I’m not one for being up-to-date or cutting edge with my blog content (I’m more of a ponderer) but even I have noticed that 2009 is of course the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
To this end, I thought I’d start a series of posts about Berlin places and buildings on its route. I’m not doing them in a particular order, but I might at some point renumber these to make a sort of ad hoc guide. There’s actually a very good cycle guide to the entire route (now also available in English) nearly all of which we’ve cycled. There’s a bit to the north of Berlin which we missed, because we found a rather good restaurant, and lunch ran over schedule. You can do it in three days comfortably – we just cycled to the nearest station and came home each evening, then restarted the next day at the same point, so I can’t make recommendations for accommodation.
Thanks to Julie (see comments) who noted this useful link: http://www.berlin.de/mauer/mauerweg/index/index.en.php.
Anyway, I’ve elected to start at Michael-Kirch-Platz. I feel really strongly that if you want to get a feel for the wall and its history, far better to get a good book on it and walk some stretches like this, away from Checkpoint Charlie and the tourists.
In case you didn’t know, the Wall (die Mauer) was not really a wall as such – more a series of fences, barriers and heavily guarded strips which formed an inpenetrable barrier around West Berlin. In central Berlin the outermost line usually took the form of the familiar concrete slabs with tubular concrete section on top that’s become the image of ‘The Wall’. There’s still bits all over the place:
All this sort of thing you can read elsewhere I’m sure, so back to Michael-Kirk-Platz. It’s one of those many spots in Berlin where you find yourself so surrounded by history that the place seems somehow to be resting, exhausted, hoping for a quiet life from now on. The wall ran across the bridge over the Spree (top right hand corner of map) then followed the curve of the old Luisenstadt canal (filled in early in the 20th century but its route still clearly visible, and now a long thin park) down to Michael-Kirk-Platz, where there is still a small lake remaining (the Engelbecker – angel basin) before dropping south. Confusingly, everything to the south and east of the wall at this point was in West Berlin, everything to the north and west was in East Berlin.
It emphasizes Kreuzberg’s strange isolated location in the already isolated West Berlin of the Cold War years; the allies divided Berlin into sectors which generally followed the district lines, and the wall followed these when it went up, so at Michael-Kirk-Platz divided Kreuzberg in the south-east from Mitte, the central district of the East German capital.
The Kirk (church) itself was heavily damaged in WWII bombing and the nave is now just a shell; only the transepts, main tower and apse are now enclosed and in use:
This was on a poster by the entrance – you can clearly see the small lake and the route of the disused canal heading running south:
Another image from the board, showing the wall pre-1989. You can just make out a guard tower to the right, in the ‘death strip’. The church was in West Berlin:
Taking a walk around the Platz is a brief history of the last 100 years of building in Berlin. Taking a turn about the square from north west, anticlockwise:
First are a group of refurbished east german Plattenbau housing blocks:
…standing right next to some recent new apartment blocks – nothing to write home about in architectural terms, but representative of post-Wall reconstruction and of the area’s not-so-creeping gentrification:
The apartments face across the Engelbecker to older 19th century blocks – before 1989 this would have been a view looking from East Berlin over the wall into the West (the wall running where the line of trees is). I’m often struck by how strange a situation it all was – the two worlds able to look across at each other every day:
Then, on a different note, a piece of seminal early modernism by Bruno Taut, mentioned in my earlier post:
Off to its left is a block which I know nothing about – at first glance an east german Plattenbau, but on closer inspection older, perhaps Nazi-era (I think) by the stonework detailing. Currently a local activist squat by the look of it:
Post blog note, August 2017: more recently, the building was ‘cleansed’ of both its squatter residents and its history, with a rather bland renovation:
Walking away from the Platz along the line of the canal/Wall to the north, you witness the amazing contrast between the carefully kept park, with new private apartments behind:
and immediately opposite, an increasingly rare scene here – people living in that other place, in a range of (often) dilapidated vehicles and makeshift buildings:
Refurbished buildings still stand alone in large open plots, created by allied bombing, and postwar clearance, and now a unique and integral part of Berlin’s urbanity:
And of course that strange self-built ‘Haus am Mauer’: