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.

Skate-Bahn West at Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin, built using the entrance stairs of East Berlin’s Palast der Republik (image © notmsparker)

Did you know that a popular skate park at the south-eastern end of Tempelhofer Feld was built using the original granite steps that led to the entrance to the Palastder Republik? The steps, made of extra hard and beautifully polished Silesian granite, were already popular with skaters in the early 1990s; they were later given as a gift from Berlin’s Senator for Urban Development to a group of skating aficionados who wanted to build a professional skate-park in Mitte.

Although the original location fell through, it was eventually constructed – partly financed by the Berlin Senate – as Skate-Bahn West on Tempelhofer Feld. In order to give it an authentic city feeling, the skate park was designed to look like the forefront of a museum.

The granite steps were not the only part of Palast der Republik to be put to new use after the original structure was demolished in 2006-2008: Burj-Khalifa in Dubai, currently the tallest structure in the world, contains most of the 25,000 tonnes of recycled Swedish steel from the East Berlin Palast. The girders were melted at a smelting plant in Saxony-Anhalt and sold both to Volkswagen – who still use it to produce their car engines – and a construction firm from Istanbul who provided the steel for the Dubai project.

The 829-metre luxury skyscraper was built around a steel frame with plenty of resistance power and with deeply socialist roots.

Find out more about the fate of East Berlin’s second favourite building (after Fernsehturm) from the first volume of “Notmsparker’s Berlin Companion” available also as an e-book via berlinarium.bigcartel.com

Early 1870s view towards Am Weidendamm and the old water canal which later became Planckstraße. (Photo: F.A. Schwartz)

Today’s photo was taken around 1870 by one of Berlin’s best visual chroniclers, F.A.Schwartz, at the time when he himself lived nearby in Friedrichstraße.

The location on the 1891 Sineck-Plan of Berlin: the canal is clearly visible between Admiralsgarten-Bad and the Artillerie-Kaserne with the depots.

The view is practically impossible to match to today’s situation: the photographer stood on the northern bank of the Spree looking towards what is today Planckstraße, a street – built as Prinz-Louis-Ferdinand-Straße, in the filled-in bed of the water canal whose mouth you see in the picture. The then popular inn, the “Hammelkopf”, is visible on the left corner of the canal’s end.

The “Hammelkopf” (Ram’s Head) inn photographed by the same artist, F.A. Schwartz, in 1888.

Both the small canal and the inn would disappear soon as the city continued its steady northbound expansion.

The same spot on the 1910 Straubeplan of Berlin, with Prinz-Louis-Ferdinand-Straße running behind the Admirals-Garten and what is today Admiralspalast.