Brandenburg (Low German: Brannenborg, Lower Sorbian: Bramborska) is one of the sixteen federated states of Germany. It lies in the northeast of the country covering an area of 29,478 square kilometers and has 2.45 million inhabitants. The capital and largest city is Potsdam. Brandenburg surrounds but does not include the national capital and city-state Berlin forming a metropolitan area.
Originating in the medieval Northern March, the Margraviate of Brandenburg grew to become the core of the Kingdom of Prussia, which would later become the Free State of Prussia with part being the province of Brandenburg. Brandenburg is one of the federal states that was re-created in 1990 upon the reunification of the former East Germany and West Germany.
In late medieval and early modern times, Brandenburg was one of seven electoral states of the Holy Roman Empire, and, along with Prussia, formed the original core of the German Empire, the first unified German state. Governed by the Hohenzollern dynasty from 1415, it contained the future German capital Berlin. After 1618 the Margraviate of Brandenburg and the Duchy of Prussia were combined to form Brandenburg-Prussia, which was ruled by the same branch of the House of Hohenzollern. In 1701 the state was elevated as the Kingdom of Prussia. Franconian Nuremberg and Ansbach, Swabian Hohenzollern, the eastern European connections of Berlin, and the status of Brandenburg’s ruler as prince-elector together were instrumental in the rise of that state.
Early Middle Ages
Brandenburg is situated in territory known in antiquity as Magna Germania, which reached to the Vistula river. By the 7th century, Slavic peoples are believed to have settled in the Brandenburg area. The Slavs expanded from the east, possibly driven from their homelands in present-day Ukraine and perhaps Belarus by the invasions of the Huns and Avars. They relied heavily on river transport. The two principal Slavic groups in the present-day area of Brandenburg were the Hevelli in the west and the Sprevane in the east.
Beginning in the early 10th century, Henry the Fowler and his successors conquered territory up to the Oder River. Slavic settlements such as Brenna (Brandenburg an der Havel), Budusin (Bautzen), and Chośebuz (Cottbus) came under imperial control through the installation of margraves. Their main function was to defend and protect the eastern marches. In 948 Emperor Otto I established margraves to exert imperial control over the pagan Slavs west of the Oder River. Otto founded the Bishoprics of Brandenburg and Havelberg. The Northern March was founded as a northeastern border territory of the Holy Roman Empire. However, a great uprising of Wends drove imperial forces from the territory of present-day Brandenburg in 983. The region returned to the control of Slavic leaders.
Late Middle Ages
During the 12th century, the Ottonian German kings and emperors re-established control over the mixed Slav-inhabited lands of present-day Brandenburg, although some Slavs like the Sorbs in Lusatia adapted to Germanization while retaining their distinctiveness. The Roman Catholic Church brought bishoprics which, with their walled towns, afforded protection from attacks for the townspeople. With the monks and bishops, the history of the town of Brandenburg an der Havel, which was the first center of the state of Brandenburg, began.
In 1134, in the wake of a German crusade against the Wends, the German magnate, Albert the Bear, was granted the Northern March by the Emperor Lothar III. He formally inherited the town of Brandenburg and the lands of the Hevelli from their last Wendish ruler, Pribislav, in 1150. After crushing a force of Sprevane who occupied the town of Brandenburg in the 1150s, Albert proclaimed himself ruler of the new Margraviate of Brandenburg. Albert, and his descendants the Ascanians, then made considerable progress in conquering, colonizing, Christianizing, and cultivating lands as far east as the Oder. Within this region, Slavic and German residents intermarried. During the 13th century, the Ascanians began acquiring territory east of the Oder, later known as the Neumark (see also Altmark).
In 1320, the Brandenburg Ascanian line came to an end, and from 1323 up until 1415 Brandenburg was under the control of the Wittelsbachs of Bavaria, followed by the Luxembourg Dynasties. Under the Luxembourgs, the Margrave of Brandenburg gained the status of a prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire. In the period 1373-1415, Brandenburg was a part of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown. In 1415, the Electorate of Brandenburg was granted by Emperor Sigismund to the House of Hohenzollern, which would rule until the end of World War I. The Hohenzollerns established their capital in Berlin, by then the economic center of Brandenburg.
6th and 17th centuries
Beginning near the end of that devastating conflict, however, Brandenburg enjoyed a string of talented rulers who expanded their territory and power in Europe. The first of these was Frederick William, the so-called “Great Elector”, who worked tirelessly to rebuild and consolidate the nation. He moved the royal residence to Potsdam. At the Treaty of Westphalia, his envoy Joachim Friedrich von Blumenthal negotiated the acquisition of several important territories such as Halberstadt. Under the Treaty of Oliva Christoph Caspar von Blumenthal(son of the above) negotiated the incorporation of the Duchy of Prussia into the Hohenzollern inheritance.
Kingdom of Prussia and German Empire
When Frederick William died in 1688, he was followed by his son Frederick, third of that name in Brandenburg. As the lands that had been acquired in Prussia were outside the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire, Frederick assumed (as Frederick I) the title of “King in Prussia” (1701). Although his self-promotion from margrave to king relied on his title to the Duchy of Prussia, Brandenburg was still the most important portion of the kingdom. However, this combined state is known as the Kingdom of Prussia.
Brandenburg remained the core of the Kingdom of Prussia, and it was the site of the kingdom’s capitals, Berlin and Potsdam. When Prussia was subdivided into provinces in 1815, the territory of the Margraviate of Brandenburg became the Province of Brandenburg, again subdivided into the government regions of Frankfurt and Potsdam. In 1881, the City of Berlin was separated from the Province of Brandenburg. However, industrial towns ringing Berlin lay within Brandenburg, and the growth of the region’s industrial economy brought an increase in the population of the province. The Province of Brandenburg had an area of 39,039 km2 (15,073 sq mi) and a population of 2.6 million (1925). After World War II, the Neumark, the part of Brandenburg east of the Oder-Neisse Line, was transferred to Poland; and its native German population expelled. The remainder of the province became a state in the Soviet Zone of occupation in Germany when Prussia was dissolved in 1947.
Since the foundation of East Germany in 1949 Brandenburg formed one of its component states. The State of Brandenburg was completely dissolved in 1952 by the Socialist government of East Germany, doing away with all component states. The East German government then divided Brandenburg among several Bezirke or districts. (See Administrative division of the German Democratic Republic). Most of Brandenburg lay within the Bezirke of Cottbus, Frankfurt, or Potsdam, but parts of the former province passed to the Schwerin, Neubrandenburg and Magdeburg districts (town Havelberg). East Germany relied heavily on lignite (the lowest grade of coal) as an energy source, and lignite strip mines marred areas of southeastern Brandenburg. The industrial towns surrounding Berlin were important to the East German economy, while rural Brandenburg remained mainly agricultural.
Federal Republic of Germany
The present State of Brandenburg was re-established on 3 October 1990 upon German re-unification. The newly elected Landtag of Brandenburg first met on 26 October 1990. As in other former parts of East Germany, the lack of modern infrastructure and exposure to West Germany’s competitive market economy brought widespread unemployment and economic difficulty. In the recent years, however, Brandenburg’s infrastructure has been modernized and unemployment has slowly declined.
In 1995, the governments of Berlin and Brandenburg proposed to merge the states in order to form a new state with the name of “Berlin-Brandenburg”, though some suggested calling the proposed new state “Prussia”. The merger was rejected in a plebiscite in 1996 – while West Berliners voted for a merger, East Berliners and Brandenburgers voted against it.
Brandenburg is bordered by Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the north, Poland in the east, the Freistaat Sachsen in the south, Saxony-Anhalt in the west, and Lower Saxony in the northwest.
The Oder River forms a part of the eastern border, the Elbe River a portion of the western border. The main rivers in the state itself are the Spree and the Havel. In the southeast, there is a wetlands region called the Spreewald; it is the northernmost part of Lusatia, where the Sorbs, a Slavic people, still live. These areas are bilingual, i.e., German and Sorbian are both used.
