Ernst Reuter

1889 – 1953

Ernst Reuter Biography

Reuter was born on 29th of July 1889 to a captain and director of a school for navigation in Apenrad, then part of Schleswig Holstein – today Denmark. He attended primary school in Leer in Ostfriesland, followed by the “Ubbo Emmius Gymnasium”. In 1907 he began studying social studies and philosophy. In 1909 he continued his studies in Munich, where he first came into contact with the ideas of socialism.

In 1909 he continued his studies in Munich, where he first came into contact with the ideas of socialism.In 1907 he became a member of the student organisation SBV Frankonia Marburg, connected to the “Schwarzburgbund” (a union of student organisations with the aim of realising Christian values: “God, freedom, fatherland”), which he left in 1911 owing to stark differences with its views. In 1910 Reuter returned to the Philipps University in Marburg where, in 1912, he took his state examinations for the postgraduate teaching certificate. Initially, Ernst Reuter worked as a private teacher in Bielefeld where in 1912 he joined the SPD. Shortly after that, he left for the party’s executive committee in Berlin, where he found employment with the central committee for education.He became active as a pacifist, wrote anti-war pamphlets and, together with like-minded people, founded the peace union, Neues Vaterland (New Fatherland).

During the First World War, Reuter was severely wounded on the Eastern Front and fell into Russian captivity. He swiftly learned Russian and sought contact with the Bolsheviks, whom he subsequently joined. He was sent by Lenin to the “German Volga Republic“ from December 1917 until the end of 1918 in the role of Volkskommissar (people’s commissar), where he worked for prisoners of war and “Volga Germans“, greatly easing their plight.

In the formative years of the Weimar Republic (1919-1921), Reuter became a leading politician in the KPD (German Communist Party) under the combat name „Friesland“.He was also head of the party’s Berlin Brandenburg district. During this period he married his wife, Hanna, who bore him two children (their son Edzard was later to become chairman of the board of Daimler Benz).

As a representative of the activist left wing of the party, he supported the armed rebellion in March 1921 (Märzaktion 1921) to put down the“Kapp Putsch“. His opposition to the Communists very participation in the General Strike placed him in opposition to chief executive Paul Levi on this issue. Despite these differences, he played an important role within the KPD, as he was considered a favourite of Lenin. In 1922, however, he was barred from the communist party. He rejoined the SPD that year and started working as editor for the party’s newspaper “Vorwärts” (“Forward!”).In 1924 he wrote the article, “Russia and England“, which documented his disassociation with the Communism and return to the militant, democratic values of his youth. This comparison of the living conditions of the working classes in both countries also documented Reuter’s interest and profound knowledge of the international situation.

In 1926 he became a member of the Berlin magistrate, where he was responsible for transport. Whilst in this office, he introduced a uniform price ticket for the different forms of public transport in the capital. Reuter was one of the initiators responsible for the founding of the “Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe” – the BVG (Berlin Public Transport Company). His awareness of the growing relevance of the automobile informed his desire to separate public transport from this development and promote the extension of the Berlin subway system.

Between 1931 and 1933 Ernst Reuter was mayor of Magdeburg. During the world economic crisis, he fought unemployment and the accommodation shortage by introducing “work creation programs”. One of the outcomes of these efforts was self-help communities for the unemployed in the Magdeburg-Lemsdorf area. In 1932 he was voted into the last democratic, legitimate Reichstag of the Republic of Weimar.

The National Socialists’ seizure of power effected his dismissal from all offices. He was imprisoned in Lichtenberg concentration camp, from where he escaped.Via Holland and England he fled to Turkey, where he quickly learned Turkish. There, he became advisor to the ministry of economics and professor for town planning. In 1946, Reuter returned to Germany, initially to resume his post in the transport department after elections in Berlin that same year.In 1947, he was elected mayor of Berlin. The Soviet Union, however, refused to acknowledge the election. In 1948 he became mayor of the three western sectors (West-Berlin).

During the Soviet Union’s blockade of Berlin (1948 to 1949), Reuter became a model of hope and a symbolic figurehead for the stamina of the citizens of Berlin. In his famous historical speech before the ruins of the Reichstag, he appealed to the world not to desert Berlin(“nations of the world… look to this city!”).

The unprecedented victory of the SPD in the elections for the city council assembly in 1948 – which, due to the political situation, only took place in the three western sectors – was made possible only by his immense popularity. Under his leadership, the SPD attained 64.5 percent of the vote – the highest result ever attained during free regional elections in Germany. Owing to Berlin’s precarious political situation, he agreed to a coalition with the CDU and LDP, which he led as chief mayor.During this office, Ernst Reuter undersigned the citation for the Freie Universität Berlin (Berlin Free University) and became chief executive of its board of trustees. In 1949 he received an honorary doctorate from the Freie Universität Berlin.

After the New Berlin constitution came into effect in 1951, Reuter was voted into office as the first governing mayor of Berlin.

On 17th of April 1953, Reuter founded the Bürgermeister Reuter Stiftung. The foundation’s aim was to aid refugees fleeing to West-Berlin. On September, 29th1953, not three months after the uprising of June, 17th- the crushing of which he strongly criticised Reuter died at the age of 64 of a heart attack. When the news of his death became public, countless Berliners lit candles in their windows, spontaneously and under their own initiative.Ernst Reuter was buried in the Waldfriedhof Zehlendorf where over a million people came to pay their last respects. Today, his resting place is an honorary grave of the city of Berlin.