The politics of commemorative street renaming: Berlin 1945-1948

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Commemorative street names belong to the ideological foundations of the socio-political order. The process of renaming streets figures prominently in a stage of regime change. As a measure of historical revision, renaming the past is a twofold procedure that involves both the de-commemoration of the version of history associated with and supportive of the old regime and the commemoration of heroes and events that represent the new regime and its version of history. This paper examines political processes and commemorative priorities and strategies that directed the renaming of streets in post-World War II Berlin during two successive municipal administrations. The first part of the article explores the failed project promoted by the unelected communist administration that ruled Berlin between May 1945 and October 1946 aimed to achieve a comprehensive odonymic reform that went beyond a mere purge of explicit Nazi street names. The second part examines the substantially downscaled purge of Berlin's register of street names accomplished by the SPD-led city government that took office after the October 1946 democratic election.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-492
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Social Democrats, in contrast to the Communists, did not seek a comprehensive purge of monarchical commemorations. Their goal was to assert the idea of the Republic in Berlin’s cityscape through the renaming of Königsplatz (King’s Square), the square in front of the Reichstag, as Platz der Republik (Square of the Republic). In February of 1926, a few months after the elections that secured the workers’ parties a majority in the municipal assembly, the Social Democrats proposed this politically resonant renaming of the square. The resolution passed 121–81. 8 8 Supported by the Magistrat, a few weeks later the renaming was carried out. The idea of the Republic was also represented by odonymic commemorations of leaders of the Republic. In 1925 a main thoroughfare, Budapesterstraße, in the city center was renamed after Friedrich Ebert, the Social Democrat leader and the first President of the Republic. In 1930 a street was renamed in Kreuzberg after Gustav Stresemann, Chancellor and Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic. Albeit few in number, republican commemorations created in Berlin’s cityscape a sense of historical continuity between the monarchy and the republic that followed it.


  • Berlin
  • Commemoration
  • Public memory
  • Regime change
  • Street names

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Archaeology


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