Dienstag, 10. Juni 2014

Touring Schöneberg

A couple of months ago, I visited several times Schöneberg, trying to figure out the geography, architecture and history of a place that used to be famous for its intellectuals living here before the WWII. Previously a former independent borough, after the latest administrative reform it was joined by Tempelhof as co-borough. First documented as a village in the second half of the 13th century, it succeeded to get independent town privileges at the end of the 19th century, before being integrated in the city of Berlin in 1920.  
I started my first exploration at Innsbrucker Platz, very close to the RIAS Berlin, that between 1948 and 1993 it operated as the Radio of the American Sector. Nowadays, it is the headquarters of Deutschlandradio Kultur. A couple of bus stations away, there is another important reference point of the Cold War: the Schöneberg Townhall where the American president J.F.Kennedy pronounced the famous words 'Ich bin ein Berliner', a message of solidarity with population of Berlin divided after the construction of the Wall. 
But the Cold War is over now, and modern steel-and-glass constructions are a reminder that we are living in different times. At least there is no wall.
Trying to avoid the big streets, I discovered a little stylish park stuck between old 2-store houses, on Cecilienstrasse. The place was looking quiet and welcoming with a big playground around with children playing even though was late winter. 
All the houses around seem to have their special identification signs, either a little putti statue at the entrance or some old times house number. From Cecilienstrasse, I walked a little bit more and arrived in the Frohnau area, with a half-timbered train station, suddenly feeling that I am somewhere in the middle of a countryside. 
The next stop on the way to see more of Schöneberg was at Victoria-Luise-Platz metro, probably one of the ugliest stations in the whole West Berlin I ever seen. Close from here, at no. 11, used to live for a while the film direct Billy Wilder. The entire area is relatively isolated from the big noise of the city, although less than 20 minutes away from Ku'damm and the always busy KaDeWe shopping center.
From there on, I toured several times the Bayerische Viertel, with name of the streets written in the old Gotisch style bearing name of places from Bayern. Projected as a 'green area', the neighbourhood was aimed to combine leisure and comfort, answering the needs of the middle class population of Berlin, mostly concentrated in this area. The architectural plans were directed by Fritz Encke, Potsdam garden architect. Due to its significant population, the area was also called before the war 'Jewish Switzerland'.
In the 1930s, on these streets lived many Jewish intellectuals, many hunted and killed during the war. Some of the most famous residents were Albert Einstein, that lived on Haberlandstrasse 8, Gisele Freund, Leo Baeck, on Fritz-Elsasstrasse 15 or Erich Fromm on Bayerischer Platz 1. A school on Hohenstaufenstrasse bears the name of the literary guru Marcel Reich-Ranicki, a famous literary Jewish critic that set for decades the trends of German literature. Ranicki, originally from Poland, grew up in this area too and was a survivor of the concentration camps, but returned in Germany after the war. 
Since the beginning of the 1990s, a project declared successful by the artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock was developed in the area, aimed to create awareness about the dangers of anti-Semitism. Based on the propaganda and provisions of the Nuremberg laws, the artists set up 80 billboards on the top of street poles with the messages of hate forbidding Jewish citizens of Germany to visit a doctor, own a dog, go to school etc. At the first sight it is shocking to read those messages.
The area was mostly destroyed during the war, but rebuilt progressively in the 1960s. 
Another important historical benchmark of the quarter is the memorial from Münchener Strasse. Here was inaugurated in 1910 an orthodox synagogue complex, that also included a school. It was aimed to answer the needs of the growing Jewish population that reached 16,000 people close to the infamous Kristallnacht. When the deportations began, around 6,000 people living on this street only were sent to death. The synagogue was first destroyed during the vandalism acts of Kristallnacht, and after by the bombings during the war. In 1956 was completely destroyed and replaced later by a memorial.
The red bricks are predominant materials for many of the buildings, but very often, the monotony is broken by some curious characters appearing in the most unexpected places. 
Another building I easily fell in love with is the massive white appearance of the Volksschule.
The old and new constructions are sharing the ground and the sky, a reminder that, as usual, Berlin is not only past and its future is recreated every single morning. 

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