It would be fair to say that there’s nothing very village-like about the urban throng of modern day Steglitz. Arriving U-bahn passengers emerging from below the Schloßstrasse, its main drag, are greeted by bumper to bumper traffic, swarms of shoppers, and a grim skyscraper and rather than by surviving farmhouses or the traces of a village green.
But a village really did once exist here on the short section of the Schloßstrasse between Albrechtstrasse and Wolfensteindamm. Established by Germanic migrants close to the source of the Bäke stream at the foot of the Fichteberg in the 13th century, the settlement changed little until awakened from its slumber when Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm paved the road from Berlin to Potsdam in 1794. Within a few decades the village had become an attractive place to live and a popular destination for day trippers. By the time Steglitz was given its own stop on Prussia’s first intercity railway line in 1864 it was ideally placed to benefit from Berlin’s late 19th expansion boom – undergoing rapid transformation into a thriving and prosperous urban hub on the fringes of Germany’s capital. In 1920 it was declared one of founding boroughs of Greater Berlin.
After the Second World War Steglitz quickly established itself as one of West Berlin’s premier shopping locations and today a string of large malls still line the Schloßstrasse, the borough’s main avenue. Although badly blighted by a series of brutal and largely ill-conceived construction schemes during the 60’s and 70’s modern day Steglitz has managed to retain at least some of its early 20th century look and feel. The former village on the other hand has more or less vanished. Only a few fragments, such as the estate manor house and the old churchyard have survived the march of time. Today it takes a hefty slice of imagination to conjour up an image of the farmhouses and cottages that must once have lined the village green. Instead visitors to the southern end of the Schloßstrasse will find a quirky amalgam of buildings that includes a neogothic parish church and Rathaus, a fine late-Gründerzeit villa and a flying saucer-like VW dealership from the Wirtschaftswunder years. Overlooking them all from alongside a flayover the imposing, grey Kreisel office block with it’s brutalist appendages.
Beyond the village, it’s well worth strolling down the bustling and recently re-modelled Schloßstrasse, with its mish mash of architectural styles, shiny shopping malls and leafy side streets. Alternatively you can head uphill along Schmitt-Ott-Strasse into the villa-lined avenues of the Kolonie am Fichteberg to the summit of one of Berlin’s few real hills. South west of the former village Steglitz’s pleasant municipal park makes a good place for a stroll or a summer picnic, or you can seek out the old course of the Bäke stream and follow it down to the Teltowkanal. And when you’ve finally run out of things to do in Berlin’s most urban village it’s probably best to bow to the inevitable and hit Steglitz’s malls.
The village of Stegelitz – as it was known until 1870 – was founded close to the source of the Bäke stream at the foot of the Fichteberg by eastwardly migrating Ascanian settlers during the 13th century. The origins of the name are still unclear. It may derive from a combination of the Slavic words “Stygl” meaning slope and “itz”, denoting settlement, or may simply have something to do with a Heinrich von Stegelitze, who is mentioned in a document dated 1239 concerning the neighbouring village of Lankwitz. It remained a small village until the end of the 18th century with no more than around 100 inhabitants, presumably making a very modest living from land leased to them by families such as the von Spiels, who took over the estate in 1517 and ran it for almost 200 years. When the village converted to Protestantism during the Reformation the local priest disappeared off to Catholic Hildesheim and as a consequence Steglitz had no pastor for much of its history. Instead it was looked after by the clergyman who resided in nearby Giesendorf.
Steglitz got its first major boost in 1792 when Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm 2nd decided to have the road that ran from Berlin to his summer residence in Potsdam paved. The new Chaussee, Prussia’s first long distance paved road, passed right through the village making Steglitz an attractive residential location for highly ranked officers and bureaucrats who found it advantageous to own property halfway between the Kaiser’s two palaces. The most prominent of these was a Prussian cabinet secretary and minister by the name of Carl Friedrich von Beyme, who acquired the Steglitz manor in 1802, along with the neighbouring estates of nearby Dahlem and Schmargendorf. Von Beyme built a new manor house in the village and had the estate park extended to cover the south facing slope of the Fichtenberg hill, remodeling it in the style of an English country garden. In 1806 he lifted the service obligation of the village farmers, freeing them from their duties to the manor and making them owners of their farms and the land they cultivated.
