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Ernst Reuter

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Ernst Reuter (1889-1953), was a German politician and a city planner and social and legal reformer in Turkey.

Reuter was born in 1889 in Apenrade (Aabenraa today), Denmark. He joined Germany’s Social Democratic Party in 1912. Reuter was conscripted into the army during the First World War, was wounded in 1916, captured, and interned in a Russian prisoner of war camp that year. The Bolshevik revolution began while he was still in the camp. Reuter sympathized with the ideals of the revolution and joined the Soviet Communist party in 1918. He rose in the party ranks and became a Commissar in the Volga German Autonomous Workers’ Commune in Saratov, Russia. He returned to Germany in December 1918, joined the German Communist Party and was appointed its Secretary in Berlin. In 1922 he quit the Communist Party and rejoined the Social Democrats. In 1926 he was elected to the City Council of Berlin, served as the mayor of Magdeburg in 1931, and in 1932/33 represented the Social Democrats in the leftist wing of the Reichstag.

Arrested by the Nazis during the first years of Hitler’s dictatorship, Reuter spent two years in Lichtenburg, one of Germany’s early concentration camps. He escaped from the camp with the help of English Quaker friends via Holland and went to England.

City planning in Turkey

Reuter arrived in Istanbul in 1935 where with the help of his friends Martin Wagner and Fritz Baade, he found employment as a tax specialist in the Ministry of Economy and subsequently in the Ministry of Transportation in Ankara. Soon thereafter he complemented his activities with lectures at the School of Public Administration whose director Mehmet Emin Erişgil, also the Minister of Interior, appointed him as professor of community sciences, particularly urban planning, urban architecture, municipal finance administration and environmental management. Reuter emphasized the economic and social dimensions of city and community planning. He drew upon his experiences in Berlin, relying on theoretical foundations at the same time. Reuter was also constantly active as a technical advisor to the Turkish government. He prepared the statute which founded the Institute of Urban Settlement and City Building at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Ankara which was established in 1953. The Institute’s mission was to research, publish, and organize forums, seminars, and symposia for the purpose of the exchange of ideas and opinions between practitioners and theoreticians. He published a series of fundamental research papers and books.

Reuter's 350-page book Social Science: Introduction to City Planning was published in 1940 while still in Turkey. Among other issues covered, the book included subjects such as the planning of public spaces and legislation for public administration. He recommended that the state acquire land for a successful housing policy, which the United Nations recommended for developing countries in the 1970s. He recommended financial equalization (Finanzausgleich) and distribution of public expenditures among local governments and the state. This was included in Article 116 of the Turkish Constitution in 1961 and in Article 127 in 1982, which state that the central government distribute public funds proportionally among the local governments.

Reuter had an extremely pleasant personality combining the characteristics of a good politician, teacher and experienced administrator. Learning Turkish in a very short time enabled Reuter to have good relations with the Turks and he maintained his relationship with Turkey even after his return to Germany. Anti-Nazi to the core, he was the unofficial leader of Turkey’s German and Austrian expatriate community who were similarly disposed. Eventually his former students held important positions, such as professors, city mayors, governors, government officials, and general directors. There were even ministers and modern city planners. They had significant impact, especially during 1950-1975, on the administrative structure and political development of Turkey.

Mayor of Berlin

Reuter served as professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences until 1946 when he returned to Germany. He became the first mayor of post-World War II Berlin and was in office during the city’s 1948-1949 blockade by Russian army tanks and the Americans’ 324-day airlift of food, coal, blankets, soap and other supplies to the city’s population. He made inspirational radio addresses during that blockade which was broken thanks to his leadership and the Western Allies’ determination. He died in 1953.