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.

[In this blurried but unique photography we can see the covering work made in August 1940 following Luftschutz instructions to protect the Staatsoper statues at Unter den Linden from Luftangriff, a few days after the initial bombing raids by the Allies.]

[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 m.

[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:

  • 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.]

[These are views of the works progress during 1951 taken from the adjacent Bebelplatz. The partly destroyed coupula of the 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 woth 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 it´s 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.]

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Source:

  • 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/
  • 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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The Opera - Reconstruction and Death

When the Staatsoper den Linden was severely damaged by British bombs in April 1941, Hitler urgently ordered it´s 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 Linten 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 Embassador 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.]

[ebay.com]

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 im

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 August-December of that year in which the adjacent St Hedwig´s cathedral at Bebelplatz was severely damaged too. Dr Goebbels, as Gauleiter of Berlin, closed down the Opera again in August 1944 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.

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.]

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>
  • 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. (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. 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 (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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RAF attacks 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 Stirling 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. 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.]

British losses included the only Short Stirling bomber that was able to reach the city, the other two aborted the mission. N6011 MG-? 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>
  • Boog, H, Krebs, G and Vogel, D. 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. 2006.
  • Borg, Lucette ter. Das Geschenk aus Berlin. Roman. Wallstein. 2006.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2016.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Voices in Flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2015.
  • Bryan, Tim. The Great Western at War 1939-1945. Patrick Stephens Ltd. 1995.
  • Chorley WR. RAF Bomber Command losses of the Second World War, 1941. Midland. 1993.
  • Einhard, Luther. Oper in Berlin – Heiß umkämpft und stets unter Feuer. Pro Business. 2012.
  • Falconer Jonathan. Short Stirling Units of World War 2. Combat Aircraft. Osprey Publishing. 2018.
  • Freydank, Ruth. Theater in Berlin: von den Anfängen bis 1945. Berlin. 1988. 
  • Kellerhoff, Sven F. Berlin im Krieg: Eine Generation erinnert sich. BASTEIBBE. 2011.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Casemate Publishers and Book Distributors. 2014.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London. 2011.
  • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
  • 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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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 1934. In the front row among others Adolf Hitler and the former President Paul von Hindenburg.]

[Photo: picture alliance / Heritage Imag.].

The Opera was one of Hitler´s favourite buildings of the city. Concerts there became major party events, due to the Nazi fanfare for Imperial traditions. The Fűhrer 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.

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 correnspondent hosted in the city as well as in the official parts after each enemy´s raid.

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 lluminated 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.”

[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.]

[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 121-0545.].

[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 exagerated 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:

  • Boog, H, Krebs, G and Vogel, D. 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. 2006.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Voices in Flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2015.
  • 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.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Casemate Publishers and Book Distributors. 2014.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London. 2011.
  • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
  • 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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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 fil 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 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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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.

THIS IS BERLIN!

In the last years Berlin city has undergone a radical transformation, with an influx of money from public institutions and private companies. This has benefited in the architectural modernization and services improvement for its inhabitants but in contrast led to the loss of its unique condition between Europe’s capitals. 

Berlin is now losing its value as a time capsule from the past.

[Photo by the author, August 2018.]

This battle-scared building is located at Am Kupfergraben ecke Dorotheenstraße 1, today home of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin School of Business and Economics.

With its walls full of signs of war, smoke and fire from Luftangriffe by British RAF and American air-raids, and shrapnel from howitzers and splinters due to street-fighting with the Soviets during the final Battle of Berlin in May 1945, it is an evident survivor of the destruction experienced by the city.

[Two shots of this building before the restoration work, as view in 2008.]

[Photo by the author, May 2008.]


[Photo by the author, May 2008.]

This heavily damaged building was restored and cleaned a few years ago, helping in preserve it but in the process losing forever its original state, much more blackened and holed, a true-live survivor of the aerial bombings and battles suffered by the city during the Second World War.

[This aerial view taken a few days after the war´s end in Berlin, clearly shows the devastation suffered by Mitte district. Museuminsel with Altes Museum is in the foreground, with Unter den Linden crossing from top to bottom, and other main sites like the Zeughaus, Staatsoper, Humboldt Universität, and the green Tiergarten park far behind. Our “time-capsule” building is seen at extreme right, marked with a red arrow.]

[Photo: still from film. CHRONOS Media.]

[New shots from Dorotheenstraße 1 taken last summer, in front of the Pergamon Museum.] 

[Photo by the author, August 2018.]

[Photo by the author, August 2018.]

It has survived in those conditions due to its location in Berlin Mitte, near the Museuminsel. During the postwar years, located at the Soviet Occupation sector, it was repaired by a number of securing provisions of concrete and brickwork, a patchwork which made extend its life until the end of the Cold War.

[Different views of today´s condition of the Humboldt´s building.]

[Photo by the author, August 2018.]

[Photo by the author, August 2018.]

This building was built in 1879-83 with a four-storey sandstone facade in Italian Renaissance forms mixed with simple Prussian functional design. 

It was renovated in 2002 to be the Faculty of Economic Sciencies and from 2009 started the restoration of the roof and facade in cooperation with the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (the State Office for preservation of historic monuments), with emphasis in that the signs of war remain legible on its 1.200 m2 facade.

The work was made by Ellwart Steinrestaurieung, an experienced company focused in monument and ancient buildings restoration, in close cooperation of the architecture office Martin Focks. In their study they asked themselves before the restoration began: “…Can a façade repair appropriate to the monument be realized without neglecting the age value of the building and without distorting or even eliminating the historical traces of war damage?”

