Why the villages of Berlin?
The idea of a writing guide to the villages of Berlin first came to me about 10 years ago, while out on a summer evening’s excursion to the East Berlin suburb of Marzahn. I was working for a Berlin-based publisher at the time and had decided to drive out of the city centre with a Swiss colleague in order to explore the district’s Plattenbausiedlungen – the vast housing estates made up of row upon row of prefabricated concrete apartment blocks, which the East German authorities built on the eastern fringes of the city in the mid to late eighties. There were indeed plenty of Platten to be admired on Marzahn’s broad and rather bleak avenues, but once our appetite for socialist architecture had been satisfied our thoughts began to turn to a more conventional form of sustenance. With restaurant options looking less than promising we asked one of the friendlier looking locals for help and were directed to a place where we could apparently get “proper German food”. Carefully following the instructions we’d been given, we zig-zagged through streets paved with concrete and were very surprised to round a corner and suddenly find ourselves driving over cobblestones and along a village green lined with farmhouses and barns.
Unknown to us, Marzahn had once been just a sleepy village on the eastern edge of Berlin – at least until Erich Honnecker’s urban planners got hold of the place. Even more surprisingly the people who designed the new Marzahn had left the old version more or less intact – a Prussian island in a sea of socialist grey. And there at the centre of the village facing onto the green stood the very eatery to which we had been directed, the Landhaus Marzahner Krug, Marzahn’s former inn.
It was in the Marzahner Krug, over a hefty portion of Nackensteaks and Bratkartoffel served by waitresses wearing strangely Austrian looking attire, that my interest in Berlin’s villages was born. As I began researching the subject it quickly became clear that much of the city was dotted with the traces of former rural settlements, many of them dating back as far back as the 13th century. My trusty Berlin Falkplan map was soon covered in all manner of scribbles, while early Google searches led to the purchase of the first book in my Berlin villages collection, a second-hand copy of Hans Jürgen Rach’s classic, Die Dörfer in Berlin (The Villages of Berlin). Although Rach’s book provided me with plenty of historical background, as well as confirmation that this might be a subject worth exploring, it’s probably fair to say that it’s not the snappiest of reads. Once I started heading out to see all the places I’d marked on my map it began to occur to me that writing a proper guide to the Berlin’s villages as they exist today might make sense.