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Last Updated: Monday, 2 May, 2005, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Capturing the heart of Hitler's Reich
By Oliver Berlau
BBC News

Sixty years ago the German capital, Berlin, fell to Soviet troops - not quite the end of the war in Europe, but a very clear sign that it was as good as over.

Red Army soldiers hoist flag on Reichstag
Berlin saw one of the bloodiest battles in history
Both the Soviet Union and her Western allies wanted to take Berlin, which was more than a city - it was a symbol.

Two days after Hitler killed himself in his bunker underneath the Reichskanzlei, the fighting finally stopped in Berlin - a city then in ruins from air bombardment and the shelling of Soviet artillery.

The battle for Berlin had been fierce - tens of thousands were killed on both sides before the guns fell silent.

The BBC reporter Frank Phillips was in the German capital during the last days of bitter struggle.

"Today many Soviet flags are flying in Berlin, notably on the Reichstag building where the Red Army's banner of victory was hoisted yesterday afternoon," he reported at the time.

Escape bid

The last defenders of Berlin left their posts, their arms raised, their faces full of fear. A fear well justified.

After the atrocities committed by the SS and at least some parts of the German army in the Soviet Union, Russian soldiers now took their revenge.

The whole question of capturing Berlin was almost sacred to the Red Army... because Russia, the Soviet Union, had suffered so much
Anthony Beever,

Thousands of civilians were rounded up and deported, thousands of women and girls were raped.

Lothar Loewe, a member of the Hitler Youth drafted into the armed forces recalls how everybody tried to escape from Berlin and surrender to the Western powers.

"The idea was really to escape out of Berlin, trying to break through the Soviet lines and reach other German troops on the outside and reach the [river] Elbe - where the British and American and Canadian troops were," he said.

The 'beast's lair'

After the fall of Berlin, the war was not over - some units of the German army continued fighting for nearly another week, and some deserters were even shot a day after the unconditional surrender was signed.

But the occupation of the German capital by Soviet troops was a highly symbolic juncture, according to Anthony Beever, a British historian.

"The whole question of capturing Berlin was almost sacred to the Red Army - partly because it was the symbol, it was known as the lair of the fascist beast, and because Russia, the Soviet Union, had suffered so much," he said.

"They felt it was theirs by right and they were terrified the Americans would get there first."

It was the importance of Berlin as a symbol of German militarism that made West Germany choose the relatively small and little known university town of Bonn as its capital after the war.

Sixty years after its fall, Berlin is once more Germany's political centre - a rebuilt city where the past cannot be forgotten.


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