Templars, Bunkers and Prussian Glory: A Walking Tour of West Kreuzberg
Welcome to Kreuzberg: U-Bahnhof Platz der Luftbrücke
Welcome to the tour of West Kreuzberg. You should be standing outside the Platz der Luftbrücke subway station next to the long, curved facade of a large building – part of the historical Tempelhof Airport. Can you see the large stome eagle on the corner of the building, above the gate passage?
On the corner of the building, above a gate passage, is a large stone eagle.
Hello. My name is Beata. Like 80% of all Berliners Iiving in the inner city, I'm not from Berlin: I moved here in 2003. I'm the author of Berlin's history blog, Kreuzberged, which I turned into a book, called "Notmsparker's Berlin Companion". Notmsparker is me.
I'm also one of those people who cannot help being curious. Where others might see a pavement or a house, I see a question: “Who built it, and why like this? And how can I find out?”
Today, I'd like to take you for a walk through Tempelhofer Vorstadt, literally the suburbs of Tempelhof. This area is part of the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg now. But originally it was the land of the fathers of Tempelhof, which was part of Tempelhof-Schöneberg, and borders on Kreuzberg less than 100m away from here.
Tempelhof was established in the 13th century by the Crusaders, the Knights of the Temple. That's serious history: it makes Tempelhof over 700 years old. By comparison, Kreuzberg wasn't even officially born until 1920.
Despite this, history is something that you literally stumble upon as you walk in Kreuzberg, too: from Kaiser's boulevard, to a forgotten street lost in time; from the cradle of the computer to a wonderful park filled with surprises; from hidden WWII bunkers to 19th-century Berlin at its best.
And from Prussian generals, through the most famous font foundry worldwide, to chocolate.
Right then! Let's begin. Turn so that the curved building is on your right-hand side, and walk to the corner ahead, passing the Nazi Third Reich stone eagle as you walk.
As we go, let me quickly explain how this tour works: the comments play automatically as you move. That means you can put your phone in your pocket and keep walking. I'll tell you where to go.
You can, of course, press "play", "pause" or “stop” yourself. Don't worry about occasional silence. I will be back when you've reached the next stop.
Right on Mehringdamm
Now turn right here, and walk down the hill. Keep the busy road on your left-hand side. Be careful not to walk onto the bike road on the left edge of the pavement, though. Berlin cyclists aren't as careful or understanding as they used to be.
This busy street is Mehringdamm. Most of the time it's full of traffic, noisy and rarely a place to stop and admire the sights. More people should do that, though: it's part of one of the oldest trade routes in Europe.
Mehringdamm was known as Belle-Alliance-Straße before WWII. It was built on an ancient route from the south of Europe to the Baltic Sea. We know this because, as the foundations were being dug for the grand residential buildings on the right side of the road, workers kept finding coins from lands much further south than today's Germany.
It became an impressive, elegant avenue in the 19th century, used by the German Emperor to reach the Tempelhofer Feld, or Tempelhof Field. It's where the famous Berlin inner-city airport was later constructed. We have just met at its northern-most end.
The Kaiser travelled from Berlin City Palace in a coach and at the foot of this hill, he got out and mounted his horse. He allegedly used a large boulder placed there for him to do so.
That's why the restaurant on the corner of Mehringdamm and Kreuzbergstraße was called “Kaiserstein”, or Kaiser's Stone, for well over a century. Don't worry, we will have a look at this restaurant later in the walk.
Carry on going straight. By walking down the hill, you are actually moving north, towards the centre of Berlin. Many people are surprised to hear that Friedrichstraße, one of the best-known streets in Berlin, begins where Mehringdamm ends. It's a long line that cuts through the centre of Berlin from the south to its north.
We're going to keep walking for a while. I'll catch up with you in a moment.
Great! Now, turn left, and at the traffic-lights carefully cross the street. I'll meet you on the other side.
Berlin Police Library
Is the sprawling 1970s building in front of you? Well done then! You are exactly where you should be.
Now turn left and walk slowly back up the street again.
The concrete edifice you are just passing to your right might look rather unexciting – it's hardly anyone's favourite – but in its defence, it's rather special.
It houses a busy Family Centre, where parents can find counselling and support groups, and kids get many play opportunities for free (!).
But first and foremost, it's home to Berlin's Police Library. Its archives are accessible to everyone, and hold the most amazing collection of documents on crime and policing in Berlin since the 18th century.
If you're planning to write a crime novel set in Berlin, this is definitely where you want to go.
