Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
It is truly amazing how many things go unnoticed only because we do not look up. Or we do but Nature failed to equip us with 24x Über-zoom with Zeiss lenses that allow you to look the flies on top of the Brandenburger Tor deeeep in the eyes – a mistake surely, but nothing that evolution couldn´t fix for us if we really, really want it.
Being half blind (yes, officially certified, thank you) I am more than happy to use the power of the lenses wherever I can. I have done it again this morning in Blücherstrasse. I finally wanted to know what the top of the facade of the house number 39 was like: unable to see sharp, I could still tell there were some decorative elements on offer. I directed the lenses at the edge of the roof and started zooming in. It was only then that I noticed that numbers 39 and 38 are in fact identical, the only difference being that Nr 38 has been carefully and lovingly renovated while Nr 39 is still waiting for its frog to be given a nice, big smacker. Here you can see how the roof on the left is very much in need of some lifting and how the general “make-up” retouch is called for.
I do not know much about the history of those two houses but in 1888, when our house was already celebrating its second birthday, they were still under construction. Until 1864 Blücherstrasse used to be called Pionierstrasse (and before that Pionierweg) but was re-christened to honour the impossibly named Gebhardt Leberecht General von Blücher (at Waterloo he and General Wellington, the one of them rubber boots, gave Napoleon something to think about on his long way to Saint Helena). The military element in Kreuzberg was very strong at the time and none the less in Blücherstrasse itself: the front windows of Nr 38 and 39 were looking onto one of the biggest Kaserne (army barracks) in the borough, at number 47/48. I am sure the female residents were thrilled to pass their afternoons looking at the best of what Prussia had to offer do its daily drill…
The old address book for 1888 where those two houses are still entered as “under construction” contains an interesting piece of information. Nr 37 and 38 were owned by one and the same person, a certain Herr Klein, Maurermeister (head mason, just like Wilhelm Riehmer) of Plan Ufer 38. Nr 39 in Blücherstrasse, on the other hand, belonged to Herr Boll, Buchdruckereibesitzer (owner of a book printing house). My question was: if I were building two houses at two consecutive street numbers and were a head mason to boot, would I have two differently looking buildings constructed or would I go for a mirror image effect and have both look the same? The answer seems rather obvious. But then why did Herr Klein have each house (37 and 38) designed in a different style? Why copy his neighbour´s ideas or sell his own to him? Why bother?
Now, I realise this is possibly not what you´d call a significant and profound query or what most people would ask themselves when passing Blücherstrasse at 9.13 on Tuesday morning. However that is exactly how my brain works. It needs to know. It demands answers. And either you find out or it is going to wake you up at 6 am (well, the kids are going to wake you up before 6 am but your brain won´t boot until past the hour anyway) and ask again. So you must obey and feed the monster. Allegedly, as a child I rarely asked “why?” and I seem to be making up for it in my mid-life quite splendidly.
But compulsive researching aside, there might be two possible explanations here: one would be that the street numbers were changed after parts of the street were treated with some un-friendly fire and decorated with a heavy confetti of missiles casually strewn around Kreuzberg by the Allied airforce. And voila! The theory seems to hold water: between today´s numbers 37 and 38 a little intruder of 37a cropped up. Which makes Herr Boll´s house with the original number 39 go down one peg and be henceforth (also in 2011) number 38… And yes, I know I lost you as my audience somewhere past the “un-friendly-fire” but I can´t stop anyway. Compulsion, you see…
So as not to scare you off as my reader for good, I will only say this: the houses are twins and did belong to one and the same person. But neither Herr Klein nor Herr Boll. Not even a year later the latter sold his parcel to another investor called Beer (Banquier, Potsdamerstraße 22b), whose Sparschwein even after this expenditure still held enough money to buy him the next address as well – today´s Nr 40. And so it was Herr Beer who ordered both buildings and it is to him that I owe yet another bout of my researching madness.