Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Guide to Bach Tour: Main Page | Life History of J.S. Bach | Performance Dates of Bach’s Vocal Works | Maps | Route Suggestions | Discussions
Maps of Bach Places | Videos of Bach Places | Symbols (Coats of Arms) of Bach Places | Organs in Bach Places
Places: Altenburg | Ammern | Arnstadt | Bad Berka | Berlin | Brandenburg | Bückeburg | Celle | Collmen | Dörna | Dornheim | Dresden | Eisenach | Erfurt | Gehren | Gera | Gotha | Halle | Hamburg | Heiligengrabe | Jena | Karlsbad | Kassel | Kleinzschocher | Köthen | Langewiesen | Leipzig | Lübeck | Lüneburg | Meiningen | Merseburg | Mühlhausen | Naumburg | Ohrdruf | Pomßen | Potsdam | Ronneburg | Sangerhausen | Schleiz | Stöntzsch | Störmthal | Taubach | Wechmar | Weimar | Weißenfels | Weißensee | Wiederau | Zeitz | Zerbst | Zschortau

Guide to Bach Tour
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Description | History
J..S. Bach: Connection | Events in Life History | Performance Dates of Vocal Works | Festivals & Cantata Series
Features of Interest | Information & Links
Photos: Part 1 | Part 2 | Maps


Berlin is the capital city and a state of Germany. It is the country's largest city in area and population, and the second most populous city in the European Union.

Berlin is one of the most influential centers in European politics and culture. The city serves as an important junction of national and continental transportation. Berlin is a major tourist and shopping destination and is well known for its diverse range of convention venues and media outlets. It is home to some of the world's most prominent universities, research faculties, theaters, and museums.

The rapidly changing metropolis at present enjoys an international reputation for its festivals, vibrant nightlife, contemporary architecture, and avant-garde arts. Being home to people from over 180 nations, Berlin is a magnet for individuals who are attracted by its liberal lifestyle, urban eclecticism, and artistic freedom.

First documented in the 13th century, Berlin was the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg until 1701 and of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1701 to 1871. The city became the capital of the unified Germany in 1871 and remained so until the city was split in 1945. East Berlin became capital of the German Democratic Republic, while West Berlin was a democratic island surrounded by the Eastern Block. Following German reunification in 1990, Berlin again became capital of Germany.

Country: Germany | State: Berlin | Area: 891.82 km² | Population: 3,431,700 (December 2008)


The first written mention of towns in the area of present-day Berlin dates from the late 12th and early 13th century. Spandau is first mentioned in 1197, and Köpenick in 1209, though these areas did not join Berlin until 1920. The central part of Berlin can be traced back to two towns: Cölln (on the Fisher Island) is first mentioned in a 1237 document, and Berlin (across the Spree in what is now called the Nikolaiviertel) in one from 1244. Both documents are exhibited in the cathedral museum in the town of Brandenburg. From the beginning, the two cities formed an economic and social unit. In 1307, the two cities were united politically. Over time, the twin cities came to be known simply as Berlin, the larger of the pair. The name Berlin is of uncertain origin, but may be related to the Old Polabian stem berl-/birl- "swamp".

In 1415 Frederick I became the elector of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which he ruled until 1440. Subsequent members of the Hohenzollern family ruled until 1918 in Berlin, first as electors of Brandenburg, then as kings of Prussia, and finally as German emperors. The inhabitants of Berlin did not always welcome these changes. In 1448 they rebelled in the “Berlin Indignation” against the construction of a new royal palace by Elector Frederick II Irontooth. This protest was not successful, however, and the citizenry lost many of its political and economic privileges. In 1451 Berlin became the royal residence of the Brandenburg electors, and Berlin had to give up its status as a free Hanseatic city. In 1539 the electors and the city officially became Lutheran.

17th - 19th century

The Thirty Years' War between 1618 and 1648 had devastating consequences for Berlin. A third of the houses were damaged, 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 toleration. Over the following decades, Berlin expanded greatly in area and population with the founding of the new suburbs of Friedrichswerder, Dorotheenstadt, and Friedrichstadt, today the site of many government offices. In 1671, fifty Jewish families from Austria were given a home in Berlin. With the Edict of Potsdam in 1685, Frederick William invited the French Huguenots to Brandenburg. More than 15,000 Huguenots came, of whom 6,000 settled in Berlin. Around 1700, approximately twenty percent of Berlin's residents were French, and their cultural influence was great. Many other immigrants came from Bohemia, Poland, and Salzburg.

