Update December 3rd 2011: The demolition of the Deutschlandhalle, mentioned in this post as a possibility, began today. A new conference venue is set to take its place.

Getting off the S-Bahn at Messe Nord and crossing the road, I go through an underpass with some intriguing late 70s features:


An underpass


The escalator leading out

The whole Messe (trade fair) area has some fascinating buildings on it, but those will have to wait for another day. The bit I'm interested in today is something which stands forlorn and abandoned at the western edge of the complex.


The Deutschlandhalle

Built in 1935, ready for the 1936 Olympic games, the Deutschlandhalle became West Berlin's primary arena after World War II bomb damage was repaired in 1957. It's been the venue for all manner of events, both sporting and musical, but actually, what put the building in my mind was neither of those things.

On November 20th 1971, the wildman of the German acting world Klaus Kinski took to the stage in the Deutschlandhalle to deliver his performance of 'Jesus Christus Erlöser' (Jesus Christ, saviour), the story of Christ according to Kinski. To judge whether the performance was a success or not depends on what he was trying to achieve - if he was wanting to court controversy, he certainly managed that. The audience began to heckle, quickly unleashing Kinski's legendary temper as he screamed insults back at them. Certainly rather far removed from the school nativity play...


The front of the Deutschlandhalle

The Deutschlandhalle has since been eclipsed by venues like the Max Schmeling Halle and the O2 World and has stood empty since April 2009. There are now plans to demolish it, though it's a listed building, which has so far led to permission being refused.

I cross the road and wander further westwards towards the Teufelsberg, the devil's mountain, an artificial hill built from the rubble of World War II. The surroundings become increasingly rural and forested as I go, the city feeling ever more distant.

Along the Teufelschaussee, there's a snuffling noise in the bushes. The snuffling becomes grunting and squealing and it's then that I catch sight of the striped fur of a litter of wild boar piglets that are foraging in the undergrowth. It's tempting to try and get closer to take a picture, but angering a wild boar sow with piglets doesn't tend to be a good idea...

I first saw the Teufelsberg in 2006 when, looking out from the Olympic stadium, the 'golf ball' radomes on its summit caught my eye. They're part of a cold war era listening station that was used by the Americans and the British to intercept signals from the Eastern Bloc.


The Teufelsberg



It's in a rather sorry state now, having been mostly abandoned in 1991 (one of the domes had new radar equipment installed and was used by the German government until 1999). The skin on the radomes is torn in many places, and thunders as the wind catches hold of it.

It's a bleak sight, particularly with the dark sky now threatening rain. Another cold war relic left to decay in the woods.


Checkpoint Charlie seen from a coach window


This slightly unassuming street scene, taken through a coach window by a tourist actually shows one of the most iconic locations of divided Berlin - Checkpoint Charlie.

Again, I think this is probably 1981. The checkpoint hut is a more substantial affair than the 1961 incarnation (or its reproduction which stands on the site now), but less so than the mid 80s building, which is now in the AlliertenMuseum in Dahlem.


A close up of the checkpoint itself


Looking a bit closer reveals a sign warning "Achtung! Sektorengrenze" (Caution! Sector boundary). The US flag flies from the checkpoint's flagpole - the checkpoint was in the American sector. An East German watchtower can be seen beyond the boundary, though not the same watchtower which I mentioned back in December 2009. The one in this picture was demolished in 1984, when a much larger crossing point was built on the East Berlin side.

After passing through the checkpoint, vehicles went around a slalom into the eastern border control point. This obscured the view through from the east to the west and also made it impossible to escape across the border by just charging straight through at high speed.


A close up of the checkpoint itself


Coach windows aren't exactly renowned for their optical precision and so some of the details are rather fuzzy, but there are a few interesting things to be made out.

The notice under the no parking sign (the round red and blue one) says "Für Aliierte Fahrzeuge frei", meaning the parking spaces beyond it are reserved for Allied vehicles.

The poster beyond it is for Berliner Kindl beer and says "Berliner - das ist Euer Kindl" , which could be read as "Berliners - this is your child" (Kindl is an old fashioned Bavarian diminutive of Kind - child - a reference to the Bavarian brewing tradition which Berliner Kindl borrows from, the Münchner Kindl being the figure on Munich's coat of arms).

You know those days when you go looking for one thing and end up finding something completely different? I had one of those the other day and ended up as the owner of a collection of colour 35mm slides shot in Berlin in the early 1980s (summer 1981 as far as I can tell, assuming they're all from the same date).

This is actually a fairly commonly photographed view, looking from Potsdamer Platz down along Stresemannstraße:


Looking across the wall to Stresemannstraße, 1981


There was an observation point on the western side that allowed tourists to look over the wall and across the death strip to East Berlin on the other side - as the unknown photographer did here. Having had a bit of a look around on the internet, it looks like he wasn't the only one to take a picture from this vantage point!

You can see the anti-tank defences running parallel with the wall. The death strip was particularly wide at Potsdamer Platz; the buildings around what had once been one of Berlin's busiest traffic intersections had been reduced almost completely to ruins during World War II and were mostly demolished. On the eastern side, this provided the guards with an uninterrupted view of the border area.

Though the quality gets a bit gnarly when magnified, there are still some interesting details visible:


A zoomed in view of the watchtower at Erna Berger Straße


Remember the watchtower at Erna-Berger-Straße? This is it in its natural habitat! You can see (if you peer through the film grain a bit...) how the tower is outside of the death strip, looking over the area on the eastern side of the wall, as I mentioned in the November 2009 post.

It also gives you a view of the east side 'Hinterlandmauer' as well as some of the lighting used to illuminate both the death strip and the area beyond the Hinterlandmauer at night.

At first glance, it looks like there are no people in the picture, but of course this is East Berlin - there's always someone watching from somewhere:


Border guards in the death strip


These two border guards have obviously come out of their guard post for a bit of a look around. It looks like the one on the left might be looking at the photographer (it wasn't unknown for guards to get a camera out themselves and photograph western photographers, but it doesn't look like he's holding a camera here), while the one on the right might be holding a gun. Even with the benefit of the full resolution scan, it's not too easy to make out much!

This also gives you a closer look at the anti-tank defences, which are a kind of 'Czech Hedgehog' made by clamping three lengths of iron together.

There's something more on the building at Stresemannstraße 128 - 130:


A lookout post on top of Stresemannstraße 128 - 130


A lookout post has been built on top of the building, accompanied by a large searchlight. Later, this was replaced by a tall watchtower close to where the guards' post is in this picture. The Hinterlandmauer below was also replaced with a more substantial segmented wall like that on the western side.

The building was built between 1913 and 1916 as an extension to the Prussian ministry for agriculture, estates and forests (Ministerium für Landwirtschaft, Domänen und Forsten). As the line of the Hinterlandmauer cut right across the front of the building, all the windows and doors on the bottom floor frontage were walled off, with access only via the back.

It is now being refurbished and extended and will soon house the Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit (federal ministry for the environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety). The segments of Hinterlandmauer, which were left remaining on the corner of Erna-Berger-Straße until recently, will apparently be put back in place (inside the building) once work is complete. There's an interesting picture gallery on the BMU's website (text in German).

There are plenty more treasures amongst these slides, so expect to see more here in the future!

I briefly mentioned back in November 2009 how the Berliner Dom - originally designed by Julius Raschdorff and opened in 1905 - had been rebuilt in slightly altered form after World War II. Seeing as I'm currently in the mood for delving into my archive of Günter Bittner's pictures, now would seem to be a good time to show you what I mean.


The Berliner Dom at night, 1930s


This picture is, as far as I can tell, from the 1930s, judging mainly by the apparent age of other pictures in the collection which appear to have been taken on the same camera and at around the same time. I don't see anything in the picture which dates it any more precisely than that (though equally, it's clear that it's a pre-war picture).

It was taken on 6x6cm rollfilm, though the negative has been cut to a single frame. It's sadly not in terribly good condition either, riddled with scratches and other marks, though the version you see here is one which I've digitally restored. I've also cropped it from the original square format, as the negative included the out of focus top of one of the posts which hold up the railings by the river in the foreground, which didn't seem to really belong in the picture. I know from some of the prints he made that he often printed the negatives to ordinary rectangular paper sizes, so I'd hazard a guess that he may have had this in mind all along and just found that the spot with the post in foreground was a convenient place to put the camera. I can only guess at what camera he used for this - the only camera his daughter could tell me anything about was a 35mm Contaflex from the 1950s which she'd recently sold. The two main possibilities that spring to mind are either a folding camera like a Zeiss Super Ikonta B or a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera like an early Rolleiflex. There would have been all manner of cameras on the market that would have fit the bill, though.

