In the corner where Unter den Linden meets Friedrichstraße, there is a house with more than 85 years of history in Berlin. Today, this building stands as one of the original places of the city and a survivor of the Allied bombing campaign and the Luftangriffe of the Second World War.
[Unter den Linden Nr 22 Ecke Friedrichstraße nr 155-156 during the days of the Third Reich. At left corner can be seen the “Haus der Schweiz”. At right, the famous Viktoria Hotel and Café, 1939-40. Note Friedrichstr. Bhf in the background.]
The house was built during 1934-1936 by Swiss architect Ernst Meier-Appenzell with a clean façade, an arcade and rectangular windows, in a monumental building style. The client was the “Haus der Schweiz GmbH”, to which the Swiss bank Leu, the Swiss bank and the Swiss Federal Railways had joined forces. Like many Swiss companies, they had considerable sums of German Reichsmark.
Since these were classified by the Nazis as “Sperrmark”, however, a transfer of the money into Switzerland would have been associated with considerable price losses. Instead, the three companies bought a plot of land on the corner of Friedrichstraße/ Unter den Linden and had a six-storey business and office building built there - “at the first business location of the Reich capital”. The property was intended as a financial investment, but served at the same time also quite representative purposes.
The building had the lettering Haus der Schweiz, prominently displayed on both sides of the façade, as well as a Wilhelm Tell figure. The bronze sculpture, however, is not William Tell, but his son Walther. Supposedly a trick of the builder: because the Nazis did not want to tolerate a representation of the freedom fighter and Swiss national hero himself, they trained just now his son with a crossbow and an apple. On the other hand, the Nazis could not say anything - and the Swiss national pride was still respected. In the spring of 1936, the builders themselves became the first tenants to enter the ”Haus der Schweiz”.
[Dark times at Unter den Linden: Nazi and Italian banners along the Berlin avenue during state the visit of Italian Fascist leader Mussolini to Berlin in September 1937. The red buses belonged to the Käse’s Rundfahrten Rieseburo.]
In the shops on the ground floor, the Swiss Tourist Office opened a branch (Schweizer Verkehrsbüro), where citizens could book train journeys to Switzerland.
During the war, this zone was severely damaged by Allied bombings, the building was hit on the evening of 9/10 April 1941 during the raid made by RAF British bombers which affected many areas in Mitte including the famous Staatsoper den Linden. Some bombs hit this area on 3 February 1945 during the massive US air strike on Berlin, with serious damage to adjacent buildings including the famous Hotel Viktoria next to the Swiss House.
Years later, the Soviet offensive in the city inflicted more damage, but thanks to the modern construction method, this building survived the bombing of Berlin at the end of war as the only one in the area relatively intact.
[The famous corner Unter den Linden Ecke Friedrichstraße in a colour picture taken in 1939.]
[This image shows that same corner after the war’s end. The Viktoria-Café placed at the right corner was totally wiped out by bomb damage during the final two years of the conflict, especially on February 3rd 1945 attack. The Swiss building has survived the bombing of Berlin relatively intact.]
[Another view of Berliners working on the debris after the war in front of the Haus der Schweiz at Friedrichstraße/corner Unter den Linden. Notice that the Tell bronze sculpture has survived barely intact.]
The employees of the Swiss companies, which until 1945 had had their headquarters in the house, had largely fled in the turmoil of the last years of the war from Berlin, but the house remained the property of the “House of Switzerland GmbH”.
[The remains of the building just after the war’s end. Notice the splinter shells from the battle on the arcade and façade, and the Russian military police armed with rifle assigned to traffic control.]
When Berlin was divided by two, while the DDR government expropriated the owners of many surrounding buildings, the “Swiss house (…) was administered by the Berlin state housing administration (…) as a foreign property”, as can be seen from a 1952 official note. Apparently, the DDR government did not want to mess with Swiss banks. Nevertheless, they used the house for their own purposes. Among others, the Ostberliner Sparkasse, the German Foreign Trade Bank and a HO food market moved into the shops. The upper floors were rebuilt in the early 1950s for the “Coordination and Control Center for Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management”.
[Reconstruction of the Swiss building, now sited in the new DDR - East Berlin, began in the 1950s. This image is dated on December 8th, 1950.]
The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley was one of the three ‘strategic’ bombers types with which Britain went to war in September 1939. The Whitley was conceived as a night ‘heavy’ bomber and was RAF’s first monoplane bomber and the first one to penetrate on Germany airspace.
