Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’

Dutch Treat at the Dutch Quarter

Monday, December 19th, 2016

 

The Dutch Quarter (Hollaendisches Viertel) is a neighborhood in the city of Potsdam, about 15 miles southwest of Berlin. Its 134 three-story red brick houses with Dutch style gables were constructed between 1733 and 1740. Originally, all of the buildings had front yards, but the last garden gave way in 1928. Today, the Dutch Quarter in Potsdam is Europe’s greatest collection of Dutch-style houses outside of the Netherlands. Mittlestrasse no. 8, the Johann-Boumann-Haus, is open to the public and details the history of the Dutch Quarter.

 

The Dutch Quarter (Hollaendisches Viertel) in Potsdam near Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www. walled-in-berlin.com

The Dutch Quarter (Hollaendisches Viertel) in Potsdam near Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www. walled-in-berlin.com

History of the Dutch Quarter

Construction of the Dutch Quarter began during the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, the “Soldier King.” To expand and upgrade the garrison town of Potsdam, Friedrich Wilhelm needed a large number of skilled craftsmen. Partial to the skillfulness of Dutch tradesman, he hoped to entice Dutch immigrants to Potsdam by offering them a home, freedom of conscience to follow their own beliefs in matters of religion and morality and the promise of plenty of work.

Eagerly, Friedrich Wilhelm asked the Dutch designer/builder, Jan Bouman, to construct four blocks of red brick houses, reminiscent of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the Dutch tradesmen did not arrive in the anticipated numbers so that many soldiers and their families, French and Prussian artists and travelling salesmen moved into the settlement instead. At some point, one third of the inhabitants were French.

Until 1878, the second battalion of the Prussian first Foot Guard Regiment was stationed in the Dutch Quarter. In 1906, the Hauptmann von Koepenick http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-captain-from-koepenick-ruse/ purchased his uniform in Mittelstrasse no. 3. from second-hand dealer Bertold Remlinter.

The Dutch Quarter in the 20th Century

The Dutch Quarter miraculously escaped major damage during World War II. Following the Second World War, the settlement became part of Soviet Occupation Zone. It was left to decay until the city council voted in the 1970s to begin restoration. Following German reunification in 1990, and with the help of the Dutch Monarchy, property owners, artists, conservationists and private investors, restoration took a major step forward and is completed by now.

The Dutch Quarter Today

Today, the Dutch Quarter’s picturesque mix of residential, small shops, galleries, artisan workshops, small backyard taverns, antique dealers, tempting restaurants and cozy cafés give it a unique charm that is popular with locals and tourists alike. The opportunity to Dutch Treat at the Dutch Quarter presents itself around every corner. Three times during the year, the Dutch Quarter celebrates: There is the tulip festival in April, the pottery market in September and the Dutch Christmas Market, called Sinterklaas.

 

The Dutch Quarter with its cozy taverns, small restaurants and cafes, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Dutch Quarter with its cozy taverns, small restaurants and cafes, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Locals and tourists enjoy the charm of the Dutch Quarter on a sunny afternoon, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Locals and tourists enjoy the charm of the Dutch Quarter on a sunny afternoon, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Allied High Commission governs Germany

Monday, October 17th, 2016

 

The Allied High Commission (Alliierte Hohe Kommission) was a form of Allied military rule following World War II. It was established on 21 September 1949 by the three Western Allies (The United States, Great Britain and France) and superseded the Allied Control Council http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allied-control-council-governs-germany/.

Purpose of the Allied High Commission

The function of the Allied High Commission in Germany was to regulate and, if necessary, intervene in areas of military, economic, and foreign policy matters of the newly established Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).

