Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Our street is a regular Kreuzberg 61 street, connecting two bigger thoroughfares: Gneisenaustraße and Blücherstraße. Technically seen. Seen practically, it joins Urbanstraße with Blücherstraße as well but that is another story which shall be told later.
Schleiermacherstraße was given its current name on the 22nd of December 1875 to honour Friedrich Schleiermacher, one of the leading German philosophers and theologians of the early 19th century. By the way, Marheinekeplatz which can be found at the southern end of the street, was named after Phillip Konrad Marheineke, also a theologian and a grave enemy of Schleiermacher´s. Ironically, not only do those two directly joined places weld their names together forever, but the both academic high-fliers are also buried practically next to each other in the Dreifaligkeitskirchhof (The Trinity Cemetary) in Bergmannstraße.
But back to the street. Originally it was known under the very much not romantic name of Straße Nr. 29, Abt. II des Bebauungsplanes. The first houses – Number 1 (gone now) and Number 2 (looking nothing like it used to thanks to the bomb which destroyed the neighbouring Number 1) must have been ready even before 1875 but there is no trace of them in the official Berlin address books for that year. The houses were built one by one following the north-south axis and in this case the most logical order. Soon the stretch between Blücherstraße and Fürbringerstraße was filled with rather fancy looking Mietshäuser (tenements) for the well-heeled, for civil servants, clerks and Prussian army officers – handy as the barracks were directly opposite the houses and in the vicinity stood another four Kasernen. The back houses and side wings were occupied by small-scale manufacturers, craftsman and -women as well as other people of pretty steady income (a must already then). After a while ten new elegant buildings were to be erected in the area joining Fürbringer- and Gneisenaustraßen: Numbers 9, 10,11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18 and the now gone Number 19.
It took almost a year before I noticed what you have probably spotted at once: there is no Number 16. Considering the war, the Sanierung drama in the 1970s and on, nothing very surprising, really. The house was hit by a bomb, burned down completely or was damaged so gravely that it made no sense to have it re-built and was torn down in the end. Tragic but not unsual. It was only after I started going through my choice reading of the year, the old Berlin address books, that I realised something peculiar: there never has been any Number 16. Now, that is not something that one would expect in a city ruled by the Prussians where Ordnung muß sein and a 15 must never be directly followed by a 17 or else the universe collapses.
I browsed and browsed, going from 1881 when the Number 9 was still under construction, through the years 1883 and 1884 when our house is entered as Holzplatz (lumberyard), to 1885. That year the Number 16 was mentioned for the first and the last time in the whole history of Schleiermacherstraße as a Baustelle (construction site). After that it will only appear as “existiert nicht” – “does not exist”. It was never built or rather it was but was put down as “17” instead. It was not easy to find a viable explanation for this recklesness with street numbers in the very heart of the Prussian capital. But there it is at last.
Schleiermacherstrasse is not the only street with a “tooth gap” between its numbers. If you look carefully, you’ll find more of them, although, admittedly, not many (a separate post about missing street numbers will follow).
Most of them were created when the plots they marked vanished after the neighbouring streets had been widened or the edge of the street adjusted to fit it (in this case it would have been the extra wide Gneisenaustraße). Some were never used to build anything on them so their disappearance went basically unnoticed.
The fact the original numbers related to land plots and not to buildings also explains why so many Berlin “Mietshäuser” have an extended address with letters “a”, “b”, “c” or even”d” (like in Kreuzberg’s Planufer 92, for example). A bigger plot allowed the construction of bigger houses with multiply entrances and front staircases. For the land owners it meant bigger profits but smaller taxes (which grew with every individual plot).
Despite being so much closer to understanding the mystery of the absent street-numbers, the research is not over yet. And when facing another poor, perplexed and perspiring mailman or DHL delivery man standing in front of Number 17, helplessly scratching his head and asking the passing-by author: “Any idea where the 16 is?“, the answer remains the same. “Ja. Den jibts nicht.“