For now, carry on walking back up Mehringdamm.
Right, into the park
Walk past the beautiful 19th-century city villa on your right.
Just past the house you'll see a little gate with a large lollipop-like sign, behind the fence.
The gate looks like an entrance to a private garden but it's very much a public path. Walk into the gardens and follow the path to the bench on the left.
The Lost Villas of Herr Munk
You are now inside a former private 19th-century cul-de-sac.
Walk to the stairs on the left side of the slope and stop there.
[3 SECONDS PAUSE]
Can you see the stone slabs strewn near the bottom of the big hollow? Small kids coming to the playground love to use them for climbing.
These slabs are the only thing that's left of a marvellous villa built there in the 1870s by a man called Paul Munk. It was a replica of the famous Villa d'Este in Rome. Those stone slabs were the stairs leading to the house, which used to stand further to your left.
[1.5 SECOND PAUSE]
Now walk carefully down the slope using the steps.
The hollow you're descending into is a former sandpit, closed down in the 1860s. Local housewives and servants came here to buy sand for washing the dishes and scrubbing floors. So did construction workers: sand was necessary to build the fast-growing city.
Then the hole got too big and the threat of a landslide too serious. Further digging threatened the stability of a huge brewery at Viktoriapark, the Tivoli Brewery, which we will be passing soon.
Now stop for a moment again.
After closing, the sandpit was to get a new life: elegant Italian-style villas with gardens for the well-heeled clients from Berlin were to be built. The place was named "Wilhelmshöhe" or William's Heights. Unfortunately, the idea was only partly realised: the deep financial crisis of the 1870s hit and out of 40 villas, only 21 were built.
Later, damaged in WWII air-raids, most of the houses were demolished.
The pond with a fountain vanished, too. This is where the playground is today.
Okay, let's continue. Turn around and walk towards the small fence surrounding the children's play area. Can you see a little swing-gate there? Go through that gate. Then turn right and follow the narrow street away from the park, behind the giant sycamore tree.
Carry on following the narrow street, past the giant sycamore tree. That tree is over 150 years old and was planted in Paul Munk's days.
We're about to see an original Wilhelmshöhe villa, a house which looks like something taken out of a dream or a film-set.
You cannot miss Villa Lindenberg – it's exceptionally beautiful and in an exceptionally bad condition. Still, its owners hang onto it even though they cannot afford the renovation of what is a listed building. But then again, can you blame them?
Have you spotted it yet? It's the large structure looming above you on the left-hand side of the road.
After you have enjoyed a good look at this glorious, mysterious-looking relic from the past, just keep following the small road.
[3 SECOND PAUSE]
The little street you're walking on, Wilhelmshöhe, is rather special: most people, even those who live in its proximity, don't even know it exists. Hardly anyone apart from its residents and the guests of the municipal Family Centre ever uses it.
Even fewer realise that it was home to a group of wonderful 19th-century villas. One of the houses which stood there was the first seat of the Nazi film censorship office in the early 1930s, known as Abteilung VII. It was replaced by the spreading 1970s architecture of the Police Library. Keep walking to the end of the street. I'll see you there!
From Wilhelmshöe to Where the Computer Was Born
You're back on the busy Mehringdamm again. Make a U-turn at the railing on your left and walk along the asphalt lane running through the small park.
The Nazi film censorship office was later moved to Goebbels's Propaganda and Public Enlightenment Ministry. But many of the films produced or screened in Nazi Germany have the address 38 Belle-Alliance-Straße in their papers.
The old film censorship office was badly damaged in a series of air-raids during WWII and demolished after 1945. There's no trace of it left apart from some papers and envelopes.
Practically all houses built by Paul Munk had a double address. Depending on which side of the cul-de-dac they stood, they'd also be subscribed to the street behind it, Methfesselstraße, or to today's Mehringdamm.
Keep following the pathway through the park. I'll meet you at the road ahead.
Right on Methfesselstrasse
Turn right on this cobbled road and keep walking.
We're going to see the place where the first working programmable computer in the world was built. It was created by Konrad Zuse, a German engineer, and was known as Zuse 3, or Z3.
Zuse hated long calculations, which is kind of ironic. This was exactly his job at a big German aeroplane maker, Henschel. He left the company and in 1938 he constructed his first computer.
This large, fully automatic calculating machine took up most of the space in his parents' living room.
Carry on following the road.
Konrad Zuse and the First Computer in the World
Okay, please stop here and look to your left.
