Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
A rose is a rose under any other name but a street, to be recognizable, needs a fixed moniker. Take Stresemannstrasse, every Berlin historical cartographer´s nightmare – in its long history as a thoroughfare it underwent many such name-changes.
First know as Hirschelstrasse, became Anhaltische Kommunikation and Potsdamer Kommunikation soon afterwards. When the old Akzisemauer, Berlin Customs Wall, running along the length of today´s Stresemannstrasse was demolished, the re-vamped thoroughfare was christened Königgratzer Strasse.
63 years later, on February 6th, 1930, the next metamorphosis took place: most of it became Stresemannstrasse. The city wished to honour, Gustav Stresemann, the tragically deceased German Chancellor and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs during the Weimar Republic. Stresemann, awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts towards bringing back economic balance in the post-WWI Europe, died of a massive stroke a year before.
One could think that a man like Stresemann – nationalist, monarchist (he supported the republic but was said to have craved the return of the Kaiser to “bring things back in order”) and conservative – would be a perfect role model for the Nazis and the role-model fixated Führer. Not so. Stresemann he was no friend of the early edition of the brown-shirt club. Plus, his wife was Jewish.
No wonder then that in 1935 Hitler´s city planners changed the label again: exit Stresemannstrasse, enter Saarlandstrasse. Since the French-occupied Saarland (the Saar) had just returned onto the ample bosom of the Thousand-Year Reich – the Versaille Treaty gave it to France as part of Germany´s repentance for the sins of WWI – the Führer considered Saarlandstrasse to be more fitting.
A tiny section of the street which at the time was still called Königgratzer Strasse (yes, this is a twisted story, indeed) in 1936 became Hallesches Ufer No. 2-12. Which it remains until today. As for Saarlandstrasse, in 1947 the new Berlin authorities decided to get rid of the Nazi traces and undid the name change: re-enter Stresemannstrasse again.
In Stresemannstrasse, the war and the post-war urban planning did their worst, changing this beautiful, elegant, throbbing thoroughfare into a pretty much soul-less and faceless traffic channel. But one look at the old photos of the pre-WWII street will tell you that underneath all this bleakness and gloom, there sleeps a place you would love to see when it was still awake.