foto uit Spaarnestadarchief, tijdschrift Het leven kleiner
Image from a Dutch magazine “Het Leven” (via Spaarnestadt Archive).
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.

Before the take-off: Berlin-Alexanderplatz, Line 5 (Direction: Hönow).
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.
Future Alexanderplatz in 1804, one year before it was given its current name. The shape it had back then remained more or less unchanged for centuries.
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.
Alexanderplatz captured by Max Missmann in 1925.
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.
Alexanderplatz in 1934: Alexanderhaus to the left, Berolinahaus and Warenhaus Tietz (centre and right) and Berolina installed in front of the Alexanderhaus (image via Bundesarchiv).
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;-)


#OTD, June 23 1930, two flying giants, the magnificent airship LZ127 also known as “Graf Zeppelin” and the then largest transport aircraft worldwide, the 1929 Junkers G38, both arrived and landed at the airfield in Berlin-Staaken.

LZ 127 landing after its circumnavigation of the world in 1929 (photo by Alexander Cohrs).

The Junkers machine, with a Series No. D2000, was one of only two such aircraft ever built: completed in 1929, it was bought by German “Luftfahrtministerium” (Ministry for Aviation) for testing and later used by Lufthansa for regular flights Berlin-London.

The airship – or “zeppelin” – was equally impressive. Built in 1928, this hydrogen-filled rigid “flying cigar” would become the first machine of this sort to complete the first world circumnavigation.

Not surprisingly, both the airship and the winged Junkers transporter held multiple records.

Junkers G38 D-2000 in Meyers-Blitz-Lexikon

The June 1930 visit was not without its comical moments: like the sudden silence which welcomed the arrival of the airship. Although already over Berlin, the machine which arrived too early, was forced to fly to Copenhagen to kill the time and follow the initial schedule. But when it reached Berlin-Staaken again, the orchestra failed to play the agreed tune.

While the crowds kept calling for the “Deutschlandlied” (the national anthem), the musician stood there confused and visible upset – they had been told “Deutschlandlied” would not be performed until after the speech held by Berlin’s Mayor, Scholtz. It was a massive “acid hole in the conversation” moment for everyone involved.

But the situation was to get even more awkward soon. LZ127 started again at 9 AM on its planned short visit to Hamburg. the machine was supposed to return to Berlin later in the afternoon. And it did. However without two of the captains it originally had on board but with several frightened as completely unintentional stowaways.

LZ127 being held down before starting in 1928 (image via Bundesarchiv, 102-06793 CC-BY-SA 3.0)

What happened was that while still in Hamburg the zeppelin whose crew were not all yet on board, began suddenly to ascend: filled with hydrogen and hard to manoeuvre without plenty of holding down and pulling, airships used to be fiendishly difficult to control.

All of a sudden, the airship’s heck began to rise, reaching the angle of 45° and several policemen employed to help pull the zeppelin’s ropes to keep it tamed found themselves being lifted up in the air. Some of them failed to let go of the said ropes on time and were forced to climb up and into the zeppelin’s gondola. Unable to land again, the machine took the course south-east, heading back for Berlin – where a couple of hours later two captains, Lehmann and von Schiller, arrived, too. By train. Their zeppelin took off in Hamburg without them.

The “Berliner Volkszeitung” of June 23, 1930 reporting the visit.

Both “Graf Zeppelin” and Junkers G38 D2000 were absolute highlights that many pilgrimed to see. From 7 PM until 9 PM that day all owners of 2-Mark tickets were supposed to be able to enter the runway and approach the machines to inspect them from up close. But then the third calamity of the day struck: after an impromptu decision to allow 500 participants of Berlin’s World Energy Conference – it took place in Germany’s capital at the time – to go first, all other visitors (and those were far more many that 500) had to wait. Until 10.30 PM. Needless to say, the visitors were not amused.

Yet despite those small difficulties and perhaps not the best organisation (an unusual complaint about big Berlin events at the time), thousands of people for ever remembered the moment when they looked up, only to see a 236-metre airship followed by a four-engine giant float past them in the sky.

This short British Pathe and Luce films show how magnificent these two machines were: