Berlin: A Global City Profile

Photo: Craig Stewart, 2020

Berlin, a city of tragic lows, global influence and new beginnings. From the horrors of Hitler and the Nazis, to the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, espionage, prisoner exchanges and the recent refugee crisis, Berlin has often been front and center on the world stage. Berlin is a fascinating city, but it is impossible to really understand the soul of such a place without a grasp of its history.

A Historical City

Berlin was officially founded in 1237 through the uniting of two small merchant towns along the Spree River.[1] Berlin then grew and became a royal capital city, ruled by kings and queens for 500 years. It stands less than an hour from where Martin Luther sparked the Reformation in the little town of Wittenberg in the 1500’s. By the 1920’s, Berlin was the third largest city in the world. Shortly after World War II however, it became an increasingly divided place. In 1961, the Soviet controlled German Democratic Republic (GDR) built the Berlin Wall, further cutting the city in two until 1989. These last 30 years, after Berliners pulled down the wall piece by piece, have been focused on reunification, rebuilding and creativity. With its dynamic history, Berlin is no stranger to carrying the torch of political, cultural and even world influence.

“Poor but Sexy”

Modern Berlin has been famously described as ‘poor but sexy,’ a description first given to the city by its mayor in 2003. Unlike many capital cities, Berlin actually makes Germany poorer.[2] In other words, Berlin is a financial drain on the rest of the country. This is largely due to the unique challenges both East and West Berlin faced after the reunification in 1989.

Photo: Craig Stewart, Berlin Wall, 2020

Berlin may be poor now, but it is believed that this will change. The financial landscape of Berlin is trending upwards, with great potential and room for exciting innovation.[3] American superstar entrepreneur Elon Musk, for example, is now constructing Tesla’s Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg, which “will be the most advanced high-volume electric vehicle production plant in the world.”[4] Berlin is also attracting other young minds from all over, with 55% of Berliners now found to be under the age of 45.[5] This has had an impact on the culture and created opportunities for bold, new, innovative start-ups.

A Multicultural Melting Pot

Currently, Berlin has a population of over 3.7 million people, making it the largest city in Germany. Like most global cities, Berlin is a true melting pot. It has grown into a multicultural metropolis through the influx of internationals from 193 different countries, with over 120 different languages spoken.[6] 21% of the Berlin population is foreign-born, which has infused the city with a mosaic of cultures, ethnic backgrounds and rich diversity. This has admittedly created social challenges, but it has also fostered innovation, creativity, and great opportunity for many.

Refugees & Reformation

Berlin has taken in over 60,000 refugees since the refugee crisis began in 2015.[7] But this is no surprise, considering Berlin’s compassionate history towards refugees. Historically, the city not only supported the Reformation of the 1500’s, but it also boldly received and protected large numbers of French Calvinist Protestant refugees and other Lutheran refugees from across Europe. Later, between the end of World War II and before the Berlin Wall was constructed, Berlin became the main pathway to freedom in the West, with around 3.5 million people from Soviet lands flooding in.[8] When Germany first faced challenges at the start of the refugee crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s confident response to the German people was, “Wir schaffen das!(“We can do this!”), in an attempt to rally Germans and Berliners to keep persevering.

Spiritual Climate and Hope

Photo: Craig Stewart, 2020

Although Berlin is a dynamic city of tremendous influence and potential, its dark past has left it very lost and far from Jesus. Berlin is a post-Christian (maybe even a post-atheist) secular city. It has been called the atheist capital of Europe, with 60% of Berliners holding to atheism.[9] Only about 1% of Berliners are committed evangelical Christians, with even fewer believers found in East Berlin. But God always has His remnant and works all things according to His will and good purposes.

Despite decades of institutionalized atheism and secularization enforced by the GDR in East Berlin, the church still carried on. In fact, it did far more than just survive. The church never bowed down to the communist government, but instead played a pivotal role in bringing down the Berlin Wall. The churches negotiated with the government and opened their doors for public debates, free speech and prayer. The church also provided space for the peaceful revolution to organize itself and eventually succeed, without a single gunshot.[10]

In the last two decades, especially after being labeled the atheist capital of the EU, there has been a large swell of Christian missionary activity in Berlin. Many of those efforts, however, have not had long-term effects. There has also been some promising discipleship and church planting movements, but even with those developments, there is much more work to be done.

We hope and pray that God will do so many incredible things in Berlin, that generations of Berliners will be reached with the gospel and sent out to impact the nations for Jesus Christ. We want to see Berlin known for being a fountain of life, rather than for its past blitzkrieg of death. We believe God is already preparing the soil for a Gospel movement that will flow out across Europe. Berlin belongs to Jesus and He is writing new chapters to her history, chapters of redemption and reconciliation and hope.





[1] “The Medieval Trading Center”,, December 30,2020, .

[2] Matthias Diermeier, Henry Goecke,  „Usually an Economic  Driving Force” German Economic Institute, October 20, 2017,

[3]Jochen Moebert, „Berlin: No Longer, poor but sexy’”, Deutsche Bank, January 16, 2019,

[4] “Join Our Most Advanced Gigafactory”,, December 30, 2020,

[5] “Demographic Data, Berlin Business Location Center, December 30, 2020,

[6] Cornelia Geißler, Russisch, Kiezdeutsch, Denglisch: Welche Sprache spricht die Hauptstadt?“,, November 20, 2018,

[7] OECD (2018), “Migration snapshot of the city of Berlin”, in Working Together for Local Integration of Migrants and Refugees in Berlin, OECD Publishing, 2018,

[8] Dan Moorhouse, „Berlin: Refugee Crisis”,, December 30, 2020,

[9] John Keenan, “Where is the World’s Most ‘Godless’ City?”,, December 7, 2016,

[10] Baum, Gregory. The Church for Others: Protestant Theology in Communist East Germany, Grand Rapids Michigan/ Cambridge UK, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: (1996), Introduction – p.17.