building interiors, ignite and burn, and creating in the process a flue chimney to help fire to expand.

The HC series introduced the innovator concept of modular construction and all have a crude cylindrical shape with flat noses, resembling a dust bin. The absence of tailfins made these blast-bombs had no ballistic characteristics, so when dropped they could land anywhere. The parachute of the initial series was delated after test runs proved no need to ‘soft’ their landing and also made more unstable the weapon from 800 to 2,000 feet.

These weapons were known unofficially as ‘Blockbusters because of the idea that they were capable to destroy a whole block of flats in a city. The earliest press reference of this term appeared in a US United Press report dated 29 July 1942, but it doesn’t appear in British press until January 1943. The start of the association of this term with the cinema apparently dates back to May 1943, when ‘blockbuster’ was used for the publicity campaign of a RKO’s war film named Bombardier (The tagline of the movie reads: “The block-buster of all action-thrill-service shows!”), and in 1944 in another war documentary called Marines at Tarawa (‘It hits the heart like a two ton blockbuster!’ it said…) and press became to associate it with massive impact and success (Hall S, 2014).

Germans continued to referred to it as Luftminen. British crews called them Cookies, perhaps due to their shape, but it is unknown. Others says this was a codename for an usual bomb-load consisting of a large canister - the HC-, several HE bombs and a thousand incendiaries and for whatever reason the name ‘cookie’ became associated with the canister itself.

[Movie poster of the 1943 war-film Bombardier. Notice at upper left the strike message using the ‘block-buster’ term.]

[Photo: Movie poster 1943 / Traileraddict.]

First of the large HC weapons designed was the 4,000-lb HC bomb - the so called ‘Cookie, required initially as a mine-bomb to drop on naval targets such as harbours and ships. The device had to be able to fit into the Wellington medium bomber bomb-bay and was so big that no bomb trolley was capable of carrying such a bomb at the time. First bomb was ready in November 1940, and the great urgency for the bomb made that several were dropped already in February 1941 (first official use of these new 4,000-pounders were on 31 March / 1 April 1941 on a raid on Emden). Initial installation of a parachute was dropped later by Air Staff but a nose spoiler was fitted to improve ballistic performance. By August, 226 bombs had been dropped but the type was not officially part of the Command’s inventory until January 1942. Their usual weight was 3,930-lb (1,786 kg). From February 1943 a new ‘proximity fused’ type of 4,000-lb HC bomb, with a widen blast-effect, was used when four Lancasters dropped them for the first time on La Spezia port in Italy. 

[A WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) tractor driver leaving the bomb dump with a 4,000-lb ‘Cookie’ bomb on a trolley, at RAF Mildenhall airbase in 1942.]

[Photo: © RAF Museum ID 707905.]

During the war 68,000 of these bombs were dropped by Bomber Command, other sources indicates a nearly 93,000 figure but it is evident that the 4,000-pounder was the mainstream weapon of the HC range; it was estimated that these bombs were 1.4 times more effective as the same weight of medium bombs at causing structural damage. Each of these blast bombs cost the British Government £163 according to existing data.

[An RAF armourer working on an early variant of the 4,000-lb HC blast-bomb prior a mission.]

[Photo: RAF museum.]

[In this original colour film we can see British RAF ground-crew around a trolley with a 4,000-lb HC behind one containing six American 500-lb bombs (note the tailfins), prior to be loaded into the bomb-bay.]

[Photo: still from film / Archive of War - Night Bombers. BBC.]

[An Avro Lancaster Mark I, NG128SR-B’, of No 101 Squadron RAF, piloted by Warrant Officer R B Tibbs, releases a 4,000-lb HC ‘Cookie’ (at right) and 30-lb incendiary bombs over the target during a special daylight raid on Duisburg. Notice the large aerials on top of the Lancaster’s fuselage next to the top turret, indicating that the aircraft is carrying ‘Airborne Cigar’ (ABC), a jamming device which disrupted enemy radio channels to confuse German nightfighters and air controllers. This is a still from film shot by the RAF Film Production Unit.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CL 1404).]

[Still from film shot in an Avro Lancaster taken from the bomb-bay camera, by the RAF Film Production Unit, during a daylight attack on the Luftwaffe airfield and signals depot at St Cyr, France, by aircraft of No 5 Group. A 4,000-lb bomb ‘Cookie’ and a smaller 500-lb MC bomb are seen just after they were released over the target.]

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (C 4525).]

[This film was created by the US Ballistics Research Laboratory at Aberdeen, Maryland during the tests made of British 4,000 pound munitions. Video credit: Periscope Film LLC Archive.]


The 4,000-pounder was closely followed by the next variant of this type, the smaller one: 2,000-lb HC bomb. Their usual weight was 1,842-lb (837 kg). Subsequent Mark II and Mark III of this 2,000-pounders differed in detail; the conical nose was replaced with a domed nose and the number of fuzes was increased from one to 3 to guarantee detonation. This is the only ‘blockbuster’ bomb can be carried and dropped by the big Short Stirling heavy bomber due to its narrow bomb-bay.

The number dropped rose from a 194 figure in the year 1941 to a max point of 16,227 in 1944. Following development of larger bombs, this type was redesigned at the Command’s request and incorporated the use of a ballistic tall unit. The new variant became available for use in August of 1942 and remained a part of the RAF general inventory throughout the remainder of the conflict. A total of 28,633 of these weapons were dropped by Bomber Command during the war.

[Australian armourers load a 2,000-lb High Capacity bomb into the bomb-bay of an Avro Lancaster bomber of No 467 Sqn RAAF at Waddington air base in August 1944. Chalk inscription warning groundcrew that the weapon has her fuses inserted in the bomb dump.]

[Photo: Australian War Memorial (UK1771).]

In 1942, a larger version of the blast bomb was developed by joining together two 4,000-lb HC bomb sections, creating the 8,000-lb High Capacity bomb (‘super cookie’) which although similar in design to the standard ‘Cookie’  were actually shorter in length and of larger diameter, so even the Lancaster bomber had to be modified to carry this weapon (bulged bay-bomb doors).