The building silhouetted on the left of the picture is the back of the Berliner Stadtschloß. This older side of the building is not nearly as celebrated as the baroque façade of the western side and, when the Schloß is 'rebuilt' it will be replaced by a modern façade.

Of course, the building I'm here to focus on is the Dom (or rather, the Oberpfarr- und Domkirche!). Dom is often translated as 'cathedral' but in fact, there's no bishop at the Berliner Dom, so it's technically just a large church - in fact the word Dom can be applied to any large and important church (it comes from the Latin 'domus Dei' - house of God).

You'll be able to get an idea of some of the post war alterations made to the Dom by looking at the picture closely. The domes are far more ornate than their modern replacements.

Here's another view of it, taken after the war from the Mühlendammbrücke. It's hard to date precisely, though the temporary roof, which covers the dome in the picture, was built in the winter of 1952 - 1953, so it's sometime after that and before 1975, when work on rebuilding the Dom began.


The Berliner Dom, with the Marstall in foreground


For comparison, here's one I took in June 2009:


The Berliner Dom, with the Marstall in foreground, June 2009


At the time I took this, I was stood on the bridge looking at the grey clouds gathering, thinking how the light wasn't right for an attempt at taking a modern equivalent of Günter Bittner's picture. Then the boat came along and, seeing as his picture has a barge in it, how could I resist firing the shutter anyway? I still prefer the soft, late afternoon sunlight of his picture, but if I'd waited for the perfect moment, I'd not have a picture to use for comparison now!
There's a bit of a story behind my picture too (I like stories), as it's one I took on the mid-50s Rolleicord V TLR that I bought in a rather eccentric camera shop in Hannover while I was living in Germany. It's been the length and breadth of Germany with me and still works perfectly, despite its advanced age.

The amount of building work that's been done on the Nikolaiviertel - on the river bank to the right of the picture - is worth noting. It was built in 1987 for the celebrations of Berlin's 750th birthday, using more old fashioned proportions than was usual for East German developments - though it does incorporate some older buildings, like the surviving ones which are there in Günter Bittner's picture, much of it is new. That's a subject for another time, though!

It was early 2007 when, trawling eBay for old postcards to use in a lecture, I came across a collection of assorted postcards and photographs which had belonged to the seller's father. She had included some example images in the description, but added that there were an awful lot more. How could I not be intrigued? It was like an archival lucky dip...

The seller told me that, along with being a professional portrait photographer in Strausberg, her father, Günter Bittner, had taken these photographs of Berlin as part of his hobby. She said she hoped I'd not be disappointed with them.

Far from it. I found myself with a guide around the city, someone whose footsteps to follow, beating a winding path through the layers of history, the destinations spaced out not just in physical space but in time as well.

This photograph of the Marienkirche, according to the date pencilled on the back of the print, was taken in 1949. It was taken on quarter-plate sized black and white negative film - the scan is from the original negative and has a level of detail that would send many modern digital cameras running with their tails between their legs.


The Marienkirche in 1949


You can see just how much clearing work was done in the 1960s reworking of the area. Some buildings, like the one just coming into the left of the frame, were clearly in quite a bad state of repair, but others seem to have survived rather better.

You might find it interesting to compare this view with my pictures from December 14th 2009 - the picture showing the ice rink around the Neptunbrunnen is taken from a very similar position.

The perfectly parallel vertical lines in the picture indicate that he was using a view camera to take this - that is, one with a bellows body which allows the front of the camera to be moved independently from the back, allowing perspective control like this, amongst other things. Normally, tilting the camera upwards to photograph a tall building results in the lines of the building getting closer together as they get further from the camera - photographers call this converging verticals and many consider it a flaw (though I think high degrees of perspective control can sometimes look equally - if not more - unnatural).


