West Berlin was a city that existed in the period between the end of the Berlin Blockade on May 12, 1949, to German reunification on October 3, 1990, as a political enclave surrounded by East Berlin and East Germany. It was 100 miles (161 kilometres) east of the Inner German border and only accessible by land from West Germany by narrow rail and highway corridors. It consisted of the American, British, and French occupation sectors established in 1945 and shared economic, political, legal, and sporting systems with West Germany, but was not de jure part of it. It had a special and unique legal status because its administration was formally conducted by the Western Allies. East Berlin, de jure occupied and administered by the Soviet Union, was the de facto capital of East Germany. The Berlin Wall, built in 1961, physically divided East and West Berlin until it fell in 1989. West Berlin under the jurisdiction of the three western powers started to release its own stamps on September 3, 1948. It continued to emit stamps under the Deutsche Bundespost Berlin label for 42 years, a total of over 800 different stamps, until the reunification in 1990. Many Berlin stamps were similar to the stamps of West Germany. West German and Berlin stamps could be used in either jurisdiction. With about two million inhabitants, West Berlin had the biggest population of any city in Cold War Germany.
Most Westerners called the Western sectors “Berlin”, unless further distinction was necessary. The West German Federal government officially called West Berlin “Berlin (West)”, although it also used the hyphenated “West-Berlin”, whereas the East German government commonly referred to it as “Westberlin“. Starting from May 31, 1961, East Berlin was officially called Berlin, Hauptstadt der DDR (Berlin, Capital of the GDR), replacing the formerly used term Democratic Berlin, or simply “Berlin,” by East Germany, and “Berlin (Ost)” by the West German Federal government. Other names used by West German media included “Ost-Berlin“, “Ostberlin“, or “Ostsektor“. These different naming conventions for the divided parts of Berlin, when followed by individuals, governments, or media, commonly indicated their political leanings, with the center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung using “Ost-Berlin” and the center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung using “Ostberlin“.
Deutsche Bundespost Berlin (German Federal Mail of Berlin) was the name used on the stamps of West Berlin. Is sounds similar to the name of the Western German Mail named Deutsche Bundespost and was de facto a dependence of it. De jure it was independent and was called Landespostdirektion Berlin, the governmental agency to provide mail and telecommunication services for West Berlin. This civil service agency was in operation from 1949 until 1990.
The name Berlin has its roots in the language of West Slavic inhabitants of the area of today’s Berlin, and may be related to the Old Polabian stem berl-/birl- (“swamp”). All German place names ending on –ow, –itz and –in, of which there are many east of the River Elbe, are of Slavic origin (Germania Slavica). There are many boroughs of Slavic origin in the city: Berlin-Karow, Berlin-Malchow, Berlin-Pankow, Berlin-Spandau (earlier: Spandow), Berlin-Gatow, Berlin-Kladow, Berlin-Steglitz, Berlin-Lankwitz, Berlin-Britz, Berlin-Buckow, Berlin-Rudow, Berlin-Alt-Treptow, Berlin-Schmöckwitz, Berlin-Marzahn and Berlin-Köpenick. Since the Ber– at the beginning sounds like the German word Bär (bear), a bear appears in the coat of arms of the city.
The earliest evidence of settlements in the area of today’s Berlin are a wooden rod dated from approximately 1192 and leftovers of wooden houseparts dated to 1174 found in a 2012 excavation in Berlin Mitte. The first written records of towns in the area of present-day Berlin date from the late twelfth century. Spandau is first mentioned in 1197 and Köpenick in 1209, although these areas did not join Berlin until 1920. The central part of Berlin can be traced back to two towns. Cölln on the Fischerinsel is first mentioned in a 1237 document, and Berlin, across the Spree in what is now called the Nikolaiviertel, is referenced in a document from 1244. The founding date of the city is considered to be 1237. The two towns over time formed close economic and social ties, and profited from the staple right on the two important trade routes Via Imperii and from Bruges to Novgorod. In 1307, they formed an alliance with a common external policy, their internal administrations still being separated.
