This small church built from cobblestones is situated at Richardplatz; here the first Bohemian service was held in 1737. The name “Bethlehemskirche” was only given to it in 1912 as a reference to the church of this name in Prague where the reformer Jan Huss preached.
The altarpiece shows Christ with his hand raised in a gesture of blessing. The original painting today is part of the collection of the Old Masters Gallery in Dresden. “Christ blessing” by the Venetian artist Cima de Conegliano, painted in 1506, was so highly appreciated that several copies were executed in the late 19th and early 20th century; they grace churches in Saxony like Brockwitz, Bärwalde and Graupa – as well as the one in Rixdorf.
Since their arrival in Rixdorf every year at Christmas time the community sings the Czech Christmas song “Cas radosti”.
I am the light of the world
During advent the women of the community meet for the traditional “Lichtlputzen” (decorating of the lights) and prepare the candles used during mess on Christmas eve. Each child receives one of these lights wrapped in a paper collar at the end of this festive service and symbolically carries the light into the world. To carry the burning candle home without it being extinguished by wind or rain is an additional challenge. While the wrappers used in Herrnhut are red, those used in Rixdorf are green.
The chromatics of the brethren
An old photo dating to 1949 shows the women of the community in their festive dresses in Kirchgasse. Parts of it are the white fringed fichu and the bonnet. But the black-and-white photograph misses out on one essential element. Different colours were selected for the so-called “Chorbänder”, the ribbons attached to the bonnet. Children and young, unmarried girls wore pink, girls after their confirmation wore red, married women picked blue and widows used white ribbons. The delicate headgear was not sewn but carefully put together using only pins; it was stored in special baskets.
Trumpets and trombones
One of the things Bohemians brought from their Czech home to Rixdorf was their love for music. Brass instruments were their particular favourites and it is therefore no surprise that lawn in the courtyard of Ulrich Kristek in Kirchgasse is not decorated with garden gnomes but with trumpets and trombones. They are the instruments discarded by the wind ensemble of the Moravian Church. The founding of this ensemble dates back to 1744. Headed by them the community walks to the graveyard before sunrise on every Easter Sunday to celebrate mess and to commemorate those who deceased during the last year.
In Rixdorf ist Musike
Uff den Sonntag freu ick mir.
Ja, denn jeht et `raus zu ihr,
Feste mit verjnügtem Sinn,
Pferdebus nach Rixdorf hin!
Dort erwartet Rieke mir,
Ohne Rieke keen Pläsir!
In Rixdorf ist Musike,
Da tanz ick mit der Rieke,
In Rixdorf bei Berlin.
“I’am looking forward to Sunday, when I’ll head off to see her; quick, with a joyful heart, to Rixdorf in a horse-drawn bus! Rieke is already waiting, without Rieke there’s no fun! In Rixdorf plays the music, I’m dancing there with Rieke, in Rixdorf near Berlin!”
The song “In Rixdorf ist Musike“ in 1889 became the most popular song in Berlin due to the performance of the comedian Heinrich Littke-Carlsen who also danced the one-step while singing. To keep up morality the one-step was banned by the police in 1912. The change of the name Rixdorf to Neukölln in the same year also was part of an agenda to rid this part of the city of its damaging image as centre of cheap entertainment and criminal hotspot.
Until the 1950s farmers still used to drive their cattle along the streets in Rixdorf to the adjacent meadows; traffic in those days was rather moderate. In later years the cattle had to stay in the stables. In Richardstr. ??? lived farmer Wandslik; he was the last farmer and ran his farm in Rixdorf until 1971. The historic handle on the door of his farm house – shaped like a horse head – is particularly appealing.
The Hussite chalice is ubiquitous in Rixdorf; it can be found on the new church hall, the old school, in the Bethlehem church on Richardplatz – and it is part of the coat of arms of Neukölln. It is the symbol of the Bohemian settlers. But why? The Bohemians came to Rixdorf for religious reasons. They were staunch followers of the Bohemian reformer Jan Huss and demanded equality for all believers, particularly a change in the rites of the Communion. According to them all members of the community were entitled to a share in bread and wine; until then this had been the privilege of the clergy..
