Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin



Oranienstrasse (looking dir. Friedrichstrasse, with Elsnerhaus on the left) after the air raid and the fire in February 1945 (Bundesarchiv)

Shortly past 11 AM on February 3rd, 1945 the 937 bombers of the 8th USA-Airforce – the 1st and 3rd divisions – drop 2,264 tonnes of explosives on Berlin. They reach the city protected by additional 575 US P51-Mustang planes. The main focus of the attack supervised by the experienced Jewish-American pilot, USAAF Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Rosenthal of the 100th Bombardment Group is the very heart of Hitler´s capital.

In only 50 minutes the city centre with all main government buildings and everything around them ceases to exist: the historic district of Luisenstadt with its old churches and multiple medium-sized factories, the regime buildings around Wilhelmstrasse, Unter den Linden, Leipzigerstrasse are almost entirely gone. 2,894 people die, more than 12,000 are wounded. 120,000 are left homeless – “dehoused” – within the burning winter streets.

Oranienstrasse at Moritzplatz after February 3rd, 1945 - the ruins of the department store of Wertheim visible in the background (image through Bundesarchiv).

Oranienstrasse at Moritzplatz after February 3rd, 1945 – the ruins of the department store of Wertheim visible in the background (image through Bundesarchiv).

Gone are Belle-Alliance-Platz, Blücherplatz, Moritzplatz, the whole of Ritterstrasse, parts of Oranienstrasse, the old Plan Ufer (it ran along the Landwehrkanal from Blücherplatz to Kottbusser Damm). Hundreds of houses are turned into rubble and ashes. The Kreuzberg as it was is gone for good.

The photo below shows the original photo map that USAAF were using on that day. With the damage zones marked clearly. The oval object is Tempelhofer Flugfeld, the old central airport of Berlin. The black lines indicate the areas destined to be hit by HE bursts – High Explosive missiles. The “clouds” mark the spots hit by IBs – incendiary bombs – that would cause 4-day-long fires spreading throughout southern Friedrichstadt and Luisenstadt, driven by the western wind.

february 3 1945 aerial map bombing us

Aerial image of the targets from February 3, 1945 (source unknown:please contact the author if you know the photo)


  1. berlioz1935
    Feb 4, 2012

    Thanks for remembering this awful day in Berlin’s history. Yes, Kreuzberg suffered worst. I remember the day almost like I remember yesterday, even better, than with advancing age the short term memory is not very good.

    According to my books it was actually the 288th air raid. 90 more were to come. Or lets say more were not recorded after the 18th of April 1945.

    During the night 23/24 of April the Russian did their only air raid. There is no official record any more. The people that took records were probably out fighting.

    I have a compilation of figures that show “only” 2541 people were killed and 714 missing. The homeless figure is about the same.

    My personal story of the day is of sheer luck. On the 30th of January I returned from Silesia to Berlin. We, the children from the same transport ( see ) were put up in the Berliner Waisenhaus in the Alte- Jakob- Strasse for two nights. After this we were moved to Wilmersdorf. The Waisenhaus was wiped out on the 3th of February with over 250 children killed.

    During the air raid a German soldier told me, that he did not like being stuck in an air raid shelter and he would rather be on the front facing the enemy.

    It was a beautiful Winter’s day with a clear sky.

    Thanks for the link with the photo. The picture clearly showed that the Allies never tried to bomb the airport. They pinpointed the Ringbahn instead.

    • notmsparker
      Feb 4, 2012

      Of course, you are absolutely right about the number of casualties on February, 3rd: I had just read a long text about Dresden air raids and this horrific number of 25,000 just got stuck in my head.
      Your personal story: the Monumentenbrücke experience from your blog, the trip to Silesia and the return to Berlin only escape the fate of the children from the orphanage in Alte Jakobstrasse are moving beyond words. I am so sorry that anyone had to go through this and still cannot understand how it all came to happen. I guess nobody ever will.