With a crew of five men, and powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin X engines, the Whitley was capable of 230 mph (370 km/h) at 16,400 ft (5,000 m) and was bombed with up to 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) of bombs in the fuselage and 14 individual cells in the wings.
[An in-flight view of Whitley Mk.V T4131, ‘EY-W’ from No 78 RAF Squadron during 1941. Note row of bombs painted on the fuselage nose to indicate numbers of missions flown over the Third Reich.]
Following the outbreak of war in September 1939, the Whitley participated in the first RAF bombing raid upon Reich territory and remained an integral part of the early British bomber offensive until the introduction of four-engined RAF bombers namely the Short Stirling or the Lancaster. Already an outclassed design when the war started, in 1942 it was retired from first-line bombing sorties. This two-engine bomber equipped Bomber Command’s 10, 51, 58, 78 and 102 Squadrons, all from No 4 Group.
It participated, along with Hampdens and Wellingtons in the first British-attack over Berlin on the night of 25 August 1940. And during the next 6 months, the Whitleys would be on first line delivering bombs by night to the Reich capital.
[Artist Paul Nash made this watercolour and chalk drawing of Berlin’s RAF first attack from a set of photographs that Air Ministry sent to him. It shows an aerial view of four Whitley bombers in flight over a target area of Berlin. It was made in January 1941.]
With 1,814 Whitleys built, they flew a total of 8,996 operations with Bomber Command, with 9,845 tons of bombs dropped and 269 of them were lost in action.
[An Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber being readied for another sortie over Germany. It belongs to No 58 Squadron and is seen at RAF Linton on Ouse dispersal.]
[The Nash and Thompson Type FN4 rear turret of an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber of No 102 Squadron RAF at Driffield, Yorkshire, 8 March 1940. It was armed with four ,303 in Browning machine-guns to protect the plane against night-fighters.]
[Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V of No 77 Squadron RAF rests in the grass at Driffield, Yorkshire, April 1940. Notice how broad was the wing. The Whitley featured a large rectangular-shaped wing; its appearance led to the aircraft receiving the nickname “the flying barn door”.]
[Luftwaffe crews and German civilians inspecting the wreckage of Whitley bomber T4170 ‘GE-T’ from No 58 RAF Squadron. This aircraft, flown by F/O Jack Champness crew, was shot down near Westerwede, Germany in their way to bomb Berlin on the night of 14/15 November 1940. The Whitley was hit by flak from the 3./Flak Regiment 26; all five crewmembers were killed and buried at Worpswede until 1947. That night, Bomber Command lost 10 aircraft -the worst night since the war began.]
Berlin was also bombed by the Soviets, years before the final Red assault over the city in 1945.
Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the largest offensive in History at the time, and German forces quickly advanced throught the vast steppe towards Moscow, the main target. As soon as 19 July, Hitler had issued his ‘War Directive No 33’, decreting the attack of Moscow by bombers of Luftflotte 2 in reprisal for the raids on Bucharest and Helsinki.
But “Klara Zetkin” —the Luftwaffe’s codename for Moscow- was heavily defended and the bombings were poor. After the Nazi attack of the capital on July 21/22, 1941, when the Germans dropped a total of 104 tonnes of HE bombs and 46,000 incendiaries for over 5 hours, Stalin ordered immediate retaliation against the Reich capital.
[The Kremlin under the attack of the Luftwaffe, July 1941.]
On the evening of 7August 1941, 15 Ilyushin DB-3T torpedo bombers of the Baltic Fleet operating from an island airstrip off the Estonian coast struck Berlin after travelling a distance of more than 600 miles (1,000 km). All returned safely. While the damage caused by the twin-engined bombers was negligible (each carried fewer than 1,000 pounds of bombs), the Kremlin propaganda machine was quick to trumpet the success of the raids.
[Berlin being bombed by Soviet airplanes in 1941.]
Later, at dusk on 10August 1941, a formation of VVS (Voyenno-Vozdushny Sili, or Red Air Force) Yermolayev Yer-2 medium bombers and 14 of Stalin’s prized four-engine Petliakov Pe-8 formed up over Pushkino Airfield in Leningrad for the raid on Berlin. The planes were to be joined over the city by two full squadrons of Ilyushin Il-4 bombers flying fromEstonia. Unfortunately for the Soviets, the mission was cursed with misfortune from the start, several Pe-8s had to abort due to engine problems and one of the heavily loaded Pe-8 crashed immediately upon take off. The bombing was a total disaster. More attacks followed, with minor damage.
