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Berlin from above: Historical aerial photos show the city from the air

These beautiful aerial photographs show the changing landscape of Berlin down the years. From it's prewar splendour, through ruins and back again.

Historical aerial view of Kreuzberg, around 1958. Photo: Imago/Gerhard Leber

Thanks to affordable drones, aerial photos of Berlin aren’t so extraordinary these days, but go back just a few years and they showed a whole new landscape from above. Here is what Berlin looked like from the air, down the years.

Berlin-Köpenick

Historical aerial photos of Berlin: Old town Köpenick in the 1930s.  Photo: Imago/Arkivi
Historical aerial photos of Berlin: Old town Köpenick in the 1930s. Photo: Imago/Arkivi

The old town is as tranquil as ever in this historic aerial photograph. The photo was taken in the 1930s, just a few years before the once independent city was incorporated into Greater Berlin – and had only just been renamed. Cöpenick became Köpenick. The aerial photo shows the old town with the Köpenick town hall on the left and the St. Laurentius church in the middle of the picture. The dam bridge, which was replaced by a prestressed concrete bridge in the 1980s, leads across the Spree.

Reichssportfeld

Today's Olympic site, then "Reichssportfeld", in an aerial photo from the 1930s.  Photo: Imago/Arkivi
Today’s Olympic site, then “Reichssportfeld”, in an aerial photo from the 1930s. Photo: Imago/Arkivi

The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin were a complete propaganda success for the Nazis – and architecturally a gigantic project. The Olympic Stadium itself replaced the previous building, the German Stadium, at the same location. The area in front of the monument to Nazi architecture was then called the “Reichssportfeld”. With structural forms based on ancient patterns, the focus here was on overwhelming – and the area was also staged with aerial photographs. See more photos of the history of the Olympic Stadium here.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Kurfürstendamm with Memorial Church and Gloria Palace, historical aerial view from the 1930s.  Photo: Imago/arkivi
Kurfürstendamm with Memorial Church and Gloria Palace, historical aerial view from the 1930s. Photo: Imago/arkivi

Today it is one of the most popular sights in Berlin: the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. But if you’ve visited, you’ll know its current appearance deviates somewhat from what you see here. The church, which was mostly destroyed in the war, has been partially preserved as a ruin and has been supplemented by a spectacular new building by Egon Eiermann.

This shot shows Kurfürstendamm in the 1930s, before it was reduced to rubble. Here, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is still an intact neo-Romantic building. On the left of the picture you can also see the old Gloria Palace, which was destroyed in 1943. The building that replaced it has hosted the Berlinale sine 1953.

Kreuzberg after the war

Historical aerial view of Kreuzberg, around 1958. Photo: Imago/Gerhard Leber

After the Second World War, Kreuzberg was mostly rubble – and thus became a metropolitan laboratory for testing new construction and housing concepts. In this south-looking photo you can see the Landwehr Canal in the middle, around the Hallesche Tor area. The green area is the Trinity Cemetery, in front of it is the America Memorial Library on Blücherplatz, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1952. On the other bank, the damage can still be clearly seen in this aerial photo taken around 1958: The former Belle Alliance Square, today Mehringplatz, has been totally destroyed, only the traffic routing has been preserved.

Hansaviertel

Historical aerial photos show how much the Hansaviertel architecturally deviates from Wilhelminian urban planning. Photo: Imago/Gerhard Leber

Further west it becomes clear how far the reconstruction efforts had progressed c.1958. In the north you can see the Spree, below the Großer Tiergarten, but in the middle of the aerial photo there are no longer any historical buildings. Here, as part of the architecture exhibition “Interbau 57”, the Hansaviertel has been transformed into testament to modernity. The high-rise buildings are located along the Stadtbahn, between the numerous green spaces there are large residential complexes, for which internationally renowned architects provided designs.

Stalinallee

The major project “Stalinallee”, later renamed Karl-MarxAllee. Photo: Imago/Gerhard Leber

West Germany wanted to present itself modern, while the DDR pursued other aesthetic goals: The large-scale project “Stalinallee” in Friedrichshain was based on the Prussian Schinkel School – prefab architecture that was intended to be representative of the capital of the DDR. In the middle of the picture you can see the Spree, the aerial photo looking south was taken circa 1958. Numerous blocks of the magnificent boulevard, which can be seen in the picture below, have already been completed at this point. Strausberger Platz is still simple and green, it was only in 1967 that it was lavishly designed. The boulevard has been called Karl-Marx-Allee since 1961.