Creation of the Allied High Commission

On 9 May 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the four allies: The United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The four allies assumed responsibility for the government of Germany via the Allied Control Council. Each power occupied a specific zone of Germany. Berlin, located entirely within the Soviet Zone, was to be governed by an Allied Kommandatura http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allied-kommandatura-governs-berlin/

The four Allies attempted to formulate a common administrative policy for Germany, but the divergent interests among the occupying powers made their efforts futile. In 1946, British forces agreed to an American proposal to merge their two zones to create a bizone for economic reasons. The bizone was established on 1 January 1947, and in June, a plan to include the French Zone was agreed upon. The Soviets blockaded West Berlin. In return, the Western powers counter-blockaded the Soviet zone and organized an airlift http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-airlift-an-unprecedented-feat/ to keep West Berlin supplied. The Soviet Union finally lifted the blockade in May 1949, but Berlin remained divided into three Western and one Eastern sectors until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Meanwhile, a German government was set up in the Western zones. In April 1949 the United States, Great Britain and France published a new occupation statute of Germany governing their respective zones. It guaranteed self-government to the new West German State, with certain restrictions. West Germany’s constitution went into effect in May 1949. In September, the Occupation Statute went into effect, and the Allied High Commission replaced the Allied Control Council in September 1949. https://www.bl.uk/britishlibrary/~/media/subjects images/government publications/pdfs/germany-allied-control-zone-government-publications.pdf

The High Commission took its seat at the Hotel Petersberg http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/hotel-petersberg-germanys-camp-david/and became active as of 21 September 1949. It ceased to function under the terms of the Treaties of Paris on 5 May 1955.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

Hotel Petersberg – Germany’s Camp David

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

The stately Hotel Petersberg is located on a mountaintop by the same name in Germany’s Siebengebirge across the river from the city of Bonn. It was the German equivalent of Camp David prior to Germany’s reunification. The hotel, with a long and colorful history, is open to the public. Since 1990 the 5-Star hotel is operated by the Steigenberger chain under the name “Steigenberger Grand Hotel Petersberg.” Although still owned by the government, nowadays it rarely serves as Germany’s Bundesgaestehaus (Federal Guesthouse).

Aerial view of the Steigenberger Grand Hotel Petersberg complex. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Aerial view of the Steigenberger Grand Hotel Petersberg complex. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Pre-World War II History of Hotel Petersberg

Joseph Ludwig Mertens, a Cologne merchant, purchased the picturesque mountaintop area in 1834 and constructed his summer residence on the Petersberg. In 1892, following Mertens’ death, the brothers Paul and Joseph Nelles aquired the property, upgraded it and turned it into an elegant hotel. Among the first dignitaries to stay at the now stylish hotel were Prussian empress Victoria and Swedish Queen Sophie. But despite the noble clientele, the hotel proved unprofitable. And in 1912, Ferdinand Muelhens, owner of the 4711 Eau de Cologne company, acquired it at a foreclosure sale. Following extensive improvements he reopened it as a spa hotel two years later. Although by then financially successful, the hotel was forced to close its doors when World War I broke out and remained closed for the next six years. Following additional remodelling in the 1920s the hotel reopened once more, only to close again at the beginning of World War II.

Post-World-War II History of Hotel Petersberg

In 1945, American Forces confiscated the hotel on the Petersberg and turned it into troop quarters. Shortly thereafter, they handed it to the British Royal Engineers who, in turn, relinquished it to Belgian occupying forces to serve as a recuperation center.

In 1949, following another remodel to accommodate 340 offices, the Allied High Commision (Allierte Hohe Kommission) moved in. It was here that the Petersberg Agreement (Petersberger Abkommen) was signed on 22 November 1949. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/petersberg-agreement/This was a treaty between the occupying forces of the United States, Great Britain, France and the Federal Republic of Germany, a the first major step toward West German sovereignty. In June 1952, the Allied High Commission moved to another location. The property reverted to its owners, the Muelhens family, who turned the buildings into a hotel once again to be operated by the Breidenbacher Hof, a luxory hotel in Duesseldorf. Since 1954, the hotel bears the name “Hotel Petersberg.”

Recent History of Hotel Petersberg

In 1954 the German Federal government rented the newly remodelled Hotel Petersberg to serve as a guesthouse for visiting dignitaries, which included Etheopian emperor Haile Selassi and British Queen Elizabeth II. Still unprofitable, the hotel closed again in 1969 and slowly deteriorated until 1973 when Soviet Union’s leader, Leonid Brezhnev, requested to stay at the Hotel Petersberg. Despite a partial restoration to host the Soviet head of state, the hotel soon closed again.