[The big size Pe-8 four engined was the only strategic bomber built by the Soviets during the war, but the unreliability of her engines and low numbers built (93) made the bomber a failure in action.]
By late 1941, the Wehrmacht was so close to Moscow that Stalin was forced to forget strategic bombing, apart from a 100-bombers raid on 29 August 1942 (minor damage), until 1945.
[The Ilyushin DB-3 medium long-range bomber. During World War Two, 1,528 were built.]
[Yevgeny Preobrazhensky, Commander of the Soviet Baltic Fleet’s 1st Mine-Torpedo Aviation Regiment, and pilot Pyotr Khokhlov before leaving the aerodrome to conduct an air-raid over Berlin during August 1941.]
Naval DB-3s flew a total of 10 sorties over Berlin before their base at Saaremaa had to be evacuated in the face of imminent German capture. The final attack was made on the night of September 4-5. A total of 86 naval aircraft participated in the raids, of which 33 were reported to have reached Berlin, while others bombed secondary targets, including Stettin, Königsberg, Danzig, Swinemünde and Libau. Daylight bombing was even tried, but met with no success and was cancelled.
The Soviet bomb ton dropped over Berlin is less than 1% of the total for the Allies during Second World War.
[Berlin, July 1945. Four years later, Berliners (who survived the bombings and war) would see Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) much closer everyday. A vast painting portrait of the Soviet leader presided Unter den Linden next to Brandenburger Tor in the aftermath of the war, with a memorial and Red banners, at the exact point today is placed the big Christmas Tree.]
[Berlin, July 1945: one more view of Stalin´s portrait, this time seconds before you overpass Brandenburger Tor and enter Unter den Linden avenue. Note poster at right column to inform you are leaving the British sector.]
At night, Berlin first system defence was based mainly in the use of anti-aircraft searchlights (Flakscheinwerfer). Hundreds of them were positioned around- and in the city, and their task were to find and track enemy bombers, showing them to the anti-aircraft batteries at night.
[A German Flakscheinwerfer in action during the war.]
[Here, members of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) served as crew of one during their duty with Luftwaffenhelfer in Berlin Tiergarten in 1943. Literally “air force assistants”, the Luftwaffenhelfer service was posted from January 1943 to aid in the Defence of the Reich. The order called for drafting school classes with male students born in 1926 and 1927 into a military corp, organised by Hitlerjugend and Luftwaffe staff.
They were know as the “Flakhelfer-Generation”. Their average age when they were called up was sixteen and a total of about 200,000 served during the war, including females from Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM).]
The searchlights were based around extremely high-powered Carbon Arc lamps, and the German iused three types divided by the size and diameter parabolic glass reflector: 60 Centimetre, 150 Centimetre and 200 Centimetre.
In September 1940, Germany had 2,540 searchlights (60 cm and 150 cm). During the war, this number grew rapidly — by February 1944, this figure has raised to 13,748 searchlights.
[A British four-engined bomber (most probably a Lancaster) caught at night during an air raid over the objective, as viewed from an above fellow bomber.]
The silhouette of the bomber is clearly evident as German searchlights raised their light against the clouds and overcast, showing the sky as a bright screen. The white traces are a mix of searchlights and British target indicators (TI), flares dropped by the bombers to mark and illuminate the target.
This photo was taken over Hamburg, on the night of 24/25 July 1943 during the infamous “Operation Gomorrah”. That summer night, the RAFBomber Command created a perfect “fire storm” that engulfed the city and more than 50,000 civilians were killed.
That first night over Berlin, 46 Hampdens bombers from Nos 49, 50, 61 and 144 Squadrons were sent to attack the ‘Big City’. Of these six were lost, five through fuel shortage and one missing believed also to be from the same cause. Two of these losses were from 50 Squadron. The last raid a Hampden was dispatched to bomb the Nazi capital was on 21 September 1941. Over the period of thirteen months 20 Hampden raids were made averaging twenty six aircraft per raid. The largest concentration involved fifty aircraft and the smallest ten. During the period 34 aircraft were lost of which 23 (58%) were due either certainly or probably to fuel shortage. By contrast only seven were attributed to enemy action. 50 Squadron lost nine aircraft, of which seven were out of fuel, one shot down by enemy action and one through a forced landing due to engine problems. There were six fatal casualties and two POW’s. On a trip to Berlin a Hampden’s bomb load would equate to four 500-lb bombs plus some incendiaries. Its endurance with this load was just over ten hours.