The Marienkirche in 1949


This view shows particularly clearly just how much has changed. The Fernsehturm would dominate this view now, the presence of its grey base behind the church begging the inclusion of the whole tower in the picture, right to the top of its striped red and white antenna.

The Martin Luther monument - the statue in the foreground here - has been moved since this picture was taken. It was removed from the area after the war and only returned in October 1989. The ornamentation on the western side of the gable end of the church roof has also changed very slightly - here, ornaments stick up above the roof line, which have since been removed.

Stay tuned for more of Günter Bittner's pictures!

The snow is deeper out towards Tegel. The pale late afternoon sunset has quickly given way to darkness and the bus swishes cautiously through the icy streets.

I arrive at the airport with more than enough time to spare. The flight, it turns out, will be delayed by around twenty minutes, so after I've checked my suitcase in, I go outside to take in the night air.


The taxi rank at Tegel airport, night


There's a decent view of the hexagonal air traffic control tower from this side of the taxi rank. The text on the side of the building says "Berlin Tegel" with "Otto Lilienthal" written underneath. Lilienthal was a German flight pioneer, whose glider flights near Berlin and in other parts of Germany in the late 1800s served as a major inspiration to the Wright brothers.

I go through security just before 7 and everyone boards just after half past. A truck arrives to de-ice the plane before take off, a robotic arm extending out to spray the wings with a thick goo, which spreads across their smooth surfaces and drips slowly to the ground.

The plane turns on its departure from Tegel, giving a dramatic view of the city below, the light of the streets and buildings interspersed with the dark of winter clouds. I peer out through the window, searching for familiar landmarks and eventually catch sight of the ferris wheel of the Christmas market and, for a brief moment, the television tower.

The route to baggage reclaim at Heathrow Terminal 5 takes me down what seems like a maze of escalators, before arriving at a small station. I don't remember having come this way before and the whole thing feels a little like the kinds of things the Stasi created to disorient people. The train then goes through a short tunnel and arrives in another station. There's then a further maze of corridors and escalators, through passport control and into baggage reclaim. I can't help thinking of Hannover airport, where if you looked carefully through the hatch at the end of the conveyor the bags were coming through on, you could see the man on the other side throwing them through from the baggage truck on the airport apron outside, the plane not too far away. Tegel's system doesn't seem a whole lot more complex either. There's something quite attractive about the simple solution...

The pilot said the conditions in London were similar to those in Berlin. That wasn't quite true; it's raining here and distinctly warmer. Still, I'm back from another adventure...here's looking forward to the next time!


A mug of Glühwein



Before heading back to Tegel, I stop at Gendarmenmarkt for a last mug of Glühwein.

Glühwein (mulled wine - though literally 'glow wine') is one of the German Christmas market staples, made by heating red wine with spices (usually cloves, cinnamon and allspice, though there are many variations...I like to use cardamon myself), citrus fruits and sugar.

Along with paying for the Glühwein, you'll be asked to pay a Pfand (deposit) for the mug it's served in - you can either return the mug and get the money back, or keep the mug. This one's coming home with me!

A variation on Glühwein is Feuerzangenbowle (fire tongs punch). To make it, a cone of sugar has rum poured on it, before being set alight and allowed to drip into the punch below. The Feuerzange is what's used for holding the sugar - it would originally have been a pair of tongs like those used for grabbing coals from the fire, but now tends to be a specially designed holder.


The Feuerzangenbowle at night


This is the Feuerzangenbowle stand at the Nostalgischer Weihnachtsmarkt (nostalgic Christmas market) behind the Opernpalais (opera palace) on Unter den Linden. You can see the cones of sugar lined up above the steaming punch bowl, ready to add their rum-drenched sweetness to the mix.

Mauerpark was created from an area of what had been the death strip following the course of Schwedter Straße.


A couple walk their dogs in Mauerpark


There's a gentle slope at the eastern edge, just beyond the Max-Schmeling-Halle. I've seen children (and adults too, actually) sledge down it when the snow's thick enough, but it isn't today; the children are all still in school right now anyway.

At the top, bordering on the Friedrich-Jahn-Stadion, is a section of Hinterlandmauer, which has been designated as an area for graffiti:


A graffiti artist at work


At the southern end of Mauerpark is Bernauer Straße. Here, the wall turned west and formed what is perhaps one of its most famous stretches. Of course if you head east instead, down Eberswalder Straße, you reach Konnopke's Imbiß. It's lunch time.

