Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
There are streets in Kreuzberg whose birth was not without complications. In the case of Alexandrinenstrasse the bone of contention turned out to be the choice of its name.
Alexandrinenstrasse, once one of the most representative and busy streets of Luisenstadt, runs between Brachvogelstrasse in the south and Sebastianstrasse in the north. A couple of words of explanation are necessary here: some sources name Gitschiner Strasse as its southern end but after the street was extended in 1901 and until 1956 actually reached the then Planufer, such a claim is in fact wrong.
After the WW2 significantly changed the cityscape in this area, wiping out both this section of Planufer and Waterloo Ufer which Alexandrinenstrasse crossed at one time, it led to even more urban confusion: on August 16th, 1956 the small section of the street between Johanniterstrasse and Waterloo Bridge was became Brachvogelstrasse… But even today Alexandrinenstrasse still does cut through Gitschiner Strasse: Number 130, the only number on this side of the U1 line, is the very last house before the Landwehrkanal.
Like many Kreuzberg streets also Alexandrinenstrasse was built over an old field road. Old maps and records show it as Die Demmerung (17th-18th century) – its origin are in the word Damm (a causeway or an embankment). Then, until 1843 a long section of it was known as Feldstrasse (Field Road).
The rash development of the area in the first half of the 19th century, at the time when companies and houses shot up from the ground at a scale unknown to Prussian capital, meant sand and mud were no longer the most desirable surface for road transportation. And thus Tischlermeister (Master Carpenter) Baulisch, whose business would definitely profit from having a proper street at hand, filed with the authorities a motion to add a modern touch to the otherwise perfectly fine thoroughfare. For that reason the Polizeipräsidium – at the time the body in charge of building and construction – favoured the name Baulischstrasse for their new project.
However, an alternative name proposal had enough supporters, too. Baumbachstrasse. That was allegedly the original moniker the new street was supposed to be blessed with: Widow Baumbach´s donation to the municipal authorities enabled them to build a new orphanage on a free-of-charge parcel along the route at issue.
The dispute as well as the endless discussions were over when it was finally decided that only something more noble would do. Enter Her Royal Highness Alexandrine von Preußen, Crown Princess and the sister of Kaiser Wilhelm I.
And the reason why the particular street is so close to our Kreuzberg-struck heart is the fact that for years I thought it not only unspeakably ugly but also completely unworthy of my attention. From an aesthetic point of view I considered it as attractive as the back of my wardrobe. From all other points of view it seemed to be nothing but a long slice of asphalt sided by dreadful 1980s architecture or nothing at all (the letter being still better than the former).
Until one day it struck me that it does pay to look and read just as it does pay to work on one´s own prejudices. I cycled up and down Alexandrinenstrasse and noticed the following: a beautiful old school building designed by Hermann Blankenstein (more about him in the following post) preceded by quite wonderful late 19th century tenement houses; the interesting shell of Church of St. Agnes (Sankt Agnes Kirche designed by Werner Düttmann was sold in 2011 after the religious interest was gone: in 2012 the new owner, Johann König, is opening an art gallery there); Otto-Suhr-Siedlung which you will find behind Oranienstrasse. And the cherry of top of the dessert: the geographic and topographic middle of Berlin was established in 1997 to be right in Alexandrinenstrasse 12-14 (the number of the plot) – something I found out about by almost crashing into it with my bike and practically breaking my neck (see the following post here).
Alexandrinenstrasse used to be home to numerous famous people and institutions as well: Erwin Beck, a Nazi-opposition fighter lived here (at No. 111), and so did the writer after whom the neighbouring street was named, Emil Brachvogel (No. 29), Alfred Flatow (No. 50), Mortiz Fürbringer of Fürbringerstrasse in Kreuzberg 61 (No. 77) and his neighbour at the same address, Heinrich Kochhann. Here also, at Number 26, Hugo Heimann opened his famous first public library in Berlin (Today in Kreuzberg: February 24th). Ross-Rotophot, a world-famous photo company that changed the way people were looking at stars and led to the cult of celebrities as we know it, was born in Alexandrinenstrasse, too. But that is an entirely different and much longer story…