The Zuse family lived in a building which stood where the tall hedge across the road stands now – the house was hit in an air-raid and burnt down. But this is where Zuse began his engineering career. Stay here while I tell you a little about him.
In order to build his machine, Zuse deprived his parents both of their living room AND of a vacuum cleaner: he removed its engine and used it to power the computer. The construction was quite crude – Zuse and his partner, Helmut Schreyer, made most of the elements themselves. Still, the computer worked.
Well, sort of: the poor quality of the home-made elements caused the computer to jam and "freeze". Never mind. It was a breakthrough: the machine used exactly the same 1:0 true-false system which is used in our computers, tablets and, yes, smartphones today.
His next machine, Zuse 2, was an improvement. But it was Zuse 3, assembled in the building which used to stand directly to your right, that earned him eternal fame. See that white porcelain plaque under the ivy? It commemorates Zuse and his work.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
When you've had a look at the plaque, cross the street towards the hedge I've just pointed out. I'll meet you there.
Okay, now stop here for a moment.
This lush green hedge has another story to tell: it's a vineyard.
It's admittedly small but respectfully ancient: wine has been produced on this site since the Middle Ages!
The Templars from Tempelhof saw the sandy slope and grabbed the opportunity. They did the same in today's Schöneberg and Neukölln. It wasn't until the 18th century that extreme winters killed all the plants.
The grapevines returned in the 1990s, and bottles of Kreuz-Neroburger can be obtained in exchange for a donation at the local town hall.
[1,5 SECOND PAUSE]
Now turn left and walk back up the street. As you walk, I'll tell you a little story about Zuse and his next computer, the Z4.
Zuse's original Z3 was destroyed by a bomb which hit the house where it was built. To save his next machine from the same fate, he arranged to get it out of Berlin.
By 1944 Berlin was experiencing regular air-raids, so Zuse had to act fast. It verged on a miracle but he managed to get a shipping permit. Then he and his helpers brought the crates holding the machine to the station, and began loading them onto a train.
But they were stopped by military guards.
Zuse presented all necessary papers and hoped for the best. In vain. The guards wouldn't budge. A loud word-exchange followed, and a passing high-rank Nazi officer stopped and demanded an explanation. Zuse produced his official permit again and told the man he was allowed to put that machine on the train.
The officer quickly skimmed the document and his face went white. He returned the papers to Zuse, screamed at the soldiers to load the crates asap and, having saluted, quickly left the platform. Zuse's computer reached Göttingen a couple of days later.
But what actually happened at Görlitz Railway Station back in Berlin? Well, Konrad Zuse never called his own machines anything like Zuse 3 or Z4 – he called them Versuchsprojekt, meaning test project. And that's what he put in the papers, using an abbreviation.
But the officer assumed that the letter V referred to a super-secret Nazi rocket-missiles project carried by German engineers at the Baltic Sea in Pennemünde. V1 and V2 were meant to wipe London or even New York off the face of the earth.
V4 sounded highly explosive, and the officer didn't want to get in the line of fire.
Continue walking straight.
Turn right before the round red-brick tower ahead of you and walk up the asphalt road.
That tower is Sixtusvilla, originally a restaurant opened by the brewery it belonged to. Remember? It's the one which threatened to collapse if people continued to dig sand in the hollow. The upper floors became a private flat for the brewery's director, Johannes Sixtus. Hence the name.
Keep walking up the hill towards the memorial.
Congratulations, by the way: you are walking up the highest natural elevation in central Berlin, the Kreuzberg Hill: 66 MASL. Viktoriapark was built in 1888-94, and is entirely artificial. Every single tree or bush or flower was planted on purpose. Ditto all stones. Originally, the hill was nothing but another heap of sand, pushed this far by a glacier before it stopped. Several summer houses were built on the hill in the early 19th century, but most of it remained barren. Hegel, the philosopher, died of cholera in one of these houses in 1831.
The National Memorial for Wars of Liberation was installed here in 1821. Trees were planted around it to offer shade to visitors. This turned the area into one of the most popular excursion destinations for Berliners of all classes. Sixty years later the monarch decided it was time to stop the shenanigans and show the memorial more respect. Following the example of other European capitals, he decided to have it surrounded by a park.
The park's designer, Hermann Mächtig, was told to create something extraordinary. Something to go well with the history of Prussian victories, with heroic, manly deeds. So he went to the Great Mountains in today's Silesia in Poland and had a thorough look around. Then he returned to re-create almost the same landscape he had encountered there, but on this sandy hill in Berlin. He even brought along the stone he needed for his waterfall and other features.
