Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Two news streets are appear on the map of the Südosten (SO) part of the future borough of Kreuzberg.
Yes, you do know it albeit under a new monicker: on August 31st, 1949 it was re-named Ohlauer Strasse. It spans between Hobrechtbrücke (Hobrecht Bridge) connecting Neukölln with Kreuzberg and Wiener Strasse. Until the end of WW2 it used to be the shortest way from Hermannplatz to Görlitzer Bahnhof.
In Grünauer Strasse 38/39 a certain Carl Bechstein, grand piano manufacturer with an already well running business in Zigelestrasse in today´s Berlin-Mitte, opens in 1880 his new factory. An impressive complex of a four-storey red brick building, 22,600 m2 of a timber yard for storing wood, extra rooms and space for even more wood and other necessary parts plus own steam-powered machines pumped by factory own steam engine. All this made the oblong property between Grünauer-, Reichenberger- and Wiener Strasse a very modern place indeed.
Bechstein pianos became such a hit that soon their manufacturer needed to expand again. He purchased the plot in Wiener Strasse 25, bordering directly on the already existing factory, and had another 4-storey building erected there.
The rest is history. If you wish to play an original Bechstein today, the price is going to set you back by some 9,000 up to… 160,000 Pounds. It is one of the three best pianos in the world (next to Steinway and Bösendorfer) and the favourite concert piano for most of the music heavy-weights of this planet such as Elton John, Freddie Mercury or John Lennon. Originally made in Kreuzberg!
Gone. In a sense. If you go to Speewaldbad for a swim and walk out of the swimming pool with a damp halo of chlorine around your head, you will be stepping out into Spreewaldplatz.
But before Spreewaldplatz came to be in 1894, the whole – admittedly not very big – street running between Skalitzer Strasse and Wiener Strasse used to be called Wendendtrasse. The name referred to the people of Wenden or the Wends in English, a non-homogenic group of West Slavs whose one group, the Sorbs live south of Berlin in Lusatia (Laustiz for German-speaking readers), an area within and around Spreewald. You get the connection.
When Görlitzer Bahnhof was opened in 1894, with a railway line going straight into and across Slavic Spreewald, one part of Wendenstrasse – the one right in front of the station – was re-named Spreewaldplatz.
However, the side where the houses stand remained Wendenstrasse until four years after the war.
Enter Friesenstrasse. Originally Str. Nr. 21, Abt. II des Bebauungsplanes built in 1864 where the big chemical factory of Samuel Hirsch (later: Heinrich) Kunheim used to stand, it became an official – although also officially nameless – thoroughfare in 1878.
In 1884 on exactly 100th-anniversary of Karl Friedrich Friesen´s birthday, it was named in his honour.
In a sense, Friesen is at home in this part of town: the controversial hero of eurhythmics for tough boys, Jahn (Jahnstrasse and Jahn monument in Hasenheide) was his role model and friend, equally controversial due to his anti-semitic views Arndt (of Arndtstrasse which happens to be cutting through Friesenstrasse) wrote about him many a time.
Today Friesenstrasse is where you can find the best video rental in town (Videodrom – if they don´t have it, it doesn´t exist), delicious restaurants (Thai Sarods and Italian Monte Croce and my table is ALWAYS booked), a fantastic cheap antique shop (I aint´telling you) and die Musteranlage für Luftschutzschollen. But that is material for another story.