Born in Bethlehem
“… doesn’t the old German house fit into the scene anywhere, least of all in Bethlehem […] Do you want to let a donkey and a couple of sheep peek out of the cave so that it can be recognized as a stable?”
Count von Ziethen-Schwerin, chairman of the Jerusalem Association, commenting on the design of the stained-glass windows for the Christmas church in Bethlehem.
Donkeys were struggling to drag the interior of an entire church through the Judean mountains: glass windows, altarpiece, organ and bells for the Christmas church in Bethlehem. Before that, everything was transported overland from Berlin and by ship. In the same year, 1893, the Christmas church in the birthplace of Jesus was inaugurated after only two years of construction. The deep emotional connection and enthusiasm of the Germans for the Holy Land had also taken hold of King Wilhelm IV. In 1841 he founded the Berlin Jerusalem Association whose activities ultimately led to the construction of the Christmas Church in Bethlehem. The respected Berlin architect Heinrich Orth was commissioned to build the church.
Light-coloured limestone blocks are to Bethlehem what red brick architecture is to the Gethsemane Church in Berlin. But the stained-glass windows with their intense colours are impressive in both places: as far as they have been preserved in Berlin, Christ appears there as the judge of the world, while in Bethlehem the whole story of his life and suffering is told. Since both designs were created in Berlin, a collision between traditional European ideas and the scene of the Holy Night at the original location of the event is almost inevitable.
Hops and Malt
There would be no Prenzlauer Berg, neither Bötzow’s brewery nor the Kulturbrauerei, but also no Kindl or Schultheiss in Kreuzberg and Neukölln, had there been no Ice Age. About 12,000 years ago, masses of ice piled up over Berlin reaching up to 200 meters in height. If the television tower had already existed, only its tip would have protruded from the ice. Ice Age glaciers pushed stones, sand, clay and loam from the north to Berlin; as the meltwater drained off, the Berlin glacial valley with its partly steep bank edges was formed. Until the 19th century, the Barnim with the Barnimkante in the north and the Teltow with its northern edge in the south defined the populated area of Berlin. But then breweries began to discover the Barnim as well as the Teltow; its geological condition proved to be much better suited for the production and storage of the beer than the centre of Berlin, where the water quality was excellent, but as the water table was only three meters below ground it was impossible to build basements there. Digging the cool basement
directly into the Barnim at ground level solved the problem. Because the ice used to cool the beer not only was voluminous, but also weighed several thousand tons, the structures had to be large and sturdy. This is the reason why breweries with their huge fermentation and storage cellars were the largest underground structures in the city.
If you want to get on the trail of the Ice Age and its ice cellars: the ruins of the Schneider Brewery on Greifswalder Strasse are right on the edge of the Barnim, and an ice age glacier also smoothed the round paving stones that covered the courtyard.
From here to there
With 960 bridges, Berlin is not the front runner, but behind the “Venice of the North”, Hamburg, with its fabulous 2500 bridges, Vienna and Amsterdam, it occupies place no. 4 in the ranking of European cities rich in bridges. And Venice? The city has only 400 bridges to offer.
Not only those bridges crossing rivers or lakes count in this particular “bridge competition”, but of course also the numerous elevated crossings of train and rapid-transit railway tracks that began to meander in and around Berlin over the course of industrialisation. With its impressive length of 37 kilometers, the long route of the Ringbahn (Circle line) surrounds the centre of the capital; as a result of the expansion of Berlin beyond the city ring road pedestrian and road traffic increased considerably after the turn of the century. This led to the construction of bridges between the Prenzlauer and Schönhauser Allee stations along the Duncker, Schönfliesser and Greifenhagener Strasse. They were expected to enable the children from the then new housing estates to get to school easily, but above all to make sure workers from the Helmholtz quarter were able to walk to the east side of the Schönhauser Allee train station without difficulty. Its separate building then had to give way to the Alleearkaden (alley arcades) and was demolished. Equipped with four wrought-iron chandeliers, the Greifenhagener Brücke is a real gem of its kind. The beautiful details of this Art Nouveau bridge – punched metal panels with their floral motifs and forged frames – are probably not noticed by very few.