      • berlioz1935
        Feb 5, 2012

        “…still cannot understand how it all came to happen.I guess nobody ever will”

        Indeed, the academics are having a great time arguing the finer points of history.

        A good start for understanding is the book by Peter Watson, “The German Genius”. The book can be had as an eBook through Kindle. I’m reading it on my tablet very conveniently.

        German history did not start 1933 with that maniac Hitler. The second WW arouse from the aftermath of the first WW.

        The enlightenment in Germany was kicked of by Friedrich the Great in Prussia and put into an educational frame work by Wilhelm von Humboldt by founding the Berlin University, now Humboldt University, in 1810. A monumental event in world history. It changed the universities around the world.

        All this went wrong when the Germans rationalised all that they had learnt. They thought a place in the sun was their right.

        Others, like the English and the French, did not want to share with those late comers. Germany was only a cultural idea, not a political one, for centuries. Suddenly, 1871, they were thrown into the one pot of the German Reich., minus of course Austria which Bismarck did not want to be part of the Reich.

        The Nationalists, or rationalists, took over. It all ended in May 1945.

        Reunification in 1990 gave the people of the two German states the opportunity to discover their shared history. Finally there is hope that new generations of Germans take charge of their destiny in a shared Europe. Europe and the world is clamouring for German leadership, but the present lot is very reluctant to take the mantle. Germans feel they burned their fingers.

        The total defeat of Germany in 1945 was absolutely necessary to squash their arrogance. The qualifications the Germans have serve them better in a shared environment than going it alone.

        • Chris Troise
          Feb 24, 2013

          I just finished “The German Genius” the other week, yes, its a very good read. In it you can see the sweep of German academic history and it’s impact on the world, and how the advance in knowledge/scholarship over the centuries led society to believe that mankind had both the undeniable ability, and right, to control nature and society according to what it thought best overall – if educated German Man could think it, it had to be an improvement right? Well, the answer was “Yes, it is an improvement” for so many hundreds of years so why should it not still be the case? (was the thinking).

          Meanwhile with the post WWI Weimar Republic feeling of “This is a new era – authority let us down with The Great War, therefore let’s ignore authority” rise of the anything-goes Berlin mindset a lot of responsible people feel asleep at the wheel, as the expression goes.

          At the same time the Marx/Engels writings led to revolutions and unrest that called out for a “strong hand” to take charge of things and stop all these protests and violence in the street (if self-made).

          And so the National Socialists made their case vs. the Communists. Then, as “The German Genius” mentions, due to both the figurative intellectual bankruptcy of the upper middle class, due to science trumping philosophy, and their literal bankruptcy due to the stock market crash of 1929, there was nobody left in authority to stand up to this rise, and the rest is history.

          • berlioz1935
            Feb 24, 2013

            Yes Chris, a heady mix of ideas, opportunities and misunderstood history lead to WW II. We still live all in its aftermath.

            • notmsparker
              Feb 24, 2013

              Not to mention the absolutely incredible and until then unheard of use of widespread terror. I am often asking myself what I would have done, how I would have behaved faced with such a horrific hateful power as national socialism? And I am, as always, unable to answer. Had I been alone, with no family to care for, I hope I would have shown some open resistance. But probably only on this condition. Everything else is just too terrible to consider.



  4. berlioz1935
    Feb 25, 2013

    What would we have done? We would think we could have been heroes. But you pointing already to a few conditions. I’m reading an excellent account of the war in Berlin (Berlin at War, by Roger Moorhouse – not available in German yet). Perhaps you could gleam something under which the people tried to survive. To be a martyr or a survivor, that is the question.

    Today’s martyrs are called terrorist but they are willing to die because our way of life (in the West) is an affront to humanity. When we demonstrated against the Iraq War our prime minister called us “The Mob”. I thought he was a war criminal. The terror here was directed towards others, the Iraqi people. During the time of the Nazis terror was directed against all others.

    We have laws where we can be locked up for reasons of state security for a long time. Those are the rules the Nazis operated under.

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