Three years after von Beymes’ death in 1838 his daughter sold the estate to the Prussian treasury. With the exception of the Fichtenberg park, the land was divided up into plots and sold off. The estate farm buildings were gradually demolished, although von Beyme’s manor house, later to become better known as the Wrangelschlösschen, was spared and has survived to this day. .
One of the first to buy up estate land was the Berlin based silk producer Johann Adolph Heese. In 1839 Heese planted mulberry trees on a plot on the corner of today’s Schloßstrasse and Grunewaldstrasse and later expanded his business to land on the other side of today’s railway line. By 1845 there were 35,000 mulberry trees growing on an area covering 8 hectares, for a time making Heese’s plantation the largest in Prussia, at least until a silkworm disease struck in the 1860s bringing production to an end. Street names such as Heesestrasse and Plantagestrasse to the east of the village are still a reminder of this short chapter in Steglitz’s history.
In the 1830s and 40s Steglitz started to became a popular location for day trippers taking carriage rides out of Berlin / while also becoming a destination popular with day trippers from Berlin. and a string of inns and blacksmiths opened along the old chaussee to cater for their requirements. By 1858 the population of the village had grown to over 700, almost half of whom lived in the colony of Neu-Steglitz, founded on estate land by new settlers who had moved out of Berlin. Neu-Steglitz and Stegelitz eventually merged in 1870 and the village lost its second “e” in its name, becoming simply Steglitz.
It was the rapid growth of Berlin after 1850 and the opening of Prussia’s first railway line in 1838 that brought swift and permanent change to the village. Steglitz eventually got its own regular stop on the Berlin-Magdeburg line in 1864 and didn’t take long until it was possible to commute into the capital on a daily basis.
As Berlin boomed towards the end of the 19th century, Steglitz boomed with it. Although agriculture continued to play a role in the village until the end of the century, farmers started to sell their fields as the demand for building land increased. In 1872 the last 33 hectares of the manor estate park on the Fichtenberg were sold off as building plots and the resulting Kolonie am Fichtenberg quickly became a desirable address for well heeled commuters. In other parts of the village, and especially north along the old chaussee, which was renamed Schloßstrasse in 1871 and subsequently widened, four and five storey Gründerzeit style apartment complexes started to go up, giving Steglitz an ever more urban appearance. This form of housing soon stretched from inner city Berlin as far out as Steglitz and Lichterfelde.
The tiny, rough stone village church dating from the 14th century was demolished in 1881, having been replaced a year earlier by the redbrick, neo-gothic Matthäuskirche, and in 1897 the foundation stone of the new Rathaus was laid. Five years into the twentieth century Steglitz had become the most urbanized municipality outside Berlin with a population of 33,000. New school complexes, such as a boys Gymnasium on Heesestrasse, were built and in 1908 Steglitz got its first indoor swimming pool, including a spa and steam bath. A palatial new post office followed in 1909.
At the beginning of the 20th century local businessman Moritz Feidt opened Steglitz’s first multi-storey department store on the Schloßstrasse – the first of many. Horse drawn and later electric trams were introduced along Steglitz’s main thoroughfare and in 1905 the Grunewaldbahn was opened running west from Steglitz’s railway station to the edge of the Grunewald forest. Known locally as the “Barometer Bahn” it tended to fill up when the weather was good. In 1906 Steglitz got its own public park, which was opened on swampy former estate land to the west of the village and close to the newly completed Teltowkanal.
Against the background of such rapid technical progress and urbanisation the “back to nature” Wandervogel youth movement, which later became hugely popular throughout Germany, was founded by a small circle of hikers from Steglitz’s Gymnasium in the cellar of Steglitz’s Rathaus on November 4th 1901. By the time the villages of Steglitz, Lankwitz, and Lichterfelde were finally fused to form the newly created administrative district of Steglitz within Greater Berlin on October 1st 1920 Steglitz had become the largest country parish in Prussia with more than 80,000 inhabitants.
