Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


The event I chose to use for this day is, although itself immensely important, a sort of a corridor through which we will enter a different story. So instead of writing about September 1, 1921 when Krankenhaus Am Urban opened its first TB Fürsorgestelle (social welfare office for tuberculosis patients) or about September 1, 1991 when E.T.A. Hoffmann-Promenade was named in Berlin-Kreuzberg (a lane rather than a street connecting Friedrichstrasse with Lindenstrasse where no direct connection used to be before), I am going to write about September 1, 1906. Because it matters too much not to.


In 1904 the Zeitschrift für Ärztliche Fortbildung und Qualitätssicherung – a magazine for German doctors – Dr C. Lowin informed his readers about the dramatic results of the research into infant mortality. The number of infants dying before they reached the age of one – which at the time in Berlin was around 20% – was growing while in other countries at the same level of development as Prussia the children had much better chances of surviving the most trying age. The question why was relatively quickly answered: social conditions. Poverty, lack of facilities and the fact that more and more women were forced to work to support the family were named as the main dangers a newborn from an impoverished family was exposed to.

Those three factors had a very sad and unfortunately powerful effect: less and less children could be and were breastfed (with am underfed, overworked mother breastfeeding was often simply impossible). This in return led to an extremely high number of deaths among babies who were themselves underfed or who were given cow milk instead (apart from a wet nurse – available only to the wealthy – the only option back then).

 According to Dr Lowin the cause of death in 50% of all infants who died between 1903 and 1904 were problems with a digestive system. Or in other words, food “poisoning”. Since only 9% of the little victims were breastfed, there was a clear link between the two.

Another important factor confirmed Dr Lowin´s position, in which he, however, was far from alone: many other paediatricians of the time stated the same. Every year in summer Berlin (but, of course, not only here) had to witness the death of almost twice as many infants as in other seasons. Again, the explanation for it was quite simple: newborns who were not breastfed by their mothers had to be fed a mix of cow milk and water. Often far from hygienic conditions in which the milk was produced, kept and delivered plus the summer heat took great toll on the lives of those depending on it. Knowing that around 1903-1904 the number of breastfeeding mothers in Prussia´s capital dropped from 55% to 33%, it becomes immediately clear what scale the danger took.

Dr Lowin, however, has also good news. There are people who devote their time and effort to changing that. Their aim is to provide fresh, clean and controlled milk to as many mothers and babies as possible and to do so for free. Also, the same people – paediatricians, charity ladies and gentlemen, politicians and supporters of the movement – want to reach the greatest possible number of new parents to teach them about the right way of storing and preparing milk for their babies. Not only will they design and pay for the posters hanging later in factories to present the high nutritive value of preprepared cow milk (when breastfeeding is not an option) but on January 14, 1905 all Standesämter (Registry Offices) in Prussia will be obliged by law to send special leaflets to all new mothers. Still, this “paperwork” was only a tiny part of their efforts.

Infant mortality in Berlin between 1904 and 1906, writes Sigird Stöckel in her brilliant and unbelievably well researched book Säuglingsfürsorge Zwischen Sozialer Hygiene und Eugenik (Infant Welfare Between Social Hygiene and Eugenics), was very high although unevenly spread. Clearly, the well-to-do areas such as today´s Mitte or Tiergarten were much less affected than others. The highest number of infant deaths in Berlin was recorded in Luisenstadt diesseits des Kanals – today Kreuzberg 61 north of the canal and west of old Luisenufer (Segitzdamm and Legiendamm) and part of Mitte up to the river and Jannowitzbrücke – the so called Exportviertel full of factories, small manufactures and densely populated. Here 27% of all infants died before turning one.

Luisenstadt dies- und jenseits des Kanals

Luisenstadt diesseits des Kanals (“Luisenstadt on this side of the canal”) was followed by its twin, Luisenstadt jenseits des Kanals (Luisenstadt on the other side of the canal”) or today´s SO36, with 21%. Still, between them were Berlin-Gesundbrunnen (which considering its name means “Health Springs” in German must have sounded bitterly ironic) with 26% and Wedding with 25%. Tempelhofer Vorstadt, or the southern Kreuzberg 61, was doing much better with its 13%-15%. No wonder considering that the living conditions here have always been slightly better and industry less concentrated.

