We continue our street name series in Berlin’s Mitte district. See also Westminster street names and Prague street names) Mitte was created in the 2001 administrative reform by merging of the former districts of Mitte proper, Tiergarten and Wedding. Mitte is the center of the city’s political and moral struggles, the streets are named after people that have striven to make a difference for the better. Such horrors as the Third Reich, Communism and the war are still remembered, but only in the memorials to its victims and the modern, if slow, reconstruction of its glorious architectural past.
Most people think Friedrichstrasse – that long elegant cafe and shop filled street that runs through the middle of the city – was named after Frederick the Great when actually it was named after his father, Friedrich Wilhelm the First. Between 1713 and 1740 he established primary schools throughout Prussia and abolished military service among the middle classes. Not that he was perfect. When he discovered his son was planning to run away to England with Hans Hermann van Katte he captured them, and then forced his son to watch him behead his friend. It was only after that Frederick II fulfilled his father’s wishes and took to the military.
The Spirit of Friedrich Wilhelm the First
Checkpoint Charlie (Friedrichstraße 43-45, 10117)
Heavily guarded by American Soldiers on the west side and East German soldiers on the east side for 30 years, Checkpoint Charlie was the only point of entry into the GDR. Yet while the West Germans could freely drive through for a holiday, it wasn’t until 1989, a few months before the wall came down, that the East Germans could the same. Up until then the east side had been romanticized by daring escapes – such as by the man who drove under the barriers by detaching his windscreen at the last minute – and haunted by tragic deaths – such as that of the young East German student who bled to death on the wall’s barb wire.
Galerie Lafayette – Friedrichstraße 76-78, 10117
In recent years Friedrichstrasse has made efforts to reclaim its roots as the city’s classiest shopping district with the erection of a number of elegant department stores, such as this one; the glass front French owned Galleries Lafayette. Standing in its huge entrance hall on a summer’s day, the sun beaming down through a dome roof that extends at least the equivalent of two levels above its six floors, you will know you have arrived somewhere special.
Strasse des 17. Juni
Strasse des 17. Juni used to be called Charlottenberger Chausee until the GDR renamed it in honor of the 55 – 500 East German workers – it depends on who you ask – killed by East German and Soviet soldiers during the uprising of the East German workers in 1953. This and other memorials within the huge Tiergarten Park the street runs through, is one of the few things Berliners have kept over from Communism.
The Spirit of Strasse des 17. Juni
Tiergarten (the street runs through Tier Garden)
The Tiergarten Park holds two important memorials: a Soviet War memorial honoring the 80,000 soldiers that died in the Battle of Berlin in 1945 and the Victory Column that honors the Prussian victory over the Danish in 1874.
Albert Speer’s lamps (the lamps are all along the street)
Other than the Olympic Stadium these lamps are the last remaining examples of Third Reich architecture. Like the Olympic Stadium they were designed by the Nazi architect Albert Speer.
Unter den Linden
Unter den Linden (under the Lime tree) is a boulevard named after the line of lime trees that run down its center, and lead to such land marks as the Brandenburg Gate and the Gendernmarkt square. Originally they were planted by the Great Elector Frederick Wilhelm in 1647 to spruce up his journey home.
The Spirit of Unter den Linden
Deutsches Historisches Museum Unter den Linden 2, 10117
The German History Museum is a tumultuous journey from the nation’s proud beginnings in the mid 19th century to its position today as one of the richest and most liberal countries in the world. In between there was the little matter of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, War and Communism. Leaving no stone unturned, there are rumors this is the best museum of its kind.
Crown Princes Palace – Unter den Linden 3 10117
This Berlin landmark should be renamed the house of the controversial exhibition. As a forerunner to the modern art museum -it was said to be the inspiration behind the MOMA in New York – it was closed by the Third Reich in 1937 for showing degenerate art. 69 years later in 2006 it became infamous once again for its exhibition on the expulsions of Germans in 20th-century Europe.
Hannah Arendt was a Jewish political theorist, philosopher and humanitarian who somehow managed to escape the Third Reich with her family in 1941. Her book, Men in Dark Times, written in America in 1970, is the study of all those people who stood up against the hardships and evils of the 20th century.
The Spirit of Arendt
Holocaust Memorial – Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117
Perhaps it is because of the absurdity of its design, perhaps it is because you know what it is supposed to signify, but each one of Peter Eisenmen’s 2771 blank shiny slabs, about the width and height of a human being, demands, no forces a response from you, which you struggle to believe either you or anyone else is capable of giving. When the City of Berlin finally commissioned a memorial to the Holocaust in 1999, they made sure they commissioned something people would remember.
Tucholsky Strasse is named after a Jewish journalist called Kurt Tucholsky who wrote extensively about the threat of national socialists throughout the 1920s and early 30s – mostly to deaf ears. He died in Sweden in 1935 only two years after the Nazis had risen to power
The Spirit of Tucholsky
Schwarzwaldstuben – Tucholskystraße 48, 10117
With its plastic trees and plastic reindeer head decorations this restaurant may look tacky on its surface, but its schnitzel spazle, and blutwurst, among other Germanic dishes, are the best in the city. It is here, like Tucholsky once did, on the tables of this busy pavement that you can sit with your traditional German fare and pint of Warsteiner, and still freely curse whoever happens to be in power.