Berlin unter Bomben • Steglitz

‘steht nichts’

[Photo: Trustees of the IWM / Tony Redding. Life and Death in Bomber Command. Fonthill Media, 2013.]

[Berlin 1/2 March 1943: this night oblique taken by an RAF bomber during the raid shows smoke drifting from fires in the Steglitz area (A) and a concentration of fires around the Tempelhof marshallings yards (B). The bomb-bay camera mechanism was activated seconds later the bomb-aimer dropped the bombs and the flash bomb. Most of the south-west area of the city suffered much damage on that night due to attacking force’s radar (H2S) difficulties to identified assigned targets, when 302 Bomber Command aircraft visited the Reich’s capital. Bombing pattern spread over 100 square miles. The British lost 17 bombers (5.6 percent of the force) and 191 Berliners lost their lives.]

Steglitz, mostly part a residential district, was one of the most bombed districts of Berlin during the war due to its location in the western area of the capital. Many bombs fell there during the initial 1940 raids, but especially during the British RAF campaign in 1943-44. It was the second most heavily destroyed district, only after Schöneberg.

A very good source about the bombings suffered by this Berlin area is the testimony of Dieter E. Zimmer, covered in detail in his work Bombenkrieg. Aus Dieter und Jürgen Zimmer: Zur Familiengeschichte, 2005.

The ancient village was founded on the twelfth century and it is first documented in 1375 as “Stegelitz”, being refounded in 1792 as a Prussian village. After the Weimar Republic was proclaimed, Steglitz was incorporated to the city in April 1920 into the Groß-Berlin-Gesetz together with neighboring villages creating new boroughs named after the largest villa in the area, a demarcation later used for reference during the division of the city in occupation sectors in July 1945. Since 2001, after a big administrative reform, Berlin southwestern area was united in the newly created Steglitz-Zehlendorf (which includes Steglitz, Lichterfelde, Lankwitz, Zehlendorf, Dahlem, Nikolassee and Wannsee). The suburb lived pioneer times at the dawn of the twentieth century, the world’s first electrified tram line ran through there (Groß-Lichterfelde village) in 1881 and Otto Lilienthal (1848-96) made his first flight jumps in 1893 from the Maihöhe nearby hills.

[A 1912-postcard of the Steglitz suburb, with a view of Albrechtstraße Ecke Schloßstraße and the Rathaus Steglitz townhall, today home of Bürgeramt Steglitz (“Citizens’ Office” could be a translation). Designed by architects Reinhardt and Süßenguth, it was built in 1896-97 in Neo Gothic style.]

[Photo: Postkart. akpool.]

When the war broke out in September 1939, the western Berlin suburb of Steglitz was part of the ’Groß-Berlin’ capital of the Reich and the bombs would fell indiscriminately on its habitants, from the humblest workers on the banks of the Teltowkanal to the petty aristocratics and their elegant villas of Dahlem. But they would go on, the horrors of aerial bombings were something new and even curious, the fear to air-raids and their deadly consequences would not come until months later. Life was still going on in the capital of the Reich.

[A column of new Volkswagen Beetles stops in front of the Rathaus Steglitz in January 1939 shown by the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF), the Nazi-labour organization.]

Photo: Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Alamy.]

[The red-brick facade of the Rathaus Steglitz town hall, seen at left, highlights in this colour view of Schloßstraße Ecke Albrechtstraße at Berlin-Steglitz district (U-Bhf Rathaus Steglitz) taken on an early evening of mid 1940 with pedestrians and parked cars.]

Photo by Sobotta.

[This closer look was taken seconds later than the previous image, it also shows Schloßstraße Ecke Albrechtstraße. The famous 4-story dome-shaped building seen at right (Schloßstraße 88 - Albrechtstraße 132) is listed as a cinema theatre, opening in 1911 as the ‘Deutsches Theater’ with 180 seats, and still exists with minor changes. Notice the numerous electricity lines for the Berlin yellow trams all over the street. The yellow road sign next to the Rathaus points to Grunewald, some 5 km away from this spot.]

Photo by Sobotta / Getty images.

[This winterly view of that same location from a different angle (Schloßstraße Ecke Albrechtstraße), taken in 1945 shows us a more desolate scene after more than two years of continuing bombing. The “Deutsches Theater” was hit by RAF incendiary bombs on the night of August 31, 1943.]

Photo by Fritz Eschen /SLUB /Deutsche Fotothek.