The 1920s saw the opening of major new cultural establishments such as the Schlosspark Theater, which found a home in a converted wing of the old estate farm, followed in 1928 by the opulent art deco Titania Palast cinema. During the dying years of the so-called Weimar Republic, as Germany suffered under the effects of the great depression, Steglitz became a National Socialist Party stronghold with voting records from elections in July 1932 showing that the borough had a higher percentage of Nazi voters than any other district in Berlin. Under the Nazis the headquarters of the SS- Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt (office for economic administration), which managed the economic exploitation of concentration and extermination camp inmates, was housed just south of the old village and a bunker complex built under the Fichteberg. However, Steglitz also became a stronghold of the anti Nazi confessional church during the Second World War.
Just days after the end of the war, with the centre of Berlin in ruins, the first postwar performance of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra took place in Steglitz’s Titania Palast on May 26th 1945. In December 1948 the cinema also hosted the founding ceremony for the West Berlin’s brand new centre of learning, the Free University of Berlin. As the West German Wirtschaftswunder took hold in the 1950s the Schloßstrasse was reborn as one of postwar Berlin’s leading shopping districts. Not only had Steglitz survived the bombing and street fighting relatively unscathed compared to competing areas in the heart of Berlin, but most of these were now also unfavourably located in the Soviet zone. Steglitz also became one of West Berlin’s major cultural hubs, with Berlinale film festival premières at the Titania featuring major actors such as Maurice Chevalier and Joan Fontaine. The Titania also hosted concerts with performances by stars such as Louis Armstrong, Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker and Yehudi Menuhin. Steglitz lay at the heart of the American Zone and a host of major military complexes were dotted around the district. Even the old manor house for a time became a club for US officers. In 1963 US president John F Kennedy drove down the Schloßstraße in an Lincoln Convertible with Willy Brandt and Konrad Adenauer during his legendary “Ich bin ein Berliner” visit shortly before his death in Dallas (in the back of the same model of open topped car).
US influence coupled with the postwar vision of cities built for the cars were also responsible for the construction of the six-lane Westtangente flyover, which was driven into the heart of Steglitz in 1965. By way of contrast the borough’s trams had ceased running along the Schloßstrasse in 1963 and it was not until 1974 that a new U9 U-Bahn line was extended as far as the Rathaus. Fifteen years later the corruption plagued Steglitzer Kreisel tower was built right alongside the flyover erasing some of the last remaining traces of the old village.
After the Berlin Wall came down U.S. forces pulled out of Steglitz in 1994, staging a farewell parade along the Schloßtrasse. The 1990’s also saw a sudden late emphasis on preservation with the renovation of two of Steglitz’s surviving architectural gems, the Schwartzsche Villa and the Wrangelschlösschen. In 1995 the striking mirror wall was erected on the Herman-Ehlers-Platz as a memorial to Steglitz’s murdered Jews. In more recent years Steglitz has tried to position itself as one of the leading shopping experiences in a reunited Berlin. Extensive new malls such as the “Schloss Straßen Center” and the “Boulevard Berlin” now attract hoards of shoppers to the Schloßstrasse every weekend – all a far cry from the days of the village strung out along the road to Potsdam at the foot of the Fichtenberg.
Where was the village?
Steglitz was a so-called “Strassendorf” (one street village) and extended along a widened section of today’s Schlosstrasse roughly from
Heart of the Village
The obvious place to begin exploring the site of the old village is at its one surviving landmark, the Gutshaus Steglitz – or Wrangelschlösschen – which stands resolutely on the corner of Wrangel and Schloßstrasse, barely a stone’s throw from the somewhat bewildering road junction at the end of the A103 motorway. Built for the Prussian state minister Karl Friedrich von Beyme, the manor house’s original design was the work of the architect and co-founder of Berliner Bauakademie (Berlin Building Academy) David Gilly – although the building was actually brought to completion by the architect Heinrich Gentz in 1804. Along with with the Humbolt Schloss in Tegel it is today one of the few examples of early Prussian classicist architecture left in Berlin. The Schlösschen was built on the site of a former house at a point where the Berlin-Potsdam road used to kink to the left in order to avoid the estate farm. Unlike the building it replaced however, the new Schloss was set at right angles to the chaussee facing north east, straight up the road into Berlin. Soberly styled and looking rather understated despite it’s coat of terracota paint, the manor house features plenty of neo-classical elements, including Diocletian windows on three sides, with the largest of these set above a front portal topped by a triangular pediment. Its equivalent at the back of the house is set above a porch supported by four pillars from which steps lead down into the garden. The building is also ringed by a frieze in the form of a Greek meander just below the roof. Despite having been altered frequently over the years, meticulous restoration done in the early 1990’s means that the Schlösschen today bears a reasonably close resemblance to the original article.
