Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation, infrastructure, and the environment. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps that reveal and shape urban spaces (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles, GOOD, L.A. Review of Books, and beyond.
On the 70th anniversary of VE Day, a remarkable film shows Berliners cleaning up a city in ruin.
These days, Berlin is a nexus of 21st-century cool. New York magazine recently called it the “post-tourist capital of Europe,” capturing the trend of younger visitors coming for multi-month stays, drawn by its surplus of affordable housing, dining, and culture. In the wake of a uniquely tumultuous century for the city, Berlin has captured the world’s imagination in a way that would have been unthinkable just 15 years ago.
But its scars are still visible. Today, on the 70th anniversary of VE Day—the end of World War II in Europe—bullet wounds and crumbled walls still stand as reminders of a horrific past that can feel distant in its now-trendy saloons. A remarkable film montage, shot just two months after VE Day in 1945 and recently re-mastered by Chronos Media, shows the very beginning of Berlin’s rebuilding.
In rare, high-quality technicolor, we see Berliners moving about a city blasted to pieces. A string of women collect mountains of rubble. A young boy nails bricks to the street. Groups of soldiers move about as if in a dream, blackened skeletons of apartments behind them. The Reichstag, the Berlin Cathedral, Brandenburg Gate—all of these icons are there. Today, tourists—and post-tourists—might view them a bit differently.