Their usual weight was 7,860-lb (3,572 kg). Only the front section was fused and this in turn detonate the connecting section by blast wave. These bombs were deployed against similar targets but in shorter numbers, this was because when testing, the sections of the 8,000-pounder were found to be inferior to a single 4,000-lb HC bomb. 1,088 of them were used in combat during the war. 

[An armourer gets inside the fin of an 8000-lb bomb to make adjustments prior a mission.]

[Photo: © IWM CH 12591]

[An 8,000-lb HC bomb (‘super-cookie’) is brought by a David Brown tractor to a waiting Lancaster of No 106 Squadron RAF in its dispersal at Syerston, Nottinghamshire]

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CH 12595).]

Finally, the RAF employed the biggest model of this series, the 12,000-lb HC bomb (5,425 kg was their usual weight) filled with Torpex explosive and fused with three nose position fuzes. This ‘Super-cookie’ bomb was developed in 1942 after a study of the Air Staff for a large weapon. It was created essentially with three 4,000-lb ‘Cookies’ bolted together with the addition of a six-finned ballistic tail, but actually the bomb was shorter due to the need to fit it into the Lancaster bomb-bay; loaded it took aprox. 35 minutes and four men to prepare it. 

But this weapon was rarely used agains targets like cities, they were primarily reserved to special precision targets or factories. First use of this bomb was on 14 September 1943 when No 617 Sqn attacked the heavily defended Dortmund-Ems Canal. Just 193 of these big-size bombs were dropped by RAF Bomber Command during the war, most of them expended by the ‘special’ No 617 Squadron with not many success.

[An RAF armourer checks a large 12,000-lb HC device in her trolley before loaded it on Lancaster B144/’KC-N’ in a dispersal zone at RAF Coningsby for an incoming bombing operation against the Third Reich on 15 September 1943. This bomber was lost during that very day in a disastrous raid.]

[Photo: Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.]

[Video credit: Buyout Footage Historic Film Archive.]

The following image summarized part of the RAF’s blast-bombs family: armourers show off bombs for a comparison in size at the bomb dump at RAF Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire. In the front are 1,000-lb and 500-lb MC bombs, behind them a 2,000-lb HC Mark I, then a 4,000-lb HC Mark III or Mark IV ‘Cookie’. Finally, at the rear, is a 12,000-lb HC ‘Blockbuster’. 

[Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CH 12450).]

This table shows, by type, the number of HC-bombs dropped by RAF Bomber Command during World War 2. Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.

[Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.]


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Sources and Bibliography:

  • Airminded. Airpower and British society, 1908-1941. The first Blockbuster. <https://airminded.org/2012/11/14/the-first-blockbuster/>
  • Air Ministry. (1954). RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment.
  • The United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Air Studies Division Report: The Economic Effects of the Air Offensive Against German Cities, USSBS.
  • Bowman. (2012). Martin W. Bomber Command Reflections of War. Volume: 2. June 1942-Summer 1943. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Bowman, Martin W. (2014). Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Bowman, Martin W. (2015). Voices in Flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Boyd, David. 4000lb High Capacity Bomb. <http://www.wwiiequipment.com>
  • Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.
  • Fahey, John. (2004). Britain 1939 – 1945: The economic cost of Strategic Bombing. University of Sidney.
  • Falconer, John. (1998). Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. (2002). Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein.
  • Goss, Chris. (2018). Heinkel He 111: The Latter Years - the Blitz and War in the East to the Fall of Germany. Pen & Sword Books Ltd.
  • Hall, Sheldon (2014). Pass the ammunition: a short etymology of “Blockbuster”. In: Elliott, Andrew B.R., (ed.) The Return of the Epic Film. University Press, 147-166.
  • Johnson, George. (2014). The last British Dambuster: one man’s extraordinary life and the raids that changed history. Ebury Press.
  • Lake, Jon. (2002). Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. (1988). The Berlin raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassell & Co.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books.
  • Overy, Richard. (2013). The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane.
  • The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939-1945 – The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit (Introduction by Sebastian Cox). Frank Cass. 1998.
  • Worral, Richard. (2019). BATTLE OF BERLIN  1943–44. Bomber Harris’ gamble to end the war. Osprey Publishing. 


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The Opera - The Prussian statues

This is how the Staatsoper Unter den Linden area looked short time after the end of the war in the summer of 1945: a mass of ruin and rubble.

[Photo by Hildegard Dreyer. Deutsches Historisches Museum (GOS-Nr. BA010457)]

Before the end of World War Two, next to the main entrance of the Opera house at Unter den Linden were three statues of prominent Prussian generals in pedestals, installed in the 19th Century and commissioned by König Friedrich Wilhelm III.

Today, next to the Opera portico at left we see two majestic statues again, but actually they are not the same… why is this? Here is their full story…

[Here we see the same location before the destruction caused by bombings and street-fighting. These photos were taken in 1941 in colour film by Karl Lutz during a Wehrmacht parade at Unter den Linden. We can see a 3-statue set on pedestals, located next to the Staatsoper. Notice that the Zeughaus armoury (today the Deutsche Historisches Museum - German Historical Museum) and the Dom’s coupula are at right behind the statues, this is because the images are flipped.]

[Photo by Karl Lutz / Stadtarchiv Speyer.]

[Photo by Karl Lutz / Stadtarchiv Speyer.]

They were part of a 5-statue field commemorative monuments made in 1855. The trio of generals next to the Opera was composed by August von Gneisenau (1760-1831), Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742-1819) and Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg (1759-1830), all of them instrumental in the Prussian army during the European Napoleonic Wars.

The Nazi-regime tried to protect these sculptures from the Allies’ air-bombings by covering them with some urns made of bricks, and they get some protection during those terrible days, but by war’s end one of the statues is missing from her pedestal, as we can clearly see in one of the accompanying images.

[Hitler arrives at the state funeral for Admiral von Trotha (1868-1940) in Unter den Linden, 11 October 1940, with the Prussian statues and the Staatsoper as a background.]

[Photo: Hoffmann NY Public Library.]

[April 10th, 1941. The Opera was hit by some incendiary bombs during an attack by British bombers the night before. The bombs narrowly missed the trio of Prussian statues on this time, seen at left of the image].

[Photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo (0011586).]

[In this blurried but unique photography we can see the covering work made following Luftschutz instructions to protect the Staatsoper’s statues at Unter den Linden from the Allied bombing raids.]

[Photo: Heinrich Hoffmann / Bayerische Staatsbibliothek - hoff-32757.]

[This is “Berlin, Opernhaus und Unter den Linden, 1845”, oil on canvas by Eduard Gaertner (1801–1877), a painting in which we can get an idea of how the site was in Prussian times.]

[Photo: © Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.].

Until Cold War-year 1950, the statues of Generals von Wartenburg, von Blücher and von Gneisenau stood at this point surrounded by ruins and rubble. The statues were dismantled in the postwar period by the new socialist government, during the reconstruction of the theatre that year as the symbology of the war heroes did not fit with the ‘3rd World Festival of Youth and Students’ (Weltfestspiele der Jugend und Studenten), an international event that was to be held in East Berlin in 1951.

[Another view of the battle-damaged Staatsoper in Berlin Mitte and her statues after the war.]

[Photo: Freydank, Ruth. Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin, 1988.]

[The reconstructed DDR-era Opernhaus in October 1957 without the statues and pedestals.]

[Photo by Klaus Morgenstern / © ddrbildarchiv.].

Now here stands the two remaining statues of the 5-set, which represent General Friedrich Wilhelm von Bülow and General Gerhard von Scharnhorst. They were sculpted by Christian Daniel Rauch (1777-1857) in marble on pedestal with reliefs (these ones made by Karl Friedrich Schinkel) and a height of 2.7 metres.

[Last summer view of today’s location of Generals von Bulow (at left in the foreground) and Scharnhorst (at center) next to the restored Unter den Linden’s Opera.]

[Photo by the author / August 2018.].

[Photo by the author / August 2018.].

This pair is the one that was originally placed on both sides of the Neue Wache (‘New Guard House’), flanking the memorial that honored the Unknown soldier. Having survived the destruction of the battle and air-bombings, and located within the Soviet zone of occupation, the statues were dismantled from their pedestal and put into storage.

[The marble statues at their original location, both sides of the Neue Wache as seen in 1939, just before the outbreak of the war and the incoming Armageddon of the city.]

[Photo by A. Frankl / Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-P014770.].

[The ruined Neue Wache at Unter den Linden as seen in 1946, notice one of the Prussian statues at right.]

[Photo: © Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz.].

In 1961, the statue of Scharnhorst was placed in its current situation next to the Opera, re-established by the DDR government. Later, the Scharnhorst Monument was restored in 1990 after the German reunification and rebuilt in 2002, set up again with the statue of von Bülow, which has been stored since 1950.

But … where did the 3 original statues on the roadside of the Opera go?

The trio of Generals von Wartenburg, von Blücher and von Gneisenau was re-established in 1961 in the back garden of the Opera: the so-called Prinzessinnengarten (‘Garden of the princesses’). Today they are still located there but in different place, recently restored after the reformation workings on the Staatsoper started in 2009 and with a new design of the adjacent area including a square and gardens. 

[The current location of the original three statues set, now at the Prinzessinnengarten, designed by landscape architect Birgit Hammer. Notice that the pink facade of the Opera house is barely visible behind.]

[Photo by Bernd Lampe, 2007.].

[Berlin’s Staatsoper den Linden with the Prussian statues at left as seen today.]

[Photo by the author. 2018.]

The reasons behind these statues have not been re-established at their original location by Berlin authorities is unknown, but at least they are all intact and exposed to the visitor, and not stored in an old warehouse as happened after the war.



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Source:

  • Berlin: Staatsoper Unter den Linden. CARTHALIA - Theatres on Postcards. Andreas Praefcke’s postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide
    <http://www.andreas-praefcke.de/carthalia/germany/berlin_staatsoper.htm>
  • Einhard, Luther.(2012). Oper in Berlin – Heiß umkämpft und stets unter Feuer. Pro Business.
  • Freydank, Ruth. (1988). Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. (2002). Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein.
  • Kellerhoff, Sven F. (2011). Berlin im Krieg: Eine Generation erinnert sich. BASTEIBBE.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. (2014). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Casemate Publishers and Book Distributors.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London.
  • Overy, Richard. (2013). The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane.
  • SCHLOSSDEBATE. <Wie wurde die Staatsoper in der DDR rekonstruiert? <http://schlossdebatte.de/>
  • STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>


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The Opera - Year Zero and Postwar

The reconstruction

Following the fall of the Third Reich, 1945 was ‘Year Zero’ for Berlin, and so it was for the Staatsoper. The ancient Opera, renamed at that time as Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, was one of the first historical buildings at the German capital secured against further decay and plunder, with Unter den Linden boulevard and an important part of Mitte district being assigned to the Soviet conquerors as a war trophy.

[Photo: still from film. CHRONOS Media.]

[This iconic view of the Oper den Linden, taken in June 1951 from the fence of the Humboldt Universität, where two cows graze in the grass. Notice at left the ancient statue of Wilhelm von Humboldt, made in 1883 by sculptor Reinhold Begas. It seems that the main entrance portico of the Neoclassical theatre survived barely intact to the Allies´ bombs.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv /Bild 183-D0217-0002-007.]

An aerial view from a low flypast by an Allied airplane along the ruined Unter den Linden at the end of the war which allow us to see the burnt condition of the stage tower of the building (top left).
The auditorium burned out, but the altered spatial sequences, which had arisen under the abandonment of the old Apollo room, remained intact. Notice buildings without roof in the foreground.

[Photo: still from film. CHRONOS Media.]

A closer look taken seconds before from the same low flypast with Bebelplatz and the Staatsoper at left. Notice that king Friedrich’s statue has been covered to protect it from the destruction of war and bombings (top centre). The main entrance of the Humboldt University is seen at right.

[Photo: still from film. CHRONOS Media.]

[Year 1949: Destroyed north facade and eastern and western stage house of the Staatsoper after the Allied air bombing and Soviet assault. Notice shrapnel heavy damage on walls and at right the DDR East Germany slogan reading “Auf Sozialisten schließt die Reihen”, taken from the ‘Sozialistenmarsch’, a song written in 1892 for the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD).]