Hermann Mächtig did a splendid job: the park was perfect. It was named after Victoria, Queen Victoria's daughter and wife of Kaiser Friedrich III. Visitors were delighted with its rocky slopes, with dozens of little brooks and a pond at the bottom of the most real-looking, artificial waterfall in European history.
Keep walking. We're on our way to see it now.
Now turn right. Can you see the small wooden railing? Walk up to it and stop there for a second, to take a look at the waterfall below.
Don't be disappointed if there's no water in it. The Viktoriapark Waterfall is only switched on for summer but it's an amazing example of human ingenuity even when dry.
It's entirely man-made: every single stone or rock was put there to create a wild-looking cascade. When it was switched on for the first time on October 14, 1893, the crowds were beyond themselves with joy and admiration for its makers.
Originally, it held 26000 litres of water. But even today, when "only" 13,000 litres fall down its 24-metre length, the waterfall is a sight to behold.
It is also great when dry: joggers love it, as do parcour runners and kids on crisp winter days.
Look ahead of you: from here you can see the towering and almost identical belfries of the French and the German Churches at Gendarmenmarkt, exactly 2.7 km north of here.
The panorama of central Berlin lies before you. When you're ready to move on again, turn away from the waterfall. Then walk to the stairs of the memorial, and go up to the top.
Prussian National Monument for the Liberation Wars
Let's take a short break to explore the memorial.
It commemorates the great victorious battles Prussia fought against Napoleon, the hated horse-thief from Paris.
Why horse-thief? Napoleon, the French Emperor, took Berlin's Quadriga as war booty in 1806. The Berlin Quadriga is the famous statue of a four-horse chariot from the Brandenburg Gate. Luckily for Prussia, the Arch of Triumph he had built for it in Paris remained empty – the Quadriga returned to Berlin in 1814.
After Napoleon's demise, King Friedrich Wilhelm III ordered Berlin's über- architect, Schinkel, to create a war memorial and make it BIG.
Luckily, Schinkel managed to convince the monarch that the neo-Gothic cathedral he originally wished to see on top of the hill was not the best idea.
Just imagine what would have happened: a massive cathedral and all that sand...
The king changed his mind and agreed to something smaller: a 200-tonne cast-iron construction, originally 19 m tall, now 27 m.
Why the difference? Nearly 60 years after it was unveiled in 1821, the memorial was raised by 8 m to improve its visibility.
In this memorial everything is about the cross, or the Kreuz: it's shaped like a cross to start with; there's a cross on top of it and you will find crosses all over the memorial, too.
Its four arms are fitted with three niches, each housing a genius of a victorious Prussian battle. The names of chief battles are written in gold. You might be surprised not to see Waterloo among them. It's there, of course, but under the name chosen for the event by General Blücher, the commander of the Prussian army at Waterloo.
Unlike the Duke of Wellington, the English army's commander, he went for the name of the estate used by Napoleon as his HQ during the battle: Belle Alliance. Remember? That was also the pre-war name of Mehringdamm, the street where we met.
Belle Alliance is symbolized by Alexandra Fyodorovna, Tsarin of Russia, who stands in the front niche facing the south. She's the one wearing a dress with a ribbon on which all geniuses on Schinkel's memorial were embroidered. The Tsarin was Charlotte of Prussia, King Friedrich Wilhelm III's daughter.
Her mother, the beloved Prussian queen, Luise, stands in the front niche to her left. She symbolises Paris, the ultimate humiliation for Napoleon who had humiliated the Queen before. Luise asked Napoleon for the return of the Quadriga to Berlin, among others. But as we know, the answer was "Non!"
Several years later, in 1814, the Quadriga was brought back. Luise had been dead for 4 years. That's why Christian Daniel Rauch, the artist behind Luise's statue, equipped her with two objects – both missing today.
Queen Luise used to hold a small replica of Berlin's Quadriga in her right hand and a sceptre with a cross and a Prussian eagle on it in the left one. By the way, the Kreuz stood for the highest German military decoration, the Iron Cross, first introduced by Luise's husband.
Both objects in the queen's hands were stolen sometime in the 1950s during the renovation of the memorial. It's still pretty unclear how anyone could remove such heavy objects without attracting anyone's attention.
On the other hand, we must remember that in the 1950s both the park and Berlin were still in ruins.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Now walk down to the foot of the memorial. When you get to the bottom turn left and walk half around the memorial's base, so that the waterfall is behind you. Then follow the pathway ahead, leading away from the waterfall and passing the memorial on your left.