To illustrate the situation better it should also be said that in places such as a children´s shelter in Rummelsburg (today Berlin-Friedrichshain and a pretty gentrified area at the Spree) only 61% of infants had a chance of living for more than a year…

The situation was so bad that the highest social ranks felt obliged to get personally involved. Kaiserin Auguste Viktoria, the wife of the last Kaiser (Wilhelm II), known for her social vein and for particular sensitivity towards children´s welfare ordered a thorough research into the matter. She demanded solutions as well. In her Allerhöchste Handschreiben (a letter in monarch´s own hand) of November 15, 1904 she called on the subjects to treat the fight against infant mortality as their patriotic duty.

This led to several events directly connected with Kreuzberg: first of all, in Nanuynstrasse 63 (today Die Ritze, a youth club and cultural centre of the neighbourhood) the authorities opened Säuglingsfürsorgestelle (social welfare centre for infants). It received number IV as three others were already operating in other boroughs of Berlin.

Then, a couple of years later, in 1908 another such centre will appear on the corner of Großbeerenstrasse 10 and Tempelhofer Ufer 14 (led by Dr Hans Schmoller) to relieve the centre in Luisenstadt (diesseits). There the mortality among infants increased again in 1907-1908 to 27% and 29% respectively.

Former seat of Fürsorgenstelle VI corner Großbeerestrasse and Tempelhofer Ufer (photo: Google Street View)

No trace is left of another important place in Kreuzberg that contributed to the fight against death among children: Kinderasyl Kürassierstrasse. Neither the building nor the street survived the war and the new urban planning which followed. The street with the by the then standards modern and well managed orphanage and shelter for children used to stand between today´s Alte Jakobstrasse and Alexandrinennstrasse where after WW2 Otto-Suhr-Siedlung was built (but if you walk on past the houses built along Waldeckpark, you will be basically walking down the invisible Kürassierstrasse). The Kinderasyl was opened already in 1901 and financed by a charity called Schmidt-Gallisch-Stiftung.

the back of the Kinderasyl as seen from today´s Waldeckpark (today part of Otto-Suhr-Siedlung and a small sports club) (from:

And now to September 1, 1906. On Saturday the 1st of September 1906 a big and as it turned out very important event for the movement fighting infant mortality began: the Exhibition for Child Welfare or Ausstellung “Kindeswohl” organised by Gesellschaft zur Bekämpfung der Säuglingssterblichkeit (The Society for Combating Infant Mortality). Until September 12 it presented the topic in a very approachable, visual way and was attended by many eager mothers and fathers. And it took place in the building of the old, the original Berlin Philharmonics in Bernburger Strasse 22a-23 in Kreuzberg. The next one will be organised in the Reichstag, the seat of Prussian Parliament.

Tomorrow, after this lengthy but hopefully interesting introduction, I shall tell you something about the people who run the welfare office in Naunynstrasse 63 – one of them, in a way, keeps saving infant lives until today.


  1. berlioz1935
    September 12, 2012

    It is in deed very interesting. I still don’t understand while so many mothers are so reluctant to breastfeed. Many employers provide facilities where mother can breastfeed their babies even at work.

    • notmsparker
      September 13, 2012

      You are right to a great extent. But how do you get the baby to the mother´s workplace? You either have to have it there the whole time (not possible most for most of the mums) or have somebody bring it there for you to breastfeed (a nanny, for instance, but that costs lots of extra money).
      Plus sometimes it is just plain not possible to breastfeed your baby. Sad but true. I can only imagine that for those women from the beginning of the 20th century malnutrition and physical exhaustion must have often wrecked their health so badly already that an additional “burden” was often simply rejected by the body itself. Plus they were more often than not pregnant again…


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