The ingenious film director Ernst Lubitsch lived at Schönhauser Allee 183 from 1896 to 1919. This is where – from 1915 together with the screenwriter Hanns Kräly – he created the slapstick comedies “Die Bergkatze” (The Wild Cat) or “Die Austernprinzessin” (The Oyster Princess), which were produced in the flourishing film industry in Babelsberg. He started his career there as an actor. Thanks to this acting talent and his unerring sense for gags many of his comedies are now classics. Mary Pickford brought him to Hollywood as early as 1923, where he seamlessly continued his career and became the very first German director in Hollywood.
Filming often takes place today just around the corner, in Lottumstrasse or in the Herz Jesu-Kirche (Church of the Sacred Heart) on Fehrbellinerstrasse. The church is a preferred location because of its visually attractive, golden walls resembling those in Byzantium. Lottumstrasse provides a timeless, intact streetscape of renovated houses and cherry trees blooming every spring.
Rats are just as undesirable at bowling as they are in the damp basements of apartment buildings. If you don’t manage to hit at least one skittle, Berlin slang called this a rat. And if you care for it: with many rats you can acquire the dubious title of rat king. But you can also “push a poodle” – if your ball should get off the track and into the damp gutter. But this can only happen if, as it was common until the 18th century, you bowl outdoors.
From the 19th century onwards, bowling alleys were established in numerous popular restaurants that arose in the wake of the founding of new breweries. By adding taverns with large taprooms, these breweries created a completely new form of social get-together. The entrepreneurs knew how to combine the consumption of beer with entertainment for the crowds – like concerts, bowling alleys and steamer journeys – and the thirsty Berliners soon gathered out of town in large numbers to amuse themselves in the beer gardens on Sundays and public holidays.
Party all night long with beer, meatballs, potato salad and, of course, bowling in the classic way – you can still do that today at in the Bornholmer Hütte. This traditional pub has one of the oldest bowling alleys in Berlin with a fully functional, historic asphalt alley.
From the primeval bird to the printing press
A little boy writes the name of Alois Senefelder in mirror writing onto a stone pedestal – viewed in the mirror everything can be read properly.
The printing press workers’ union invested a considerable sum for the Carrara marble the monument on Senefelderplatz is mad of. Senefelder, however, owes the invention, for which he is honored here, to a simple limestone.
A walk on a rainy day in 1796 provided the inventive theater writer with a groundbreaking idea. Senefelder had discovered the imprint of a leaf on a damp limestone and began to experiment with inks and smooth stones. Since the hallways in his hometown Munich were often paved with slabs of limestone, such stones were easy to hand. He drew on them with greasy inks he had mixed himself, etched them with nitric acid and, after numerous attempts, invented a completely new printing process: lithography (from the Greek lithos: stone + graphein: to write). Woodcut and letterpress are mechanical relief printing processes, copper engraving and etching are gravure printing techniques; now Senefelder had developed the first chemical planographic printing process based on the repulsion of fat and water and using a stone printing plate.
Limestone from the southern German town of Solnhofen, which, in addition to countless other fossils, has preserved the feather imprint of an archaeopterix today on show in the Museum of Natural History Berlin, proved to be particularly suitable because of its fine grain.
Be it sheet music, maps, postage stamps, banknotes, leaflets, newspapers or art, everything could suddenly be printed in much higher quality, larger editions and – most importantly – cheaper. When Senefelder finally moved on to use metal plates, this was the beginning of offset printing.
In an imposing funeral procession on May 9, 1864, the opera composer Giacomo Meyerbeer was led to his final resting place in the Jewish cemetery in Schönhauser Allee. The famous musician had died unexpectedly in Paris. After a moving memorial service in the great hall of the Gard du Nord, a special train carrying the body headed for Berlin. During a stopover in Aachen then Queen Augusta boarded the train and escorted the corpse to his destination. At his own request, Meyerbeer was buried next to his mother Amalie Beer, who in her times hosted one of the city’s most glamorous salons.
Contrary to Meyerbeer, the coffin of the equally important impressionist, former academy president, and freeman of the city of Berlin, Max Liebermann, was only escorted by about 100 mourners to the cemetery in 1935; only four of the many artists he sponsored were present, among them Käthe Kollwitz.
Surrounded by a high stone wall, the quiet place with its ivy-covered tombstones is now on the other side of the busy main road. When it was inaugurated in 1927, it was still outside the city gates and replaced the Jewish burial site on Große Hamburger Straße. The tomb stones with their bilingual, Hebrew-German inscriptions, which only came into use at this time, bear witness to how strongly Jews felt they were part of German society in the 19th century.
