Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin



Alte Leipziger Straße corner Kurstraße around 1840 (image by Wilhelm Halffter)


Hausvogteiplatz Nos. 5,6 and 7 captured by Wilhelm Helffter around 1840.

Those are two oldest existing photographs of Berlin: both made around 1840 (no exact dating is possible) by Wilhelm Helffter. Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither of the places captured by the photographer survives until today. Not so much because of the Second World War air-raids and the Battle of Berlin – responsible for the biggest “city refurbishment” so far – but because by the second half of the 1800s Berlin was a different place altogether: its population grew from 401,000 in 1843 to 1,321,000 by 1880!

This influx of people resulted from another development which was taking place within the city and around it at the time: industrialisation. New factories were being built with their chimney stacks rising above the growing sea of residential buildings. New business enterprises entered (and sometimes also left) the stage daily. Hausvoigteiplatz, the old seat of the city prison, or Hausvogtei, became the fashion hub of Berlin: it was home to dozens of bigger and smaller textile companies and traders, some of whom managed to earn fortunes through their dealings. After the Hausvogtei was demolished in 1891 its place was taken by the extension building of the Reichsbank.

Alte Leipziger Straße and Hausvogteiplatz on the 1848 map of Berlin.

Alt Leipziger Straße, only a couple of hundred metres south-east of Hausvogteiplatz, went through many transformations, too. The last of them being the Second World War… The old street vanished by 1969 during the refurbishment of the area. The Alte Leipziger Straße you will find in Mitte today is a new road built in 2006.

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