Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
On this day in 1725 Berlin´s growing but impoverished Huguenot community – invited to settle in Brandenburg by the Great Elector´s 1685 Edict of Potsdam and then still called Réfugiés – opened their own orphanage, Maison des Orphelines on what´s now one of the best known Berlin plazas, Gendarmenmarkt.
Financed by donations, the building was erected on the corner of Charlottenstraße 55 and Jägerstraße and stood there until 1907 when it was demolished to make space for a much grander residential house.
The orphanage took care of French-decent children from a community which at the time suffered poverty on a today unimaginable scale: some of the Réfugiés had to pawn their own and their family´s clothes in order to be able to afford meagre amounts of food. Which not only kept them indoors, made them more prone to diseases but also prevented them from being able to participate in religious ceremonies and as such in the community life. It is a rarely remembered and quite tragic chapter from the French settlers` history in Prussia.
In 1844 Französisches Waisenhaus was merged with two other charitable institutions established by Berlin´s Huguenots: the Petit Hôspital, of Children´s Hospital, and the 1749 École de Charité (Schule der Barmherzigkeit, not to be confused with the Charité Hospital). The latter was a school educating little orphans and children from impoverished families. This welfare network created by Berlin´s Réfugiés existed until the 1920s, when the disastrous financial crisis in Germany and in the country´s capital forced the community to close them down.
The site of the old French Orphanage, built in 1725 and in 1779 expanded by one of Berlin´s leading architects of the time, Carl von Gontard, is home to Berlin´s Music College Hanns Eisler today. As well as to one of Gendarmenmarkt´s most popular restaurants, the “Augustiner”.