[One of the six Hampden medium bombers lost the night of 25/26 August 1940 during the first bombing of Berlin by the British RAF was P2070VN-X from No 50 Squadron, seen here after forced landing.]
At the outbrak of war, Bomber Command was equipped with 6 operational squadrons of Hampdens under No 5 Group. The Hampden made its combat debut on 3 September 1939 searching German ships off the coast of Heligoland. It was a twin-engined medium bomber, with a crew of four and a max speed of 247 mph (397 km/h) at 13,800 ft (4,210 m); the bombload was of 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) bombs. The newest of the three RAF bombers, the Hampden, was often referred to by aircrews as the ‘Flying Suitcase’ because of its cramped crew conditions.
The RAF took a total of 1,432 Hampdens, the last of which was delivered in March 1942. The bomber ceased operational service in October 1943, but was retired from frontline raids over Germany a yerar before due to the increasing power of Third Reich defences. Almost half of the Hampdens built, 714, were lost on RAF Bomber Command operations, with 1,077 crew killed and 739 reported as missing. German Flak accounted for 108, 263 Hampdens crashed because of “a variety of causes” and 214 others were classed as “missing”.
[A Handley P Hampden Mk. I of No 455 Squadron RAF in flight.]
[The instrument panel and flying controls of an RAF Handley Page Hampden, showing the almost impossible task of getting into the nose compartment. The bomber’s fuselage was only three feet wide, similar to a single engined fighter at the time, so the pilot was more or less stuck on his seat for the entire flight, sometimes up to 9 hours. Note the rear view mirror top of the front plexiglas panel.]
[The ventral rear gunner’s position in a Handley Hampden of No 106 Sq RAF at Coningsby, Lincolnshire, viewed from the starboard side. Operating the twin .303 Browning machine guns is Flight Lieutenant Chisholm, the Squadron Gunnery Officer.]
[British HP.52 twin-engined bombers near completion in the assembly line at Handley Page’s plant at Radlett, Hertfordshire during the first year of the Second World War. Handley Page would go on to manufacture nearly 500 of them and English Electric a total of 770 Hampdens, built under subcontract between 1939 and 1942].
The Freya systems of the German early warning radars were highly successful, but they need another set to help in targeting air objectives.
Anti-aircraft targeting radars, or FuMG (from Funkmeßgerät, or radar) were not in service when the war broke out. From 1939, GEMA and Telefunken starting to develop more accurate radars with a more concentrated beam to firing accuracy of the heavy anti-aircraft artillery’s guns.
This radar, called the Würzburg FuMG 39 operated on 50 cm wave length and had a range of 25 km with a range accuracy of 25 m. A rotating dipole antenna and a pulsed radar was used. The rangefinder was provided with a cathode-ray tube screen (CRT). The distance and ranging data would be provided to a command and control system at a Flak battery. Twenty of these units were delivered by 1940 to the Ruhr area. By the end of the war, over 4,000 units of this and upgraded models (Würzburg D) had been deployed in Europe, making it the standard radar system with the Luftwaffe. They were manned by a crew of six.
[These photographs show a Würzburg FuMG 39/62 model T, seen with its wooden traverse plate.
This radar unit was set up atop the control tower of the FlakTurm at Berlin Tiergarten, in Zoologischer Garten and was on duty to track and control the AA guns which protect the western sector of the city. Note brush paint to camouflage the radar’s dish and Siegessäule (‘Victory Column’) at background. The women next to the radar were American WACs (Women’s Army Corps), examining the site after the war in July 1945.]
[Another Würzburg radar placed at the Tiergarten, apparently used by the Germans as traffic control unit at the improvised Ost-West-Achse’s landing strip during the last days of the Berlin garrison. Note the Siegessäule column in the background.]
[Two images of a German Luftwaffe crew manning a Würzburg at a radar site; the man in the foreground is moving the system on its lateral axis. He is looking into the range and bearing indicator in front of him. Behind, other crewmember operate the elevation crank of the radar housing while watching the elevation monitoring. These monitors are covered with weather protectors.]
[Photo: Muller W. Ground Radar Systems of the Luftwaffe 1939-1945. Schiffer Publishing, 1998.]
[Photo: Muller W. Ground Radar Systems of the Luftwaffe 1939-1945. Schiffer Publishing, 1998.]
[The control tower as viewed from the main Flakturm located at Berlin Tiergarten, in Zoologischer Garten. A Würzburg FuMG39T and a Würzburg-Riese (at left) can be seen atop of the roof. The Reich’s capital had three of these complex of towers to lead the AA guns, the one at the Zoo manned by the 123 Turmflakabteilung.]