With the coronation of Frederick I in 1701 as king of Prussia, Berlin became the capital of the kingdom. On 1 January 1710, the cities of Berlin, Cölln, Friedrichswerder, Dorotheenstadt, and Friedrichstadt were united as the “Royal Capital and Residence of Berlin”. The Industrial Revolution transformed Berlin during the 19th century; the city's economy and population expanded dramatically, and it became the main rail hub and economic center of Germany. Additional suburbs soon developed and increased the area and population of Berlin. In 1861, outlying suburbs including Wedding, Moabit, and several others were incorporated into Berlin. In 1871, Berlin became capital of the newly founded German Empire.

20th century

At the end of World War I in 1918, the Weimar Republic was proclaimed in Berlin. In 1920, the Greater Berlin Act united dozens of suburban cities, villages, and estates around Berlin into a greatly expanded city. After this expansion, Berlin had a population of around 4 million. 1920s Berlin was a very exciting and interesting city.

The Nazi Party came to power in 1933 and used the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin for propaganda purposes. There were also plans to rebuild Berlin as "Germania, Capital of the World." However, these plans were put aside because of World War II, although a number of important modernist structures and buildings were built. Nazi rule destroyed Berlin's Jewish community, which numbered 160,000 before the Nazis came to power. After the brutal pogrom of Kristallnacht in 1938, thousands of the city's Jews were imprisoned in the nearby Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The last Jews in Berlin (except for a few married to non-Jews) were taken to the Grunewald railway station over several weeks in early 1943 and shipped in stock cars to death camps such as Auschwitz.

During the war, large parts of Berlin were destroyed in the 1943–44 air raids and, in 1945, by street combat during the Battle of Berlin. After the end of the war in Europe in 1945, Berlin was divided into four sectors, analogous to the occupation zones into which Germany was divided. The sectors of the Western Allies (the USA, UK, and France) formed West Berlin, while the Soviet sector formed East Berlin.

All four allies retained shared responsibility for Berlin. However, the growing political differences between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union led the latter, which controlled the territory surrounding Berlin, to impose the Berlin Blockade, an economic blockade of West Berlin, from 24 June 1948 to 11 May 1949, which the Allies successfully overcame by airlifting food and other supplies to the city. In 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in West Germany, while the Marxist-Leninist German Democratic Republic was proclaimed in East Germany. The founding of the two German states increased Cold War tensions. West Berlin was surrounded by East German territory. Due to Berlin's isolation and vulnerability, the Federal Republic established its provisional capital in Bonn. East Germany, however, proclaimed East Berlin, which included most of the historic center, as its capital. The tensions between east and west culminated in the construction of Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin and other barriers around West Berlin by the East Germany on August 13, 1961 and were exacerbated by a tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie on 27 October 1961. West Berlin was now de facto a part of West German, but with a unique legal status, while East Berlin was de facto a part of East Germany.

The eastern and western sectors of Berlin were now completely separated. It was possible for Westerners to pass from one to the other only through strictly controlled checkpoints. For most Easterners, travel to West Berlin or West Germany was no longer possible. In 1971, the Four-Power Agreement on Berlin was signed. While the Soviet Union applied the oversight of the four powers only to West Berlin, the Western Allies emphasized in a 1975 note to the United Nations their position that four-power oversight applied to Berlin as a whole.

In 1989 pressure from the East German population brought a transition to democracy in East Germany, and its citizens gained free access across the Berlin Wall, which was quickly demolished. In 1990 the two parts of Germany were reunified as the Federal Republic of Germany, and Berlin became the German capital according to the unification treaty. In 1991, the Bundestag (the lower house of the German parliament) decided, after a controversial public discussion, that the city should again be the seat of the German national government. Most branches of the German government relocated from Bonn to Berlin during the subsequent years. On 1 September 1999 the German parliament and government began their work in Berlin.


