Contrary to what we hear all too often these days – more as a warning than as a fact, I believe – Berlin still has its little secrets and surprises. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to have stumbled into both of them during a bike reconnaissance for a new book.
The sight of an overgrown red-brick ruin with a large tree growing through a no longer present roof had me press my brakes with such gusto that I nearly catapulted myself out of the saddle. A beautiful rusty fence and an elegant gate whose bottom part has already been devoured by rust, guard what looks like a Secret Garden par excellence. If I have ever seen a time-traveller’s portal to the Past in Berlin, then this must be one.
Quick internet search helped me establish that the abandoned villa once belonged to Professor August Hinderer, a man whose name has long been forgotten but deserves to be remembered again.
You can learn more about him and about the history of the house, which hit by bombs on the night of March 23-24, 1944 has never been inhabited since, by reading a great text by a true expert in Berlin’s secret and abandoned sites, Ciaran Fahey. You will find the story of the Hinderer villa below (please click the image).
One and a half years after the publication of my “Berlin Companion” I am very happy and proud to introduce Part II of the collection of fascinating tales, facts and anecdotes from Berlin’s past and present – “Notmsparker’s Second Berlin Companion”.
Both books, including the e-book version of the first “Berlin Companion”, are available through berlinarium.bigcartel.com (shipping costs for Germany are 1.00 Euro, for the rest of the world 3.70 Euro). If you like to learn new unexpected things about Germany’s capital, things you didn’t even know you wanted to know, then this one is definitely for you:-)
Berlin of the 1980s was a magnet attracting new people, new bands, new artists. The city’s imperfection, its messiness, its open ends juxtaposed against the ultimate barrier, the Wall, running through it, created a perfect breeding ground for all those who thought precious little of elegant white fences and “norms and regulations”.
One of the then new arrivals was a British band, Depeche Mode. They found here both perfect music-making and recording conditions (at the legendary Hansa Studios in Köthener Straße in Kreuzberg) as well as an enthusiastic, devoted audience.
Not only in West Berlin or West Germany – Depeche Mode won the hearts of many, many East Berlin and East German fans. The same happened in Poland – something to which the author was herself a witness and active participant: I discovered Depeche Mode as a 14-year-old in the People’s Republic of Poland and remain one until today, as a citizen of the German Federal Republic.
Depeche Mode are frequent guests in Berlin and their concerts are sold out every single time. But what was it like back in the 1980s, in the DDR? It wasn’t, in fact, any different: the band were worshipped on both sides of the divide. But for those on its eastern side March 7th 1988 was what many still describe as “the most beautiful day of their life”. This short video – an extract from a longer documentary which is absolutely worth watching if found online – explains why. So does the book by Sascha Lange and Dennis Burmeister, two long-time Depeche Mode devotees.
You will also enjoy the author’s favourite early Depeche Mode video recorded in Berlin in the early 1980s and featuring among others, the U1 viaduct along Gitschiner Straße and Wassertorplatz in Kreuzberg, the Wannsee lido and Hansaviertel in Tiergarten: “Everything Counts”.
According to Karl Scheffler – and what must be the most often used Berlin quotation ever – Germany’s capital is “dazu verdammt, immerfort zu werden und niemals zu sein” (cursed never to be and forever to become).
Scheffler famously voiced this opinion in his 1910 book “Berlin- ein Stadtschicksal” and it was by no means meant as praise. Like the rest of the book, it reflected the paradox of the author’s relationship with the city. He loved it and he hated it at once. One could say, a conundrum faced by every Berliner before or after Scheffler.
Probably never before was Berlin’s typically unfinished, unready condition more visible than today. Modern digital technologies allow people like us to follow its permanent state of flux almost in real time broadcast. And never are those changes as striking as when you compare images from only a short while ago with its today’s look.
The ‘Berliner Zeitung’ has just published several Google Street-View images from only ten years ago juxtaposing them against photos of the same Berlin vistas today. The pace at which this city has been changing truly matches that of our time. Which might not be as much of a blessing as it is Scheffler’s curse.
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