Several works and factories were located near and on Steglitz, mainly the big AEG Telefunken factory in Goerzallee at Berlin-Zehlendorf. Also the extensive traffic of goods that traveled through the Landwehr- and Teltowkanal made the area an intended target for the enemies and the strategic bombing campaign. Another factor of the great ton of bombs dropped on this sector was that the majority of bombs fell in western Berlin on every raid because it was the closest and the first area to overfly from the English bases; sometimes due to ‘easy trigger’ too, bombardiers anxious to start the return home flight. A long list of damaged buildings hit by bombs is recorded in the capital records as are the casualties figures: Markelstraße, Lepsiusstraße, Schloßstraße, Birkbuschstraße, Feuerbachstraße…

On the very first day of the war, 1 September 1939, the air-sirens sounded on this suburb, located on the corner house at Schloß- and Feuerbachstraße (Zimmer, 2005) to alert its people of incoming aircraft. Several bombs landed here during the late summer and fall of 1940 British air-raids with the first big attack suffered by Steglitz and Friedenau being on Sunday, September 7, 1941 by RAF bombers. Steglitz, Lankwitz and surrounding areas were heavily hit when the British offensive was reactivated on January 1943, especially by the huge aerial attack on 1/2 March when 257 bombers raided the capital. This area was again bombed hard with big devastation on 23/24 August 1943 during the initial phase of the British RAF “Battle of Berlin” (in the case of Lankwitz nearly a 85% was destroyed) with severe damage done to the Steglitz power-station. Hundreds of people died during the two and a half hours raid, 174 of them at Steglitz, many were injured. The actual route of most bombers that night, further west than planned and the total failure of the radar marking system made bombing pattern very scattered, with south-western districts taking a heavy toll, far away from the intended main target: Mitte. On 24/25 March 1944 the Rathaus Steglitz building was hit by British bombs during the last raid of the air-offensive too when the southwestern area was bombed heavily again. 

[Bomb damage at Schloßstraße 121 in Steglitz district. ‘Schloßstr. 121, dreistöckiges Wohnhaus total ausgebrannt’ states the city report after the 1 March 1943 British raid on Berlin.]

Photo: bpk/ Liselotte Purper (Orgel-Köhne).

The greatest destruction was about to come, however, during the American attacks starting in the spring of 1944. During the first US daylight raid (6 March 1944, 730 heavy bombers of the US Eighth Air Force dispatched), the leading elements of the 3rd Air Division closed the city from the south towards their primary target: the Bosch electrical works at Klein Machnow but heavy overcast made its 4th Combat Wing to drop bombs over the only gap free of clouds they encountered: Steglitz. The 75-aircraft formation released their explosives over the southern part of the residential district causing severe destruction. One of them was shot down by flak and another 49 suffered damage. Final apocalypse came during the 1945 big US ‘area’ bombings, especially on the raid made on February 3rd, 1945, by a thousand heavy bombers. 

[The ruined house at Schloßstraße nr 19 following the British RAF Bomber Command air-raids on fall 1943. Today this place is home of Schildhorn-Apotheke in a new building built after the war, next to U-Bahn Schloßstraße station and the Bierpinsel & Schlossturm.] 

[Photo: TP Tegelportal UG.]

[View of that location (Schloßstr 19) in 1958 once the war’s destruction and debris had been cleared and the street began its reconstruction.]

[Photo: TP Tegelportal UG.]

[Rubble and debris covered Schloßstraße 20 Ecke Ahornstraße in Berlin Steglitz district following the British RAF Bomber Command air-raids during November 1943; this image was taken in the summer of 1945 months after the end of the war. Notice the Möbel Höffner ad on the destroyed wall. Höffner Möbelgesellschaft GmbH is a Berlin-based furniture company founded in 1874 by Rudolf Höffner. Located at Veteranenstraße 12/13 (Berlin-Mitte), Höffner became Berlin’s largest furniture store until the outbreak of the Second World War.]

[Photo: TP Tegelportal UG.]

[This composite image of the same spot (Schloßstraße 20) allow us to examine the destroyed front facade of that building hit by RAF bombs.]

[Photo: TP Tegelportal UG.]

[March 1945: A freight train (route Potsdam - Berlin Potsdamer Bahnhof) rolls on Steglitz freight station; the damaged building seen at left was the Postfuhramt (post office) at Bergstraße and the S-bahn station is barely seen in the background. While all around the city is already in ruins, the Reichsbahn fulfills its intended task until the final collapse, and even rebuilds the destroyed signal box office.]

[Photo by Walter Hollnagel via Eisenbahn stiftung.]

[Photo by Walter Hollnagel via Eisenbahn stiftung.]

[Here we see a destruction scene on the southeast corner of Berlin-Steglitz district: the Siemens- and Hannemann-brücke lays in ruins after the end of the war. Both bridges linked Steglitz and Lankwitz across the Teltowkanal and were destroyed shortly before the final assault in April 1945 by Wehrmacht troops to prevent Soviet forces to cross into the inner defence perimeter of the Reich’s capital. All bridges across the Teltow- and Landwehrkanal were demolished in this action except one (Späthstraße brücke).]

[Photo: Steglitz-Museum. Heimatverein Steglitz e.V. Signatur: 02916.]