[Photo: Tiedemann/ Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Fotoarchiv.].

[Photo: Tiedemann/ Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Fotoarchiv.].

Following a discussion by the new authorities of the city about conservation or demolition, reconstruction work at the Staatsoper started early after the end of the hostilities.

At the time, Soviet city commander Gen Nikolai Berzarin, the first town mayor of the Soviet occupying zone (as he was commander of Soviet 5th Shock Army -the first Stalin’s army to reached the eastern outskirts of Berlin on April 21, 1945) promised that a new grand Opera would be built elsewhere, so that the one at Unter den Linden could be restored to its original form.

[Commander of the conquered city, General Nikolai Berzarin talking with Trümmerfrauen clearing debris in May 1945.]

[Photo: MilitaryHistory.]

[The Oper den Linden just prior of the start of the restoration in June 1951, the destruction caused by the air bombing raids is evident.]

[Photo by Illus Schmidtke / Bundesarchiv Bild 183-11116-0002.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-11116-0001.]

[These are views of the works progress during 1951 taken from the adjacent Bebelplatz. The partly destroyed Dom can be seen behind in the first picture.]

[Photo: deutsche-digitale-bibliothek.de.]

[Photo:  : Staatsoper Unter den Linden.].

[The partly restored building of the Staatsoper with work on progress on the front facade.]

[Photo by Reich (E & O).]

In 1951, architect Richard Paulink (the son of a SPD official and also involved in the reconstruction of Dresden) was tasked with restoring the theatre to match the original 1742-version of the building. The beginning of the reconstruction of the Staatsoper started on June 12, 1952. The result was an unusually opulent building by socialist standards - they called it “socialist rococo”.

[As we can see in this image, the authorities of the newly born East Germany adorned the works with a pompous and patriotic act, knowing the potential power of the return of
such an important site in the musical world as was the
Unter den Linden Opernhaus.]

[Photo: Staatsoper Unter den Linden.]

During the close-down time (1945-1955), the Admiralpalast at Friedrichstraße hosted the Opera.
The newly rebuilt opera building was reopened on September 1955, with Wagner’s ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’, the same work that in 1942 did it after the first Allied bombing. Even Hitler would have enjoyed it.

[The new opera house was inaugurated in 1955 now in East Germany’s capital and renamed Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin.]

[Photo: DDR-postkarten-museum.]

Several reconstruction work were made during the DDR-period, including a total refurbished in 1986-87 and one more after 1990 during the German reunification process, when it recovered again its name, Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

[The theatre under reconstructon work in June, 1986.]

[Photo: DDR-bildarchiv / Pressefoto 35737.]

Finally, during 2010-2017, when the original Opera building at Unter den Linden was closed to the public, while undergoing extensive renovations. Aside from occasional avant-garde performances in the construction site, the bulk of the season’s offerings over the reconstruction period have taken place at the Berliner Schillertheater (Bismarckstraße) in Charlottenburg, only a block away from its main competitor, the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

After 7 years of work, the reopening act was celebrated on December 2017, nearly celebrating its 275th birthday.

[The Opera building under the final renovation, this shot was taken in 2013.]

[Photo: Alexander Schippel.]

The current renovation included over 90 different companies attending to details such as the walls’ gilded ornamentation and the chandeliers, but work took much longer than expected and the renovation costs rised from an estimated 239 million euros to €400 million, half of which covered by federal funds.

[Photo: 2018 by the author.]

[Photo: 2018 by the author.]

_______________

Source:

  • Aster, Misha. (2017). Staatsoper: Die bewegte Geschichte der Berliner Lindenoper im 20. Jahrhundert. Siedler Verlag.
  • Berlin: Staatsoper Unter den Linden. CARTHALIA - Theatres on Postcards. Andreas Praefcke’s postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide
    <http://www.andreas-praefcke.de/carthalia/germany/berlin_staatsoper.htm>
  • Einhard, Luther. Oper in Berlin – Heiß umkämpft und stets unter Feuer. Pro Business. 2012.
  • Freydank, Ruth. Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin. 1988.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein. 2002.
  • Kellerhoff Sven F. Berlin im Krieg: Eine Generation erinnert sich. BASTEIBBE. 2011.
  • Meffert, Erich. Das Haus der Staatsoper und seine neue Gestaltung. Dargebracht von der Generalintendanz der Preussischen Staatstheater. Generalintendanz der Preussischen Staatstheater. Leipzig, Max Beck Verlag. 1944.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London. 2011.
  • SCHLOSSDEBATE. Wie wurde die Staatsoper in der DDR rekonstruiert? <http://schlossdebatte.de/?p=96>
  • Schmitz, Franz. Kleine Baugeschichte der Staatsoper Unter den Linden. STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>
  • STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>


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Previous post >



The Opera - Reconstruction and Death

When the Staatsoper den Linden was severely damaged by British bombs in April 1941, Hitler urgently ordered its reconstruction, as it was one of his favourite buildings from his fanatical devotion to Opera and Richard Wagner’s works.

[Nazi-parade of a guard of honour at Unter den Linden on the occasion of the anniversary of the Tripartite Pact (the military agreement signed by Germany, Italy and Japan signed in 1940). We can see Japanese ambassador Hiroshi Oshima -third from right saluting the guards. The reconstructed Oper den Linden is seen behind the troops.]

[Photo: Getty images.]

The theatre would be restored under the direction of Erich Meffert, the Ministerial Councilor from Finance, with the estructure been hardly modified externally and a new broad monumental staircase inside. According to the architects, the goal was the redesign - in addition to the elimination of functional defects, but tight timeframes and the delivery difficulties for building materials in war time however, forced for most rooms a comparatively simple equipment. In addition to the actual construction site, dozens of plasterers and painters in studios were soon busy working on the elaborate interior design. Everyone was under great pressure, because of the 200th anniversary of the inauguration of the Opera in December 1942 the reconstruction should be completed. Finally, on scheduled time, the Staatsoper reopened with the staging of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” under the musical direction of Wilhelm Furtwängler.

[This is a view of the reconstructed foyer floor of the Opera in 1942.]