Swords to plowshares
In early November of 1989 an ocean of burning candles covered the forecourt of the Gethsemane Church and became a symbol of non-violent protest. These days and the origins of the GDR democracy movement are today commemorated by the expressionist bronze figure “Spiritual Warrior” by Ernst Barlach on an external wall of the church.
Archangel Michael holds his long sword in both hands. With bare feet on the back of the wolf-like animal, it almost appears to be floating. Barlach himself described the memorial in a letter as an external representation of an internal process. He went on: “What strives upwards separates itself from the earthy-horizontal”; the base here stands symbolically for the material existence, the animal for the earthly, instinct-driven existence, the angel for soul and spirit and finally the sword for the imperturbable power of faith.
The first cast of the monument was unveiled in 1928 at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Kiel. Since Barlach already struggled with hostility from the right at that time, it was set up secretly and without celebration or consecration. In 1937, a year before the artist died sick and embittered, both the Floating Angel in Güstrow Cathedral and the Spiritual Warrior were removed. Repeated attempts to melt down the bronze figure were frustrated by Barlach’s former employee, Bernhard Böhmer, by means of a cleverly camouflaged purchase. To save the sculpture, he cut it into four parts. Packed in boxes, it thus survived in a shed in the Lüneburg Heath and returned to Kiel in 1954. The Berlin copy was cast from its impression in 1990.
The Barkas was a quick-change artist – since 1961, it was possible to customize the GDR’s pickup truck for all conceivable requirements using a wide variety of superstructures and paints. At times it was produced in 40 variants: it was used as a minibus, police vehicle, with a red cross as an ambulance, in red as a fire engine, as a flatbed truck or camouflaged as a military vehicle. Painted gray with a white roof he was used for the last trip. However, its most inglorious task it performed as a prisoner transporter in the service of the MfS, the Ministry for State Security.
When the MfS’s driver service was housed in the small neo-Gothic chapel on Fröbelstrasse from 1950 to the 80s, the octagonal building with the pointed roof had already had already been in the hands of several owners. It was built between 1886 and 1889 as a morgue and pathology for the adjoining hospital and infirmary; later it served as a repository for the deceased. After the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship in 1933, the chapel became a National Socialist celebration hall; s year later, the district office moved into the surrounding buildings. And it did not get any lighter on Froebelstrasse for quite a while. After the end of the war, the Red Army requisitioned the entire area for the Prenzlauer Berg district and the Soviet Military Command (SMAD) sent former Nazi officials and unwanted opponents of Soviet power to penal camps from here.
Anyone walking along Prenzlauer Allee today will see the octagon freshly renovated. The town planning officer Hermann Blankenstein in his times put a lot of effort into the building décor; he covered the entire building complex including the surrounding wall with numerous shaped stones and colored brick strips.
But it came to pass at the time
Anyone stargazing in 1996/97 may have felt reminded of the biblical Christmas story as the comet Hale-Bopp drew its fiery tail over the night horizon for a few months. This celestial body shone as brightly as perhaps the star of Bethlehem at that time. Today it is certain: in the year eleven BC, Halley’s Comet came quite close to earth. By the time of Christ’s birth about four years later, however, he had already moved on. Scientists had to put the comet thesis aside as inconclusive; even more so since the ancients regarded comets not as heralds of good tidings but as messengers of doom.
Johannes Kepler, on the other hand, considered the biblical heavenly phenomenon to be a conjunction of Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn like the one he had observed from his window in Prague on Christmas morning 1603. His calculations showed that in the year seven BC the planets in the constellation Pisces must have come very close. A supernova the following year that outshone all the stars in the sky underscored Kepler’s assumption.
Most theologians, however, put the heavenly light mentioned in the Bible into the realm of legend. In the Old Testament, prophecies heralded the coming of the Messiah with a shining star, and this is probably why Matthew included this feature in his Gospel.
Whether comet, supernova or double planet: at Christmas time the Zeiss planetarium Berlin on Prenzlauer Allee deals with this celestial phenomenon. In 1987, after only two years of construction, it was opened being one of the largest and most modern planetariums in Germany and Europe.
