Why Is Berlin the Capital of Germany?

(Last Updated On: October 24, 2019)
Why Is Berlin the Capital of Germany?

Germany had an interesting 20th century to say the least, but today has emerged as the largest economy in Europe, and the 4th largest economy in the world. The country is notable for its technological achievements and has produced many famous philosophers, poets, and composers. Germany also remains one of the top travel destinations in the world, thanks to their rich culture and history, vibrant landscapes, and their delicious food — most prominently beer, bread, and sausages. 

But did you know that Germany was once an un-unified group of nation states with no capital city? Let’s take a look at how Germany has changed over history, and how Berlin came to be the capital of this fascinating country.

Quiz yourself: Can you name the most populous cities in Germany?

The Capital of Germany

The northern parts of modern Germany had been inhabited by various Germanic tribes since classical antiquity. Even before 100 AD, this region was called Germania. Eventually, these northern tribes would migrate southward. By the 10th century, a collection of German territories made up much of the central Holy Roman Empire. In 1815, after the Holy Roman Empire collapsed, a German Confederation of 39 German-speaking states was formed. 

Germany wouldn’t become a unified nation until 1871 and the establishment of the German Empire. Berlin was named the capital of the new German Empire, as it had been the capital of Prussia at the time. Prussia was a driving force behind the unification of Germany, and was the leading state of the German Empire.

Following World War I, the monarchy in Germany was overthrown, leading to the creation of the Weimar Republic. Berlin would remain as capital, but the city would struggle, plagued by economic issues. By 1931, the Great Depression had sent German politics into chaos, with Nazi and Communist militias regularly at conflict. President Hindenburg would make Adolf Hitler Chancellor in January of 1933, and the Nazis would take control of the nation. Berlin would continue to serve as capital after the emergence of the Third Reich. 

Post-World War II

Berlin remained the capital of Germany until 1945 and the end of World War II. Following the war, the nation saw a period of Allied occupation as Europe began to rebuild. In 1949, the country was split into West Germany, formed from the American, British, and French occupation zones, and East Germany, formed from the Soviet occupation zone. As a result, Berlin was also divided into West Berlin and East Berlin. 

During this time of divide, Bonn was made the provisional capital of West Germany, and East Berlin became the capital of East Germany. Between 1949 and 1961, many East Germans fled to the West, leading to a steady rise of skilled workers, professionals, and intellectuals in West Germany. In fear of losing its economic viability, East Germany built the Berlin Wall in an attempt to close off access to West Berlin, and thus, West Germany.

Why Is Berlin the Capital of Germany?

This short history of Germany all leads us back to the why–why is Berlin the capital of Germany? Well, sometimes, the choice is obvious. Berlin was established at the crossing of two historically important trade routes sometime around the 13th century–and almost from the get-go, it has served as a capital in some capacity. 

From 1417-1701, Berlin was the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, a major principality of the Holy Roman Empire. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1701-1918; the capital of the German Empire from 1871-1918; the capital of the Weimar Republic from 1919-1933; and the capital of the Third Reich from 1933-1945. 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, East and West Germany reunified to form modern-day Germany. Initially, Germany’s parliament (the Bundestag) met in Bonn after the unification. However, since Berlin also reunified under the initial conditions of the Unification Treaty, it became the unofficial capital of Germany. 

However, it wasn’t until 1991 that Berlin would regain its seat as the official capital of Germany, narrowly defeating Bonn in a 337-320 vote. 

Today, Berlin remains the largest city in Germany, and is a major hub for culture, media, science, and politics. 

If you want to learn more about capitals of different countries, we’ve got some good reads for you:

About the Author:

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Mark Heald is the Managing Editor of Sporcle.com. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.