17.1% of the Brandenburgers adhere to the local Evangelical Church in Germany (mostly the Evangelical Church in Berlin, Brandenburg and Silesian Upper Lusatia), while 3.1% are Roman Catholic (mostly the Archdiocese of Berlin, and a minority in the Diocese of Görlitz).
Brandenburg is divided into 14 rural districts (Landkreise) and four urban districts (kreisfreie Städte) :
The most recent election took place on 14 September 2014. The coalition government formed by the Social Democrats and the Left Party led by Dietmar Woidke (SPD) was re-elected. The next ordinary state election is scheduled for 2019.
The Brandenburg concerti by Johann Sebastian Bach (original title: Six Concerts à plusieurs instruments) are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, in 1721 (though probably composed earlier). They are widely regarded as among the finest musical compositions of the Baroque era and are among the composer’s best known works.
Brandenburg is known for its well-preserved natural environment and its ambitious natural protection policies which began in the 1990s. 15 large protected areas were designated following Germany’s reunification. Each of them is provided with state-financed administration and a park ranger staff, who guide visitors and work to ensure nature conservation. Most protected areas have visitor centers.
- Lower Oder Valley National Park (106 km²)
- Spreewald Biosphere Reserve (474 km2 or 183 sq mi)
- Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve (1,291 km2 or 498.46 sq mi)
- River Landscape Elbe-Brandenburg Biosphere Reserve (533 km2 or 206 sq mi)
- Barnim Nature Park (750 km2 or 290 sq mi)
- Dahme-Heideseen Nature Park (594 km2 or 229 sq mi)
- High Fläming Nature Park (827 km2 or 319 sq mi)
- Märkische Schweiz Nature Park (204 km2 or 79 sq mi)
- Niederlausitzer Heidelandschaft Nature Park (490 km2 or 189 sq mi)
- Niederlausitzer Landrücken Nature Park (580 km2 or 224 sq mi)
- Nuthe-Nieplitz Nature Park (623 km2 or 241 sq mi)
- Schlaube Valley Nature Parke (225 km2 or 87 sq mi)
- Uckermark Lakes Nature Park (895 km2 or 346 sq mi)
- Westhavelland Nature Park (1,315 km2 or 507.72 sq mi)
- Stechlin-Ruppiner Land Nature Park (1,080 km2 or 416.99 sq mi)
State Capital, POTSDAM
Potsdam (German pronunciation: [ˈpɔtsdam] ) is the capital and largest city of the German federal state of Brandenburg. It directly borders the German capital Berlin and is part of the Berlin/Brandenburg Metropolitan Region. It is situated on the River Havel, 24 kilometres (15 miles) southwest of Berlin’s city center.
Potsdam was a residence of the Prussian kings and the German Kaiser, until 1918. Its planning embodied ideas of The Age of Enlightenment: through a careful balance of architecture and landscape Potsdam was intended as “a picturesque, pastoral dream” which reminded its residents of their relationship with nature and reason. Around the city there are a series of interconnected lakes and cultural landmarks, in particular the parks and palaces of Sanssouci, the largest World Heritage Site in Germany. The Potsdam Conference, the major post-World War II conference between the victorious Allies, was held at another palace in the area, the Cecilienhof.
Babelsberg, in the south-eastern part of Potsdam, was a major film production studio before the war and has enjoyed success as a major center of European film production since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Filmstudio Babelsberg is the oldest large-scale film studio in the world.
Potsdam developed into a centre of science in Germany in the 19th century. Today, there are three public colleges, the University of Potsdam, and more than 30 research institutes in the city.
The name “Potsdam” originally seems to have been Poztupimi. A common theory is that it derives from an old West Slavonic term meaning “beneath the oaks”, i.e., the corrupted pod dubmi/dubimi (pod “beneath, dub “oak”). However some question this explanation.