[Photo by the author, August 2018.]

Massive work was made to exchange the facade stones as well as a removal of post-war provisories, but not the projectile impacts. The final result is a mixture of two periods, with a facade full of holes in a secured and cleaned building. 

It costs aprox. €2.5 million and ended in the Autumn of 2013. 

[Close view of one of the several graffities which ´adorn` the building before the 2009-restoration project.]

[Photo by the author, May 2008.]

It stands today under monument protection

[This view shows the building as it was before 2011…]

[Photo by Andreas Steinmann.]

[And compare it with a 2013-year view…Notice at upper right that the missing stone cornice of the facade seen in previous image has been retrofitted during the restoration project, and the more cleaned overall condition.]

[Photo by Sima Massah.]

You can read a full report (in German) about the renovation process at: http://www.ellwart-steinrestaurierung.de/Firma/Resources/PeterParlerPreis_bew_2015_DINA3_1.2_red.pdf

[Photo by the author, August 2018.]

In this image taken in 1947 by photographer Harry Cronan can be seen the surviving building at Berlin Am Kupfergraben after the war’s fire and destruction with Pergamonmuseum and its entrance at left. Notice the ruined dome of the Stadtschloss in the background.

[Photo: Stadtmuseum.]

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Berlin blocked!

70 YEARS OF THE LUFTBRÜCKE 1948 - 2018

This week we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the start of the “Berlin Luftbrücke”. When the Soviets blockade Berlin on the night of 24 June 1948, the only way to supply the city from West Germany was by plane.

US President Truman and the National Security Council (NSC) formally stated America’s determination to remain in Berlin. They named it “Operation Vittles”, and began on 26 June with the landing of a Douglas C-47 “Skytrain” in Tempelhof.

American and British airmen made a risky non-stop work flying across Soviet East Germany in unarmed airplanes, and there was also a large supply of ex-Luftwaffe airplane mechanics available right in Berlin. Pilots from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa also joined the ranks.

The Allies used hundreds of transport and cargo airplanes from RAF´s Transport Command and the US Military Air Transport Service, and even private operators aid on the effort with their aircraft and cargo trucks. They included civilians as well as military personnel. Some facilities and airfields were improved to accomplish the operation, the old Berlin Tempelhof too, with the construction of a new runway and landing strip to the south of the airfield. A long distance radar was installed on the main building of the airport to guide the aircrews to West Berlin. Even a new air base was built, airport Tegel, with the French authorities ordering the construction of a 2428 m (7,966 ft) long runway, as Tempelhof was not big enough to accommodate all relief aircraft.

[Berlin´s Neukölln children watching from a pile of rubble an American transport Douglas C-54 in her final approach to landing at Flughafen Tempelhof.]

[Photo by Henry Ries / © NYT; Deutsches Historisches Museum Inventarnr.].

Why is the Berlin Airlift related to the bombing of the city during the war? The same young men that 3 years before flew through Flak and enemy fighters every day and night to bomb the Third Reich´s capital now make the same trip but to carry milk, coal and food to the blocked city. Many former US bomber pilots volunteered for duty in the Air transport command in the new born-USAF. This is how former enemies became friends in the Cold War.

[Here, three US airmen check the cargo load inside a C-47 Skytrain during the Berlin Airlift. Notice they even wear their WW2-era flying jackets, the patch on the shoulder on the men at extreme right identifies him as a China-Burma-India veteran.]

[Photo: Harrington, D. Pioniere der Luftbrücke. Nishen Kommunikation, Berlin 1998].

[Old foes become friends: the Handley Page Halifax, one of Bomber Command´s heavy bombers that raided and attacked Berlin during 1943-1944, joined in the combined effort to save the blocked city. This is G-ALEF ‘Red Eagle’ an ex-military plane now in civilian hands from the Eagle Aviation Company at Wunstorf, West Germany during the Berlin Airlift, 1948].

[Photo: IWM © (HU 98420).]

[An American Douglas C-124 Globemaster II, a massive-size cargo airplane, moments before landing at Flughafen Tempelhof. The Globemaster II entered service with the USAF in 1950, designed with the lessons learned from the Berlin blockade and airlift, so this pic was taken a few years later of the Berlin Luftbrücke operation. Notice that the last meters of the landing pattern were overflying several cemeteries at Leinestraße in Neukölln.]

[Photo: Harrington, D. Pioniere der Luftbrücke. Nishen Kommunikation, Berlin 1998].

[A group of curious Berliner kids and a woman with her little child are looking on as the cargo load is being lowered from a big US Air Force Douglas C-74 cargo plane, the only one used on the #berlinluftbrücke, as it was on trials. This photo was taken at Gatow airfield, on 19 August 1948. Note that some of the kids are barefoot, a post-war common sight in the defeated Germany.]

[Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.].

At the end, with almost 278,000 flights, more than 2.3 million tons of freight was transported, feeding 2 million people by air with 1500 flights landed in Berlin every day with enough cargo to supply the city indefinitely. 

31 US airmen and 40 British lost their lives during the Berlin airlift, and on 20 July 1949 the US Congress awarded the Medal for Humane Action to members of the US Army, Air Force, and Navy who served in support for at least 120 days during the period 26 June 1949 through 30 September 1949. Lest we forget.

[The breaking of the blockade of Berlin by the Allied airlift of 1948-1949. Produced by British Movietone News, GB, 1949.]

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Source:

  • Harrington, D. Pioniere der Luftbrücke. Nishen Kommunikation, Berlin 1998.
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