Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
The painting we would like to introduce today is the 1892 “Berlin’s Christmas Market” by Franz Skarbina.
The Christmas Market painted by the artist eight years before the end of the nineteenth century was located in Berlin’s Lustgarten: in the background on the left you can see the western edge of the old Stadtschloß, the Royal City Palace, while the buildings on the right form the line of the soon-to-be-demolished Schloßfreiheit.
Schloßfreiheit was a small street which used to run along the palace’s western front facade and separated it from the Cöllnischer Stadtgraben (now known as the Spreekanal). Built in 1672, it comprised ten buildings whose owners, having paid heavy money for constructing houses on very unstable, marshy grounds, enjoyed a series of financial privileges such as freedom from many forms of taxation practised in Berlin at the time. They were also free from obligation to put up royal troops at own costs (those were still pre-barracks days). The very name of the street indicated its special status: Freiheit stands in German for Freedom.
The little street, a permanent thorn in Kaiser Wilhelm’s II side (he often complained about its unsightliness and its unfortunate location blocking the view from the palace towards Schinkel’s Bauakademie on the other side of the Spreekanal), finally had to go. Demolished in 1892-1894 it had to make room for the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Denkmal, a humongous memorial installed by the Kaiser in honour of his grandfather, Wilhelm I.
The fact that it blocked the view just as much as the Schloßfreiheit buildings did, did not seem to bother His Majesty much.
Lustgarten, a large plaza between the Royal Palace, the Berliner Dom and Altes Museum flanking it from the north, was the site of Berlin’s biggest Christmas Markets since 1873. Before that it traditionally took place in Breite Straße (due to great interest and many visitors soon afterwards it was extended towards Schloßplatz) – a location it used since approximately 1750 until Rudolph Hertzog, the owner of the vast department store in Breite Straße, complained about the market’s negative impact on his pre-Christmas profits. The very first ever recorded Christmas Market in Berlin opened, by the way, in 1530: it stretched between Petriplatz, Mühlendamm and today no longer existing Heilige-Geist-Straße.
Lustgarten Christmas Markets were a Berlin institution and a highlight of every winter. No wonder then than as soon as the Second World War ended, Berliners made sure that it returned to its traditional spot: the first post-WWII Weihnachtsmarkt opened despite ice-cold wind, ruins and hunger on December 9, 1945. For many survivors, especially for children, it was the first opportunity to have a cup of hot barley-malt-coffee and a warm sausage in a long, long time. Despite Berlin’s division in East and West, Lustgarten remained the market’s venue for the next thirty years, albeit only for East Berliners (West Berlin’s main Christmas Market occupied – and still does – today’s Breitscheidplatz). The last one closed in January 1974.
To find out about this year’s Christmas Market locations in Berlin – and we heartily recommend smaller, local ones – go to the following page. Unlike in Franz Skarbina’s painting, however, today’s Lustgarten remains just a place to start from.