Current use of the Hotel Petersberg

The German Federal Government needed a place in which to host visiting dignitaries. The close proximity of Hotel Petersberg to Bonn, the post-war capital, and its idyllic and secure setting helped to make it the top choice. And in 1979, the German Federal government purchased the 270-acre piece of real estate for 18.5 million Deutsche Marks. After spending an additional 137 million Marks on extensive reconstruction, the Hotel Petersberg reopened in 1990. This time, the Steigenberger hotel chain became the operators. Over the next ten years, most heads of state with diplomatic relations to Germany have stayed at the Hotel Petersberg.

Inside the rotunda of the Steigenberger Grand Hotel Petersberg. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Inside the rotunda of the Steigenberger Grand Hotel Petersberg. www.walled-in-berlin.com

In 1999, following German reunification, government offices moved from Bonn to Berlin, and the Hotel Petersberg was now too far away to continue to serve as a Bundesgaestehaus. Although the German government occasionally still rents it for its guests, Schloss Meseberg, 40 miles north of Berlin, has become Germany’s official guesthouse.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

 

Berlin – A Biker’s Paradise

Monday, August 8th, 2016

 

Exploring the 800-year-old city of Berlin on two wheels should be on every biker’s bucket-list. Love to bike? With 650 miles of bike paths and 710 bicycles per 1000 residents, Berlin is incredibly bike-friendly. In fact, bikers account for close to 20% of the total traffic in the city. That is no real surprise because automobile parking is so difficult to come by in the city, that biking is a popular alternative.

What makes Berlin a biker’s paradise?

First of all, most of the city is flat. Secondly, Berlin has a highly developed bicycling infrastructure with bike lanes on roads, mandatory bicycle paths, plenty of bike parking, off-road bicycle routes, shared bus lanes, combined pedestrian/bike paths and marked bikes lanes on sidewalks. There are even dedicated Fahrradstrassen (bicycle streets) where bikes have priority, and vehicles are limited to 30km/hour (18 miles/hour). Don’t want to bike the entire distance to your destination? No problem. With the purchase of a bike ticket, bikers are allowed to carry their cycles on the S- and U-Bahn trains, trams and busses.

Bikes parked along the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin's main train station. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Bikes parked along the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s main train station. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Bike Rentals

Berlin is a biker’s paradise because bikes may be rented at rental stations throughout the city. Many of the stations are located in the heart of the city near Friedrichstrasse, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Zoologischer Garten. All you need to do is decide what you want to see. At http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/sport-metropolis/bicycle-tours/ you may choose from 56 guided tours. But if you prefer to explore the city on your own, visit https://www.komoot.de/ for maps to plan your own tour. Finally, the German railway company, Deutsche Bahn, offers  rental bikes. Available at major intersections in the central part of the city, these bikes may be rent for just just €1 for 30 minutes and €9 for the day. The program is called “Call A Bike” and is offered in conjunction with train tickets. For details go to https://www.callabike-interaktiv.de

Popular Bike routes through and from Berlin

One of the most popular bike paths, the Mauerweg (Wall trail), traces the ex-frontier between east and west Berlin. Or you may opt to ride along the runways of the former Tempelhof airport or of the controversial and not yet completed Berlin Brandenburg International Airport. (http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-brandenburg-airport-boondoggle/ and http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-brandenburg-airport-project-from-hell/) The choice is yours. There are even several long-distance bike paths that start in Berlin: the Berlin-Copenhagen route, the Berlin-Usedom route and the Berlin-Leipzig route. Or try the Berlin section of the European Route R1. Whatever you decide, you have come to a biker’s paradise when you visit Berlin.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Four Faces of the Neue Wache Memorial

Monday, July 4th, 2016

 

The Neue Wache (New Guardhouse) in Berlin is located on the boulevard Unter den Linden between Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum) and Humboldt University. Since 1993, the Neue Wache is a memorial to the victims of war and tyranny. However, during its 200-year history, it had four distinct faces. The building’s interior has seen even more configurations during that time.