Bach Connection

Berlin was the capital city of Germany from 1871 until 1945, when it was partitioned into East and West Berlin and the West German seat of government moved to Bonn. In 1990 Berlin was designated the capital of a reunified Germany. In Bach's time it was the Prussian capital and the residence of the electors of Brandenburg. Between 1700 and 1750 the city grew in wealth, distinctive character, population, and artistic standing.

The Bach family had had little reason to concern themselves with Berlin and Potsdam before the time of J.S. Bach. These places would have seemed remote to earlier generations, effectively foreign in dialect, outlook, and even cultural maturity. Direct contact started in 1718 when J.S. Bach himself, living in Köthen, was sent there by Prince Leopold to commission a harpsichord from the workshop of Michael Mietke. He went again in 1719 to collect the instrument, which seems to have given impetus to the final form of Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 (BWV 1050). It may have been on one of these Berlin visits that J.S. Bach met the Margrave of Brandenburg, to whom all six concertos (BWV 1046-1051) were dedicated. It is also likely that the extended period of study (mid-1720 to April 1721) spent in Berlin by Emanuel Freytag (1698-1779), a violinist in the Köthen Kapelle, sprang from one of J.S. Bach 's earlier visits.

J.S. Bach's next contacts with Berlin arose as a result of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach moving there when his employer, the Prussian crown prince, succeeded to the throne as Friedrich II (Frederick the Great) in 1740. J.S. Bach visited his son in Berlin in July-August 1741, as we know from letters written to him by Johann Elias Bach in Leipzig, informing him of the serious illness of his wife Anna Magdalena Bach. C.P.E. Bach married Johanna Maria Dannemann in 1744 (J.S. Bach attended, most probably, his son’s wedding); his first child, Johann August, was born the following year, his second, Anna Carolina Philippina, in 1746, and his third, Johann Sebastian, in 1748. The elder Bach travelled to Berlin to visit the young family on at least one occasion (in 1747), and he also visited the main centres of music there: the new opera house (completed in 1742) and the music rooms at Sanssouci, Frederick the Great's castle in nearby Potsdam. Two highly important works are associated with these visits: the Flute Sonata in E major BWV 1035 was perhaps composed for Frederick's flute duet partner M.G. Fredersdorf, and the Musical Offering (BWV 1079) certainly resulted from J.S. Bach's Potsdam visit of 1747, when he was received by Frederick the Great and given a musical theme on which to demonstrate his powers of improvisation. On this occasion he also played, on May 8, at the Heiliggeistkirche to an admiring audience of local connoisseurs (see BDok ii, no. 554). C.P.E. Bach was in the service of Frederick the Great for nearly 30 years, from 1740 to 1768, when he got his new position in Hamburg.

Even before J.S. Bach's death Berlin had become the residence of a number of his supporters and former pupils. After 1750 the city was for a time the most vital centre for the cultivation of J.S. Bach's music, fostered partly by his elder sons and senior pupils, especially Johann Philipp Kirnberger, and partly by new and influential converts. One of these was the organist and director musices at the Nicolaikirche in Berlin, Johann Georg Gottlieb Lehmann (d. 1816), whose actress daughter Caroline married the composer Muzio Clementi in 1804; another was Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia, who employed J.P. Kirnberger from 1758 and with his help assembled an outstanding Bach library.

In the autumn of 1800 C.F. Zelter succeeded his teacher Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch (1736-1800) as principal conductor of the Berliner Singakademie. Here music by J.S. Bach was regularly rehearsed and, as time passed, publicly performed. If this interest in J.S. Bach had not been maintained in Berlin, Felix Mendelssohn would most likely not have encountered the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244), let alone 'modernized' and performed it with noteworthy success in 1829. This important event in the history of the international J.S. Bach revival occurred not in Leipzig or Vienna, but at the Singakademie in Berlin. The relevance of Berlin to J.S. Bach studies has continued throughout the 20th century with the location there, at what is now the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz, of the most important collection anywhere of J.S. Bach manuscripts, including numerous autographs.