I head south from Bornholmer Straße station towards Mauerpark (wall park). The smell of coal smoke hangs thick in the air and everything seems to be rendered in shades of grey.

That's the cue for another black and white moment, I think...

I still have strong memories of coming here in the snow in early 2005, so after the morning's snowfall, I couldn't resist coming back to take a look again.

There are some remains of the Hinterlandmauer (the 'eastern' side of the border defences) here, where Norwegerstraße meets Behmstraße. It ran all the way along the side of the road here, the S-Bahn tracks on the other side forming the 'no man's land' between it and the western side:


The remains of Hinterlandmauer at Norwegerstraße


On the other side of the road is the Schwedter Steg, a raised walkway which crosses the small triangle of land between the S-Bahn tracks, as well as bridging the railway tracks themselves. It always feels lonely here, like the wall drove the place's life spirit away and it's never quite returned. It's not that there are no signs of life here - there are plenty - it just always feels oddly quiet.


The Berlin skyline from the Schwedter Steg


The Schwedter Steg was built in 1998, replacing an earlier bridge which was destroyed in World War II and never rebuilt during the years of Berlin's division.

The wall ran along Schwedter Straße, passing right in front of the housing blocks there. The television tower is a constant presence on the horizon, both comforting and unsettling in equal measures; it provides a familiar point of reference and yet there's also the feeling of it being something you can't escape.


The corner of Kopenhagener Straße


The buildings on this stretch are particularly run down, having suffered a long period of neglect during the days of the GDR.

The sides of the buildings on the corner of Kopenhagener Straße still hold evidence of the area's past...but you have to know what you're looking for...


Anchor points for an electric fence on a building in Kopenhagener Straße


The balcony of this flat has been removed. In its place are anchor points for an electric fence. The buildings here formed part of the border; a section of Hinterlandmauer blocked off the end of Kopenhagener Straße and the windows and doors of the buildings facing the west were bricked off. Residents could only access their flats through the back entrance, through the courtyard.

The building on the opposite corner has some anchor points too.


Anchor points for an electric fence on a building in Kopenhagener Straße


Schwedter Straße used to have a different name. Up until the 1860s, it was called Verlorener Weg. Lost Lane or Lost Path might be the most accurate translation, but perhaps Lost Way is a more interesting thing to call it, considering its history in more recent years. The way through here was indeed lost, swallowed up by the death strip and in the intervening years, humanity lost its way too.

The Marienkirche is the oldest consecrated church in Berlin. It was built in the 13th century, first mentioned in 1292 though thought to date from slightly before that. The tower was added in the 15th century, built of Muschelkalk (shell-bearing limestone) from Rüdersdorf (to the east of Berlin). The original spire was quite different; the current copper spire was added in 1789-90 by Carl Gotthard Langhans, who was also the architect of the Brandenburg Gate.


The Marienkirche


It was then restored and added to in 1893-95 by Hermann Blankenstein - the four-gabled façade on the side is his work. It needed restoration again after World War II, though unlike some of Berlin's churches (the nearby Nikolaikirche, for example), it remained usable even before the restoration began. The area around it was cleared extensively in the late 60s, leaving it standing alone in an area which once was tightly packed with buildings.

I didn't go inside this time, so the interior will have to wait until another post, but it's definitely worth a look. It has a beautiful vaulted ceiling and its walls are home to a late 15th century Totentanz (danse macabre - dance of death). It also has a fine organ, originally built by Joachim Wagner in the early 1720s (though like virtually all organs, it's been rebuilt/restored many times since then, including most recently in 2002).

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Here's a nicely made film focusing on children and young people in Marzahn, Der Himmel Über Marzahn: http://t.co/bEc7UokCrm
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RT @underagreysky: The balloons have sailed... the week is done... talks, tours, interviews, book launches... an incredible few days #mauer…
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I can't help wondering what they're going to do with them...not exactly the most compact of souvenirs.
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The rush to dismantle the balloon-light bases to take home has amusing echoes of the 'Mauerspechte' chiselling at the wall after it fell!
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