“With the charabanc to the countryside”
„Bolle reiste jüngst zu Pfingsten, nach Pankow war sein Ziel …“
(Bolle made a trip on whitsun, to Pankow he wanted to go…)
According to the popular hit song from around 1900, Bolle stayed hungry on his country tour, was beaten green and blue at one point and died in the end, but “had a lot of fun” in the course of events. Bolle owes his Kremser (charabanc) trip to Pankow and into the Schönholzer Heide to Simon Kremser, a Jewish merchant’s son from Breslau. He is not honoured anywhere in the city, yet the invention of the Kremser wagon does him a lot of credit.
Under General Blücher, Kremser fought against the Napoleonic army. After he repeatedly saved the Prussian war chest, this highly praised patriotic act resulted in him being honoured by King Wilhelm III. with both the Iron Cross and the Pour le Mérite. His heroism was further rewarded with the privilege to run an exclusive haulage business in Berlin. Kremser moved to Berlin, improved the conventional unsprung wagons of the time by turning them into covered horse-drawn omnibuses and opened the first horse-drawn omnibus line in Germany on May 20, 1825. It led from the Brandenburg Gate to Charlottenburg. In 1835 another line from Schönhauser Tor to Pankow began its service. Kremser’s charabancs soon stood at every city gate and became a popular means of transport for excursions into the nearer and wider vicinity of Berlin.
This is where an idea lives on – in the Wilhelminian-style houses made of red clinker brick between Buchholzerstrasse and Greifenhagener Strasse, Schönhauser and Pappelallee. It is the idea of the social reformer and intellectual pioneer of the German cooperative movement Victor Aimé Huber who around 1850, together with his wife Auguste, had 15 country houses and gardens built for wage-dependent families. They called the settlement “Bremer Höhe” because his father-in-law, Hieronymus Klugkist, a senator in Bremen, provided part of the funding.
Generally, with the advancement of industrialization housing shortage became more of a problem and the notorious, narrow tenements shot up. They consisted of many successive backyards that only needed to be big enough for a fire engine to turn there. The tenants already moved in when the plasterers were still working on the scaffolding; for this the Berlin idiom soon invented the word “Trockenwohnen” (i. e. drying a house by living in it). In order to save money, the residents rented parts of their apartment to so-called sleepers who, when they went to work, made the warm bed available for the next one. Up to 30 people thus lived in a single, mostly cold and damp apartment.
Meanwhile, the “Bremer Höhe” retained a living concept that seemed almost paradisiac. Since the small houses were soon outdated by industrialization, the “Berliner Gemeinnützige Baugesellschaft” (Berlin Housing Society for Public Welfare), co-founded by Huber, built a complex of stately Wilhelminian-style houses with high living comfort and green courtyards used for self-supply by the tenants.
After these buildings were a state-owned property and and later part of a public utility housing enterprise, the current tenants founded the housing cooperative of the same name in 1999 and bought the houses with the “Bremer Höhe” medallion on the facade – turning it once again into a refuge as Huber intended.
Für Frieden und Sozialismus
Today the Thälmannpark is already a listed monument. But in 1984 the newly inaugurated “Plattenbauten” (prefabricated modular buildings) were the showcase project of the GDR leaders and offered living space and comfort for 4,000 Berliners. The quarter was so important that it was even visited by the GDR sandman.
When Erich Honecker exclaimed “Raise your fist for comrade Ernst Thälmann” the covers fell to release the colossal head of the KPD leader – the manufacture of which had devoured GDR bronze production of the entire year. The creator of the memorial, the Soviet model sculptor Lev Kerbel, was also interested in an all-artistic staging. He felt his work was compromised by the gasometers in the background, and thus the motion to have them demolished gained momentum. This in return fired up the protest of the residents, who were happy that the gasworks had not contaminated laundry and lungs since 1981 but had nevertheless grown fond of the round towers. Some even regard their demolition and the accompanying quiet resistance as the beginning of the end of the GDR.
A glass window in the district office on Fröbelstrasse shows a coat of arms that never existed in this combination. Next to the water tower and the bear it shows a red flag waving in the middle of Plattenbauten arranged in the form of the Thälmann monument.
Sea animals made of golden mosaic stones – fish, seahorses and turtles – adorn the back wall of a fountain on the Pfefferberg. It’s just a shame that the water no longer gushes out of the dragon’s head and the fountain at the exposed staircase is all covered up and hidden. Even at the time of the Great Elector, there were legislations that were supposed to protect the public urban space from careless treatment. This also included the pollution of public and private wells; such crimes were punished with prison or pillory. Later so-called street masters were even allowed to throw rubbish into houses if their owners did not keep the street area in front of the house clean.