[Photo: BerlinStateOpera.].

[Three 1942-era postcards showing the reconstructed and new design of the Staatsoper.]

[Photo: Meffert, E. Leipzig, Max Beck Verlag. 1944.]

[Photo: Meffert, E. Leipzig, Max Beck Verlag. 1944.]

[Photo: Meffert, E. Leipzig, Max Beck Verlag. 1944.]

[”200 Jahre - Staats Oper Berlin -Im Bild”, a book printed in 1942 to commemorate the 200th birthday of the Staatsoper. Today it’s easy to find and acquire relics of this type in different auction houses and antique stores like eBay.]

[Source: Ebay]

After that, normal life returned to the Opera, with the usual programming of operas and concerts and its constant use by the Nazi leaders. The Staatsoper was still a reference between European culture, despite the prohibition of Jewish authors and their exile from Germany.

[This picture, published in September 1942 by ‘Das Reich’, shows the opera ‘Salome’ written by Richard Strauss, with Austrian soprano Maria Cebotari as Salome and Julius Pölzer as ‘Tetrarch’ being played at the Berlin Staatsoper.]

[Photo by Charlotte Williot / Getty images.]

But war reached the Opera again. The Staatsoper was slightly damaged in the second half of 1943, during the British Bomber Command attacks made in late summer and fall of that year in which the adjacent St Hedwig cathedral at Bebelplatz was severely damaged too. With American bombs falling on Unter den Linden and Staatsbibliothek in May 1944, Dr Goebbels, as Gauleiter of Berlin, closed down the Opera again in August in the name of the Totaler Krieg (“Total War”) policy. Last performance was on August 31, with ‘Le nozze di Figaro’, directed by Johannes Schüler. The Staatskapelle continued performing symphonic and opera concerts. On November 24, 1944, an attack by several British RAF Mosquito bombers hit the facade of the State Opera, the cloakroom and the cash desk have been destroyed and the entrance hall damaged.

The rebuilt Opera house had just 26 months when the building was finally destroyed on February 3, 1945 hit again by bombs during the massive daylight raid made by US Eighth Air Force. That Saturday the government quarter of Berlin was pounded and smashed to rubble by American bombs dropped by 1,003 four-engined bombers which unloaded 2,500 tons of bombs. The Americans lost 23 bombers.

Some bombs fell on Unter den Linden and three of them hit the theatre, engulfing in flames not just the roof and the auditorium but also the foundation walls. The portico and the Apollo hall including the internals of the years 1941/42 remained more or less intact.

[A Boeing B-17 US heavy-bomber leaving contrails over the burning Berlin on 3rd February 1945. The American official record states that the bombers were sent to hit the Tempelhof area marshaling yard.]

[Photo: Roger Freeman Collection. FRE 14366.]

[The ruins of the Berlin Oper as seen in July 1945 by William Vandivert, an American journalist. Notice the rubble on the foreground and the brick cover case at left.]

[Photo by William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection.]

[A view of the rear side of the iconic building after the end of the war, taken from Behrenstraße.]

[Photo: still from film. Framepool & RightSmith Stock | 833-162-646.]

That last great bombing, and the subsequent Battle of Berlin with its bloodied street fighting with Soviet troops left the centre of the capital in a dilapidated and ruined state, with the bad damage Staatsoper being finally taken by Red Army’s 416th and 295th Rifle Divisions after heavy fighting block by block moving west along Unter den Linden on May 1st, 1945, with the iconic Opera building included in the destroyed set of war prizes get by Stalin as conqueror and final executor of the Third Reich. 


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Sources and Bibliography:

  • 8th Air Force Historical Society. Eighth Air Force Operations History - 3 February 1945 <http://8thafhs.com/missions.php>
  • Aster, Misha. (2017). Staatsoper: Die bewegte Geschichte der Berliner Lindenoper im 20. Jahrhundert. Siedler Verlag.
  • Einhard, Luther. (2012). Oper in Berlin – Heiß umkämpft und stets unter Feuer. Pro Business.
  • Freydank, Ruth. (1988). Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. (2002). Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein.
  • Kellerhoff Sven F. (2011). Berlin im Krieg: Eine Generation erinnert sich. BASTEIBBE.
  • Meffert, Erich. (1944). Das Haus der Staatsoper und seine neue Gestaltung. Dargebracht von der Generalintendanz der Preussischen Staatstheater. Generalintendanz der Preussischen Staatstheater. Leipzig, Max Beck Verlag.
  • Moorhouse, Roger (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books.
  • Schmitz, Franz. Kleine Baugeschichte der Staatsoper Unter den Linden. STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>


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Previous post >




The RAF strikes the Opera

9 / 10 APRIL 1941

On that night, Wednesday, RAF Bomber Command launched an operation against ‘the Big City’. The mixed attacking force comprised 80 bombers - 36 Wellingtons, 24 Hampdens, 17 Whitleys and 3 of the new Short Stirling heavy bomber. This was the first raid on Berlin to feature the big four-engined british bomber.

Some sources indicates this attack was a British retaliation ordered by Churchill after the Nazis bombed and destroyed Belgrade the week before, the most devastating attack in the history of the Serbian capital. However, a British government declaration of 8 April (Boog H, Krebs G and Vogel D, 2006. p 367) had made it clear that the British were not conducting reprisal attacks and that German cities would continue to be attacked even if the Luftwaffe no longer bombed Britain. To accept the reprisal campaign would have deprived the British of the only way of hitting back Germany bombs.

Half of the bombing force reached the Nazi-capital and attacked under nearly full moon conditions before midnight. Bombing pattern was poor and flak was light. Incendiaries bombs fell on Unter den Linden and Mitte, and hit famous buildings like the State Opera (Staatsoper Berlin), Bebelplatz and the Humboldt-Universität. The raid lasted fifteen minutes and five aircraft failed to return.

[Crowd of Berliners at Unter den Linden during the winter of 1940, this photograph was taken from the main entrance of the Opera House, months before British bombers raided the zone hitting the theatre. At center is clearly visible the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great, with the
Staatsbibliothek building behind. Brandenburger Tor is barely visible in the background. The image seems to be taken during a parade or a celebration, due to the overwhelming mass of people in the streets and the absence of traffic. Notice the accumulated snow at left. Fear of air bombings is still far for Berliners…]

[Photo by Sobotta / Getty images.]