Martin Petzoldt: Bachstäten Ein Reiseführer zu Johann Sebastian Bach (Insel Verlag, 2000)
Article by Stephen Daw in Malcolm Boyd (Editor): Oxford Composer Companion - J.S. Bach (Oxford University Press, 1999)

Events in Life History of J.S. Bach



Köthen (1713-1723)

Feb (?) 1719

Visit to Berlin for purchase of harpsichord

Leipzig (1741-1750)

Aug 1741

Visit to son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in Berlin


Marriage of son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to Johanna Maria Dannemann in Berlin

Posthumous Years (1750-1800)

Fall 1750

Johann Christian (age 15) joins the household of his stepbrother C.P.E. Bach in Berlin

July 1, 1784

Death of son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (age 73) in Berlin

Performance Dates of J.S. Bach’s Vocal Works: None.

Bach Festivals & Cantata Series

Festival (Link to Website)

Artistic Director





Bach-Chor Berlin

Achim Zimmermann


Cantata Series

Berlin, Germany



Features of Interest

The Brandenburg Gate a world-wide known symbol of Berlin, and nowadays of Germany. It also appears on German euro coins. The Reichstag building is the traditional seat of the German Parliament, renovated after severe war damage in the 1950s. The building was again remodeled by Norman Foster in the 1990s and features a glass dome over the session area, which is open to the public and allows parliamentarians to be viewed from above.

Gendarmenmarkt, a neoclassical square in Berlin whose name dates back to the Napoleonic occupation of Berlin, is bordered by two similarly designed cathedrals, the French Cathedral and the German Cathedral. The Concert Hall (Konzerthaus), home of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, stands between the two cathedrals.

The Berliner Dom, a Protestant cathedral and the third church on this site, is located on the Spree Island across from the site of the Berlin City Palace and adjacent to the Lustgarten. A large crypt houses the remains of some of the earlier Prussian royal family. The Cathedral of St. Hedwig is Berlin's Roman Catholic cathedral.

The Nikolaiviertel is the historical core of Berlin. Its church dates from the 13th century. This area was much remodeled during the East German period and although not authentic, has become a busy tourist site. Adjacent to this area is the Rotes Rathaus and on a previously built-up part of the city, which has now become an open space, is the Neptunbrunnen, a fountain featuring a mythological scene. The fountain has been moved from its earlier location in front of the Palace. This area is now known as Marx-Engels-Platz.

West of the center, Schloss Bellevue is the residence of the German President. Schloss Charlottenburg, which was burnt out in the Second World War and largely destroyed, has been rebuilt and is the largest surviving historical palace in Berlin.

Deutsches Dom
Hackescher Markt
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and Ku’damm.
Maxim Gorky Theatre: former home of the Berlin Singakademie and place where Felix Mendelssohn gave his 1829 performances of the Matthew Passion BWV 244.
StaatsBibliothek: which houses 80% of the extant J.S. Bach manuscripts



Berlin 12

Information & Links

Berlin Tourismus
Marketing GmbH}
Am Karlsbad 11
D-10785 Berlin
Tel: +49-30/264748-0
Fax: +49-30/26474899
Website: Berlin Tourismus Marketing GmbH - Berlin Tourist Information [various languages]

Berlin (Official Website) [German]
Berlin Online [German]
Berlin (Wikipedia) [German/English]
Cityreview: Berlin [German]
Berlin (Meinestadt) [German]

Prepared by Aryeh Oron (March 2004 - December 2009)
Thanks to contributors: John Pike (April 2004)

Guide to Bach Tour: Main Page | Life History of J.S. Bach | Performance Dates of Bach’s Vocal Works | Maps | Route Suggestions | Discussions
Maps of Bach Places | Videos of Bach Places | Symbols (Coats of Arms) of Bach Places | Organs in Bach Places
Places: Altenburg | Ammern | Arnstadt | Bad Berka | Berlin | Brandenburg | Bückeburg | Celle | Collmen | Dörna | Dornheim | Dresden | Eisenach | Erfurt | Gehren | Gera | Gotha | Halle | Hamburg | Heiligengrabe | Jena | Karlsbad | Kassel | Kleinzschocher | Köthen | Langewiesen | Leipzig | Lübeck | Lüneburg | Meiningen | Merseburg | Mühlhausen | Naumburg | Ohrdruf | Pomßen | Potsdam | Ronneburg | Sangerhausen | Schleiz | Stöntzsch | Störmthal | Taubach | Wechmar | Weimar | Weißenfels | Weißensee | Wiederau | Zeitz | Zerbst | Zschortau


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Last update: Friday, June 02, 2017 13:43