After von Beyme’s death in 1838, the the manor house was sold to the Prussian treasury and was later used for a time as a summer residence by Prussian field marshal Friedrich Heinrich Ernst von Wrangel – famous for putting down the short-lived 1848 revolution in Berlin. It was during this period that locals started referring to the old Gutshaus as the “Wrangelschlösschen”. After 1883 the building became home to a restaurant with a large beer garden that was popular with day trippers on outings from Berlin. Much later, in the years following World War Two, U.S. forces used the house as an officer’s mess which was known as the Lightning Lounge. Thereafter the Schlösschen returned to civilian use until purchased by the Berlin state authorities in 1958. During the renovations done in the 1990s particular care was taken to restore the house’s heavily altered interior. Apparently 18 layers of paint had to be removed to get down to the original coat in the stairwell. The house is now used as a venue for a cultural events including exhibitions, concerts, lectures. It also serves as a registry office.
The Gutshaus Steglitz stands in a modest garden which is a very far cry from the landscaped park which used to stretch out towards the Fichteberg on the south side of the house until well into the second half of the 19th century. By the start of the 20th however, most of this greenery and the park’s lake had been swallowed up by new residential developments and today the Schlösschen’s back garden amounts to little more than a neat patch of grass plus a few trees ringed by a gravel path. Overlooking the lawn the Adria Filmtheater which stands at right angles to the south facade of Schlösschen dates from 1952 and replaced the Schloßparklichtspiele cinema, which had been destroyed during the Second World War. A quick peep into the entrance foyer reveals that it has retained its original 1950’s styling. Every Sunday the Adria gives a matinee showing of the film “Berlin Wie es War” (Berlin, how it used to be) which shows how Berlin looked in the 1930’s and 40’s before the terrible destruction wrought by the Second World War.
The patch of garden on the north side of the Schlösschen is also overlooked by the manor estate farm’s former coach house and stable block. The low, L-shaped building completed in 1801, which his now home to the Schlosspark Theater, is the only other remnant of the village to have survived to this day. While most of the farm buildings were gradually demolished over time the stable was retained and converted into a dance hall in 1884. When it later became a theatre it was given a neoclassical entrance portal topped by a triangular gable as well as its own Diocletian window mimicking the styling of the Schlösschen. The new had seats for around 500 people and opened with a production of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens in ???, however falling audiences had led to its closure by 1935. Having briefly reopened as a cinema before the war it got a new lease of life after the cessation of hostilities, reopening just six months after the fall of Berlin. Over the next 20 years, under the director Boleslaw Barlog, the Schloßtheater became one of the most renowned theatres in West Berlin and the venue for a number of major German premieres of contemporary plays such as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Klaus Kinski was a member of the company and the actress and singer Hildegard Knef made her theatre debut here. Although the theatre had gone into decline by the 1990s it has recently been rejuvenated under a new director.POPULAR FARE
Before leaving the Gutshaus complex to explore the rest of the village its worth taking a quick detour up the Wrangelstrasse to the pale yellow building at number 8 which used to be known as the Landhaus Steinberg. From 1906 it housed the Jüdische Blindenanstalt (Jewish School for the Blind) which was stormed during the notorious November pogroms of 1938 and later turned over to the Gestapo. After the war it was acquired by an order of Catholic nuns and turned into a children’s home. The former school stands opposite an opulent Gründerzeit apartment block at Wrangelstraße 10, which has retained its lavish external stucco decoration and loggia style balconies. Completed in 1890 this pink and white palace is a fine example of the type of development that was transforming the heart of the village at the end of the 19th century.
