Today, more than 400 historically significant buildings can be found in Brandenburg an der Havel. These include the town hall Altstädtisches Rathaus with its Roland, the monastery Paulikloster, churches such as Johannes, Katharinen, and Gotthardt Church and Dom. It is not by coincidence that the cathedral is referred to as “The Cradle of the Mark”. After all, the founding document of the Diocese of Brandenburg from 948 is exhibited in the Dommuseum. In another document located in the cathedral, Berlin is mentioned for the first time in writing. So, whenever the capital celebrates an anniversary, it must look back on its origins: It was Brandenburg an der Havel that granted Berlin its town charter.
Second World War
Brandenburg an der Havel’s proximity to Berlin, its good connections to means of transportation and the fact that it is situated near water have been important factors for the establishment of industries in and around the city. The National Socialists also realised the advantages of the location of the city. South of Walzwerk, near the steel and rolling mill, planes were manufactured at the Arado Factory. Near Silokanal trucks were built at the Opel Factory. Arguably the darkest chapter in the city’s recent history took place at Nicolaiplatz, a square that nowadays is a busy junction. Here stood Altes Zuchthaus, the old jail, which in 1933/34 served as a so-called early concentration camp and from 1939 as a killing facility within the framework of the Nazi euthanasia program. Towards the end of the Second World War, airstrikes and ground fighting caused considerable destruction in the city. Around 70 percent of the industrial plants were destroyed or severely damaged.
Post-War and GDR
One of the city’s largest companies, the steel and rolling mill, survived the war almost unscathed. After the end of the war, however, the Soviets completely dismantled it due to their claims for reparations. But in 1949, in the founding year of the GDR, the plant was planned, rebuilt, and reopened for production. Thus, Brandenburg became the city with the largest crude steel production in East Germany. During the peak of steel production in the 1980s, the city was home to about 95,000 people. In GDR times, Brandenburg an der Havel also had a police and army base. In the field of sports, the city played at the top. In the 83/84 season FC Stahl Brandenburg advanced to the East German football upper league, the highest league at that time. In 1986 the club even qualified for the UEFA Cup and played internationally. Due to the proximity of the city to water, there are numerous water sports clubs in Brandenburg an der Havel. Thus, the German Gymnastics and Sports Federation of the GDR decided to build an international regatta track on Beetzsee. From its opening in 1969 to the turn of the century, up to 24 sports events, like rowing, canoeing and motorboat racing, were held here every year, including international canoe regattas and junior competitions as well as East German championships. Even today, national and international competitions take place on the regatta track.
The Turning Point
After the Berlin Wall came down, Brandenburg an der Havel faced hard times – deindustrialization had far reaching consequences for the former heavy industry site. Many local businesses were considered outdated, and Treuhand privatized or liquidated them. The steel industry thus disappeared from Brandenburg an der Havel. The textile industry, with more than 2,000 jobs, also disappeared almost completely. The dwindling economy has led to a declining population: Today, 20,000 fewer inhabitants live in Brandenburg an der Havel than in the 1980s. However, shortly after Reunification in 1989, the federal government appointed the city as one of eleven model cities in East Germany that received federal aid for urban development. The Havel City, in which traces of the Second World War were still partially visible in 1989, began to bloom again thanks to the state funding.
Today, more than 80 percent of the buildings and public areas have been renovated in Brandenburg an der Havel. Many buildings have been restored, developed, or re-assigned to a new function. In the former steel and rolling mill, for example, a Museum was established. The last remaining Siemens-Martin-Furnace in Western Europe is showcased here. The worsted yarn spinning mill in Altstadt is now a place for housing and work with a nursing home, holiday and private homes, as well as offices and a kindergarten. The old toy factory of the city – tin toys manufactured here were delivered across the world at the beginning of the last century – is now home to the administrative centre. In the former Brennabor Factory – once headquarters of Brennabor, the largest manufacturer of strollers in Germany and still well known for producing bicycles – an art gallery Kunsthalle has been established. Even in the oldest part of the city of Brandenburg, on Dominsel, past and future are now connected: The mills, whose closure in 1993 ended the 800-year-old tradition of the mill industry in Brandenburg an der Havel, were renovated and transformed into apartments. Just as with the mills, only the characteristic brick facade of the Brandenburg University of Applied Sciences is historical. In the former barracks Prussian cavalrymen and later Soviet soldiers were accommodated until the turn of the century. Today students, civil servants, and employees of the adjacent authorities such as the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht) or the Labour Court (Arbeitsgericht) walk the halls.