Ora et labora
The former school and prayer hall in Kirchgasse today houses the small but exquisite museum of local history and the “Archive of the Bohemian Village”. The majority of the objects are family heirlooms donated by the descendants of the Bohemian immigrants. A toy size loom is a reminder of the times when three looms were set up here while at the same time pupils were taught to read and write in the next room. The gable is adorned by the Hussite chalice.
Gratitude for allowing the Bohemians to settle in Rixdorf was the reason why the president of the Czech Republic, Alexander Dubcek, a leading figure of the Prague spring uprising, unveiled a statue of Comenius in 1992 and donated it to the brethren. It is not without irony that it was the armies of both countries who took over the transport of the massive bronze sculpture of the deeply pacifist Czech scholar from the Czech Republic to it destination in the Comenius garden. The artist who created the image showed the hands of this philanthropist in a gesture suggestive of both giving and receiving.
Until today the carriages of the company Schöne roll along the roads of Neukölln. The horses drawing the carriages, however, do not spend the winter in Berlin but are brought to Lunenburg Heath. In 1910 the Berlin carter Gustav Schöne owned eight horses; twenty years later 100 of them were used to transport waste, letters, deceased and newly-married couples. Thanks to the reliable services of his horses Schöne was able to buy his first motor car in 1927 – yet the horses stayed.
The weather vane on top of the building on Richardplatz was installed in the early years of the company.
For all flesh is like grass
Only three plants are acceptable in the graveyard: grass, ivy and the lime tree, the national tree of the Czechs, may be planted here. The graveyard between Karl Marx Platz and Kirchhofstrasse is unique in Berlin. Strictly separated are men and women – or rather brothers and sisters, as the members of the Moravian Church call themselves – buried in white coffins, following the traditional rules of the community. The obituaries read out at the funeral have been written by the deceased themselves in their lifetime.
Where wishes come true …
A small masoned gate between Kirchgasse and the orchard running up to Richardplatz once separated the German from the Bohemian village. In the 1970s plans arose to build a multi-storeyed tower building at exactly this spot. Thanks to an intervention by the inhabitants of Rixdorf this rigorous redevelopment was prevented. Today for the children of the area this gateway is a place where wishes are expressed and fulfilled.
Johan Amos Comenius
Numerous schools and streets bear the name of the great Moravian educator, theologist and philosopher Johan Amos Comenius (1592-1670). In his view the life of any human comprises eight stages starting with the “prenatal evolution” and ending with the “school of death”. In the Comenius garden between Richardstrasse and Karl Marx Platz a sand path visualises the path of life; its starting point is marked by a walnut tree.
When Friedrich Wilhelm I established the settlement for the Bohemian immigrants he insisted on having a walnut tree planted in every courtyard. Walnuts are valuable as nourishing food during winter; their husks were used as detergent. The valuable wood of the full-grown trees remained the property of the king.
Glory to god in the highest
A bomb destroyed the historic church hall from 1671 at the end of World War II. The only remnant recovered from the debris was the church bell; it was cast in 1789 and is on display in the old school that is now a museum. Its Czech inscription is noteworthy since it reminds the viewer that until 1800 Czech was the official language of the village – early gravestones in the churchyard also bear witness to this fact. The village roads had Czech names, too, and it was only as late as 1909 that the Mala ulicka was renamed Kirchgasse.
A technical innovation of the 19th century is the incandescent mantle. A finely woven gauze was covered by particular salts; a kerosene flame causes it to glow. Each year on the second Sunday in advent such kerosene lamps illuminate the booths of the charity Christmas market in Rixdorf. The Technisches Hilfswerk do not only tend to these lamps; without the enthusiasm of these volonteers the entire Christmas market would not take place. Our thanks go out to all of them!
Anfangs der 80iger Jahre herrschte Kahlschlagpolitik in Westberlin, auch vier besetzte Häuser in Neukölln sollten abgerissen werden, darunter eines am Richardplatz, das man heute an einem geschmiedeten Zaun samt Schwein erkennt. Für die Hausbesetzer verhandelte Pfarrer Schönleber von der Herrnhuter Gemeine erfolgreich mit dem Berliner Senat und erwirkte für alle gültige Mietverträge. Als der Gemeine zu einem internationalen Chortreffen Unterbringungen fehlten, konnten sich die ehemaligen Besetzer revanchieren. Eigens für den Chor aus Suriname renovierten sie drei extra Räume ihres Hauses, die Sänger waren begeistert.