Back at the corner of Schloßstrasse the big, white shoe box of a building opposite the Schlosstheater which houses a branch of the Berliner Volksbank, stands on the site of what was once a fine villa belonging to the Pasemann family. The Pasemanns were one of a number of Steglitz farming families who’d benefited from the rise in land prices in the second half of the 19th century and used their newly acquired wealth to build themselves a fine new home. Photos from the time show a house with a corner tower and gable. Alas both the villa and the Pasemann’s original farm house were demolished in 1962 – just one of many acts of postwar architectural vandalism – in order to make way for the colourless bank. It does at least have two claims to fame: In 1976 it briefly opened Berlin’s first and only drive in bank counter and in January 2013 it was the scene of a notorious robbery when thieves dug a 30 meter long tunnel into its basement from an adjacent car park, in order to gain access to the main vault.
Continuing north along the Schloßstraße beyond Wrangelstrasse you’ll pass the site of the village Spritzenhaus (fire station), which used to stand next to the Pasemann’s farm, before reaching the entrance to the former village churchyard. There are two rather grim memorials on the stretch of lawn between the road and the low cemetery wall. The first of these is a stone sculpture titled “Leid an der Mauer” by Dieter Popielaty which dates from 1965 and is dedicated to the victims of Berlin’s postwar division. It depicts a desperate human form hanging on to the top of a section of wall. Beyond the entrance to the churchyard the 2 metre high bronze statue known as “der Gefesselte” depicts a thin, pinched figure with a shaved head and cuffed hands with long fingers. Unveiled in 1960, the statue is the work of Gisela von Tzschoppe and is dedicated to those persecuted under the National Socialists.
The churchyard itself still survives at the heart of the old village. It has not been used as a cemetery since a new municipal graveyard was opened on Bergstrasse in 1875 and today forms a pleasant patch of green shaded by tall sycamore? trees. There are still a number of gravestones dotted around the lawn, most of them the simple war graves on which the year of death is almost always 1945. To the right of the footpath that leads through the churchyard you’ll find the black marble gravestone belonging to Johann Adolf Heese, father of the Steglitz’s 19th century silk boom, who died in 1862 and is buried alongside his wife. Steglitz’s original 14th century field stone parish church used to stand right in the middle of the cemetery. PANEL WITH INFO? The tiny structure was little more than a chapel and could hold only 70 people, making it even smaller than the village church in nearby Schmargendorf LINK. As Steglitz expanded in the mid 19th century it could no longer accommodate the growing number of parishioners and a report from 1853 described the it as being too small, dirty and in need of renovation. At a time when parish churches were supposed to have enough room for at least nine tenths of the local population the traditional system of allocated seats began to lead to tensions between old Steglitzers and new arrivals. The church was finally demolished in 1881, as soon as the new Matthäuskirche, had been completed alongside it. All traces of it were removed and its organ and pews auctioned off.
From the churchyard the view of the Matthäuskirche is mostly obscured by the huge, redbrick Gemeindehaus, which accomodates the parish hall and its offices. In contrast to the rash of new parish halls built in the boroughs of Steglitz and Zehlendorf during the 1920s – there were 8 eight in all – which usually feature derivative styling, Steglitz’s Gemeindehaus was designed in the contemporary style known as new objectivity. Completed in 1930 the building is the work of the Swiss modernist architect Otto Rudolf Salvisberg whose considerable repertoire includes a string of progressive Berlin housing developments such as the Weisse Stadt LINK, the Onkel Tom Siedlung LINK and the Gartenstadt Staaken LINK. The uncluttered façade features simple lines of rectangular windows topped by large expanses of plain red brickwork with no decorative elements. While the materials used to build the Gemeindehaus mirror those of the parish church behind it, the sober styling contrasts strongly with the church’s neo-gothic lines. There are two wings at the back of the building which form the sides of a small square in front of the main entrance to the church. On the wall of one of these – the one on the left as you face the church – you’ll find the only decorative element on the entire building, a cheeky clinker brick frieze by the sculptor August Rhade depicting the ten wise and foolish virgins from the parable in Matthew’s gospel. It bears the inscription, “Stay alert, for you do not know the day or the hour that the son of God will come”.