[Smoking columns of fire rising at Bismarckstraße during the early hours of the day after the bombing raid. The British attack hit the U-Bahn underground station next to the Staatsoper. Notice the blue U-Bahn sign post at left and a pair of trucks from the fire brigades of the Reichsluftschutzbund.]

[Photo by Sobotta / Getty images.].

Nazi-authorities summed up the damage in a official report shortly thereafter: 90 homes and 10 public buildings had been destroyed or severely damaged, as well as several factories railway facilities, two churches and two barracks. RAF flyers were accused by Nazi-propaganda of attacking deliberately such cultural buildings of an European city.

[Fire-fighting after a bomb hit on the Opera den Linden.]

[Photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo.]

[Severely damaged lobby in the Staatsoper Unter den Linden as seen on April 10th, 1941.]

[Photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo (00322894).]

British losses included the only Short Stirling bomber that was able to reach the city, the other two aborted the mission. N6011MG-?’ of No 7 Squadron RAF was shot down by Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Scherfling flying a Bf 110 night fighter of NJG1 at 23.35 hrs and crashed near Lingen, in Lower Saxony some 300 miles short of the target Berlin. This was the first Stirling lost to enemy action. 

There was only one survivor between Fl/Lt. Victor Fernley Baker Pike’s crew, Sgt Charles MacDonald (POW). The six crew members killed were initially buried at the Lingen New Cemetery and reburied after the war in the Reichswald War Cemetery in 1947.

[The image depicts one of the first Stirlings of No 7 Sqn taking off from RAF Oakington in 1941. Note large size RAF fin flash on tail. The raid was a total disaster for the squadron, with one returned early due to a propeller fault (N6009) an other (N6005) being damaged by a night fighter and bombed Emden, plus the one shot down by Scherfling.]

[Photo: © IWM (CH 3145)].

[Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Scherfling, from Nachtjagdgeschwader 1, the German pilot who shot down the Stirling bomber that night. It was his second air victory of a total of 33 during the war. He would be shot down and killed in a Bf 110 G-4 by a British Mosquito night fighter on 20/21 July 1944.]

[Photo: Luftwaffe.cz]

On the very next day after the RAF attack, British Empire newspapers reported the raid all around the world from London to Sydney, with great emphasis in the destruction of the Staatsoper at Unter den Linden. ”(…) Firemen reported that the State Opera House is a complete loss.” The raid lasted 15 minutes over the capital, and damage was less than severe but international press correspondents reported great destruction and large fires without regards that non military targets had been hit: “(…) High explosives and incendiaries were dropped on residential areas, and public buildings and two hospitals were hit”. This is highly remarkable, because until mid-1942 British War Cabinet didn’t shifted it’s policy to the moral bombing, but hit back hard to revenge London’s Blitz was a priority for British people in the Darkest Hour.

[On 12 April this report of the raid appeared in The Argus newspaper at Melbourne, Australia.]

[Photo: Aircrewremembered / Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia.].

[This original film-footage filmed on 10 April 1941 recorded the consequences of the previous night raid by British RAF bombers over Berlin Mitte. We can see the destroyed roof of the Haus der Schweiz at Friedrichstraße, and the Feuerwehr extinguishing the last fires from the enemy’s bombs at the Opernhaus as well as columns of smoke in adjacent streets.]

[Video credit: Worldfilmheritage.]


After the attack, an infuriated Hitler confronts Göring, chief of Luftwaffe, about lack of defenses against RAF bombing campaign, so in revenge for the destruction of the Staatsoper Göring ordered two huge raids against London to demonstrate the Führer his air force could indeed flatten the capital. On April 16th, 1940, the Luftwaffe attacked with 681 bombers (886 tonnes of bombs) with the west of London suffered the most in this bombing, Chelsea and West End, and even St. Paul’s cathedral was hit. This raid was so heavy that it became known to Londoners as The Wednesday’.

Three nights later the Germans back with 712 aircraft (1,026 tonnes), the largest raid of the 1941 Blitz campaign and nearly the end of this first phase. Some sources indicates total casualties are roughly 2,300 killed and 3,000 seriously wounded between the two attacks. London firefighters lost 13 men, the most so far during the war.

[Londoners walking single file across rubble with water pails after a German air raid. April 1941.]

[Photo: © IWM (HU 131452.)]


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Source:

  • Aircrew remembered <http://aircrewremembered.com/pike-victor.html>
  • Blitz incidents blog <http://blitzincidents.blogspot.com/2014/02/paddington-station-16th-april-1941.html>
  • Boiten, Theo. (2018). Nachtjagd Combat Archive. The early years Part 1. 1939-12 July 1941. Red Kite.
  • Boog, H, Krebs, G and Vogel, D. (2006). Germany and the Second World War. Volume VII: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia, 1943-1944/5. Clarendon Press.
  • Borg, Lucette. (2006). Das Geschenk aus Berlin. Roman. Wallstein.
  • Bowman, Martin W. (2016). Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Bowman, Martin W. (2015). Voices in Flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Bryan, Tim. (1995). The Great Western at War 1939-1945. Patrick Stephens Ltd.
  • Chorley WR. (1993). RAF Bomber Command losses of the Second World War, 1941. Midland.
  • Einhard, Luther. (2012). Oper in Berlin – Heiß umkämpft und stets unter Feuer. Pro Business.
  • Falconer Jonathan. (2018). Short Stirling Units of World War 2. Combat Aircraft. Osprey Publishing.
  • Freydank, Ruth. (1988). Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin. 
  • Kellerhoff, Sven F. (2011). Berlin im Krieg: Eine Generation erinnert sich. BASTEIBBE.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. (2014). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Casemate Publishers and Book Distributors.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London.
  • Overy, Richard. (2013). The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane.
  • STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>
  • The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Part I: Notations, 1923–1941. Saur Verlag. 1998.


