Gustav Wunderwald, 1927, U-Bhf “Schönhauser Tor”

It is never easy to find your way within a vanished city. But then again, it is never boring to try to do so. Especially when such quest involves deciphering a beautiful painting. Like this 1927 work by a gifted artist, Gustav Wunderwald.

“Film-Palast Schönhauser Tor” was a popular cinema built in Hankestraße 1 in Berlin-Mitte. But the address most likely won’t help you find its former site – it vanished from the maps of the city just as the cinema disappeared from Berlin’s cityscape. In 1969 Hankestraße became the northern section of today’s Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße, which means that Gustav Wunderwald’s painting shows the place shortly before the street crosses with today’s Torstraße.

The location of the cinema on a 1928 aerial photo of Bülowplatz (now Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz).

The U-Bahn station in front of the cinema, opened in 1913, was the picture show’s namesake: after several re-naming campaigns (including “Bülowplatz”, the Third-Reich inspired “Horst-Wessel-Platz” and post-war “Liebknechtplatz” followed by “Luxemburgplatz”), station “Schönhauser Tor” on today’s Line U2 was eventually called “Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz”.

The cinema itself was known under several different names, too. When it opened in 1926 it commemorated the old, eighteenth-century city gate but by 1934 it had already been known as the “Hanke-Lichtspiele”, the “Gloria-Palast” and in the end as “Ton-Eck” (Sound-Corner). With seats for 600 and later around 500 guests, it offered pleasant and intime atmosphere while remaining modern and situated in a perfect mid-city location. Sadly, the latter became its downfall – the cinema did not survive the Second World War.

But what remains is this fine image of it, a sunny ghost captured by the painter who found joy in exploring the metropolis, providing us with pictures of it we would otherwise never get to know.

Bülowplatz (now Rosa-Luxemburg.Platz) with Oskar Kaufmann’s Volksbühne Theatre. The “Schönhauser Tor” cinema as well as the two buildings behind it visible in the top-right corner. (Image: AKG-Images, author NN, 1928).

The gate to Schloß Monbijou captured by Hermann Rückwardt in 1885 (image PD).

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.

Park Monbijou and the lido on July 14, 1955. Photo by Rainer Mittelstädt via Bundesarchiv.

 

 

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.

Spittelmarkt seen from Leipziger Straße in 1904.

Spittelmarkt, once a central Berlin plaza in the borough of Mitte and today one of the most non-descript places in the city centre.

A 1900 traffic census carried out there rendered following results: between 6 AM and 10 PM the plaza was crossed by 144,223 pedestrians and 21,237 vehicles. At the time, Berlin had 1,888,848 registered residents.

By the end of nineteenth century Spittelmarkt, named after a small hospital (Sankt Gertrauden Hospital) and a chapel built there in early fifteenth century, became one of Berlin’s busiest traffic knots. This was only possible after the 17th-century Gertraudenkirche – built after the old chapel and the “Spittal” burnt down in 1641- was demolished in 1881 and the area underwent a significant re-design.

Gertraudenkirche in 1880, a year before its demolition (photo by Hermann Rückwardt).

In the 1920s another refurbishment followed and approximately a quarter of the century later, after May 1945, Spittelmarkt lay in ruins. Built anew by the East Berlin authorities in the 1970s, it reflected the then “modern” approach to architecture and urban planning. It virtually vanished again, overridden by the expanded traffic lanes as well as overwhelmed by the monstrous concrete high-rises erected around and partly on it.

Spittelmarkt in the 1920s (photographer unknown, PD).

The two map images – sections of a 1910 and a current Google-Map – featured below strongly reflect that change. The western entrance to the 1908 U-Bhf “Spittelmarkt” marked on both of them will help you locate the former within the latter.