Belle-Alliance-Platz. The name whose melodious sound equalled the beauty of the place it stood for. Built as the Rondell, one of the three magnificent new plazas designed in the eighteenth century by Philipp Gerlach and inspired by the three grand Parisian squares, it developed over time into what many considered to be the most splendid among all Berlin courts.
Until 1943, when some of the heaviest Second-World-War air-raids, like a giant grinder, left Berlin’s centre in ruins and ashes. As part of the southern Friedrichstadt, Belle-Alliance-Platz suffered particularly grave damage – the Landwehrkanal flowing past it at Hallesches Tor and the plaza itself served as points of orientation for the allied bombers.
After the war, new urban-planning projects turned the old plaza into what it is today: despite (mostly) best intentions and some of the most renown architects having been involved in its design (like the legend of German architecture, Hans Poelzig) it produced a weird fruit – a “space oddity”. A place soaked in heaviness and one which – whatever efforts have been made to change that and many have been so far, especially in the recent years – always feels strangely heartless. You do not stroll on Mehringplatz. You scuttle through or fly past it.
By the way, the name – Mehringplatz – was chosen to honour German historian of Communism and Marxism, publicist and politician Franz Mehring, born in Pommeranian town of Schlawe (today’s Sławno and coincidentally also the author’s birthplace). It honoured him as one of the men and women active in the headquarters of German Social-Democracy, Vorwärts-Haus in Lindenstraße – the building on the edge of Belle-Alliance-Platz was one of the very few which survived the bombings and the Untergang but were demolished later.
On February 16, 1946 the no longer existing Belle-Alliance-Platz was renamed Franz-Mehring-Platz but by July 31, 1947 the name was shortened to Mehringplatz. Which turned out very convenient when in 1972 the old Küstriner Platz in Berlin-Friedrichshain, a plaza in front of the old Küstriner Bahnhof and the site for the main building of the East German daily, the “Neues Deutschland”, had its name changed to Franz-Mehring-Platz.
Looking at Mehringplatz today it is hard to believe that less than a century ago the plaza at the southern end of Friedrichstraße was a place to behold. If there is one place in central Berlin which could do with some reconstruction or even blatant replicas, then this must be it. Sadly, the chances of that happening are, to put it mildly, poor.
With Mehringplatz as a densely populated residential area surrounded by a towering Plattenbauten (high-rises), the only hope anyone can have of the plaza becoming less estranged is to see its charming central ring – with a historic Cantian Friedensäule – finally left in peace. After it had been renovated and the surrounding statues of sitting muses cleaned and restored as well, it has become stuck in a sad groundhog-day cycle of an endless construction site involving the underground station “Hallesches Tor” placed right underneath it.
The Berlin curse of “always becoming and never being” is nowhere as palpable as in the shade of the old Belle-Alliance-Plaza in Kreuzberg.