Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Berlin photo-journalist Willy Pragher, who took this amazing picture in July 1928, managed to capture one of chief transition moments in the history of Kottbusser Tor.
With Kotti being currently ripped to pieces by Berlin and national media as Drug-and-Crime Central (as if this particular transition had taken place only last night and not been its reality for the past, well, twenty years), let us talk about the good times, instead. Which in Kotti´s case, never come without a pitfall.
For this particular photo, the photographer stood next to the old platform of the original U-Bahnhof Kottbusser Tor, which was located some 100 m further east from where the station is today. He pointed his camera west to capture an U1 train travelling along a temporary railway viaduct, erected to keep the traffic along the line going during construction of the new station “Kottbusser Tor”.
Unlike the old one, which served only one Hochbahnlinie B, the new station was being constructed on the intersection of two underground railway lines: Linie B (today U1) and the new Gesundbrunnen-Neukölln-Bahn (U8 now). To facilitate changing between trains, the old Hochbahnhof Kottbusser Tor had to go.
As a result, the whole Kottbusser Tor received a new image: the intersection of eight (!) streets was re-organised and a new bridge installed as part of the U-Bahn viaduct got an unusually wide span, 52.5 metres, in order not to hinder the traffic. One could say all was well around Kotti at last.
Well, not so. During excavation of the subterranean GN-Bahn tunnel two old residential buildings in Kottbusser Straße had their foundations and the overall structure damaged to such a degree that nothing but demolition could help. Neither of the two buildings , Kottbusser Straße 1 and Kottbusser Straße 1A, as well as Kottbusser Straße 2, whose basements were “drilled through“ for today´s U8 survived the experiment.
Their site, which in mid-1800s housed popular inn called Linde, was soon taken by small vendors: a newsagent´s, a florist´s, a tobacco Kiosk and several others. In 1937, the plots´ owners were expropriated, along with the owners of several plots in Admiralstraße, and a year later the first high-rise at Kottbusser Tor towered above the large intersection.
The building, one of the first pieces in Hitler´s puzzle known as World Capital Germania, almost made it till the end of WWII. Sadly, it got hit by a bomb in a massive air-raid in February 1945 – an air-raid which annihilated most of the historical Southern Friedrichstadt and Luisenstadt.
In the early 1950s, another high-rise was erected on this site: designed by famous Berlin architects, brothers Wassili and Hans Luckhard – who also created the experimental terraced housing at Schorlemerallee in Zehlendorf and, among others, the famous curved façade of the destroyed in WWII Telschow Haus at Potsdamer Platz – the 10-storey residential building came to be known as Zille-Haus.
The name honours Berlin´s acclaimed satirist, illustrator and photographer, Heinrich Zille, who regularly frequented venues and Kneipen around Kotti at his time. A year after his death, in August 1930, huge crowds attended a meeting organised in Kottbusser Straße 6, at the seat of Berlin´s Elitesänger, to witness the unveiling of Zilledenkmal, a monument to Berlin´s biggest personality, donated by the famous group´s members. Claire Waldoff, Berlin´s best pre-WWII cabaret singer, performed her well-known song “Das Lied vom Vater Zille”.
It is astounding looking at Kotti today, with its dirty face, its smelly feet and with all dangerous scumbags who made it their home, that this corner of Berlin hides such fascinating past and that this past could be read from one small black-and-white picture today.