Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


Today´s post takes us back in time to the days far back before the city transportation system, Landwehrkanal or running water were considered a possibility (not that anyone bothered). We are going to Johannistisch.


Ludwig Späth, the great-grandson of Christoph Späth is born. His family own one of the largest and most successful market-gardens in Prussia or, and it can be said without much exaggeration, in Europe. Ludwig´s tiger lily bulbs, thousands of them, are sent to France to add a touch of this certain je ne sais quoi to the republican, post-revolutionary gardens as well as to the still fresh graves of the noblesse.

The family business started by Christoph Späth in 1720 moved in 1760 to the new location in Köpenicker Strasse 154 from a lovely patch of land behind Hallesches Tor, where it remained for the first 40 years of its existence. In 1863 Ludwig´s son will buy a much bigger piece of land on the corner of Rudower- and Britzer Weg, where the Spätsche market-garden operates until today.

Am Johannistisch, for that was the original address of the gardens, was a patch of land which since 1312 (or, according some other sources, 1318) was the property of the Order of Saint John. Die Johanniter or the Hospitallers as they are known until today took over the old Templars´(The Knights of The Temple) principality stretching far south of Hallesches Tor. The order of the Templars lost all of its possessions after its bloody demise at the hands of Philip The Beautiful of France. By the way, it is worth knowing that today´s Tempelhof owes its name to them: to the knights of one of the oldest European orders. Both the Templars and the Johanniter gained their immense wealth and their position through the infamous Christian Crusades to the Holy Land of Jerusalem.

But back to Berlin-Kreuzberg: according to the legend, which as with all legends might or might not be true, the order´s workers toiling in the nearby fields used to take meals in the shade of a big old tree growing somewhere between today´s Heiliger-Kreuz-Kirche and Tempelherrenstrasse (another mark the Templars left in Kreuzberg: “Templars Street”). After a while a wooden table (Tisch) was built around the tree trunk and so Johannistisch was born.

When in 1760 Carl Späth, the grandfather of Ludwig´s, leaves Am Johannistisch to expand the Kunstgärtenrei of his father´s on a piece of land provided by his mother (who inherited it – the only way a decent woman could come into any real fortune back then), Johannistisch looses some of its charm. Soon it will also change its shape: with the construction of the Landwehrkanal around 1850 the whole area changes beyond recogition. At the beginning of the 19th century the place of the gardens will be taken by a crown Holzplatz – a timber yard.

In 1860 an entirely different sort of business finds its home Am Johannistisch – a tad more lively, one could say. The famous Carli Callenbach, a theatre manager who also run the very first Sommertheater in Berlin in Chauseestrasse, welcomes his first audience attending Callenbach´sche Theater und Variete. Sadly, the business did not really take off and in 1869 the last show left the house empty.

Then came yet another surprise twist in the local plot. The former theatre and variete – the temple of sin and the basin of un-holiness – is sold to a Christian charity organisation looking for safe harbour. In 1884 Berlin Stadtmission, itself established in 1877, moves in at Number 5. Where singing and dancing naughty girls used to tease the punters, some 1,000 people would be attending daily services now. The so called Schrippenkirche (bread roll church), for feeding the poor was one of the chief aims of the mission, welcomes hundreds of needy souls per day. The mission quickly expands its activities: homeless aid is offered, and so are family evenings, Bible readings and other social events.

Am Johannistisch and neighbouring streets in 1900 (source: Berlin Address Book for 1900)

In 1893 a new church is ready, right opposite the old theatre on the other side of today´s Brachvogelstrasse. It was paid for with donations and designed by Schwarzkopff und Theising. Its wide front stood where the 1950s´ blocks of flats can be seen now. The smaller front was in the no longer existing stretch of the street Am Johannistisch 6 that used to lead from Heiliger-Kreuz-Kirche to what is left of Am Johannistisch today. Directly next to it, Am Johannistisch 5, lived the family of Adolf Alex who ran his business registered at the same address. The descendant of Adolf Alex kindly offer their family photos for public viewing (follow this this link): they show the street, both churches and their house in the no longer existing street of Berlin. Here are two of the pictures with the new church and the long vanished street:

The front of the church in Brachvogelstrasse

The back of the church, photographer was standing in Am Johannistisch 5

Am Johannistisch before 1945 (Heiliger-Kreuz-Kirche in the background)

The new church soon became known as Stoeckerkirche, named after its main preacher and at the same time former court chaplain to Kaiser Wilhelm II, Adolf Stoecker. Despite his undoubtedly great contribution to charity work in Berlin and his zealous following of Christian values, it is quite hard to speak in positive terms about Stoecker. This founder of the Christian Social Party and politically active sort of celebrity was at the same time one of the chief anti-Semites in Prussia, who did not shy of saying aloud very unchristian things and acting accordingly. His preaching, among others, would pave the path to the greatest tragedy in the history of modern world. Not someone quite worth wasting perfectly good server space on.

On January 21st, 1944 the whole area around Johannistisch, Brachvogelstrasse and Johanniterstrasse will be razed to the ground by 495 Lancasters, 264 Halifaxes, 10 Mosquitos (769 aircraft) dispatched to Berlin by the Allies. Gone was the 4-storey building (Zentrum der Berliner Stadtmission) which replaced the old Callenbachs Theatre und Variete with its beautiful interiors.

Gone own printing house of the mission, the Kunstanstalt, own newspaper editorial office, book printing house and bookshop. After the piles and piles of bricks left behind that night were later, after the war, cleared up by the unimaginably brave and worth every respect women from the neighbourhood (who carried literally tons of bricks of their backs and pushed even more tons of bricks in tatty wheelbarrows).

In 1968 Berliner Stadtmission Kreuzberger Gemeinde moves back to Johanniterstrasse . The only thing still reminding of the beautiful past of this tiny patch of Kreuzberg are built in 1888 Heiliger-Kreuz-Kirche (also damaged during the raids but almost completely re-built later) and the street almost nobody knows it is there. Am Johannistisch survived, even if it looks like an access road to the small blocks of flats built along its left side. But walking down the street is something you really want to do: at its end you will be transported back in time to either the 19th century (if you look to your left) or the 1960s (if you care to take a peek to the right). And how many places can do that?

Street View image from Brachvogelstrasse

The 19th century says hallo

5 comments on “TODAY IN KREUZBERG: APRIL 25th

  1. berlioz1935
    May 4, 2012

    I wish we had learnt all this in Heimatkunde. We were, and still are, so ignorant about our home town.





Comments are closed.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10,902 other followers


%d bloggers like this: