Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Hard to believe but this rather sparsely furnished landscape is one of the busiest Berlin neighbourhoods today. According to the statistics, at the end of 2010 there were some 12,164 people living in Wrangelkiez around Görlitzer Park. Today, at the dawn of 2014 it feels twice as crowded.
In 1896 when Hermann Rückwandt took the photo of the area around the new Berlin railway terminal, Görlitzer Bahnhof, it still looked pretty much empty. The damp, dark and overcrowded Mietskasernen of Schlesisches Viertel (Silesian Quarter was the original name of Wrangelkiez) – Görlitzer Strasse, Oppelner Strasse, Sorauer or Lübbener Strasse – were not built yet. The main wave of job immigration from Silesia and the south in general was still to arrive: it would reach their industrial Promised Land on the trains run by Görlitzer Railway.
The fact that in 1869 the main wave of Silesian immigrants had not even began to pack their luggage yet explains the absence of the houses on the corner of Görlitzer Strasse and Görlitzer Ufer, which were erected in the mid-1880´s. A peek into Berlin Directory more than a decade later (AD 1880) will tell you that Görlitzer Strasse must have been a huge construction site at the time: the only inhabited buildings were No. 45 (owned by a gardener Gubeler and shared by him with another gardener called Halle and a fire-fighter Schabe), No. 49 (another gardener, Herr Kruschke) and No. 62 (the corner of Lübbener Strasse 1), then the Numbers 69, 71 and 72. Everything else was a Baustelle (and will remain so for the next 10 years or so).
The plot at No. 51 had commercial use: a Holzplatz (lumberyard) was the common way of earning money from your piece of the city before it could be sold for a good price as construction land (after all, everybody around you already was building something). Still, despite the magnetic attraction of Profit, the opposite (southern) side of the street would retain the commercial character until long after WW2: as part of Görlitzer Bahnhof and a seat of several lumber yards and coal yards it generated enough Profit on its own.
A well running business is worth its weight in gold – it was true in 1891 and is still true today. Which explains why it took another 30 years after Hermann Rückwardt took this photo before it became more profitable to close down the Kalkbrennerei (lime kilns producing quicklime) on the corner of Görlitzer Strasse and Görlitzer Ufer and have a house erected there instead. This seemingly empty space behind the bridge and behind the train engine caught here by the artist was, in fact, bustling with life: the kilns were producing tonnes of burnt lime necessary, among others, to build Das Steinerne Berlin (Berlin of Stone). After the kilns were gone, today´s house at No. 32 and 32A (originally 31-31) would pop up out of the ground in 1892. Its owner, Maurermeister Mudrat, would move in along with 9 other families.
As for the rest of the photo here, the bridge is still there – thinner and definitely optically less attractive but very much present. The trains that crossed it are long gone and so are the tracks that they used. Today it is a pedestrian bridge joining the borough of Kreuzberg with its eastern neighbour, Treptow and one of the favourite jogging paths between Görli and Treptower Park.
The building on the left disappeared, however. The old Lokschuppen (engine shed), so elegant and brand-new in Rückwardt´s photo, was replaced with the “party hill” (in summer a particularly well attended spot in the south-eastern corner of Görlitzer Park). But if you look at the image of the park on Google Earth today, you will still be able to see the imprint that the Lokchuppen left.
As for the right side of the photo, it shows a location that became a topic for unhappy conversations in 1961 and remained so for many years to come. This is where Berlin Wall was put up. This sandy strip of land turned into stone as well. And it was only years after 1989 and after the city became one body again that this little stretch of sand (for deep underneath that´s what it always was) regained its peace again. Today it houses a free republic, a colourful state within the state: it houses the squatters´colony of Wagenburg Lohmühle in Lohmühlenstrasse with their user-friendly accommodation project and brilliant music as well as entertainment programme in summer.
As for the name of the colony and the street – Lohmühle(n) – it refers to the bark mills producing tanbark for leather tanning industry that used to stand here. And it is most probably one of those mills that, sadly, did not make it whole onto Hermann Rückwardt´s photo.