Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
What a wonderful thing a coincidence is. All of your planning and anticipating and prediciting might go to hell if the circumstances are not right. Something I had been trying to do before did not work out because I – in a way – was told to go to hell. The tenants of the building in question refused to let me in. But then, months later Fate popped by and fixed things for me. I was allowed to enter the place I had been craving to see and never thought would have a chance to visit.
There is this house in Fontanepromenade you might know. It´s been standing there for exactly 105 years and still lots of people pass it by daily unaware of its existence. Designed by Johannes Kraaz and erected in 1906 as a Verwaltungsgebäude (a seat of some administrative body or other) it lived through both world wars and through the Sanierung madness of the 1970s and 1980s, when plenty of stunning houses were either torn down or stripped of their former beauty by having their decorative facades chipped off and grimly smoothened. Number 15 was left untouched but even as a listed building which it is, in the last decades it has not been taken much care of either. In those years Baudenkmal Nummer 09031208 was occupied by the Church of Christ community (or the Mormons) and served as their temple. But those days are over, too and the church has left Fontanepromenade 15. The building has been sold and is being shelled out of the spiritual content as we speak. And I´ll tell you one thing: if their spiritual devotion was anything like their cleaning skills, then no wonder they had to go… Clean on the outside, messy under the surface.
That seems to be a very apt description for the house itself, too. Its history is long but not a very proud one. Few people still remember the nickname Fontanepromenade was given during the last war: Schikanepromenade. The Persecution Esplanade. And the source of the Schikanen was the house itself: from December 1938 till 1943 it was the seat of the Zentrale Dienststelle für Juden, the main job office for Jews living in Berlin. Since the gradual but steady introduction the Nazi Aryan Paragraphs excluding Jews from holding public offices and later on from working independently at all, the names of all Jewish citizens, but also of those married to a Jewish person or of the so called Geltungsjuden Mischlinge (children born out of such marriages and whose non-Jewish parent remained Christian and had their children raised in Christian faith) were collected there. It was the Fontanepromenade job office that sent Berlin Jews to do the jobs that were unfit for the master race: road-building, laying railways, unloading tons of coal, cleaning the worst scum. The Zentrale Dienststelle was also the place were those among the Jews and Jewish families who survived until the end of January 1943 were called to appear on February 27th. That day marks the beginning of the Fabrik-Aktion or Evakuierungsaktion as the Nazis preferred to call it. During not much longer than a month almost all still living Jewish people (or those married to Jews) were rounded up at their homes, their workplaces (whose owners and managers had been informed about the planned events long beforehand) or directly at the Zentrale Dienststelle in Fontanepromenade 15 and sent to two places: Auschwitz-Birkenau or Theresienstadt…
Only very few Jews survived those days. Most of them because their non-Jewish wives saved their and their children´s lives by protesting in front of the place many of them were kept at: Rosenstrasse. Almost all of those whom the Nazi administration ordered being sent to other Sammelstellen (collecting points): two more in Mitte, two in Moabit and one in Reinickendorf never returned. And almost all of their names were known to and “processed by” the people working in Fontanepromenade 15.