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Berlin under the administration of the Four Powers 1945–1948
Red Army units were the first to arrive in Berlin. After the Battle of Berlin, which began on April 16, 1945 with the storming of the Seelow Heights, they had completely taken over the city by the end of April. The defense of the capital officially ended on May 2nd with General Helmuth Weidling's order to stop fighting. As the city commander of Berlin, he signed the surrender of his troops in Tempelhof on the same day. Thus, four days after Hitler's suicide in the Führerbunker under the Reich Chancellery, power over Berlin was placed in the hands of the Red Army.
In the following weeks the entire city came under Soviet control for the time being. Even before Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signed the all-German document of surrender in Berlin-Karlshorst on May 9, the Red Army began to establish a new administrative structure in urban areas that had already been conquered. This followed the Soviet pattern. At the same time, however, the establishment of new facilities was also promoted by German offices. The Soviets received support from the “Ulbricht Group”, which was made up of functionaries of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and had returned from exile in the Soviet Union on April 30th. The motto of Walter Ulbricht, who gave the group its name, was:
- It has to look democratic, but we have to keep everything in hand.2
This also affected the newly emerging party landscape. Although the Soviets allowed the founding of parties as early as June 10, 1945, it soon became apparent that the KPD was clearly preferred. In addition, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Liberals were constituted.
The new rulers were faced with great challenges. The extent of the destruction was considerable. Around a third of the apartments in the entire urban area were destroyed.3 Above all, the districts within the S-Bahn ring showed a high degree of destruction from the bombing. The Tiergarten district, for example, recorded over 50% of the apartments as uninhabitable.4 In addition, gas, water and power lines were largely destroyed and local public transport collapsed.
The Red Army took care of the first clean-up work, which was aimed primarily at rebuilding the transport network. The streets and squares were cleared of rubble and a small part of the local public transport system was put back into operation in May 1945.
Supplying the population with basic food was also a priority. Food rationing should ensure fair distribution. But only the highest of the five food classes introduced enabled a reasonably adequate diet. The continuing flow of refugees from the eastern regions made matters worse: around 500,000 displaced persons reached the city every month.5
The way the Soviets dealt with the Berliners varied. Although Marshal Konstantin Konstantinowitsch Rokossowski gave the order that looters and rapists should be brought to court martial or shot, numerous attacks on civilians have been documented.
When the Western Allies reached Berlin in July 1945, the sole rule of the Soviet occupying power over the city ended. Despite the relatively short period of two months, the Soviets had succeeded in influencing the administrative structure and personnel policy in their own interests. High positions in the judiciary, in the police, in the media and at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Unter den Linden had mostly been filled with politically reliable people. Decisive interventions had also been made in the economic field. In the later western sectors the Soviets had dismantled 80% of the industrial machinery, in contrast to only 30% in the eastern part. In addition, high-performing companies had been converted into the Soviet Stock Corporation (SAG). This already represented a first gross violation of the Allied agreement to strive for a common economic policy.6
2 Leonhard, Wolfgang: The Revolution dismisses its children, 22nd edition, Cologne 2005, p. 317.
3 Cf. Ribbe, Wolfgang (ed.): History of Berlin. Second volume. From the March Revolution to the Present, Munich 1987, p. 1093.
5 Ibid., P. 1032.
6 Cf. Flemming, Thomas: Berlin in the Cold War. The struggle for the divided city, Berlin 2008, p. 12.
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