Away from the Memorial
That's it, you're on the right track.
Just keep heading straight down the pathway. I'll catch up with you in a moment.
The Other Viktoriapark
Now turn right.
You should pass a small curved concrete nook with wooden benches on your right-hand side. That's the edge of the old park.
You've just entered the other part of Viktoriapark. It was created between 1913 and 1916 by Albert Brodersen, Berlin's Head Gardener, who took over from Hermann Mächtig.
Brodersen was commissioned to convert a former army exercise ground in Katzbachstraße, the street to your left, into a park.
He went for an English park, instead: plenty of lawns, plenty of light, a playground and, in the western corner, an orchestra terrace with public toilets neatly hidden under the elevated stage.
Carry on walking.
Carry on Straight
At this intersection, just keep heading straight.
The park's construction began in 1913, when all was good in the world. But a year later, WWI broke out. Soon money was a problem.
The population of Berlin suffered increasing poverty and hunger. Everything was needed for the war effort – food, clothes, materials, money, manpower. Brodersen wasn't sure if he would be able to finish the project.
He continued to work in the belief that a sunny, leisurely day in a park might be exactly what the women and children left behind by soldiers might need.
The park opened in 1916.
Less than 30 years later another world war would wreak havoc in it.
Keep walking down the slope. When you reach the bottom, I'll tell you what happened.
Now stop here, where your path crosses a wider asphalt lane. Turn around to face the top of the meadow again.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Can you see the funny shape this little field has? English parks are about English lawns and English lawns are not often hilly. Brodersen knew that and kept its surface nicely flat and only gently undulating.
But in 1944, air-raids became Berlin's daily bread. A Nazi military engineering corpse called Organisation Todt arrived to build a system of bunkers and tunnels under the Kreuzberg Hill for the civilians in the neighbourhood.
Some of the tunnels were wide enough to allow a small train engine to pass. The work was done by Russian slave-workers from Blücherplatz, where the American Memorial Library stands today.
No-one knows how many facilities were built in the end. Only those who actually used them to hide from the bombs remembered them after the war.
The biggest bunker was found under that meadow. The lawn owes its irregular shape to the subterranean shelter's entrance. Both exploring its contents and removing it would be too costly. So after uncovering approximately 100m of it in 1983, it was filled with sand and sealed again.
Just like all the other bunkers and tunnels under Viktoriapark. Including the one which was accessed through a hole made right under a kindergarten you passed in Methfesselstraße.
A persistent rumour has been around since 1945 that a secret Nazi tunnel connects Viktoriapark with the Tempelhof Airport. Allegedly, you can walk from under the memorial to under the airport. There is a tunnel under the memorial, indeed – or rather enormous beer cellars. Precious moulds for Berlin's artworks such as the Quadriga were kept there. But does it really end where the legend says? We don't know.
Now, if you're still facing back up the path, towards the meadow, turn left. Then walk down the wide asphalt lane, passing a little pond on your right. Depending on the season, it might be dry now, too.
On your left you will pass an overgrown small section of the park with several benches. In 1938 it was the only part of Viktoriapark which Jews were allowed to visit and the benches were so-called Judenbänke, Jewish benches. They were not allowed to sit anywhere else.
The red-brick building with colourful roof you're passing on your left used to be where the park's director lived. There are probably some goats staring at you from the garden.
The other brick building behind it is the pump-house, where the machinery responsible for the running of the waterfall was installed.
Imagine what a spectacular thing it must have been to see all that water come tumbling down the hill, pounding the rocks and splashing the sides. For someone who had no bathroom to speak of, no running water and shared a very basic toilet with all neighbours and their families, this was the pinnacle of technical progress.
The Bengali lights illuminating the waterfall were switched on for the first time on May 31, 1914. Being there must have been an absolutely unforgettable thing.
Keep walking straight down the lane.
Left to Kreuzbergstraße
Now turn left, and walk to the road.
[3 SECOND PAUSE]
When you get there, turn right, and walk straight ahead.
A Rare Catch
See this lovely sculpture on your right, adorning the pond at the foot of Viktoriapark waterfall? Stop in front of it.
It's called "A Rare Catch", by Ernst Herter. It was made for Viktoriapark and was unveiled on this spot in 1896.
It's very popular with park visitors and with locals, who sometimes play little jokes by getting one or both characters dressed up in different period clothes. Which is, of course, absolutely illegal, or "verbotten".
