During the 1920s Reuter was a member of the Berlin municipal council, becoming councilor for traffic in 1926. He became mayor of Magdeburg in 1931 and entered the Reichstag in July 1932. The Nazi regime stripped him of his office and imprisoned him during 1933–1934. After his release, he fled first to Great Britain and then to Turkey.
In November 1946, Reuter returned to Berlin and was elected councilor for traffic one month later. He soon proved to be a staunch opponent of the merging of the SPD with the KPD. Therefore, when a clear majority elected him mayor of Berlin in June 1947, the Soviet military administration refused to recognize the vote. Only in December 1948, after the municipal administration had been divided into western and eastern zones, did Reuter become the first mayor of West Berlin. During the Berlin Blockade (1948–1949), Reuter, a charismatic speaker, became a symbol of the city's will to resist Soviet and East German pressure.
Reuter's famous appeal, "People of the world, look on this city," made him well known in all of Germany and abroad. A member of the Parliamentary Council and of the Bundestag during 1949–1953, he tried to promote closer ties between West Berlin and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany). His last years in office were marked by a growing reputation for honesty and political courage but were somewhat overshadowed by internal struggles in the Berlin SPD, which resulted in its electoral defeat in December 1950. Thanks to his high popularity, however, he remained in office. Reuter died in West Berlin on 29 September 1953.
Large, David Clay. Berlin: A Modern History. New York: Basic Books, 2000.; Miller, Roger Gene. To Save a City: The Berlin Air Lift, 1948–1949. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000.