Until well into the 18th century, each courtyard had its own draw well. With the help of a bucket attached to a rope, the residents pulled the groundwater collected in the masonry shafts upwards. Beam pumps replaced the wells in the 19th century: the dark green cast iron housings are still standing on many sidewalks. Among them is the neo-baroque “Lauchhammer pump”, in which the water poured out of either a fish’s or a dragon’s mouth. A drinking stone at the foot of the pump collected the surplus water for horses, dogs and birds.
When the houses were connected to the central water supply in 1856 after the completion of the first Berlin waterworks in front of Stralauer Tor, the pumps lost their importance, but due to their independence from the water network they are still part of the disaster control system to this day.
The elevated railway with its cast-iron pillars painted green at the intersection of Eberswalder Strasse – that’s Berlin! In a way, that’s probably right: the prior construction phase and the tunneling under the River Spree were too much of a financial responsibility. Which is why the trains emerge from the ground at what is today the Kulturbrauerei and then are lead across a viaduct for 1.7 kilometers.
The first viaducts and train stations in the west of the city were completed more than 100 years ago. For this, however, the initiators were not showered with praise for their pioneering engineering achievement, but with severe criticism. The citizens regarded the appearance of the functional buildings as a disgrace and cared little about cast iron. Compared to stone, it just seemed inferior to them. In their resentment some went as far as to demand the immediate demolition of the sections that had just been completed. In order to appease them, Siemens sought to cooperate with renowned architects for the remaining sections; their task was to develop a more visually pleasing, elegant appearance for viaducts and train stations. The existing stations were subsequently garnished with decorative elements.
Compared to the Jugendstil atmosphere of the station Bülowstrasse, which was built in 1902, the almost identical stations Eberswalder Strasse and Schönhauser Allee, which opened in 1913, have a plain and sober appeal. In the course of only a few years the zeitgeist had changed and a matter-of-fact, unadorned functionalism had become the style of choice.
The demolition of the restaurant “Zum Weinberg” (At the vineyard) also marked the removal of the last remaining grapevines at the Weinbergsweg (Vineyard Lane). It did, however, not put an end to drinking, be it wine, vermouth, beer or liquor. Coal merchants, artists, nightwatchmen – they all met in East Berlin under the same roof in the pubs of Prenzlauer Berg and drank whatever was available: at the Fengler, the Wiener Café, the Café Mosaik, the Torpedokäfer (torpedo beetle) or the Schusterjunge (orphan).
Every evening the doors to the basement were also opened at the Schoppenstube or “Schoppe”. A bouncer checked the long rows at the front entrance while the regulars were allowed in through the back door. The atmosphere in the dimly lit space was familial. In the first light of dawn, the last guests met at Konnopke for a currywurst. The gay bar at Schönhauser Allee 44 near Eberswalder Strasse had survived all system changes since 1923.
When the GDR began the refurbishment of the Friedrichstrasse in the 1960s its guests switched to Prenzlauer Berg and soon the Schoppenstube became the hub of the entire gay scene in the GDR. In 1968 paragraph 175 was deleted and homosexuality was exempt from punishment.
After all, the Schoppenstube was not able to withstand the change of times; yet, a few scenes in the movie “Coming out” preserve its atmosphere. Director Heiner Carow who also made the famous movie about Paul and Paula, in 1990 won a Silberner Bär (Silver Bear) for “Coming Out”.
A burial ground without crosses
“This is a land of heathen, darker and harsher that Afrika or India” thus fulminated pastor Hermann Priebe in 1929 and referred to the graveyard of the Freireligiöse Gemeinde (Free religious community) at the Pappelallee in today’s Helmholzkiez (Helmholz quarter): “It belongs to proletarian libertines who adhere the most blatant atheism and are sworn enemies of all religion …”
In fact, “The world rules itself with laws eternal” is the guiding principle in the ceremonial hall and this describes a fundamental spiritual attitude that included the avoidance of religious convictions and not least of the church itself as an institution. After its founding on 1845, apart from excommunicated or seceded members of the Catholic church it was reform-minded Protestants and secular Jews who became members of the Freireligiöse Gemeinde. Later, social democrats like Heinrich Roller were important members. Roller in 1875 invented his own stenography system which he called Weltkurzschrift (World Shorthand). Roller’s signet, a winged quill, graces his striking grave that is flanked by the sculpture of a woman holding a pen.