But if you're lucky they might be sporting some interesting garb. Like a swimming suit and goggles.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Now turn around, facing away from the statue. See the road leading away from you? We're going to head down there next.
So cross the street at the traffic light and make your way down it. Time to visit Großbeerenstraße.
Just keep your eye on the cyclists, regardless of the lights. It's sad but true: some of them should not be allowed to ride anything bigger than a toddler's tricycle.
Walk straight down the street. You might want to look behind you now and then – you'll have a pretty good view of the waterfall.
Großbeerenstraße is what you saw from the top of the waterfall: a straight road leading to the city centre.
Großbeeren was where in 1813 Napoleon's retreating troops took the rap for invading Prussia. It's also one of the battles commemorated on top of the Kreuzberg.
Around here, as far street-names go, it's all about armies, victories and heroic deeds in the Napoleonic Wars.
The primary school to your left was built where one of Berlin's oldest street-tram depots used to be. It opened in 1893 as a horse-drawn omnibus depot, but switched to electric power already three years later.
This became possible thanks to Werner Siemens, the founder of one of the greatest engineering companies in the world. His first factory, Siemens & Halske, was established not far from here, in Kreuzberg.
Siemens built the first electric tram in history and opened the first electric tram line in Berlin-Lichterfelde in 1881. A couple of months later he had an electric tram line built at Place de la Concorde at the International Electricity Exhibition in Paris. It was welcomed with glee.
Berlin had electrified most of its tram lines by the end of the 19th century.
Several of them started at the depot at Viktoriapark and ran down this street.
It must have been quite something to be standing at the back of a tram moving north, looking at the park and the waterfall becoming smaller and smaller behind you.
Sadly, West Berlin got rid of its tram network after WWII. That's why there are almost no trams west of the Brandenburg Gate. This might change soon, however.
Cross Hagelberger Street
Okay, we're going to turn right here, but we want to be on the other side of the street.
Can you see the shop on the corner opposite you, with the sign above the door saying 'Antiquariat'? That's where I'll meet you.
So carefully make your way across the street, and head over to it.
Living in Berlin: From the Back of the Courtyard to Riehmers Hofgarten
Now turn right and keep walking, passing the Antiquariat on your left. Stay on the left-hand side of the street.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
As you go, look at the buildings to your right.
These are typical Berliner Mietskasernen, Berlin residential blocks. They were built in the second half of the 19th century. These are the older type, mostly less than standard 22 m and with very small courtyards – big enough to operate a fire-hose mounted on a small fire brigade wagon, and not a centimetre more.
Land was expensive and it was about to get even more pricey. Especially here, in Tempelhofer Vorstadt, where old fields and meadows were being turned into profitable businesses of land speculation and housing construction.
You could get rich then. Like Wilhelm August Ferdinand Riehmer, whose dream project you are about to see.
Carry on walking straight.
Left, Through the Gate
Now turn left and walk through the gate leading to the small cobbled lane.
Herr Riehmer and his Never-Never Land
Please stop. I'll give you some important background information.
Mietskasernen, or residential blocks, you've just seen in Hagelbergstraße were the most common type of architecture in Berlin of the 1870s to early 1900s.
They were fast to build, not too expensive and brought nice profits if you played your game right.
Such houses were constructed following a principle which came to be known as "Kreuzberger Mischung", Kreuzberg Mix: large, mostly elegantly decorated flats at the front of the house for middle-class tenants while the rear house at the back of the courtyard, as well as the side wings, were for poor tenants.
The idea was that the social mix would benefit both sides: the Vorderhaus tenants would use the services of their poorer neighbours from the cheaper flats. In exchange they could provide them with articles they no longer needed, like clothes or furniture or food.
That was the ideal which people like James Hobrecht strove to create. He was responsible for Berlin's urban planning in mid-19th century, and created the city's strict, binding land-use plan.
It worked only to some degree. Hobrecht-Plan was part of the problem: what was not on it, had no right to exist. Streets were marked on the plan long before anything was built around them. New architecture had to be squeezed into the marked spaces.
Enter Wilhelm Riehmer, a clever and wealthy master mason, who wanted to build a middle-class paradise: with front-of-the-house flats only. How do you do that?
To make sure all tenants have windows facing the street, you build extra streets.
But what was not on Hobrecht-Plan could not be built.
It took Riehmer many years and plenty of money to overcome the hurdle. In the end he was permitted to create private roads separated from the official streets by gates.