In 1415 Frederick I became the elector of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which he ruled until 1440. During the fifteenth century, his successors established Berlin-Cölln as capital of the margraviate, and subsequent members of the Hohenzollern family ruled in Berlin until 1918, first as electors of Brandenburg, then as kings of Prussia, and eventually as German emperors. In 1443, Frederick II Irontooth started the construction of a new royal palace in the twin city Berlin-Cölln. The protests of the town citizens against the building culminated in 1448, in the “Berlin Indignation” (“Berliner Unwille“). This protest was not successful and the citizenry lost many of its political and economic privileges. After the royal palace was finished in 1451, it gradually came into use. From 1470, with the new elector Albrecht III Achilles, Berlin-Cölln became the new royal residence. Officially, the Berlin-Cölln palace became the permanent residence of the Brandenburg electors of the Hohenzollerns from 1486, when John Cicero came to power. Berlin-Cölln, however, had to give up its status as a free Hanseatic city. In 1539, the electors and the city officially became Lutheran.
The Thirty Years’ War between 1618 and 1648 devastated Berlin. One third of its houses were damaged or destroyed, and the city lost half of its population. Frederick William, known as the “Great Elector”, who had succeeded his father George William as ruler in 1640, initiated a policy of promoting immigration and religious tolerance. With the Edict of Potsdam in 1685, Frederick William offered asylum to the French Huguenots. By 1700, approximately 30 percent of Berlin’s residents were French, because of the Huguenot immigration. Many other immigrants came from Bohemia, Poland, and Salzburg.
Since 1618, the Margraviate of Brandenburg had been in personal union with the Duchy of Prussia. In 1701, the dual state formed the Kingdom of Prussia, as Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg crowned himself as king Frederick I in Prussia. Berlin became the capital of the new Kingdom. This was a successful attempt to centralize the capital in the very far-flung state, and it was the first time the city began to grow. In 1709, Berlin merged with the four cities of Cölln, Friedrichswerder, Friedrichstadt and Dorotheenstadt under the name Berlin, “Haupt- und Residenzstadt Berlin”.
In 1740, Frederick II, known as Frederick the Great (1740–1786), came to power. Under the rule of Frederick II, Berlin became a center of the Enlightenment, but also, was briefly occupied during the Seven Years’ War by the Russian army. Following France’s victory in the War of the Fourth Coalition, Napoleon Bonaparte marched into Berlin in 1806, but granted self-government to the city. In 1815 the city became part of the new Province of Brandenburg.
The Industrial Revolution transformed Berlin during the nineteenth century; the city’s economy and population expanded dramatically, and it became the main railway hub and economic center of Germany. Additional suburbs soon developed and increased the area and population of Berlin. In 1861, neighboring suburbs including Wedding, Moabit and several others were incorporated into Berlin. In 1871. Berlin became capital of the newly founded German Empire. In 1881, it became a city district separate from Brandenburg.
In the early twentieth century, Berlin had become a fertile ground for the German Expressionist movement. In fields such as architecture, painting and cinema new forms of artistic styles were invented. At the end of the First World War in 1918, a republic was proclaimed by Philipp Scheidemann at the Reichstag building. In 1920, the Greater Berlin Act incorporated dozens of suburban cities, villages and estates around Berlin into an expanded city. The act increased the area of Berlin from 25 to 341 square miles (66 to 883 km²). The population almost doubled and Berlin had a population of around four million. During the Weimar era, Berlin underwent political unrest due to economic uncertainties, but also became a renowned center of the Roaring Twenties. The metropolis experienced its heyday as a major world capital and was known for its leadership roles in science, technology, arts, the humanities, city planning, film, higher education, government and industries. Albert Einstein rose to public prominence during his years in Berlin, being awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power. NSDAP rule diminished Berlin’s Jewish community from 160,000 (one-third of all Jews in the country) to about 80,000 as a result of emigration between 1933 and 1939. After Kristallnacht in 1938, thousands of the city’s Jews were imprisoned in the nearby Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Starting in early 1943, many were shipped to death camps, such as Auschwitz. During World War II, large parts of Berlin were destroyed in the 1943–45 air raids and during the Battle of Berlin. Around 125,000 civilians were killed. After the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Berlin received large numbers of refugees from the Eastern provinces.
The Potsdam Agreement established the legal framework for the occupation of Germany in the wake of World War II. According to the agreement, Germany would be formally under the administration of the four major wartime Allies — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union — until a German government acceptable to all parties could be established. The territory of Germany, as it existed in 1937, would be reduced by most of Eastern Germany thus creating the former eastern territories of Germany. The remaining territory would be divided into four zones, each administered by one of the allied countries.