In the mid-1800s, shorthand was the fastest and most modern method of taking notes. Since the Freireligiöse Gemeinde was deemed suspicious and therefore was subjected to permanent police surveillance, Roller’s invention was of particular importance. The community hired a stenographer who prepared minutes of all meetings as a measure against false reports.
… he who digs in the after-work hours and spends his holidays … (Erich Weinert)
When the allotments at the Bornholmer Strasse were founded, it was plain hunger that forced the citizens of Berlin into self-supply. Without prior consultation they took over the area on top of a landfill in 1896 and set up the first small gardens for potatoes, vegetables and chicken. When the Paul Gerhardt Church was built in 1908 the spoil was brought here and scattered unevenly over the terrain; until today differences of up to one meter can be noticed.
In 1919 the garden colony was finally registered at the district court under the name “Hungriger Wolf” (Hungry Wolf) and a garden café completed the activities in the Golden Twenties.
After the bombing of World War II, the well of the colony became the water supply for the entire, severely destroyed quarter. Due to the erection of the Berlin Wall the gardens fell into oblivion. The possession of ladders was no longer permitted so close to the border due to the flight risk – imaging the challenge this posed for the fruit harvest!
Fortunately, this is history. Today the cherries blossom not only in “Bornholm” but also along the Kirschbaumallee (Cherry tree alley). Out of joy about the fall of the wall and the reunification Japanese citizens after a generous donation campaign provided Japanese Lowering Cherries that were planted along the course of the wall.
After 1700 the population of Berlin increased again. The supply of flour and bread therefore becomes more difficult. The few windmills in the city prove to be insufficient and thus Frederick II in 1748 gives order to built additional windmills outside the city limits. A suitable building ground is found at the fringes of the Barnim where grapes had been cultivated before.
In 1748-49 the miller Christoph Müncheberg built the first two windmills in the area of modern Metzer Strasse 15/16. Soon, more windmills followed and this resulted in the densely clustered mills mutually blocking the wind. War damages and fires are further obstacles for the millers, as is the ongoing expansion of Berlin towards the North. New housing areas emerged and one after the other the mills cease to work. The last windmill in Prenzlauer Berg is closed down in 1900.
Despite this fact, the crest of the former district Prenzlauer Berg until today consists of four black windmill vanes on yellow ground.
From the corner bar to the Café Achteck
Public toilets in Berlin are an invention of the 19th century. Until then people piddled from the bridges (though this was a punishable offense) or into a urine barrel set up at one of the portals of the city palace.
Finally, the problem was placed in front of the magistrate. The head of police, Madai, had the first urinals erected in the early 1870s; set up in pairs, they were called “Madai temple” by the public and were meant to be used by men only. The first public toilets for women were only established in selected public buildings and in two school buildings due to „considerations of security and decency”. The earliest among them was the one in the Red City Hall (Rotes Rathaus) in 1874. Others were set up from ca. 1882 in public parks like the Tiergarten by private entrepreneurs.
The need for convenient public conveniences is generally underrated. As early as 1877 the city administration decides to introduce new, larger models. The councillor for building and construction, Carl Theodor Rospatt (1831–1901) in 1878 is responsible for the efficient, well executed design of seven stands based on an octagonal plan; its decorated cast iron walls made use of the quickly developing iron casting facilities in Berlin. This was the birth of the “Café Achteck”.
The idea to raise fees gave rise in the 1870s to an entirely new line of business. In 1920 there are about 142 of these public toilets in Greater Berlin. Today, 30 of them are still existing in the city. The Café Achteck at Senefelder Platz is, however, a reconstruction.
On the 29. July 1945 the first Jewish bridal couple in Berlin got married in the synagogue in Rykestrasse. It was the sign of hope and of a new beginning.
Around 1910 the registered inhabitants of the district Prenzlauer Berg included the third-largest group of Jewish citizens in Berlin – 19000 people. They set up a multifaceted Jewish infrastructure with synagogues, welfare institutions, children’s homes, schools, clubs and shops.
