Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin
This monument and area is worth a visit only because it was created during the GDR days and probably would not exist today. Ernst Thälmann was leader of the German Communist Party during the Weimar Republic. When the National Socialists came to power he was arrested, held in solitary confinement for 11 years before being shot at Buchenwald Concentration Camp on the orders of Adolf Hitler in 1944. After WW2 Thälmann was widely honoured the same as other communist leaders. The decision to build a monument and an estate to honour Thälmann on the site of a former gas works was not a wise one and work had to be carried out to remove dangerous pollutants after the project was completed. The bronze statue was erected in 1986 and is 14m high by 15m wide and weighs 50 tonnes. The statue has been the target of graffiti which is removed at regular periods. After the fall of the wall there was a lot of pressure to have the statue removed but it survived and is now is a listed monument. Besides the park there is a housing estate to accommodate 4,000 and a number of other facilities.
Prenzlauer Berg, now officially part of the borough of Pankow, was developed in the second half of the 19th century to provide workers, the industrial revolution was still in its infancy, with tenements. A railway service helped greatly to turn Prenzl'berg into Europe's largest working-class district with often miserable living conditions.
For some reasons, roughly 75% of the housings survived WWII, so Prenzlauer Berg has since possibly been Europe's largest collection of Gründerzeit / Victorian style apartment buildings.
During the GDR, locals were notorious for their (often wrapped) opposition against the regime. This may be one reason (among others) why the government did not dare to replace the typical Prenzlauer Berg building with those sad, uniform, high-rise tenements.
At the same time, the borough seemed to be stuck in the past: Many buildings looked as if WWII battles had ended only yesterday. Gray facades that had not seen any paint for decades were covered with bullet holes and other scars.
At a time when efficient heating systems were normal in the west, old-fashined coal stoves were standard in Prenzlauer Berg.
The day after I moved to Berlin in 1995, I bought a newspaper and came across an article saying that an old lady was killed by a balcony coming down. In an interview, an official said that they had to renovate staircases first, as they could keep residents off from their balconies but not from staircases and those structures were dangerously close to collapse, too.
Back then Prenzl'berg attracted the "I'm-broke-but-I-have-ideas" sort of folks, mostly artists and students, and later the more wealthy youngsters who made a fortune during the Dot-Com hype. Coffehouses, clubs, affordable restaurants, courtyard theaters and galleries came at a fast pace.
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(Continued from "Prenzlauer Berg (Pt. 1)")
In order to quickly refurbish Prenzl'berg without forcing too many locals to leave, state granted cheap loans and promised residents, they could live in their apartments without paying rents for years (up to 15 years, depending on the efforts taken, I believe).
Often, after houses were refurbished, former landlords came to claim possession and felt dispossessed for a second time after they learned that they won't be able to demand rents, but soon discoverd a loophole: The no-rent contracts were non-transferable, and if tenants moved out, no matter how "voluntarely", the apartment fell back into the landlord's possession.
Instead of the expected upswing, German economy took a downturn, unemployment, especially in the east, came to an all-time high, and a financial scandal in direct relation to the refurbishment works and the loans granted, forced some officials to retire, whereas others prefered to leave Europe.
Works in Prenzlauer Berg area (as well as elsewhere) came to a grinding near-stop.
When President Clinton, together with Secretary Albright, Chancellor Schröder and Minister Fischer had dinner at the Gugelhof restaurant at Kollwitzplatz, real estate agents from literally all around the world discovered Prenzlauer Berg and invested millions. This and a growing number of tourists changed parts of Prenzlauer Berg from a Bohème or "hipster's quartier" to a Paris-in-1920 like chic arrondissement, attracting tourists and wealthy investors alike. As a result, many places are now less vibrant, shops are more mainstream and less adventurous, independant courtyard theaters are rare to non-existent.
I'm not saying that's bad or good per se. It was probably inevitable.
Pros: Prenzlauer Berg has flair. Its' slow-paced yet vibrant, has a large variety of restaurants, clubs and coffeehouses, people are mostly outgoing and relaxed.
Cons: Graffiti. Dirt. Lacks a lake and a park worth to be mentioned.