History of the Neue Wache

In 1818, on the occasion of Germany’s victory in the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon, King Friedrich Wilhelm III ordered the construction of the Neue Wache. Originally, it was erected as a guardhouse for the Prussian royal family and a monument to the victims of the anti-Napoleonic wars. For the next 100 years the Royal Guard was stationed at the Neue Wache. It was the Neue Wache to which Wilhelm Voigt, the bogus “Captain from Koepenick,” took the mayor and the city treasurer of Koepenick in 1906 while impersonating a captain in the Regiment of Foot Guards. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-captain-from-koepenick-ruse/

One hundred years later, in 1918, the German monarchy abdicated and the Neue Wache was converted into a memorial for the victims of World War I. During World War II the building was severely damaged by bombs.

Following the division of Germany in 1945, the Neue Wache was located in the Soviet sector of the divided city. In 1960, the East German government transformed the restored building into a memorial to the victims of fascism and militarism. It housed an eternal flame in a cube above the remains of an unknown concentration camp prisoner and an unknown fallen soldier. A Soviet honor guard stood watch and marched in front of the memorial.

Change of the Soviet Honor Guard in front of Neue Wache - photo © J. Elke Ertle, 1990, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Change of the Soviet Honor Guard in front of Neue Wache – photo © J. Elke Ertle, 1990, www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Neue Wache Today

In 1993, the Reunified Germany turned the Neue Wache into its main monument for the commemoration of the victims of war and tyranny. The building now houses Kaethe Kollwitz’s sculpture “Mother and her Dead Son.” An open, circular skylight provides the only light and leaves the sculpture in the center exposed to wind and weather. An underground room still houses the remains of the unknown soldier and soil from battlefields and concentration camps.

Kaethe Kollwitz sculpture "Mother and her Dead Son" inside the Neue Wache, Berlin - photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Kaethe Kollwitz sculpture “Mother and her Dead Son” inside the Neue Wache, Berlin – photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Who was the artist Kaethe Kollwitz?

Kaethe Kollwitz, a well-known German artist, was born in eastern Prussia in 1867. With the outbreak of the First World War, her sons Hans and Peter volunteered for service. Peter was killed just months into the conflict and Kollwitz never recovered from the loss. Several of her sculptures, including “Mother and her Dead Son” were inspired by Peter’s untimely death.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold War Checkpoint Charlie – Part 1

Monday, April 4th, 2016

For almost three decades – from 1961 to 1990 – Checkpoint Charlie was an important border crossing point between East and West Berlin. It was located in the Friedrichstrasse, near Zimmerstrasse, on the western side of the border. Along with Glienicker Bruecke (Glienicke Bridge) Checkpoint Charlie was the most prominent border crossing point during the Cold War.

Checkpoint Charlie’s Function

Checkpoint Charlie was a sentry post of the Western Allies and the main demarcation point between Western-occupied West Berlin and Soviet-occupied East Berlin. Its main function was to register and brief Allied military personnel prior to entering the eastern sector. It was also the only point where diplomats, journalists and foreign tourists could cross into Berlin’s Soviet sector. Germans were prohibited from using this checkpoint. Checkpoint Charlie could be passed by foot or by car. Any visit to the eastern sector required a one-day visa and the exchange of a specified amount of West German Marks for East German Marks. The exchange rate was set at 1:1 even though the official rate of exchange was 4:1.

Warning to anyone about to venture into the eastern sector of Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Warning to anyone about to venture into the eastern sector of Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Where did Checkpoint Charlie get its name?

The name “Charlie” came from the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet. There were two other Allied checkpoints in Germany: Checkpoint Bravo at Drewitz-Dreilinden (the border between East Germany and West Berlin) and Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt-Marienborn (the border between West Germany and East Germany).