Berlin, which was surrounded by the Soviet zone of occupation — newly established in most of Middle Germany — would be similarly divided, with the Western Allies occupying an enclave consisting of the western parts of the city. According to the agreement, the occupation of Berlin would end only as a result of a quadripartite agreement. The Western Allies were guaranteed three air corridors to their sectors of Berlin, and the Soviets also informally allowed road and rail access between West Berlin and the western parts of Germany.
At first, this arrangement was intended to be only a temporary administrative structure, with all parties declaring that Germany and Berlin would soon be reunited. However, as the relations between the western allies and the Soviet Union soured and the Cold War began, the joint administration of Germany and Berlin broke down. Soon, Soviet-occupied Berlin and western-occupied Berlin had separate city administrations. In 1948, the Soviets tried to force the Western Allies out of Berlin by imposing a land blockade on the western sectors — the Berlin Blockade. The West responded by using its air corridors for supplying their part of the city with food and other goods in the Berlin Airlift. In May 1949, the Soviets lifted the blockade, and West Berlin as a separate city with its own jurisdiction was maintained.
Initially, Berlin and the provinces in the Soviet zone issued their own stamps (Scott # 11N2), but by 1946, Deutsche Post stamps were authorized that were valid in the American, British, and Soviet zones. When negotiations about a general German currency reform broke down, the western zones proceeded with the currency reform, and on June 21, 1948 the Deutsche Mark was introduced. In response, the east German currency reform was set for June 24, 1948, the East German Mark became the currency for the Soviet occupation zone and East Berlin, and its stamps were marked with overprints. This established the economic separation of the two German states. In July 1948, the stamps of the previously common issue were overprinted with Soviet Occupation Zone and subsequently the Soviet zone issued different stamps than the western zone, all, however, under the Deutsche Post label.
West Berlin now started to issue its own stamps on September 3, 1948. These were 20 denominations of definitives of the former Allied Occupation of Europe overprinted with a diagonal BERLIN in black ink to pay postage on articles mailed within the Western sectors of Berlin and to the rest of Europe. Between January and March of 1949, 14 denominations of the Allied Occupation general issue stamps of 1948 were again overprinted with a diagonal BERLIN, but in red ink. These red overprint stamps were replaced by the first official definitive postage stamp issues of West Berlin in March, thus not very many of them were printed or used. As a result, the red overprint stamps are much scarcer, especially in used condition, than those with the black overprint that were issued in 1948.
The Deutsche Mark (West) became the sole currency for West Berlin on March 21, 1949 and seven months later the stamps of the western bizone as well as the French occupation zone became valid as well.
Following the lifting of the Berlin Blockade in March 1949, normal contacts between East and West Berlin resumed; however, in many cases this proved only temporary. In 1952, the East German government began sealing its borders, further isolating West Berlin. As a direct result, the electrical grids were separated and phone lines were cut. The Volkspolizei and Soviet military personnel also continued the process of blocking all the roads leading east and west from the city, resulting in several armed standoffs and at least one skirmish with the French Gendarmerie and the Bundesgrenzschutz that June. However, the culmination of the schism did not occur until 1961 with the construction of the Berlin Wall.
Since West Berlin was not a sovereign state, it did not issue passports, so West Berliners were issued with “auxiliary identity cards” by the West Berlin authorities. These differed visually from the regular West German identity cards, with green bindings instead of the grey standard, did not show the “Federal Eagle” or coat of arms, and did not contain any indications as to the issuing state. However, they did have a statement that the holder of the document was a German citizen. From June 11, 1968, East Germany made it mandatory that West Berlin and West German “transit passengers” obtain a transit visa, issued upon entering East Germany, because under its second constitution East Germany considered West Germans and West Berliners as foreigners. Since identity cards had no pages to stamp visas, the Eastern visa departments stamped their visas onto separate leaflets which were loosely stuck into the identity cards, which until the mid-1980s, were little booklets. Although the West German government subsidized visa fees, these were still payable by individual travelers.
The Federal Republic of Germany issued West German passports to West Berliners on request that showed West Berlin as their place of residence. However, West Berliners could not use their passports for crossing East German borders and were denied entrance by any country of the Eastern Bloc, since governments of these countries held the view that West Germany was not authorized to issue legal papers for West Berliners. For entering visa-requiring western countries, such as the United States, West Berliners commonly used West German passports. However, for countries which did not require stamped visas for entry, including Switzerland, Austria, and many members of the then European Economic Community, including the United Kingdom, West Berlin identity cards were also acceptable for entry.
