Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Believe it or not: the courtyards of Berlin are often even more interesting than the “Vorderhaus” – the front house – itself.
Not the least because those very same courtyards – “die Höfe” – used to be as important as the front that would catch your eye first. They were a world in their own right: filled with endless activity, plenty of noise and a multitude of (not always pleasant) smells.
Most of the courtyards in Berlin-Kreuzberg (but also in Wedding or Neukölln) were used to keep livestock: for the larger part of the 19th century cows providing milk for the residents were their particularly precious inhabitants. However, the sudden rise in property prices made them an unwelcome and no longer financially viable addition. The space they took was necessary to expand the residential buildings – every extra “wing” meant extra earning from rents. But first and foremost it was meant to house thousands of small Fabriken – factories and workshops manufacturing a myriad of different products.
Whether oil lamps or sewing machines or scented soap, picture frames or silk flowers, pianos or screws – all these and much much more was made daily in the courtyards of Kreuzberg. Much later Berlin historians and urban development experts coined a special term to describe this peculiar combination of the residential and the industrial: “Kreuzberger-Mischung” describes a typical situation where the relatively elegant (and often even quite splendid) front house would be used as a typical residential building while the courtyard right behind it would contain one or several Fabriken or be otherwise used for business (f.ex. the Vorderhaus in Baruther Strasse 14 was at the same time the gate to a large haulage company yard and later an omnibus terminal).
Behind the front house in Großbeerenstrasse 34 you will find this charming but relatively small courtyard. But even here the Kreuzberger Mischung proves true to its name: the front was for living, the back was full of work. Here, the beautifully renovated, narrow brick Fabrik building in the Hof still bears the name of its once owner: “ALEX. LINDNER 1862”.
A quick browse through Berlin directories for the years 1864-1885 will tell you the following: Alex. Lindner (whose name was most probably Alexander but none of the directories ever uses its full form and after a while even the dot at the end disappears) was into photography.
Perhaps not directly as he was above all a manufacturer of “photography articles of all sorts” (with an own storage thereof) but it is very likely that he dabbled in photography himself.
However, it is very much impossible that he should have run his business from Großbeerenstrasse 34 in 1862 and that for two simple reasons: Berlin directory for the year 1863/64 informs those wishing to put orders with Alex. Lindner to visit him either in Ritterstr. 68 (“Fabrik & Lager” – the factory and storage) or in Kommandantenstr. 60 if willing to see him at his business office.
The second reason why there couldn´t have been any Herr Lindner in Großbeerenstrasse 34 at the time was simple, too: the house wasn´t even built yet. It would be constructed somewhere around 1878 – which, by the way, explains the very small courtyard. The legally required minimum size for a courtyard in a house built in Berlin between 1853 and 1887 was as little as 31 m2 or 5.6 x 5.6 metre! Literally enough room to swing both a cat and a small fire extinguisher on a fire-engine but not to do any happy barbecuing with your neighbours. But by keeping it open on side, Rentier Schenk, the house owner, at least provided it with some more less direct sunlight.
In 1887 this generally impossible situation was improved a bit and a new minimum size was ordered: 6 x 10 metres. This, again, explains why the older houses in Berlin-Kreuzberg – or in the working-class boroughs of Berlin in general – tend to be square when looked at from above (or through Google Earth) while those built after 1887 are most often oblong in shape with a wide gate opening onto the street. By that time both the houses and the fire engines got significantly bigger. Obviously, neither before nor after 1887 were those regulations closely observed.
As for Alex Lindner and his business, the way from Ritterstrasse to Großbeerenstrasse required a little stop-over in the neighbourhood. In 1879 he already owned a place behind the corner: in Bergmannstrasse 4 (Hinterhof, ground-floor) where his factory offered “luxury photographic paper, cards, frames and all sorts of photographic articles”.
And so it wasn´t until 1883 or 1884 that he reached his final station in Kreuzberg. He bought the new rooms in Großbeerenstrasse 34 from one F.A. Köhler, a pocket watch manufacturer who also owned a shop in Luisen Ufer 16 (now Legiendamm in Kreuzberg) at the time. Whether that change pleased the residents of the house remains rather doubtful. Instead of the silent and pretty much odourless watchmaker they got somebody whose business could be smelled and heard from afar: the chemicals, the punching machines and the hammering were all part of the deal now. Still, they probably didn´t complain a lot – with Herr Franz, a blacksmith working in the same courtyard they must have been used to much worse.