In 1941, Telefunken followed up on their successful Würzburg system with a larger, more sophisticated set fittingly known as FuMG 65 Würzburg-Riese (“Giant”). Making use of the same conical-scanning system, the Riese was a much larger system with a 7.4 meter antenna and much more powerful transmitter that gave it a range of up to 70 degrees. Combined with the added accuracy afforded by the conical scanning system, the Würzburg-Riese provided the Luftwaffe with a long-range system capable of providing accurate enough information for gun-laying. with a range of about 60 km. This type began to enter service in 1941, and over the course of the war roughly 1,500 would be built.
[The massive FuSe65 Würzburg-Riese radar atop of the L-turm at Humboldthain in Berlin.]
Several types and improvements were developed by Germany during the war, increasing range and facing British radio countermeasures, being the Jagdschloßradarantenna-array the other great advanced unit. This system, called FuG 404, became operational in 1944 and it was very difficult to jam.Just 80 of them were built. With a detection range of 300-400 km, long range warning devices like this or the FuMG 41/42 Mammut radar unit (six or eight Freya switched together) detected enemy formations assembling over the North Sea prior move towards the Reich, alerting German defences for incoming air raids.
[A Jagdschloß type II at a German radar site located in the Danish coast.]
[The cathode-ray screen of a German Jagdschloss radar shows the RAF offensive on Berlin with approximately 400 bombers, on 30 January 1944. The circle constitute the 100 km range marker, the gap in top indicates ‘geographical north’.]
All German systems and radars were highly jammed by the British countermeasures chaff from the summer of 1943, named “Window” (known as ‘Duppel’ by the Germans), metal strips with aluminium foil. This obliged the Germans to improve their early warning system -the Kammhuber Line- and radar AI devices (airborne radar) with new frequencies and create new night fighting tactics.
Sources and Bibliography:
Foedrowitz, Michael. (1997). The Flak Towers in Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna 1940- 1950. Schiffer Publishing.
Foedrowitz, Michael. (2007). Flak-Towers. By the author.
Funkmeß(ortungs)stellungen in Deutschland. Deutsches Atlantikwall Archiv <http://www.deutschesatlantikwallarchiv.de/radar/germany/rd.htm#Funkme%C3%9F>
Muller W. (1998). Ground Radar Systems of the Luftwaffe 1939-1945. Schiffer Publishing.
Zaloga, Steven. (2012). Defense of the Third Reich 1941–45. Osprey Publishing.
RADAR was the acronym for Radio Detection And Ranging, with the first sets being tested by British and Germans at the same time during the early years of the 1900s.
Its combat debut was during Second World War. It was an invaluable air detection aid whenever bad weather, darkness or the enemy’s action made impossible to track and locate an incoming raid. During the next years, RAF and Luftwaffe will play “cat and mouse” in radar procedures in the ensuing Bombenkrieg.
[This picture shows the GEMA complex and buildings, where the German radar was developed located at Berlin. In 1940, more than 6,000 people worked here.]
The birthplace for the German radar was GEMA company (Gesellschaft für elektroakustiche und mechanische Apparate - “Association for Electroacoustic and Mechanical Equipment”), founded by Paul-Günther Erbslöh (1905–2002) and Hans-Karl von Willisen (1906–1966). They worked together and after left Telefunken, developed the first air warning radar system.
The installation was overrun by the Soviets in May 1945. Most of the equipment and many of the people were deported
to Russia as part of the war bounty.
The first radar unit developed by GEMA in 1937 was the FuMG 403 Panoramagerät Stützpunkt(Plan Position Indicator-PPI) display radar, built in 1941 at Tremmen near Berlin (40 km west of the city) at a cost of 500,000 Reich Marks (RM). The 20 m large antenna is located in the top of
the concrete tower and it rotates through 360 deg. at 6 rpm. Range is 120-300 km.
The radar display station is located in the base of the tower and a PPI display. The tower was linked by landline to the headquarters of the 1st Flak Division in the Zoo’s Turm. The site was blown up after the war by the Russians.
[One of the rare known views of the Project C Panoramagerät Tower PPI.]
From the early works on Panorama, GEMA created an advanced and more compact unit, and this would be the start of the radar net of the German defences.
[A FreyaRADAR system at one of the thousand radar sites placed all over the German-occupied Europe.]