In 1952, the inscription on the stamps of West Berlin was changed to Deutsche Post Berlin, and three years later to Deutsche Bundespost Berlin. Many stamps had the same appearance as the stamps of the Federal Republic of Germany with just the inscription changed, while others were distinctly different.
Another Soviet obstacle, the Berlin Wall (Berliner Mauer), was a barrier constructed by East Germany, starting on August 13, 1961, that completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin. The Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc officially claimed that the wall was erected to protect its population from “fascist elements” conspiring to prevent the “will of the people” in building a Socialist State in East Germany. However, in practice, the Wall served to prevent the massive emigration and defection from the communist Eastern Bloc during the period following World War II. Along with the separate and much longer Inner German border, which demarcated the border between East and West Germany, it came to symbolize a physical marker of the “Iron Curtain” that separated Western Europe and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.
The Berlin Wall was officially referred to as the “Anti-Fascist Protective Wall” (Antifaschistischer Schutzwall) by GDR authorities, implying that the NATO countries and West Germany in particular were considered equal to “fascists” by East German propaganda. The West Berlin city government sometimes referred to it as the “Wall of Shame” — a term coined by mayor Willy Brandt — while condemning the Wall’s restriction on freedom of movement.
After the Berlin Wall was constructed, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer suggested to U.S. President John F. Kennedy that the United States propose a swap of West Berlin with Thuringia and parts of Saxony and Mecklenburg; the city’s population would have been relocated to West Germany. While the Kennedy administration seriously considered the idea, it did not make the proposal to the Soviet Union.
On June 26, 1963, President Kennedy visited West Berlin and gave a public speech known for its famous phrase “Ich bin ein Berliner“.
At the time the Berlin Wall was built, three metro lines starting in northern parts of West Berlin passed through tunnels under the Eastern city center and ended again in southern parts of West Berlin. The lines concerned were today’s underground lines U 6 and U 8 and the S-Bahn line S 2 (today partly also used by other lines). On the sealing off of West Berlin from East Berlin by the Berlin Wall, the entrances of the stations on these lines located in East Berlin were shut, however, western trains were allowed to continue to pass through without stopping. Passengers in these trains experienced the empty and barely lit ghost stations where time had stood still since August 13, 1961. West Berlin’s public transport operator BVG (West) paid the east an annual charge in Western Deutsche Marks for its underground lines to use the tunnels under East Berlin. U 6 and S 2 also had one subterranean stop at the Eastern Berlin Friedrichstraße railway station, the only station beneath East Berlin where western U Bahn trains were still allowed to stop. Passengers could change there between U 6, S 2 and the elevated S 3 (then starting and ending in Friedrichstraße) or for the transit trains to West Germany, buy duty-free tobacco and liquor for west marks in GDR run Intershop kiosks, or enter East Berlin through an inbuilt checkpoint.
The Four Power Agreement on Berlin (September 1971) and the Transit Agreement (May 1972) helped to significantly ease tensions over the status of West Berlin. While many restrictions remained in place, it also made it easier for West Berliners to travel to East Germany and it simplified the regulations for Germans traveling along the autobahn transit routes.
At the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan provided a challenge to the then Soviet leader:
“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
On November 9, 1989, the Wall was opened, and the two parts of the city were once again physically — though at this point not legally — united. The Two Plus Four Treaty, signed by the two German states and the four wartime allies, paved the way for German reunification and an end to the Western Allies’ occupation of West Berlin. On October 3, 1990 — the day Germany was officially reunified — East and West Berlin formally reunited as the city of Berlin, which then joined the enlarged Federal Republic as a city-state along the lines of the existing West German city-states of Bremen and Hamburg. Walter Momper, the mayor of West Berlin, became the first mayor of the reunified city.
According to the Scott Postage Stamp Catalogue, during its 41 years the DBP Berlin issued close to 900 stamps, namely 592 different stamps including many commemoratives, plus 285 semi-postal designs; there are no air mail stamps or official stamps. Topics of commemoratives and semi-postals include common topicals (i.e. nature, sports, arts), science and technical issues and historical stamps. Additional stamps of the DP consisted of official stamps (44 types). All stamps were issued in West Deutsche Mark and were valid in West Germany too. The last stamp was issued on September 27, 1990.