That was enough.
The buildings, designed by a local architect, all had Vorderhaus flats and although the floor-plans were rather simple and the apartments not very big, they appeared to be much grander.
They also had own bathrooms, a novelty by all means.
[1,5 SECOND PAUSE]
Now slowly walk down the cobble-stone road cutting through the trees and stone buildings. This is Riehmers Hofgarten.
These facades did it. Anyone looking at Riehmer's houses was impressed by the exquisite decorations, care for detail, and refined taste. That influenced the rent.
Tenants, all of them financially stable, were prepared to pay more for the appearance of grandeur. Anyone living here thought of themselves as somebody. And so did others. Perception is reality.
It didn't matter that the facades were bricks covered with plaster-work. Or that the impressive bas-reliefs and statues could crumble if pressed too hard. Or that everything around here was made to create an impression of much higher social status.
And this status required that each family had a servant. Lack of one was a reason to re-consider the lease.
But where do you keep a servant in a flat that's hardly big enough for a family of five or seven?
The answer is, in a box. Hängeboden, literally hanging floor, was like a wardrobe nailed to the ceiling in the corridor or in the kitchen, with an opening on one side and a ladder. Servants climbed into it to sleep. They couldn't stand up straight in it and often shared it with someone. It was the only private space they had.
You will still find them in many Berlin flats until today. They are mostly used as storage rooms.
Keep walking, heading for the gate behind the only large modern-looking building around.
Through the Archway
Walk through the archway ahead, to the street on the other side.
Yorckstrasse and Generals' Boulevard
Turn right here, and walk towards the next big crossing.
The street is called Yorckstraße. General Yorck was one of the heroes commemorated on the Memorial in Viktoriapark.
This street is part of a long line of boulevards called Generalszug, or Generals' Boulevards, which starts at Breitscheidplatz in Charlottenburg, where Berlin's famous half-ruined Kaiser-Wilhelm-Memorial-Church stands. They travel through Schöneberg to Südstern, which is a Kreuzberg church and square almost exactly 1.5 km from here.
They were named in honour of the heroes of the Prussian wars against Napoleon. The names were announced in 1864 and the boulevards, with tiny adjustments, built in 1880.
You probably know Berlin's most famous department store, the KaDeWe? It's in Tauentzienstraße, where the Generalszug begins. General Tauentzien led the Prussian army into the battle of Wittenberg. That's why the next square is called Wittenbergplatz.
Behind it the line continues with Kleiststraße: General von Kleist was the commander in chief during the battles of Kulm and Nollendorf. That's why there's a square called Nollendorfplatz.
The name of the hero is always followed by the name of the place where his chief battle took place. General Bülow, of Bülowstraße, fought and won near Dennewitz – so, Dennewitzstraße.
The original plan was messed up by the old Potsdamer and Anhalter Goods Railway Stations, today's Gleisdreieckpark. Blücherstraße, honouring General Blücher, of all people, was to follow. But it never did.
I will explain why in a moment.
Keep walking straight.
Back across Mehringdamm
Now carefully cross the intersection ahead.
As I said, the original, carefully designed plan for Generalszug was spoilt at its most crucial point placed in today's Gleisdreieckpark: at Blücherstraße and Wahlstattplatz. Blücher was Prince of Wahlstatt.
But it suddenly found itself chopped into pieces by railway tracks. So it was moved. Twice.
Today it's over 1km away from where it was originally planned.
I'll meet you on the other side of the road.
You're on the corner of Mehringdamm and Gneisenaustraße now. Turn right and continue down Mehringdamm.
[3 SECOND PAUSE]
I have told you before that the old Belle-Alliance-Straße had quite a past. You are about to see its two other chapters.
Coming up on your left is a house with an old façade and with two female statues guarding the entrance. The courtyards behind this house used to belong to what was once the biggest and most famous type foundry in the world.
Berthold AG was established in 1858 in Wilhelmstraße 1, at today's Mehringplatz some 500 m away from here. They produced fonts, or leaden letters used for printing. Ten years later they moved to Belle-Alliance-Straße.
Their foundry soon had branches in many other European cities. You could say that most of European newspapers and posters printed at the time used at least one Berthold typeface.
Some of those fonts are well known and used until today: for example, Hermann Berthold created Akzidenz-Grotesque in 1896, and it's still the official typeface of the American Red Cross. All US Red Cross brochures and signs are printed using a Mehringdamm font.