Named after the Norse Goddess Freyja, the Freya FuMG 450 was the first operational early warning radar defence system. Before the beginning of WWII, in 1938, just eight of these units had been delivered by GEMA and deployed along the German border manned by the Luftwaffe. The early versions had a range of 60-80 km which was later increased to 120 km. Azimuth accuracy was 1.5 degrees and better. Developed from a Kriegsmarine (Germany’s war navy) radar, its lower frequency range (120-166 MHz vs 368 MHz), longer wavelength (2.5 m vs 50 cm), and longer range. It was more advanced than the British system, but more complex what it means that it was not totally readied and needs improvement when the first raids came.
Freya was first successfully used on December 18, 1939 when two stations detected an approaching daytime raid on Wilhelmshaven by 22 RAF Wellington bombers at a range of 113 km and guided fighter planes toward them via radio, downing half of the enemy’s force. This early success of radar left the Luftwaffe so impressed that Freya network was the chosen one to guard Germany’s western border.
Anyway, these radars were only able to spot and track incoming aircraft, not to determine the exact range and height.
[An RAF photograph of the Freya radar installations at Auderville, France as viewed during 1941.]
The Nazis developed a complex net to defend the Reich and occupied Europe from air raids. This superb detection net goes from observation of incoming attacks to the latest and more sophisticated elements of electronic radar and radio to track enemy planes and to assist the AA (anti-aircraft) guns in their role against the Allied ‘Terror-bombers’.
At the beginning of the war, German air detection was based on primary methods and systems like the observation sites.
[Here, a Luftwaffe officer (note the shape of the Eagle in the uniform’s chest) teaches young Flakhelfers to use a range finder device and binoculars, the simplest method to know the range and height of incoming bombers from local ground level.]
After plotting enemy aircraft the site will pass this essential information to the defence and fighter direction centres to defend the Reich territories. This method was highly successful during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940 employed by the British Royal Observer Corps (ROC). At night, it had obviously no usefulness.
The air-defence instruments also consisted of sound location equipment. The Germans used a complex system, called Horchgerät,during early stages of the war, and revitalized during the Summer and Fall 1943 after their radar defence net failed as a consequence of the introduction of the first electronic countermeasures like ‘Window’ (ERC & ECM) by the British.
[A Horchgerätviewed on October 1939 at the outskirts of Berlin, more specifically a Ringtrichter-Richtungshörer (RRH) zur Einweisung der schweren Flak.]
The system idea was to hear the sound of the engines of the incoming aircraft and track their height, warning the defences of an incoming enemy raid. For typical aircraft speeds of that time, sound location only gave a few minutes of warning.
It consists of four acoustic horns, a horizontal pair and a vertical pair, connected by rubber tubes
to stethoscope type earphones worn by the two technicians left and right. The stereo earphones enabled one technician to determine the direction and the other the elevation of the aircraft.
[A Flakhelferin am Horchgerät poses for the camera in January 1943.]
Already damaged during the 1943-44 British bombing campaign, the theatre was destroyed on 21 June 1944 during an American raid; that day 606 US heavy bombers dropped their bombs over the German capital. Finally, it took a heavy toll again during the large US attacks of February and March, 1945.
[Frühling 1945 Luftangriffe: Civilians and German soldiers working on the debris on front of the destroyed building which formerly housed the WinterGarten Variete after the bombing in February/ March, 1945. Original caption dated it on March 21st, so most probably it was 18 March 1945 air-attack aftermath.]
Owned by Hermann Gebers, it opened in 1887 as a recreational center of the Berlin Central Hotel, but also as a venue for concerts and theatrical performances. The Skladanowsky brothers showcased the first short movie presentation ever at the theatre in 1895, making it the first movie theater in history. But it was a multi-use variety theatre, not a true kino (‘cinema’).
Against a background of inflation and depression, Berlin drew the talent and energies of the rest of Germany towards its glittering cabaret performances and burgeoning sex tourism industry.
Berlin’s interwar reputation of hedonistic decadence and debauchery is familiar, but the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) privileged an outpouring of cultural creativity in the Bauhaus movement of modern art and the development of the ‘International Style’ in modern architecture too. The rise of the Nazis to power and government stop all of this and make the city back to the 1900s.
[WinterGarten dressed with swastikas, the Berlin flag and UK and France too, maybe during the 1938-Munich meeting.]
[A 1935 street-view of Friedrichstraße 143-149, with the WinterGarten at left and the elevated walkaway of Bahnhof Friedrichstraße at background.]