With the 1990 reunification, the DBP Berlin became part of the Deutsche Bundespost which in turn was five years later converted into the Deutsche Post AG. In this process, its stamps became valid for all over Germany until December 31, 1991
Scott #9N201 for West Berlin was issued in 1962, part of a series of `12 stamps picturing images of “Old Berlin” (Scott #9N196-9N207). The 40 pfennig blue gray and ultramarine stamp, perforated 14, features an 1800 engraving of Bellevue Palace (Schloss Bellevue), located in Berlin’s Tiergarten district. It is situated on the banks of the Spree river, near the Berlin Victory Column, along the northern edge of the Großer Tiergarten park. Its name — French for “beautiful view” — derives from its scenic prospect over the Spree’s course.
My copy of this stamp is on a card mailed on the date — July 1, 1964 — that four stamps (two from West Germany, Scott #881-882, and two from West Berlin, Scott #9N211-9N212) were issued to commemorate the re-election of Heinrich Lübke, the second President of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1959 to 1969. The moderate conservative suffered from his deteriorating health and is known for embarrassing statements or behavior. Lübke resigned three months before the scheduled end of his second term.
Lübke was a very bad public speaker and was frequently subject to ridicule, especially near the end of his term of office when his age and his failing health started to affect his memory. He frequently forgot where he was (Lübke: “When I talk to you today in…eh… in..” Voice from the crowd shouting: “Helmstedt!” Lübke: “…eh…when I talk to you today in … Helmstedt, then it was following my own will…”, etc..). This was further ridiculed in the German translation of Danger Mouse, where Penfold is called “Lübke” and is frequently ordered to “shut up” (Lübke, Schnauze!)
Various other slips are well documented, such as the address in Tananarive, Madagascar: “My very dear Mr. President, dear Mrs. Tananarive…” His word-for-word translations of German into English were also the subject of much mockery. Tapes from Lübke’s speeches were collected by the German satirical magazine Pardon and distributed on a best-selling record.
Designed by architect Michael Philipp Boumann, Schloss Bellevue was erected in 1786 as a summer residence for Prince Augustus Ferdinand of Prussia, Herrenmeister (“Master of the Knights”) of the Johanniterorden (“Order of Saint John”) and younger brother of King Frederick II of Prussia, on the site of a manor house which Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff had built in 1743. Bellevue was the first Neoclassical building in Germany, characterized by its Corinthian pilasters, with wings on either side (“Ladies’ wing” and “[River] Spree wing”). The upper floor holds a ballroom designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans. The Palace is surrounded by a park of about 20 hectares.
In 1843, King Frederick William IV of Prussia acquired Bellevue, which, in 1865, became the residence of his niece Princess Alexandrine after her marriage with William of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. It served the royal and imperial princes of the Hohenzollern dynasty until the German Revolution of 1918–19.
A property of the Free State of Prussia from 1928, the Palace was used as a museum of ethnography during the 1930s before being renovated as a guest house for the Nazi government in 1938. It was there that Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov stayed with his retinue during his visit to Berlin in November 1940. During World War II, the Palace was severely damaged by strategic bombing and in the 1945 Battle of Berlin, before being was substantially refurbished in the 1950s.
Inaugurated by President Theodor Heuss in 1959, it served as the secondary residence of the West German president, a pied à terre in West Berlin to supplement his primary residence at the Hammerschmidt Villa in Bonn. It was refurbished again in 1986-87, and, in 1994, after German reunification, President Richard von Weizsäcker made it his primary residence. A modern annex to the southern wing was built in 1998 to house the offices of the affiliated Bundespräsidialamt (“Office of the Federal President”), a federal agency.
Roman Herzog, president from 1994 to 1999, remains the only officeholder who lived at Bellevue while incumbent. The Palace was reconstructed again in 2004 and 2005 to remedy defects in earlier renovations; during this period, President Horst Köhler used nearby Charlottenburg Palace for representative purposes. Bellevue became the president’s primary official seat again in January 2006, but since then has not included living quarters. Instead, the Federal President now lives in a government-owned villa in Dahlem, a suburban district of southwestern Berlin.