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Previous post >




The Opera - Hitler’s favourite

If there was a building at Berlin favourite for the Führer that was the Opera

Its importance and history, its location in Berlin Mitte in the middle of Unter den Linden Avenue, and its musicians, made it a symbol of the city. A symbol raised to the altars by the Nazi regime, encouraging the radical enhancement of Wagner’s work along with the Aryan ideals. 

Its long history from its construction would live extensions, a fire and reconstruction, four wars and an almost total annihilation by air bombings, as well as its use as political and cultural weapon with the arrival of the Iron Curtain and the new Communist regime.

[A pre-war view of the Staastsoper at Kaiser-Franz-Joseph-Platz (today Bebelplatz), this picture was taken in 1938.]

[Photo: Landesdenkmalamt Berlin, Fotoarchiv.].

The Staatsoper was built in 1741-43 as the Hofoper (‘Court Opera’) commissioned by King Frederick II of Prussia with design by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff. In 1843 the building lives its first reconstruction after suffering a serious fire, supervised by architect Carl Ferdinand Langhans. A year later it was renamed Königliches Opernhaus (Royal Opera House) and took an extension of the theatre and the stage.

After the collapse of the German Empire in 1918, the Opera was renamed Staatsoper Unter den Linden, highlighting a major renovation in the twenties to adapt to the standards of the time, and with the arrival of the Third Reich lived a time full of lights and shadows: on the one hand, the glorification of the operatic work and its authors, on the other, the condemnation and expulsion of many of the best directors and musicians of the moment, for being Jewish.

[The Staatsoper Berlin during the celebration of the Heldengedenktag (‘Heroes Memorial Day’) in February 1934. In the front row among others Adolf Hitler and the former President Paul von Hindenburg.]

[Picture by Heinrich Hoffmann. Picture alliance / Heritage Imag.]

During the 1930’s, subordinated to the Preußisches Staatstheater, concerts there became major party events, due to the Nazi regime fanfare for Imperial traditions. The Führer had an almost fanatical devotion to the work of Richard Wagner, which to Hitler represented everything that was good about culture in Nazi Germany. The new regime forced that music had to conform to the Aryan ideal. Hence some composers were tolerated and even elevated to a status of pure Nazism, while other composers, frequently Jewish, were shunned and censored. During the Third Reich, Robert Heger, Herbert von Karajan and Johannes Schüler were Staats Kapellmeister (the conductor of the orchestra) at some time.

[Herbert von Karajan at a concert in the Berlin State Opera in 1941].

[Photo: Knorr + Hirth/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo (00115664).]

The outbreak of World War Two would cause the almost total destruction of the Opera, being one of the key-point buildings of the aerial bombing campaign suffered by Berlin, appearing in every writing of every press correspondent hosted in the city as well as in the official parts after each enemy’s raid. Destruction falling from above was a real threat since the start of the war, evidence of this is the warning text that appeared on every program (“Bei Fliegeralarm ist den Anordnungen der Logenschließer unbedingt Folge zu leisten” - In the event of an air-raid alarm, the instructions of the ushers must be followed) to alert the audience before the performance from 1940. 

But the origin of the destruction of the Berlin’s Opera would be thousands of kilometers east of the Reichshauptstadt, exactly in Yugoslavia…

BRAND DER STAATSOPER - 10 APRIL 1941

The night before RAF Bomber Command raided the city dropping several sticks of bombs at Unter den Linden and Mitte. The attack was made by 80 medium bombers (nearly half of them reached the city) and the attacking force bombed Berlin illuminated by moonlight conditions. The British lost 5 aircraft and minor damage was made to the capital.

Some sources indicates this attack was ordered by Britain’s War Cabinet in retaliation for the bombing of Belgrade by the Luftwaffe on 6 April [‘Operation Retribution’ (Unternehmen Strafgericht)]. That day, 160 medium bombers dropped 215–360 tons of bombs and incendiaries in four air strikes on the Yugoslav capital. Hitler had given orders for the city to be annihilated but the order was changed in the last minute by the Air Staff into an order to attack military objectives within the city area. Prime Minister Churchill said that Germans killed twelve thousand souls in his statement for BBC London on the very next day.

[6 April 1941. Luftwaffe bombs devastated Belgrade. German estimates of the Yugoslav casualties were between 1,500 and 1,700. The precise figure of victims was never discovered.]

[Photo: belgradenet.com.]

[Brand der Staatsoper. 10 April 1941. Feuerschutzpolizei Berlin tries to extinguish the fire, with the roof engulfed in flames, after several British incendiary bombs targeted the building the night before. In the background can be seen the St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale with her big dome.]

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek / hoff-33992.]

[10 April 1941. Several trucks from Feuerschutzpolizei Berlin in front of the main entrance of the Staatsoper den Linden during the fire-extinguish works. This time the picture is taken looking west, notice St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale at left.]

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek / hoff-33991.]

The worst part of the raid damage goes to the Staatsoper theatre. The roof construction was partially plunged into the auditorium, the head building in front of the massive stage house actually ripe for the demolition. The correspondent from US news agency United Press reported to New York: “Berlin’s large opera house at Unter den Linden, in which Adolf Hitler often heard Wagner, his favorite music, today lies in smoldering ruins.”

According to the city’s municipal report, “she was hit by a large number of incendiary bombs. Burned out theatre building, stage house badly affected. Heavy property damage.”  Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler’s official photographer, was there and took a series of dramatic photographies of the Opera engulfed in flames after the attack. 

[10 April 1941. Columns of smoke and fire rises from the theatre hit by bombs as seen from the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great at Unter den Linden.]

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek / hoff-33993.]

[Destruction, fire and chaos scene seen in this picture taken from the Humboldt-Universität front garden on that morning.]

[Photo: AKG images AKG395173.]

[A closer look at the Feuerschutzpolizei firemen work to extinguish the flames with their ladders extended to reach the Opera’s roof after the Bombenangriff.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv_Bild_121-0546.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 121-0545.].

[Firefighters working on the extinguishing at the walkaway lodges inside the burned out building after the April 1941 British air-raid.]

[Photo: Scherl/Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo.]

After the raid, Nazi leadership took advantage of the apparent non-military targets of this air attack. ‘Angriff auf das Berliner Kulturviertel’ was the name given to this propaganda campaign led by Propaganda Minister and Gauleiter of Berlin Joseph Goebbels. Official German agencies exaggerated the destruction and spread Goebbels’ speach throughout the world.

He noted in his diary about the destruction of the Opera: “A serious loss. Apparently he actually felt struck: “I look at the damage in the Staatsoper. She is lost. The whole interior completely burned out. There is hardly anything to save… How many happy hours have I already experienced in this house. And now this ruin.”

[Here we can see the Nazi-leader visiting the damage of the city after a British night bombing, the so called ‘Terror-attack’ , in October 1940].

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffman / Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.]

The attack on the cultural quarter of the city gave Berlin leaders a good counterargument to the bombing and destruction of Belgrade days before.


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Source:

  • Aster, Misha. (2017). Staatsoper: Die bewegte Geschichte der Berliner Lindenoper im 20. Jahrhundert. Siedler Verlag.
  • Boog, H, Krebs, G and Vogel, D. (2006). Germany and the Second World War. Volume VII: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia, 1943-1944/5. Clarendon Press.
  • Bowman, Martin W. (2015). Voices in Flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Einhard, Luther. (2012). Oper in Berlin – Heiß umkämpft und stets unter Feuer. Pro Business.
  • Freydank, Ruth. (1988). Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. (2002). Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein.
  • Kellerhoff Sven F. (2011). Berlin im Krieg: Eine Generation erinnert sich. BASTEIBBE.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. (2014). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Casemate Publishers and Book Distributors.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London.
  • Overy, Richard. (2013). The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane.
  • SCHLOSSDEBATE. Wie wurde die Staatsoper in der DDR rekonstruiert? <http://schlossdebatte.de/
  • STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN <https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de>
  • The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Part I: Notations, 1923–1941. Saur Verlag. 1998.


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Previous post >


Zerstörung am Haus der Schweiz

Here we can see the destroyed roof of the “Haus der Schweiz” and adjacent building at Friedrichstraße nr 155 on these two images taken from a video film. This original film-footage filmed on 10 April 1941 recorded the consequences of the previous night raid by British RAF bombers over Berlin Mitte, the one which destroyed the Opera building and several others too at Unter den Linden.

[Photo: still from film. Video credit: Worldfilmheritage.].

[Photo: still from film. Video credit: Worldfilmheritage.].

The Swiss House would be totally destroyed in 1945 by several US bombing raids and the final Soviet assault to capture the city. Postwar, the DDR government reconstructed the building from 1950 but did not want to mess with Swiss banks. Nevertheless, they used the house for their own purposes.

[Still from film taken from a Russian newsreel following the end of the battle, May 1945. Soviet troops and vehicles (notice the American Jeep at the ruined Friedrichstraße near Unter den Linden, the Haus der Schweiz can be seen at right.]

[Photo: Russian newsreel. Via Piet Vergiet.]

[East Berliners attending 1st May Day celebration parade, with the ruins of the Haus der Schweiz as a background at Unter den Linden avenue.]

[Photo: Photo by Charles E. Steinheimer/The LIFE Picture Collection.]



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Previous post >


100 Jahre - Frieden und Revolution

Last week marked the end of the First World War, with the armistice signed in 1918. Thus ended “the war that was to end all wars”.

[Photo: Alamy.]

[Photo: TheChicagoDailyTribune.]

The world as we know, as historian Eric Hosbawms says, started that day. No other city was in the middle of the Twentieth century than Berlin. The Kaiser has abdicated, the Weimar Republic
started, the Spartacus Revolution triumphed… and Hitler and Hess waited for their time…

On 11 November 1918, Marshal Foch, as Supreme Commander, signed the armistice with Germany in the then-called “Wagon of Compiègne”. This agreement ended fighting in the First World War.

22 years later, in May 1940, Hitler forced the defeated France, the real enemy, to sign her surrender in that same car at the exact spot where it happened, Compiegne. Adolf’s revenge for the shame of 1918 was complete.

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann /© Deutsches Historisches Museum.]

Then he took the saloon car to Berlin, exposing it as a trophy at Lustgarten in front of the Dom, so that all Berliners could admire it as we seen in these photos during the Wehrmacht Day´s celebration on 23 March 1941. Notice in the second image at right the Löwenkämpfer statue (´The Lion fighter`) besides main entrance of the Altes Museum.

[Photo by Sobotta / Getty images.]

[Photo: Keystone.]

In 1944, the wagon was moved to Thuringia, and later to Gotha. In March 1945 it was destroyed by SS troops.


Der Schwarze Tod

THE SHTURMOVIK OVER BERLIN AGAIN 1945 - 2018

73 years later, a Soviet Il-2 Shturmovik flies again over Germany during ILA (Internationale Luft- und Raumfahrtausstellung) April 2018 Berlin air show at Schonefeld airport.


One of the outright show stars of this year event was the beautiful Ilyushin Il-2 from the Wings of Victory Foundation based in Russia.

This restoration is from an aircraft recovered in 2011 from the bottom of a frozen lake.

[A squadron of Il-2s from 16th Soviet Air Army flies in close formation over Berlin in May 1945.]

[Photo: Rastrenin, Oleg. 2008.]

The IL-2 was a ground-attack plane from 1941, designed by Sergei Ilyushin, it was very feared by German troops on the ground, who dubbed her “Der Schwarze Tod” (The black death).

It was an outstanding design thanks to its endurance, fire-power and heavy armor. With 36,183 units produced during the war, it was the single most produced military aircraft design in aviation history.

During the final Battle of Berlin in April 1945, Shturmoviks bombed and strafed the city and their defenders to aid the Soviet troops to conquer the Reich’s capital.

[Several Soviet Shturmoviks parked on the grass between Luftwaffe aircraft wreckage at Tempelhof Flughafen Berlin in May 1945. This airport was captured by the Russians on 26 April 1945.]

[Photo: Deutsch-Russisches Museum/Timofej Melnik.]



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Source:

  • Rastrenin, Oleg. Il-2 Shturmovik Guards Units of World War 2. Combat Aircraft 71. Oxford, 2008.
Using Format