The area around Potsdam shows occupancy since the Bronze Age and was part of Magna Germania as described by Tacitus. After the great migrations of the Germanic peoples, Slavs moved in and Potsdam was probably founded after the 7th century as a settlement of the Hevelli tribe centred on a castle. It was first mentioned in a document in 993 AD as Poztupimi, when Emperor Otto III gifted the territory to the Quedlinburg Abbey, then led by his aunt Matilda. By 1317, it was mentioned as a small town. It gained its town charter in 1345. In 1573, it was still a small market town of 2,000 inhabitants. Potsdam lost nearly half of its population due to the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648).
A continuous Hohenzollern possession since 1415, Potsdam became prominent, when it was chosen in 1660 as the hunting residence of Frederick William I, Elector of Brandenburg, the core of the powerful state that later became the Kingdom of Prussia. It also housed Prussian barracks.
After the Edict of Potsdam in 1685, Potsdam became a centre of European immigration. Its religious freedom attracted people from France (Huguenots), Russia, the Netherlands and Bohemia. The edict accelerated population growth and economic recovery.
Later, the city became a full residence of the Prussian royal family. The buildings of the royal residences were built mainly during the reign of Frederick the Great. One of these is the Sanssouci Palace (French: “without cares”, by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff, 1744), famed for its formal gardens and Rococo interiors. Other royal residences include the New Palace and the Orangery.
In 1815, at the formation of the Province of Brandenburg, Potsdam became the provincial capital until 1918, however, interrupted and succeeded by Berlin as provincial capital between 1827 and 1843, and after 1918. The province comprised two governorates named after their capitals Potsdam and Frankfurt (Oder).
- Rail transport: Potsdam, included in the fare zone “C” (Tarifbereich C) of Berlin’s public transport area and fare zones A and B of its own public transport area, is served by the S7 S-Bahn line. The stations served are Griebnitzsee, Babelsberg and the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof), the main and long-distance station of the city. Other DB stations in Potsdam are Charlottenhof, Park Sanssouci (including the monumental Kaiserbahnhof), Medienstadt Babelsberg (formerly Drewitz), Rehbrücke and Pirschheide. The city also possesses a 27 km-long tramway network.
- Road transport: Potsdam is served by several motorways: the A 10, a beltway better known as Berliner Ring, the A 115 (using part of the AVUS) and is closely linked to the A 2 and A 9. The B 1 and B 2 federal roads cross the city. Potsdam counts a network of urban and suburban buses.
Education and research
Potsdam is a university town. The University of Potsdam was founded in 1991 as a university of the State of Brandenburg. Its predecessor was the Akademie für Staats- und Rechtswissenschaften der DDR “Walter Ulbricht”, a college of education founded in 1948 which was one of the GDR’s most important colleges. There are about 20,000 students enrolled at the university.
In addition there is a College of Film and Television (Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen “Konrad Wolf” HFF), founded in 1954 in Babelsberg, the foremost centre of the German film industry since its birth, with currently 600 students.
There are also several research foundations, including Fraunhofer Institutes for Applied Polymer Research and Biomedical Engineering, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute), Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, and Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology, the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, the Potsdam Astrophysical Institute, the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, which employs 340 people in researching climate change.
As well as universities, Potsdam is home to reputable secondary schools. Montessori Gesamtschule Potsdam, in western Potsdam, attracts 400 students from the Brandenburg and Berlin region.
Potsdam was historically a centre of European immigration. Its religious tolerance attracted people from France, Russia, the Netherlands and Bohemia. This is still visible in the culture and architecture of the city.