Near Kollwitzplatz there are two interesting old water towers, the first built in 1856 and the second in 1877. They are nicknamed Thin Hermann and Thick Hermann, and when you see them it will be obvious why they are so named. The first was built and it was quickly realized that it wouldn't meet the water needs of the city, so the second was built. They soon became irrelevant, however. Thick Hermann now is apartments, a good use of the unique and charming building. In 1933 a red flag flag was raised on Thin Herman as a mark of protest against Fascist terror, and since 1990 another red flag has flown to remember this event. The square surrounding the towers is a quiet park setting.
The KulturBrauerei is a building complex created out of an old brewery in PrenzlauerBurg. The fine buildings have been tastefully remodeled to house offices, a restaurant, a multi-screen cinema and cultural centers. The integrity of the old buildings are intact, including even signs that note the prior use of the buildings. Check out the web page for events taking place. It is a fine place to stop as you walk through this fine neighborhood.
At first glance this street may seem similar to others in Prenzlauer Berg, and area that has undergone much renovation and gentrification since reunification. What is different about Husemannstrasse from other streets in former East Berlin is that it was renovated during the DDR with the intention of it being a museum record of old Berlin. City planners imagined that most of the buildings in Prenzlauer Berg would be torn down and replaced with modern apartment blocks, a vision that thankfully never happened. The renovation consisted of fixing up the building facades, while completely remaking the rest of the buildings. They planned on making museums in the buildings set up as period pieces (rather like a colonial Williamsburg in US Virginia, I imagine). There is one hairdressers museum on this street, located at #8, as it would have looked around 1900.
Take note also of the street signs. They are reproductions of street signs from circa 1900, the only ones I've seen in Berlin. The second photo shows one of these signs.
Prenzlauer Berg has fascinating street scenes for anyone interested in the urban landscape. Most of the old buildings have been remodeled in the last ten years, but there are still some that look unchanged since before the fall of the Berlin Wall. A lively cafe' scene and many interesting boutiques and shops provide for interesting things to see and do throughout the day and evening. Highlights include the old Prater Beer Garden and the Kulturbrauerei. It has become increasingly expensive to actually live in Prenzlauer Berg now, but is quite a popular destination for shopping and dining.
The Water Tower in , Prenzlauer Berg was completed in 1877 and is one of the oldest in Berlin and one of the areas well known industrial landmarks. It was constructed to serve the needs of the growing population in the area and contained its own boiler, engine rooms and underground reservior. Its thinner brother was constructed in 1856 and they are known locally as thin and thick Hermann. In 1933 the SA used the towers boiler and engine rooms as a small concentration camp, which is marked by a small commemorative plaque. When the tower was no longer required in 1952 the workers and their families continued to live in the flats around the tower. The tower is still used for accommodation and the grounds have been landscaped and contains a childrens play area.
Just walk around, especially in the afternoon / early evening and see nice stores with second-hand stuff, design clothing, records, and stop from time to time, drinking a beer or wine at one of the nice bars. It's the perfect place for just hanging around.
Don't forget to visit "Kauf dich glucklich", an icecream & coffee place in Oderberger strasse where you can buy the secondhand furniture as well!
Every year on pentacost... Over 180 nations, where immigrants all aver the globe are coming from to Berlin... Celebrate all together in melting pot glory Kreuzberg their heritage and their joy of life .... (to be continnued)
Walking around artistic district of Kreuzberg I could see never ending blocks of old houses built in 18th - 20th century. Many of them were renovated in recent years and looked quite pretty. Typical house had 4 - 5 floors each of 4-5 m high and sometimes beautiful bay-windows and/or balconies.
Berlin and generally European old cities look quite different than younger and more modern cities I could see in the USA. But there are either more European cities in the USA (like San Francisco or downtown of Seattle) and more American cities in Europe (like just Berlin around Potsdamer Platz for example).
In the summers this is my favorite park of all of Berlin, and it is much more enjoyable and interesting than Tiergarten. Where can I begin? I love how there are so many different groups of people hanging out here: turks grilling, aging Kreuzberg punks making out and taking their children to the petting zoo, and fashion victims from any of the local universities posing and strutting around in the giant crater.
Yes, a crater. This park used to be a train station but was bombed in world war 2, so the centerpiece of the park is a giant crater and graffitied bricks. Be sure not to miss the caravan at the far east side of the park, where free thinking Berlin hippies serve good cheap food and feature nice music under colorful wagons.
Go for a walk around the nice Prenzlauer Berg district, nort of Mitte in East-Berlin. There are many record- and bookshops here, as well of many interesting sights. The best thing to do if you have time is to jsut wander around, follow your nose and discover this district.