Checkpoint Charlie operated for 29 years

During most of that time, the western side of Checkpoint Charlie consisted of nothing more than a tiny wooden shack and a few sandbags. In the 1980s, the original guardhouse was replaced by a larger metal structure. But it, too, was modest compared to the East German checkpoint. The unassuming appearance of the western side was intentional. With this simple shack, the Western Allies tried to convey that they did not consider the Berlin Wall to be a legitimate border. The East German side of Checkpoint Charlie, on the other hand, included guard towers, cement barriers and a building where the inspection of vehicles and passengers took place. Searches included heat scans to detect fugitives. To read about Checkpoint Charlie’s role in the East/West showdown in October 1961 and the current location of the old guardhouse, please visit http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/cold-war-checkpoint-charlie-part-2/

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

The doener – Germany’s fast food favorite

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Foreigners usually associate Germany with sausages of all kinds. But when it comes to simple meals, the doener is Germany’s favorite food. Although it is a Turkish invention, Germany sports more doener stalls than McDonald’s or Burger Kings combined. There are about 17,000 doener stalls in the country, 1,000 in Berlin alone.

What is a doener?

The word doener comes from the Turkish verb doenmek, which means to rotate. Today’s German doener is a variation of the original Turkish doener kebab, which has been in existence for many centuries. Way back in the 19th century, a cook named Iskender Efendi from the city of Bursa, Turkey, came up with the idea of serving kebabs. He placed chunks of lamb on a spit and roasted them horizontally. He served the meal on plates along with rice and tomatoes.

German doeners, on the other hand, are a take-away item. A 2- to 3-foot stack of seasoned, marinated chicken, turkey or beef (rarely lamb) is layered on a vertical spit, which slowly rotates in front of a heating element. The outer layer of the meat cooks while the inside layer remains frozen. Only the crisp outer edges of the meat are sliced off the constantly rotating skewer. The meat is then heaped onto a piece of charred flatbread and topped with various chopped vegetables and a spicy or yogurt-based sauce.

Doener stand near the ICC North S-Bahn station in Berlin, © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Doener stand near the ICC North S-Bahn station in Berlin, © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Who brought the doener to Germany?

Most people agree that a Turkish-born immigrant to Berlin created the first German doener. This man not only adapted the popular Turkish dish to the German palate but he also turned the meal into a handheld snack for the Berliner-on-the-go. Two Turkish-born guest workers in Germany vie for the title of having “invented” the German doener.

Kadir Nurman – doener inventor no. 1

The most likely candidate to have “invented” the German doener is Kadir Nurman. In 1960 – at age 26 – Mr. Nurman left his native Turkey for Germany and worked as a guest worker for Daimler in Stuttgart. Six years later he moved to Berlin. In 1972, he set up a fast food stand near Berlin’s busy Zoo station and sold his first doeners. When he realized that busy Berliners prefer to take their meal with them rather than eat it at the stand, he turned his doeners into a moveable feast. He also invented the vertical rotating spit. His doener caught on and by the 1990s became a German fast food favorite. But because he never patented his inventions, Mr. Nurman did not profit from the doener’s success. Although his contribution as the inventor of the doener was officially recognized by the Association of Turkish Doener Manufacturers in 2011, Mr. Nurman died a poor man in 2013, living only on his meager social security income. http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/doener-erfinder-kadir-nurman-ist-tot-a-930140.html

Mehmet Ayguen – doener inventor no. 2

Mehmet Ayguen also claims to have invented the doener. Like Kadir Nurman, Mr. Ayguen was born in Turkey and immigrated to Germany. While both men had their start as poverty-stricken guest workers, Mr. Ayguen made good. He moved to Berlin in 1976. He was 16 years old. Initially, he drove a taxi, worked as a dishwasher and finally worked for Mr. Nurman at his doener stand (so says Mr. Nurman). At this point the assertions are getting foggy. Mr. Ayguen claims to have served his first doeners in 1971 at Hasir, his family’s restaurant in Berlin. He would have been 11 years old at the time and supposedly still lived in Turkey.

Whether he invented the doener or not, Mehmet Ayguen’s is a success story. He and his five brothers started as paupers and ended up as multi-millionaires in their country of choice. Today, the Ayguen brothers own eight restaurants and three hotels in Berlin as well as five hotels in Istanbul and a luxury resort somewhere else in Turkey. http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/berlin/mehmet-ayguen-das-berliner-hasir-imperium,10809148,22023380.html

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

City Pissoir – Urinary Discrimination?

