Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
There are people who say that vintage postcards are messages from the past in more than one sense. I keep collecting those messages – I should probably say “investing in them” as soon the value of my collection is going to exceed that of my still not performed yet direly needed dental corrections – because they might tell you more about the history of a place than tonnes of books would. You just have to ask the right questions. Here are the answers to some of the queries I made.
This photo was taken in the summer of 1902 – the year when the first and by then still mainly overhead Berlin metro line was launched.
The photographer was most probably standing on what seems to be the 3rd floor balcony of Gitschiner Strasse No. 80 (sadly gone, both the house and the balconies). Judging by the rather elegant look of the façade the house would have had the so called Hochparterre with the 1st floor or Belle Etage as they were known back then, being in fact as high up as the regular 2nd floor. Which means the boxy wooden camera they used to take that shot with needed to be lugged up to the 4th floor.
Still, it was clearly worth the sweat and the effort. The perspective they won thanks to that little exercise makes the picture absolutely fantastic. While most of historic images and postcards show Prinzenstrasse station from the east – with us looking more less in the direction of Hallesches Tor – this little treasure here presents it from the west, down Gitschiner Strasse and towards Kottbusser Tor.
The mammoth round construction dominating the right side of the street is the no longer existing gasometer belonging to the old Imperial Continental Gas Association also known as Englische Gasanstalt (more about it in the following post). After WW2 with the place in ruins and no need for a gasworks in Kreuzberg the old grounds of ICGA were cleaned of rubble, detoxed and turned into one of the best things this borough has ever done for its people: into the open-air baths. Into Prinzenbad.
Interestingly and luckily, though, not all is gone – the little brick house in the bottom right corner has been spared the hatchet and still reminds the passers-by that nothing teaches you history better that the real thing. And it is a great reminder of Kreuzberg´s heavy, industrial and less service-oriented past.
And it was this very industrial past that led to the borough´s demise. The air-raids on Berlin, especially the last ones in February-March 1945, “re-modelled” this part of Luisenstadt completely.
Out of the houses and buildings to be seen in this photo only three remain. One of them is the above-mentioned house in Gitschiner Strasse 22. The two others can be found on the same side of the Hochbahn line right before it disappears behind the balcony on the postcard. Here in 1845-47 the ICGA´s competition, Städtische Gasanstalt (Municipal Gasworks) built its own gasometers and stole the monopoly that the English had in Prussia´s capital for 21 years.
Well, technically speaking no fight or theft were even necessary as the monopoly expired at midnight on December 31th, 1846 – the Städtische Gaswerke took up their gassy business on January 1st, 1847. Their first director or CEO as he most certainly would be known today was Carl Friedrich Baerwald: the man after whom the street on the other side of the Landwehrkanal was named. But back to the picture…
Two Beamtenhäuser or houses where the company´s mid- and high-level management used to live at today´s No. 48 and 49 respectively survived the war and are used as emergency accommodation for abused children today, as the so called “safe houses”. Kreuzberg Kindernotdienst is open 24h a day and provides shelter to more kids than it ever should: in 2011 those were 2360 children, almost 1000 of whom were younger than 6.
As for the trams that can be seen in the picture – one going in the direction of Hallesches Tor (probably No. 82 Nollendorfplatz-Schlesisches Tor line) and the other one just emerging from under the Hochbahn line on the crossing Prinzen- and Gitschiner Strasse – were the brand new electric railcars of the Neu-Berolina type.
Their operator, Große Berliner Straßenbahn, introduced them on big scale somewhere around 1901. And for those wishing to built up their “Trivial Pursuit” of pub quiz cred: the electrification of Berlin´s tram network was completed in December 1902.
The trams were using the same railway tracks that the old Verbindungsbahn chugged along on with its coal cargo from Silesia necessary to keep the gas production in Gitschiner Strasse. This symbiotic co-existence lasted until 1927 when the gasometers were emptied never to be filled again.
And to round off this research extravaganza let me only add that the postcard in question was published by Verlag Wilhelm Greve, introduced in Berlin directory AD 1902 as “Book Printers Holding A Royal Warrant of Appointment; Geographic Institute; Book-, Stone- and Copper-printers; Chromographic- and Photo-Reproduction Art Company”. The company had three seats: one in London, one on Paris and one in Ritterstrasse 50 in Kreuzberg.