Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin



If you believe that out of the two halves of Berlin-Kreuzberg, it is SO36 that should be considered the Mother of All Things Riot and the cradle of (urban) battling, then it is high time to do away with the misconception. Despite its current status as “the better” (read: better off) Kreuzberg, SW61 is not as civilised as it seems. Or did not used to be.

 Back in the days when today´s Kreuzberg south of the canal, also known as Tempelhofer Vorstadt, was still a paragon of rural idyll, a conflict arose between its owners and the two cities north of the Schafsgraben (the future Landwehrkanal).

 After the Order of Knights Templar, the original owners of the estate of Tempelhof and of the lion share of other properties and villages in the south of today´s Berlin, was accused of apostasy, heresy and blasphemy (and that only to begin with) and in March 1312 was dissolved by the Pope Clemens V, the Templars´ assets were seized and their vast properties in Europe passed onto the Order of St John, also known as the Hospitallers or Die Johanniter.

 That is how in 1318 Die Johanniter came to the village of Tempelhof and began their reign. The piece of land that fell into their lap was a good one: it comprised the aforementioned main village as well as the villages of Richardsdorp (later known as Richardsdorf, Rixdorf and finally as Neukölln), Marienfelde, Mariendorf, the so called Spreeheide or Hinterheide which today would be Alt Treptow. They were also quite happy to be given the vineyards covering the Tempelhofer Berge – gentle hills stretching between Schoeneberg (Berlin-Schöneberg today), through today´s Viktoria Park and Chamisokiez in Kreuzberg to Rixdorf. Between the hills and more less the line of today´s Landwehrkanal the Templars and later the Hospitallers (or rather their traditionally underpaid and abused workers) cultivated fertile fields and gardens.

And it was those fields and gardens that became the bone of contention between the knights and their northern neighbours, the sister towns of Berlin and Cölln (originally two independent entities connected by the Mühlendamm causeway). Apparently, the feud which peaked in the late summer of 1435 began several years earlier and at its heart was a mutual claim that the other side is cheating as far as the border is concerned.

Tempelhofer Vorstadt seen from the top of Kreuzberg (the hill) in 1829 in a painting by Heinrich Hintze

Tempelhofer Vorstadt seen from the top of Kreuzberg (the hill) in 1829 in a painting by Heinrich Hintze

The escalation took place on August 24th when Die Johanniter, who for a long while suspected and accused Berlin-Cölln of playing around with the boundary markers (the stones marking the town border) received a message telling them that a group of Berlin-Cölln citizens had been seen moving them to the south. What seemed like a childish but effective way of expanding one´s territory led to a call for arms among the knights.

With four Dorschaften (obligatory troops sent by each village) of foot soldiers and 300 knights led by the Komtur or the knight commander Nickel von Colditz they hurried towards the northern border of their property in order to catch the wrongdoers red-handed. A chase followed that ended at the city gates where the knights and their troops engaged in a bloody clash with Berlin-Cölln people.

Despite their strength and the battle experience one could have expected of so fine and weathered warriors, the Order suffered a bitter defeat. In fact, the losses on both sides were quite massive as well. Still, it was the winners that could set out the conditions from now on. Not something the Knights of St John were keen on accepting.

On September 23rd 1435, the Herrenmeister (Master of The Knights) Balthasar von Schliewen (sometimes written as “Schlieben”) met the representatives of the sister towns to sign the document passing the rights to the villages of Tempelhof, Richardsdorf, Marienfelde and Mariendorf onto Berlin-Cölln. It was not so much a property sale as giving the land in “perpetual fiefdom”. Still, it meant that the Hospitallers would go away from the negotiation table with 2,440 Schock Prager Groschen (with 1 Schock = 60 Prager Groschen it made 146,400 Prague groschen) in their purse. Even though it is not easy to calculate the current value of the price – not even with the help of en extremely useful silver price calculator provided by – one thing is clear: Die Johanniter did not end up as losers this time. In fact, thanks to the money they earned on the deal, the order did not have to dig too deep into their pockets to purchase the castle, the city and the Land Schwiebus. A fair deal for everyone, as it seems.

For the history of Kreuzberg that sale is a significant turning point, a boundary mark in itself. On September 23rd, 1435 Tempelhofer Vorstadt, today the area between Platz der Luftbrücke in the north and the old Belle-Alliance-Brücke (at the U-Bahn Station Hallesches Tor) in the south and stretching from Gleisdreieckpark in the west to Kottbusser Damm in the east, became part of Berlin.

Out of those events a tradition was born that was cultivated for many years to come. Grenzbesichtigung or the Boundary Review took place annually and required a group of boys who underwent their confirmation that year to gather at the end of the harvest at the city limits. From here they were led by the Mayor and the city elders in a festive parade from one boundary marker to another to make the young men memorise their exact position The process of memorising was facilitated by whipping, slapping and generous Haarraufer (tearing at one´s hair). Indeed, it must have made the event quite unforgettable.

Today both the Templars and the old Hospitallers are gone. Gone are the sister towns of Berlin and Cölln which merged into one Great Berlin later. The traces of the Orders can still be found, however, also in Kreuzberg: in Tempelherrenstrasse (named after the Knights Templar) connecting Blücherstrasse with Landwehrkanal, in Johanniterstrasse (named after the Hospitallers) running between Blücherstrasse and the water, and in the tiny street Am Johannistisch (At John´s Table) between the two. And each of them, too, has its own wonderful story to tell.

You can read more about Tempelherrenstrasse in the following post.

Am Johannistisch was introduced in this text.


  1. berlioz1935
    October 1, 2013

    What a beautiful story it is for us 21st century people. It was probably horrible for the people living then. Kreuzberg turned out to be a catalyst for so many things that are part of our lives no matter where we live on this earth. The plain below the hill almost looks like a battle field. The path that swings around from the monument to the right of the picture is still there today.

    What a privilege it was to grow up there and a pity I realise it only in my old age.

    • notmsparker
      October 1, 2013

      I guess we always see things better looking behind us that looking ahead:) Things behind us have more weight and matter so much more…

      • berlioz1935
        October 1, 2013

        As long as the weight of the past is not pulling us down.


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