Monday, January 11th, 2016

When I focused my camera on the famous Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaechtnis Kirche (Emperor Wilhelm Memorial Church) in Berlin’s city center, a shiny, ultramodern structure obstructed my view. The inscription above the frosted front door read, “City Pissoir.” A caricature on the door instantly reminded me of Manneken Pis, Brussels’ famous 1700s sculpture, and left no doubt that this contemporary edifice provided a terminus for urgent calls.

City Pissoir at Breitscheidplatz in Berlin, Germany Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

City Pissoir at Breitscheidplatz in Berlin, Germany
Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

What is a pissoir?

The term comes from the Middle French pisser, to urinate. And indeed, a pissoir is a French invention dating back to the mid-1800s. It is a structure that provides support and screening for public urinals without incurring the expense of constructing an enclosed building. Pissoirs were created to reduce the likelihood of urination onto sidewalks and buildings.

History of the Pissoir

In the 1700s, Paris was one of the dirtiest cities in Europe. People openly urinated in the street until the city’s major placed “barrels of easement” on all street corners. These barrels were meant to clean up the streets by clustering the problem in specific locations. Then in 1841, different fixtures took their place in Paris: Crude metal structures that sheltered public urinals. They were called pissoirs or pissotières. In 1850, Napoleon III commissioned Baron Georges-Eugene Haussman to install them throughout the city. By the 1930s, Paris counted about 1,200 of these structures.

Soon, other cities followed the example. In Berlin, the first pissoirs were erected in 1863. By the 1960s pissoirs started to fall out of fashion again, and in the 1980s the present-day Sanisette toilets were introduced in Paris. David Jaggard writes,” Sanisette toilets were developed by the same company that runs the Vélib bike rental system, JCDecaux (corporate motto: ‘From piddles to pedals’.”

Berlin’s City Pissoir

Berlin’s City Pissoir at the Breitscheidplatz is provided by the Wall AG, an International street furniture supplier and outdoor advertiser. It was installed in 2003. Made from power-coated aluminum panels and frosted safety glass, it is definitely high-tech. Motion sensors activate the flushing mechanism and the interior lighting. Motion sensors also activate the basin faucet so that users can wash their hands without having to touch the faucets. But guess what? Berlin’s City Pissoir is for men only, just like in the 1800s! The interior of Berlin’s City Pissoir is divided into urinal and lavatory compartments. A small drain hole is installed in the floor of the urinal section. Definitely not appealing to women. Shall we call this “urinary discrimination?”

Why a pissoir at the Breitscheidplatz?

As it turns out, the Breitscheidplatz where the City Pissoir and the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche are located is not only popular with tourists. It also appeals to locals, particularly following a soccer game when the men have been drinking. According to Sylvia von Kekulè, pastor at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtsniskirche, men have lined up regularly along the church walls to relieve themselves. After having received many complaints from the pastor and surrounding businesses, the city of Berlin hired the Wall AG to install this shiny and free City Pissoir. The only complaint is that it doesn’t take women’s needs into account. http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/archiv/auf-dem-breitscheidplatz-steht-jetzt-ein-kostenloses-klo-nur-fuer-maenner,10810590,10097922.html

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

Berlin’s Kammergericht – Appellate Court

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Most tourists visiting Berlin for the first time head for the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Radio Tower and a few other historic sites. A much less known gem is the 100-year-old Kammergericht (appellate court) in Berlin’s District of Schoeneberg. By the way, only Berlin’s Court of Appeals is known as the Kammergericht. All other German appellate courts are called Oberlandesgericht (High Court of Appeals).