Two shields of David grace the wrought-iron gate of the double gateway of the largest German synagogue inaugurated in 1904. The building, shaped like a Neo-Romanesque basilica with three naves, followed the design of churches built in brick in the March of Brandenburg. Apart from orthodox clerics liberal rabbis officiated, too. In1930 a woman was elected member of the community council – in 1935, Regine Jonas became the first ordained female Rabbi in the world.
The front building housed the III. Primary School of the registered “Jewish School Association” and the VI. Religious School of the Jewish community with approximately 500 pupils. After 1933 the school aimed to prepare students for an emigration to Palestine. Lilli Henoch who was murdered near Riga, in her time a famous athlete and world record holder, was the p. e. teacher of this school until its dissolution.
Children often climb the bronze Käthe at Kollwitz Platz – and most residents appreciate that. By giving his sculpture a particularly wide and low pedestal, the sculptor Gustav Seitz intentionally enabled an easy, effortless access to his larger-than-life, sitting figure.
This proximity to the people would certainly have been appreciated by Käthe Kollwitz, too – even including the shiny nose polished by the many hands that touched it.
In 1956 the berlin magistrate commissioned the sculptor but obviously they expected a heroic, fierce figure. The image of an old, restful woman consequently was much criticised.
The topics of graphic artist and sculptor Käthe Kollwitz were human suffering and poverty. She lived and worked with her husband, the doctor Karl Kollwitz, in Weißenburger Strasse 25; the street was later renamed Kollwitzstrasse. Here, she had one of her studios while he ran a Statuary Health Insurance Surgery where he treated the poor for free. In 1946, in honour of the artist, the Wörther Platz was renamed Kollwitzplatz on the 8th July – her birthday.
Class Struggle in the driver’s cab
It was only in 1984 that the West-Berlin municipal transport services, BVG, took over the entire S-Bahn (commuter railway) railway network from the “Deutsche Reichsbahn” (DR; German Reichs Railway), the operating company of the GDR railway. The DR only handed over the oldest carriages, all displaying the characteristic red and yellow paintwork.
The relation of the two public transport services was defined by conflicts, quips and harassments throughout the Cold War. One of the low points in these quarrels took place in January 1953. The female S-Bahn driver Inge Müller was removed from the driver’s cabin at Potsdamer Platz and send off to an undesired free evening by an BVG officer and the police because women were not allowed to drive trams in the western sector of Berlin. “Das Vorzeigen meiner Fahrberechtigung und mein Hinweis, dass ich nicht daran denke, den Verkehrsplan zu schmeißen, blieben unbeachtet” (Showing my driver’s license and my hint that I had no intention to topple the time table remained unnoticed) the indignant driver later told the newspaper “Neues Deutschland” (New Germany). While East Berlin trained women to operate the crank handles of a tram since 1950, such equal opportunities were still far away at the Western BVG. Although the eastern side had agreed to follow the western regulations within the zonal border, they repeatedly sent female drivers to operate the lines that connected Mitte and Tiergarten, Treptow and Neukölln, or Prenzlauer Berg and Wedding and crossed this border; thus they tried to hint at the backwardness of the class enemy.
At a right angle to the north
Looking down on the Prenzlauer Berg one notices the accuracy of the rectangular street plan. It dates back to 1862 and was layed out in the development plan devised by government master builder James Hobrecht. The population of Berlin had increased considerably during the 19th century and housing development had to be extended beyond the city gates. Hobrecht’s planning was geared to the three major existing radial roads towards the north, modern Schönhauser Allee, Prenzlauer Allee, and Greifswalder Strasse; between these, he established a grid.
As the streets of houses grew streets and places were named. After the Franco-German war 1870/71 the French Quarter between Schönhauser and Prenzlauer Allee was created. Streets were named after French towns like Straßbourg, Metz, Wörth, Mulhouse, Colmar, as well as Prussian generals who participated in the battles
– among them Fransecky and Tresckow whose streets were later renamed Sredzkistrasse and Knaackstrasse respectively.
North of the Danziger Strasse important persons were honoured: the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, the physiologist Hermann Helmholtz, the long-term mayor Hermann Duncker and the inventor of the lithography, Aloys Senefelder. Still later the Nordic quarter and the East Prussian quarter were built. Hobrecht work was also honoured; a street in Kreuzberg bears the name Hobrechtstrasse.
The historic street signs around the Kollwitzplatz were restored in the style of 1900 on the occasion of the 750th anniversary of Berlin.