Here's a familiar-sounding name for you: Fett Trump Deutsch is another Berthold typeface. It was designed by Georg Trump, a font designer, in 1936. Whether Georg Trump was the current US President's relative is not known.
Ok, we have talked bricks, mortar and lead – now let us talk about chocolate.
Keep walking straight. We'll sink our teeth into that in a moment.
Into Sarotti Chocolate Factory
We're going to keep walking down this street in the moment, but first let's make a quick detour.
Find the entrance at No. 55 or 57 on your left – one of the two is always open. Then walk though it into the courtyard on the other side. I'll meet you there.
Sarotti Chocolate Factory
Stop here, and have a proper look around.
You have entered the Sarotti-Höfe, Sarotti Yards.
This was probably the best-smelling place in Berlin of the late 19th and early 20th century. Not such an obvious thing, mind you.
You can walk around, but mind the occasional vehicle.
Sarotti still exists, by the way – the shop at the front of the house in Mehringdamm stands as proof. It has produced high-quality, scrumptious chocolate and pralines since mid-19th century.
Their first shop was called "Felix & Sarotti" and was in Friedrichstraße. It provided pricey sweets to well-to-do citizens from all around Berlin. But the sinful delights were not home-made – they were mostly French imports.
The shop changed owners in 1881. One Hugo Hoffmann, professional confectioner, moved it to Mohrenstraße, a side-street of the former address.
There, he dropped "Felix", leaving only "Sarotti" for the name, and started his own production of delicious chocolates and cacao drinks. They were an immediate hit.
Two years passed and the business was booming. A new location was needed to accommodate the people and the machines. Hoffmann found room for both in Belle-Alliance-Strasse 81, the pre-WWII address.
It soon expanded to No. 82 and 83 as well.
The chocolate isn't made in Kreuzberg anymore. The company moved to Tempelhof in 1913, and these beautiful factory buildings were taken over by other businesses: by printers, carpenters, tailors and even by a factory making false-teeth.
In 1936, part of the site was taken over by the Nazis, the local NSDAP Group "Gneisenau". They used it as a storage for film materials, which were most probably censored a couple of hundred of metres further south, in the infamous villa in Wilhelmshöhe.
Today Sarotti-Höfe are home to several companies and workshops as well as a lovely little hotel with a very pleasant cafe at the front. It serves, of course, Sarotti hot chocolate to drink.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Now let's carry on going. Head back to the street we came from. When you get there, turn left and keep walking, going in the same direction as we were going before. We're almost at the end of our time together.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
The "Sarotti" logo is a flag-waving Moor in harem pants and a turban. You can see it on one of the facade walls in Sarotti-Höfe. It has been the company's symbol since 1918. However, it had to be updated to get rid of its heavy colonial connotations without getting rid of the logo itself.
Over the years the "Sarotti-Mohr" became the "Sarotti Wizard of the Senses" and his skin underwent a quick brightening process: it went from black (or rather, chocolate-brown) to golden. The tray he used to hold was replaced by a handful of stardust. Or a flag.
The logo might be different, more politically correct, but the Sarotti chocolate is just as delicious as it was before.
Carry on walking down the street.
As you walk, look far ahead, across the intersection.
Can you see the beautiful old building on the right side, with round bays and two black turrets?
That's where the famous Kaiserstein is said to have been, a boulder used by the Kaiser to mount his horse.
The restaurant of the same name was a popular Nazi venue from 1918 till the 1980s, and was visited by the old troops.
Its cellars were used to imprison and torture local Nazi-opponents in 1933.The toilet doors there are still the original prison doors.
But, luckily, the restaurant itself is a different place today.
Carry on straight.
Stop here. This is it, the end of our tour.
To get back to the U-Bahn station "Platz der Luftbrücke" where we began our walk, just cross the street in front of you, called Bergmannstraße, and keep walking straight ahead.
But if you have time on your hands and feel like exploring the city on your own, Bergmannstraße and its side streets are a wonderful place to continue the walk.
It offers a glimpse into both the past and the present. Take the second street on the right to get to Chamissokiez: one of the best preserved inner city areas in Berlin.
Make sure to explore this neighbourhood with its intact 19th-century architecture. There are plenty of good places to have something to drink or to eat around here, too.
I hope you enjoyed both the walk and the stories I told you.
If you are interested in finding out more, you are most welcome to contact me. I'm always pleased to answer questions from people who, like me, are into Berlin and into history.
I've put my email address in the description of this tour, so you know where to find me.
Good bye then and, perhaps, see you on another tour!