Berlin's Kammergericht in the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Berlin’s Kammergericht in the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

History of the Kammergericht

Berlin’s Kammergericht is the oldest German court and the highest court of Berlin. It was established by the Electors of Brandenburg and first mentioned in 1468. Originally, it functioned as an arm of the royal court, but in 1735 it became an independent institution. At that time the Kammergericht moved into the Kollegienhaus in central Berlin, now the Jewish Museum. (also read www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/fallen-leaves-in-berlins-jewish-museum/) In the early 1900s, the court’s space requirements increased dramatically, and the Kammergericht moved into its own building in the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park in the district of Schoeneberg. It first opened its doors in 1913.

All About Berlin’s Kammergericht – Appellate Court

As a result of the division of Berlin following World War II, the city ended up with two appellate courts. While East Berlin’s Kammergericht remained in the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park, West Berlin’s appellate court moved to the district of Charlottenburg in 1949. In 1961, East Berlin abolished its Court of Appeals altogether. Following German reunification, the Kammergericht returned to the site in the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park in 1992 and, once again, serves the entire city.

Division of Berlin into four sectors (1945 to 1990)

Division of Berlin into four sectors (1945 to 1990)

Features of Berlin’s Kammergericht building

Constructed from sandstone and basalt, the Kammergericht is a 5-story building with over 500 rooms. Its entrance faces the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park. Two stately colonnades frame the edifice. The imposing entrance hall extends through all floors. The building’s interior is richly decorated, each floor in a different color. Sculptures decorate the stairwells.

Interim Uses of the Kammergericht building

–During the Nazi period, the Volksgerichtshof (Peoples’ Court) was housed in this building, and it became the site of the show trials against the conspirators in the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on 20 July 1944.

–Between 1945 and 1948, the building served as the headquarters of the Allied Control Council (Allierter Kontrollrat). The four Allied powers met in this building to discuss issues concerning the four German Occupation Zones. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allied-control-council-governs-germany/ After the Soviets stomped out of the Control Council in 1948, the Allies no longer met.

–In September of 1971, ambassadors of the four Allies signed the Four Power Agreement on Berlin (Viermaechte-Abkommen ueber Berlin) in the building’s chambers.

–Until 1990, the Allied Air Safety Center (Allierte Luftsicherheitszentrale) was housed in this building.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Prison- Part 1

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Between 1951 and 1989 East Germany’s deeply feared State Security, the Stasi, operated a notorious political prison in Hohenschoenhausen. Located in Berlin’s northeastern district of Lichtenberg, some 40,000 political prisoners passed through the sprawling compound’s gates during its 38-year operation. Few people actually knew of the prison’s existence because the prison was located within a large, restricted military area and hermetically sealed-off from the outside world. It never even appeared on any East Berlin map. http://www.visitberlin.de/en/spot/gedenkstaette-berlin-hohenschoenhausen

History of Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen

In 1939, the Hohenschoenhausen compound was built as a canteen. In June 1945, at the conclusion of World War II, the Soviet Secret Police took over the area, transformed it into a detainment camp and called it Special Camp No. 3. During the winter of 1946-1947, the Soviets turned the camp into a prison and converted the cafeteria into an underground prison area.

Original Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison building, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Original Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison building, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

In 1951, the Ministry of State Security (Mfs) – better known as the Stasi – reopened the prison. In the late 50s, using prisoner labor, they added an additional building. It included 200 prison cells and interrogation rooms. The Stasi also converted the existing cafeteria. It became known as the “U-Boot” (submarine) among inmates because the Stasi applied water torture in some of its cells. Employing predominantly psychological torture to break the prisoners’ resistance and will, Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen functioned as a prison until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Most of the prisoners had tried to flee or emigrate from East Germany or had been persecuted due to their political views. The compound officially closed on October 3, 1990, the day of German reunification.

Expanded Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison building, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Expanded Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison building, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial

In 1995, the Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial (Gedenkstaette Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen) opened on the site of the former East German political prison. On the initiative of its former Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen inmates, the compound has become a registered memorial site. To help us comprehend the extent and methods of political persecution in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany), former prisoners conduct guided tours. In 2013, a museum opened as well. It displays close to 500 objects that tell the stories of those who were imprisoned here. The Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial is open year-round.

Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial from the outside, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial from the outside, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Read about my impressions of to Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen in next week’s blog. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-hohenschoenhausen-prison-part-2

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.