Bringing Berlin at the same level – possibly higher – to the other European capitals became a priority of the Reich as the German Empire grew and became more powerful in the second half or the 1800s. Still at the beginning of that century, Berlin was more a town than a city, let alone a metropolis. It did naturally grow in size due to the localisation of very important industrial companies and the consequent coming in of people in search of work. But turning Berlin into a city with a cosmopolitan soul, a centre of culture and history and an attractive tourist spot with the same allure than Paris, London or New York required a conscious effort.
The fact that Berlin was such a young metropolis, with a conglomerate of different peoples and cultures rather than her own personality didn’t quite help. Or at least it looked like it, because in actuality it could well be said that Berlin’s patchwork personality was indeed her true personality. Berlin was a city that welcome everybody, whoever they were, and happily absorbed whatever they could offer.
As it became bigger and more people took resident there, a lively cultural and artistic scene formed that indeed could rival with the cultural allure of other European capitals. Besides, Berlin had indeed become a European – if not even a global – cultural centre during the strong German experience of Romanticism in all arts and philosophy.
Still that was not enough and the Empire made all it could to make foreigners and tourists come and enjoy its capital. Soon an entertainment district developed in Friedrichstadt – along Friedrichstrasse between Unter den Linden and Leipzigstrassen – where most of the cabarets, pubs, restaurants and were located. It also became one of the centres of prostitution, but the city government and the police diplomatically acknowledged that this was to be expected to come with the very nature of a big city. Indeed they would often turn a blind eye if they thought that would enhance Berlin’s stance as Weltstadt (a city of the world), which probably contributed to a certain climate of tolerance that was characteristic of Berlin for many decades before the rise of the Third Reich.
With all this, Berlin apparently kept doubting her own position, and this is evident by performances in cabarets and revues. Often, these performances touted their own horn, underlying Berlin’s grandeur and likeness to cities such as Paris and London. Some critics noted how, if the city firmly felt to be the equal of the other European capitals, she wouldn’t have felt the need to point it out. The fact that she did revealed how, young as it still was and diverse as she would always be. She would also remain quite isolated, both from her own nation – that considered Berlin alien and not quite ‘true Germany’ – and from the other European nations, who still considered Germany ‘the enemy’. This isolation certainly weighted on Berlin’s perception of her own position on the continent.As the German Empire grew in size and power, it strived to turn its capital #Berlin into a worthy competitor of the other European capitals, a true Weltstadt #Germany #history Click To Tweet
It is ironic, then, that Berlin seemed to reach that status of Weltstadt in the moment it seemed most unlikely: after WWI and the humiliation of the defeat. In the interwar years, when Berlin seemed to have no friends and many enemies, she did become the centre of European and to some extent world life. Her scientists, doctors, researchers made advancements in all fields. Industrialization and commercialisation reached new levels. Her theatres, her cinemas, her cabarets, all her amusement industry innovated everything there was to innovate, showing the way to the rest of the world.
Peter Jelavich, Berlin Cabaret. Harvard University Press, Harvard, 1993