Schloß Monbijou – here its decorative gate captured by Hermann Rückwardt in 1885 – is one of Berlin’s lost palaces and sites. Built on the northern bank of the river Spree opposite today’s Museum Island, it started in the seventeenth century as a model farm.
In the 17th century the first wife of the Brandenburgian Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm, Luise Henriette of Orange – Dutch and excelling at both gardening and horticulture – set up a model farm where Park Monbijou is today. After her death in 1667 her Vorwerk vorm Oranienburger Tor (Farming Estate outside the Oranienburg Gate) became one the Great Elector’s gifts to his second wife, Dorothea.
Her still rather modest summer house she had erected for herself and her family was later replaced by a “bijou” (only 400m²) palace built by the husband of King Friedrich I’s concubine, Countess Wartenberg. The King thanked his general for providing him with so charming a house and promptly gifted it to the latter’s wife to use it as hers and the monarch’s love-nest. A bit of a French twist in an otherwise very Prussian story.
But it was not her who eventually gave the place its immortal name: Friedrich II’s (The Great) mother, Sophie Charlotte, came up with “Monbijou” or “My Jewel”. Her son named his favourite palace in Potsdam “Sanssouci” (Carefree).
Refurbished several times over the next 200 years, in 1887 it became home to Berlin’s Hohenzollern Museum devoted entirely to the history of the last ruling house of Prussia. After the First World War and the collapse of German monarchy its collection remained in the hands of the by then former ruling family but both the site and the palace itself became the state property. The new republican government took it upon itself to maintain the museum and allow the citizens to take long sentimental trips down the imperial memory lane.
Hit by bombs during the November 1943 air-raid, Schloß Monbijou partly burnt down. Most of the collection had been removed by then and stored in one or several of the secret Nazi storage locations, only to be discovered by the Red Army troops and taken as war booty to the USSR. It is also possible that many of the objects were taken – effectively stolen – by other people and remain in private hands until today.
As for the palace, its remains were demolished in the late 1950s as an unwanted remainder of the Hohenzollerns and the role they played in the lead-up to both world wars. The park originally surrounding the palace – by then an empty site – was used to create a public park and (by now probably visited by millions of them) children’s lido. The lido, one of the most popular places for children in Berlin, operates until today.
Here is a typical Berlin Balkonia, little man’s and woman’s green paradise, in its rooftop edition: as a small garden and a chicken-pen.
This model example of self-sufficiency was necessary to survive dire food-shortages of the First World War – shortages which were particularly acute in the capital and led to long periods of starvation not only among the poorest. Many Berlin children did not survive those and if they did, they often suffered their consequences – mentally and health-wise – for the rest of their lives.
This idyllic image is a witness to a very bitter truth: that unless you were able to provide your own food yourself, your family was in danger. And that in 99% of the cases this responsibility had to be shouldered by women – whose children were at great risk.
Alexanderplatz, a monumental plaza in Berlin-Mitte, is the second most popular spot in the city after Kudamm. Well over 350,000 people visit it every day: it is by all means one of the busiest public spaces in Berlin. What began in the 13th century as a hospital site outside a city gate (Oderberger Tor, later known as Königstor), gained weight when re-purposed as a city market: at first, used mainly for trading cattle, it had a regular wool market added to it in the second half of the 18th century.
What Berliners called Ochsenmarkt or Ochsenplatz (Oxen Market or Plaza), was also used by the military: like most other Berlin markets it doubled as an exercise site for the numerous local troops. That explains the site’s other name used at the time: Paradeplatz.
In 1805 to honour Prussia’s big ally in the war against Napoleon, Tsar Alexander I, the plaza was christened “Alexanderplatz”. The Russian Tsar had just visited Berlin and King Friedrich Wilhelm III, Alexander’s lifelong friend, welcomed him with a lavish military parade organised just there. A couple of days after the event the plaza changed its name.
As for the street named after the same Russian ruler, Alexanderstraße, it retained its original, baroque-sounding monicker – An der Contrescarpe am Stelzenkrug (Contrescarpe was the outer edge of the moat surrounding Berlin/Cöln fortifications) – until 1819.
The 19th century was the golden era of Alexanderplatz: the Stadtbahnof Alexanderplatz, a large city- and long-haul-train railway station which opened in 1882, allowed more and more people to contribute to the quick development of the neighbourhood. Guests arriving from outside the city were thrilled to stay at one of the 185 rooms inside the “Grand Hotel Alexanderplatz” which welcomed its first guests less than a year later.
After the Zentralmarkthalle, a new Central Market Hall, designed by the ingenious Hermann Blankenstein, replaced the need for the weekly market am Alex, the plaza was redesigned and received a new, far more elegant visage. Hermann Mächtig, the City Garden Director who had just turned a sandy hill in Tempelhofer Vorstadt into a stunning city park – Viktoriapark in today’s Berlin-Kreuzberg – modernised Alexanderplatz and helped it gain world fame.
Soon afterwards it was discovered by great Berlin department stores: Tietz, Wertheim and Hahn all wanted to partake of its prominence and unbelievably lucrative central location. Tietz, who was the first to erect his store there, needed seven years to complete his Alexanderplatz empire. But when the first section of the Warenhaus Tietz opened in 1905 (the last one was inaugurated in 1911), its 250-metre long façade was the longest department store front in the world. And it provided attractive background for the real Queen of the Plaza: Berolina. Emil Hunderieser’s giant bronze beauty surveyed over Alexanderplatz from 1890 until 1942 – with several years of a year when the U-Bahn station under the plaza was being refurbished.
The break Berolina had to take take from guarding her post lasted several years: Berolina was removed from her original spot in 1927 to carry out construction works for the extended U-Bahn station “Alexanderplatz” as well as the erection of Peter Behrens’s Alexanderhaus and Berolinahaus (both survived the war and are wonderful examples of modern pre-WWII Berlin architecture). In 1933 she returned to Alex, after the District Council of Treptow where she had been stored in the meantime refused to keep her at a storage near the S-Bahnhof “Treptower Park”. Placed in front of Behrens’ buildings she looked slightly overwhelmed and never recovered to her old glory.
In August 1942 she was removed from her plinth – which, too, had to move from in front of the Tietz Department Store to before the new Alexanderhaus), transported to Neukölln and quite certainly melted.
After WWII, as an important part of East Berlin, Alexanderplatz underwent another significant metamorphosis: it was given a completely new face again. But that story is featured in the next post from the treasure trove of Berlin Companion.
Did you know that in German sign language Berlin is symbolised by a bear’s ear? Even though, contrary to popular belief, the city’s name was not inspired by any large furry carnivore but has its root in a old Slavonic word barl (a marshland, a morass), the animal is Berlin’s symbol and is featured on its coat of arms.
This informative little video was created for those interested in learning the names of Berlin’s main old boroughs and localities in sign language – notice how the typical endings “-berg” and “-dorf” are pronounced. And make sure you learn at least several names by heart. Alexanderplatz should not be a problem to memorise, though;-)
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