Star of Bethlehem
The many Moravian stars in Kirchgasse create a festive atmosphere during advent season. The first of these stars was created with paper and cardboard in 19th century in the boarding school of the Moravian Church in Herrnhut; here it was made by the missionaries’ children. A tallow candle was used to light the star. The probably smallest Moravian Star is on display in a showcase at the Museum in Kirchgasse. Just like the larger examples it consists of 17 square and 8 triangular points.
The first “Bolle”-marcet
Count of Hertzberg, eponymous for the Hertzbergstrasse, did not really retire when he returned to his manor in Britz after serving as war minister under Frederick the Great; instead he established a model farm. With more than 100 cows the farm in Britz became the largest dairy farm in Prussia. In order to sell fresh milk from his Berlin town house in Oberwallstrasse he began to improve the muddy roads. People in Rixdorf, however, were afraid that paving the roads might cause an influx of scallywags and opposed it. Hertzberg, without further ado bought the sherriff’s manor at Rixdorf and began his building work in Bergstrasse, the modern Karl Marx Strasse.
In the weed of Neukölln
Neukölln and its hard-working inhabitants did not care for Wilhelminian pathos. The equestrian statue of emperor Wilhelm I – “Wilhelm the Great” as stated in huge letters on the pedestal – was covered in weeds shortly after its erection. At the end of World War II it was smelted, today only the pedestal reminds one of its existence. In an ironic turn, the Hohenzollernplatz it once graced was renamed Karl Marx Platz in 1945.
With hammer and anvil
Berlins oldest forge is operating until today; visitors can even make their own wedding rings guided by the expert. In earlier times, the blacksmith mended agricultural and other tools and shooed horses for the farmers in the vicinity. In 1624 the forge was first mentioned in a document; the building seen today goes back to the late 18th century.
Mills on the move
The last memory of a success story is the ramshackle neon sign of the music store Bading at Karl Marx Strasse. An errant firecracker on New Year’s Eve 2017 destroyed the interior of this traditional store, run with exceptional dedication. Music , however, was not the first occupation of the Bading family; Joachim Friedrich Bading came to Rixdorf in 1743 as a miller; here he first rented and later bought the Deutsche Mühle, a wind mill, and the adjacent miller’s cottage at Richardplatz. In 1771 he also bought the “Böhmische Mühle”, had it dismantled and re-erected beside the Deutsche Mühle. In the late 19th century the Böhmische Mühle was again relocated to Jüterbog.
Buy your beer in style at the “Mushroom”
Until today beer can be bought from the “Pilz” (mushroom) at Richardplatz. The small art nouveau building – the so-called “Trinkhalle”, a refreshment stand – together with the public restrooms at Maybachufer and in Elbestrasse are the smallest buildings designed by the architect and government building officer for Neukölln, Reinhold Kiehl; they all were constructed around 1910. Far more important buildings by Kiehl are the municipal bath, the Neukölln city hall and the Exhibition Gallery in Körnerpark. The small kiosk, however, looked much more like a mushroom when its roof was still painted red with white dots.
A cavalier of good taste
The owner of the black pudding manufactory at Karl Marx Platz was honoured in 2004 for producing the best black pudding in Europe; since then he is allowed to call himself “Knight of the Black Pudding”. This honorary title is bestowed on people rendering outstanding services to the promotion of black pudding; they have to be recommended by a member of the brotherhood, are obliged to eat black pudding at least once a week and have to take an “oath to grill and fork”. The honour is granted by the “Brotherhood for the Promotion of the Esteem of Black Pudding”. The manufactury is very popular in Berlin-Neukölln and beyond.
500 kilometres to Rixdorf
In 1987 a commemorative stamp was issued on the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the first Bohemian refugees in Rixdorf. The stamp shows the relief slab on the monument to King Friedrich Wilhelm I depicting the escape of the Bohemians to Rixdorf. Descendants of these refugees were the models for the artist when creating the relief. In its centre is Jiri Motel, who was arrested for illegally owning a copy of the Bible of Kralice – a bible in the Czech language – but was able to escape from the prison. He walked the entire distance from Horni Cemna to Rixdorf in a fortnight.