Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Here are today´s Mehringplatz, Mehringdamm and Landwehrkanal on a small section of Berlin map published in 1757 and known as Plan de la Ville de Berlin : Capitale de l’Electorat de Brandenbourg et la Residence ordinaire du Roi de Prusse. And here is the story of how one gate became the door to a round square.
Built in 1734 as Das Rondell or Das Rondell vor dem Halleschen Thore, Mehringplatz was one of three representative plazas ordered by King Friedrich Wilhelm I and dutifully designed by Johann Philip Gerlach. The square plaza named Quarrée or Viereck in German became later Pariser Platz where Brandenburger Tor stands. The octagonal space right next to today´s Potsdamer Platz was aptly christened Das Oktogon. Since 1814 it has been known as Leipziger Platz.
For later all three plazas were given names commemorating Prussian victories in Napoleonic Wars of Liberation 1813-1815: Leipzig, Paris and Belle Alliance (or Waterloo if you took your history lessons in the UK, France or Poland).
But before the Rondell became Belle-Alliance-Platz in 1815 and later developed into, believe or not, one of the most beautiful plazas in Berlin, it was in a way the southernmost post of municipal civilisation. Behind it and behind the city gate known as Hallesches Tor (Halle Gate) there was no Berlin any more, only countryside: fields, gardens, windmills and meadows full of cows, sheep and horses.
The Nacht Hütung (hüten means “to guard” or “to herd”) visible on the map, stretching more less between today´s Mehringdamm and Gleisdreieckpark and almost up to Kreuzbergstrasse in the south was the place where farmers and horse owners could leave their animals for the night to be picked up the next day and taken to work or to a slaughterhouse.
The tree lane running from the Rondell and past the Hütung to what is south-west here (the map is gesündet or reversed) is the future Belle-Alliance-Strasse. Since 1947 it has been called Mehringdamm and today has a slightly different course than originally: the post-war city planners tampered with the street network in this neighbourhood a lot and managed to change it beyond recognition. One of the results was the “straightening” of Mehringdamm in the 1960/1970s and cutting it off from the dead-end street that Friedrichstrasse became after Berlin Wall was erected.
Another one was the destruction of the Gottes Acker, one of the two burial grounds established right outside the city walls in 1735 to escape the ever growing space shortage within them.
Gottes Acker, the cemetary of the Böhmische Gemeinde (Bohemian Parish) set up by Prussian King´s permission in the future Kreuzberg did survive the war but fell prey to the above-mentioned urban refurbishment: in the 1950s it had to be removed to make space for the temple of knowledge: the new library, Amerika- Gedenkbibliothek.
The further destruction followed when Blücherstrasse´s course was changed to separate it from Hallesches Tor and extend towards the newly planned Mehringdamm at the crossing with Obentrautstrasse. Today only a couple of graves and the gate to one of the two Bohemian cemetaries (necessary after the split within the parish) are still standing there. The rest of the cemetaries that grew around the original two burial sites known as Friedhöfe vor Dem Halleschen Tor remain almost intact.
Of the two roads leading to the west only one was later included on the so called Hobrecht Plan (what was not part of the grid, had no right to exist, said some). Feldt Weg became Mühlenweg which turned into Teltower Strasse that became Obentrautstrasse today.
Strasse nach Schönebeck (Schöneberg) did not fit into the new order of well-arranged blocks and streets and disappeared slowly under the area behind Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Tax Office (earlier Garde-Dragonen Kaserne), under St Gertraud Hospital in Wartenburgstrasse, under Gleisdreieckpark and Yorckstrasse.
The lazarett east of the Rondell, which originally opened as a military hospital would in less than 100 years since this map´s publication become a cholera lazarett. In the 1830s the city would be plagued by massive outbreaks of the disease on at least three occasions. In 1857, after cholera subsided, the hospital and the property were taken over by charitable organisations which set up a hospital and a hospice for “unlucky, destitute women” – Frauen-Siechenanstalt in Gitschiner Strasse 104/105 (you can read more about it the following post).
After the construction of Landwehrkanal in 1845-1850 part of the old Fluss Graben nach Charlottenburg will disappear, too – it will be filled up where it runs northbound along the nameless road that is Stresemannstrasse today and “straightened out” towards the west.
WW2 and the post-war architectural frenzy will turn Rondell/Belle-Alliance-Platz into the soulless, barren concrete space of Mehringplatz where only an occasional tuft of grass, an odd old sculpture and the Viktoria column in the middle (now temporarily dismantled) hint at its past glory. The glory that began with a gate.