Exhibition centre and Haus des Rundfunks

Trade fair car park, broadcasting center – and many villas: Westend from the air, around 1958. Photo: Imago/Gerhard Leber
Trade fair car park, broadcasting center – and many villas: Westend from the air, around 1958. Photo: Imago/Gerhard Leber

Worlds collide here: one of our historic aerial photographs of Berlin, also taken in the late 1950s, shows Westend around Theodor-Heuss-Platz. On the left of the picture there are cars in the parking lot in front of the exhibition center (Messegelände), behind Hammarskjöldplatz the Palais am Funkturm is attached. On the right you can see the enormous proportions of the Haus des Rundfunks – a great example of Expressionist architecture in Berlin, the facade of which is worth a closer look. Reichsstraße begins behind Theodor-Heuss-Platz, to the right of which you can see that Berlin’s Westend is primarily a residential area.

Schwanenwerder and Nikolassee

Havel and Wannsee from above: Schwanenwerder around 1970. Photo: Imago/Gerhard Leber
Havel and Wannsee from above: Schwanenwerder around 1970. Photo: Imago/Gerhard Leber

With a view of the Wannsee, the island is one of the most sought-after residential areas in the city – at least amongst the fat cats. Inselstraße connects Schwanenwerder with the mainland and in the first German version of “Monopoly”, it was the most expensive property, before Schlossallee took its place. At the beginning of the 20th century, manufacturers, bankers, publishers and department store owners lived here in magnificent mansions. Later, prominent Nazis moved into the area through forced auctions and sales.

After the war, the villas reverted to their rightful owners, who often sold them to the state of Berlin. Many were demolished, and thus Schwanenwerder was no longer as luxurious as before – but still a quiet spot on the water. The aerial photo from around 1970 shows small boats sailing Wannsee and Havel.

Historical aerial photos: A100 and ICC

View of the A100 and ICC from the north, around 1976. Photo: Imago/Serienlicht
View of the A100 and ICC from the north, around 1976. Photo: Imago/Serienlicht

When you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the streets, it can be hard to see the beauty of it, but from above, the ‘Autostadt’ has its very own aesthetic. Cars meandering through the cityscape on winding roads, colourful dots in the asphalt gray of the A100. The picture shows Berlin around 1976 from above. On the left you can see the ICC, a high-tech colossus with aluminium cladding that is now empty – definitely one of the most imposing new buildings in West Berlin before reunification.

Kreuzberg and the Wall

The Wall is ubiquitous in pre-reunification photos. Here is St Thomas Church on the outskirts of West Kreuzberg. Photo: Imago/Günter Schneider

Another building that cannot be overlooked in historical aerial photographs of Berlin: the Wall. For 28 years, 160 kilometers of concrete separated East and West Berlin. This historic aerial photograph was taken in 1987. Below is St. Thomas Church in Kreuzberg, which was Berlin’s largest religious building at the time it was built in the 1860s. At the time of division, the GDR began behind Mariannenplatz. Where Bethaniendamm and Engeldamm make a curve today was the Berlin Wall, with Berlin-Mitte behind it.

Potsdamer Platz 1990

Aerial view of Potsdamer Platz, 1990. Photo: Imago/Eventpress
Aerial view of Potsdamer Platz, 1990. Photo: Imago/Eventpress

Potsdamer Platz, once one of Berlin’s inner city centres, was fairly underdeveloped, even after reunification. In this shot, taken in 1990, the Wall had already fallen, but the damage of the war still hasn’t really been repaired. On the left of the picture you can see the Kulturforum and the Philharmonie, above them the Großer Tiergarten, the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. At the top right you can see the eastern city centre with the Fernsehturm – and a few streets that run through this weird void. It’s not until later that the Sony Center and several high-rise buildings would be built on the former death strip.

Golf in Steglitz

Golf on a building at the Steglitzer Kreisel, around 1992. Photo: Imago/Günter Schneider
Golf on a building at the Steglitzer Kreisel, around 1992. Photo: Imago/Günter Schneider

The Steglitzer Kreisel is a piece of old West Berlin. In 2007, the city administration gave up its offices in the 120 meter high, asbestos-riddled high-rise. Currently the plan is to convert this Steglitz landmark into a luxury residential tower with the “Überlin” construction project. This photo dates back to 1992, when such plans were still a long way off. Although the problems with asbestos had been known for a long time, a picture of carelessness emerges here. In addition to the high-rise building, the complex also includes a flatter extension between Schloßstrasse and Kuhligkshofstrasse (on the left in the picture). As this historical photo shows, there was a small golf course on its roof. Fore!