The most popular attraction in Potsdam is Sanssouci Park, 2 km (1 mi) west of the city centre. In 1744 King Frederick the Great ordered the construction of a residence here, where he could live sans souci (“without worries”, in the French spoken at the court). The park hosts a botanical garden (Botanical Garden, Potsdam) and many buildings:
- The Sanssouci Palace (Schloss Sanssouci), a relatively modest palace of the Prussian royal and German imperial family
- The Orangery Palace (Orangerieschloss), former palace for foreign royal guests
- The New Palace (Neues Palais), built between 1763 and 1769 to celebrate the end of the Seven Years’ War, in which Prussia celebrated its victory in holding off the combined attacks of Austria and Russia. A century later in 1866 in the Seven Weeks War Prussia defeated Austria and ended three centuries of Habsburg dominance in Germany. It is a much larger and grander palace than Sanssouci, having over 200 rooms and 400 statues as decoration. It served as a guest house for numerous royal visitors. It is now housing parts of University of Potsdam.
- The Charlottenhof Palace (Schloss Charlottenhof), a Neoclassical palace by Karl Friedrich Schinkel built in 1826
- The Roman Baths (Römische Bäder), built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Ludwig Persius in 1829–1840. It is a complex of buildings including a tea pavilion, a Renaissance-style villa, and a Roman bathhouse (from which the whole complex takes its name).
- The Chinese Tea House (Chinesisches Teehaus), an 18th-century pavilion built in a Chinese style, the fashion of the time.
Three gates from the original city wall remain today. The oldest is the Hunters’ Gate (Jägertor), built in 1733. The Nauener Tor was built in 1755 and close to the historic Dutch Quarter. The ornate Brandenburg Gate (built in 1770, not to be confused with the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin) is situated on the Luisenplatz at the western entrance to the old town.
The Old Market Square (Alter Markt) is Potsdam’s historical city centre. For three centuries this was the site of the City Palace (Stadtschloß), a royal palace built in 1662. Under Frederick the Great, the palace became the winter residence of the Prussian kings. The palace was severely damaged by bombing in 1945 and demolished in 1961 by the Communist authorities. In 2002 the Fortuna Gate (Fortunaportal) was rebuilt in its original historic position, which marks the first step in the reconstruction of the palace.
The Old Market Square is dominated today by the dome of St. Nicholas’ Church (Nikolaikirche), built in 1837 in the classical style. It was the last work of Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who designed the building but did not live to see its completion. It was finished by his disciples Friedrich August Stüler and Ludwig Persius. The eastern side of the Market Square is dominated by the Old City Hall (Altes Rathaus), built in 1755 by the Dutch architect Jan Bouman (1706–1776). It has a characteristic circular tower, crowned with a gilded Atlas bearing the world on his shoulders.
North of the Old Market Square is the oval French Church (Französische Kirche), erected in the 1750s by Boumann for the Huguenot community.
Another landmark of Potsdam is the two-street Dutch Quarter (Holländisches Viertel), an ensemble of buildings that is unique in Europe, with about 150 houses built of red bricks in the Dutch style. It was built between 1734 and 1742 under the direction of Jan Bouman to be used by Dutch artisans and craftsmen who had been invited to settle here by King Frederick Wilhelm I. Today, this area is one of Potsdam’s most visited districts.
North of the city centre is the Russian colony of Alexandrowka, a small enclave of Russian architecture (including an Orthodox chapel) built in 1825 for a group of Russian immigrants. Since 1999, the colony has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
East of the Alexandrowka colony is a large park, the New Garden (Neuer Garten), which was laid out from 1786 in the English style. The site contains two palaces; one of them, the Cecilienhof, was where the Potsdam Conference was held in July and August 1945. The Marmorpalais (Marble Palace) was built in 1789 in the style of classicism. Nearby is the Biosphäre Potsdam, a tropical botanical garden.
Another district of Potsdam is Babelsberg, a quarter south-east of the centre, housing the UFA film studios (Babelsberg Studios), and an extensive park with some historical buildings, including the Babelsberg Palace (Schloß Babelsberg, a neo-Gothic palace designed by Schinkel).
The Einstein Tower is located within the Albert Einstein Science Park, which is on the top of the Telegraphenberg within an astronomy compound.
There are many parks in Potsdam, most of them included in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of them are:
Potsdam also includes a memorial centre in the former KGB prison in Leistikowstraße. In the Volkspark in the north, there is one of the last monuments dedicated to Lenin in Germany.