[Source: Willemer, Wilhelm and others. P-136 The German Defense of Berlin 1945. United States Army European Command, Historical Division Typescript Studies, [Box no. 51], Hoover Institution Archives. 1953.]

[The Hannemannbrücke was rebuilt in its present form in 1955/56 as a steel girder bridge. The original bridge (seen in this photo) was a truss structure made of steel. The Siemensbrücke at Siemensstraße was rebuilt in 1956/1957 as a steel beam bridge after the canal was cleared of debris and bridge damaged parts.]

[Photo: Frisch. Zeitschrift für Bauwesen, 56. Jg. (1906), Sp. 645.]

On 24 April 1945 the Red Army started the assault on the southwestern outskirts of capital Berlin. Once across the Teltow, Soviet troops of the Third Guards Tank Army and 1st Guards Army pushed on and reached Dahlem and Steglitz on that very day attacking from the south into the Berlin defensive sector “E” where Steglitz belongs. The fight lasted until April 30 when the last German forces were defeated or captured.

[A Soviet convoy of the Red Army (most probably ZIS-5 trucks produced by Moscow, by contrast third on the line is an US-built GMC truck) passes in front of the battle-scarred old Rathaus at Schloßstraße Ecke Albrechtstraße after the fight for Berlin, May 1945.]

[Photo: Still from film/ Russian newsreel.]

[More Soviet Red Army vehicles with two T-34/85 tanks led by an BA-65 armoured car drive past to Rathaus Steglitz at Schloßstraße in their way through the city to the southwestern suburbs of Berlin, taken in May 1945.]

[Photo via Piet Vergiet. Still from film/ Russian newsreel.]

[Photo via Piet Vergiet. Still from film/ Russian newsreel.]

[German workers cleared rubble and debris at the destroyed streets of Berlin-Steglitz. In this silent footage filmed in July 1945, the level of destruction suffered by the suburb by the fighting and bombing raids can be seen. Video credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Theodor Röckle Collection. ID:3917.]

The destruction suffered by this area during the bombing raids and the final battle was heavy, and the Berliner sense of humor renamed Steglitz as ‘steht nichts’ - ‘nothing is standing’ after the war.


Sources and Bibliography:

  • Aengeneyndt, Jan-Derk. Südwest-Berlin als Kriegsgebiet. Die Bezirke Zehlendorf und Steglitz von Januar bis Juni 1945. 2003.
  • Antill, Peter D. Berlin 1945: End of the Thousand Year Reich. Campaign 159. Osprey Publishing. 2005.
  • Becker, Heinz. Vor 50 Jahren–die Lankwitzer Bombennacht 1943: Augenzeugen-Berichte und -Fotos zum Gedächtnis an den Luftangriff 23/24. August 1943. Arbeitskreis Historisches Lankwitz. 1993.
  • Beevor, Antony. Berlin: The Downfall 1945. Viking Press. 2002.
  • Demps, Laurenz. (2014). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag.         
  • Ethell, Jeffrey and Price, Alfred. (2002). Target Berlin Mission 250: 6 March 1944. Greenhill Books. 
  • Feustel Jan, Köhler Hörst. Lebensader durch Sumpf und Sand, 100 Jahre Teltowkanal. 1. Auflage. Hendrik Bäßler Verlag. 2006.
  • Friese, Wolfgang. Lankwitz und seine Geschichte. Teil 5: Kloster und Luftangriff. Gabriele Schuster Eigen. 2013.
  • Hopfe, Christian. Berlin-Steglitz. Die Reihe Archivbilder. Sutton Archivbilder. 2017.
  • Kunstamt Steglitz (Hrsg.). Alles neu: 50 Jahre Kriegsende in Steglitz. Berlin 1995.
  • Landesarchiv Berlin; A Rep. 001-02 Nr. 700 ‘Bericht über die Luftangriff’; LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 701, Bl. 34 ff.
  • Liste der Brücken über den Teltowkanal. Wikiwand.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. The Berlin raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassell & Co. 1988.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books. 2011.
  • Simon, Christian. Steglitz im Wandel der Geschichte: vom grössten Dorf Preussens. be.bra-Verlag. Berlin. 1997.
  • Steglitz-Museum Archiv. Heimatverein Steglitz e.V. Berlin. []
  • Stivers, William and Carter Donald A. The city becomes a symbol: the U.S. Army in the occupation of Berlin, 1945-1949. Center of Military History United States Army. Washington, D.C. 2017.
  • Wildt, Michael and Kreutzmueller, Christoph. (2013). Berlin 1933-1945 - Stadt und Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus. Siedler Verlag.
  • Willemer, Wilhelm and others. P-136 The German Defense of Berlin 1945. United States Army European Command, Historical Division Typescript Studies, [Box no. 51], Hoover Institution Archives. 1953.
  • Zimmer, Dieter E. Bombenkrieg. Aus Dieter und Jürgen Zimmer: Zur Familiengeschichte. Unpublished manuscript. 2005. []
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