To reach the Matthäuskirche you have to pass through a high portal cut into the main façade of the Gemeidehaus, which is supported by two slim, pale stone pillars. Leaning against the wall of the portal on the right there’s an old tombstone dating from the times when the von Spiel family were lords of Stegelitz manor. The stone bears the barely legible inscription, “Christoph Erdmann von Spiel, Erbherr auf Stegelitz, geb. 24.09.1668, gest 27.09.1713, verheiratet mit Ana Dorothea, geb. von Thümen“ (Christoph Erdmann von Spiel, ancestral Lord in Steglitz, born 24.09.1668, died 27.09 1713, married to Ana Dorothea, born von Thümen).
The Matthäuskirche (Church of Saint Matthew) stands amidst tall trees and is ringed by a cobbled path. Based on a design by the little known architect Emil Grette and built on land behind the cemetery between 1876 and 1880, the church is a classic example of the soaring redbrick Märkisch Gothic churches favoured at the time. The location of the site meant that the position of the church is somewhat unorthodox, with the altar facing northwest. The 68 meter high tower – its pointed spire alone is 20 meters high – turned out a little slimmer than originally intended due to financial constraints but it quickly became Steglitz’s major landmark – at least until the Kreisel tower reared its ugly head almost 100 years later. No less a figure than Kaiser Frederick Wilhelm 4th himself was involved in the church’s planning and design. Keenly interested in architecture he even sketched his own ideas of how the new building should look when passing its dilapidated predecessor in his carriage on the way to and from Potsdam. When it came to funding the project the imperial government came up with half of the 300,000 Reichsthaler required while the parish financed the rest. On completion the new church had seats for 1,200 worshippers, although only about 600 people normally turned up for services on Sundays. OPENING TIMES?
Back on the Schloßstrasse the area of greenery just beyond the churchyard marks the site on which the village schoolhouse stood from 1871 until its demolition in 1949. Beyond you’ll pass a couple of fine apartment blocks built at the turn of the 19th century before coming to the main crossroads at the heart of village. It was here, on the corner of Schloßstrasse and Grunewaldstrasse, that Johann Adolf Heese bought the plot of land on which he founded his first mulberry tree plantation in 1840. Today you’ll find two architectural gems that could hardly present more of a contrast, the Schwartzsche Villa and Eduard Winter’s Volkswagen Pavillion.
The lovely mustard coloured Schwartzsche Villa, which is set back from the Schloßstrasse and looks onto a small, paved pedestrian area, was originally built between 1895 and 1897 as a suburban summer residence for the family of retired banker Carl Schwartz. The house was enlarged in 1908 and further altered following Schwartz’s death in 1915, and Schwartz family continued to live there until the Second World War. Although the villa survived the war unscathed it was left unoccupied afterwards. It was subsequently briefly used as an orphanage and later provided storage space for the Schlosspark Theater’s stage props. The state of the building gradually deteriorated and in 1961 the Berlin authorities bought the villa, intending to have it demolished. Plans for the site included an extension to the Rathaus and an indoor swimming pool but nothing ever came of them. Despite repeated efforts to get rid of the villa it survived and in 1981 the “Kulturinitiative Lankwitz” launched a successful campaign for its preservation and conversion into a cultural centre. The building was listed in 1983 but it wasn’t until 1991 that the Berlin government came up with the 10 million Deutschmark renovation budget. Work finally began in 1992 and the new cultural centre was opened in 1995.
Today the Schwartzsche Villa still looks pretty immaculate, with its tall arched windows, their panels framed in bottle green, with the first floor glass set amidst panels of well ordered stucco adornment. At the time of its construction the house stood in the middle of a large garden, part of which has mercifully survived in the form of a delightful little public park tucked away behind it. The former garden and its fine collection of tall trees are overlooked by the lovely, flowery terrace, which has become one of the best places in Steglitz to relax on a sunny day. You can also enjoy breakfast, lunches, cocktails and evening meals served by the Café Schwartzsche Villa while shielded from the rumble of traffic on the Schloßstrasse. The villa is still a regular venue for art exhibitions, classical concerts and readings. TYPES? OPENING TIMES SCHWATZSCHE VILLA?
Perched close to the villa right on the corner of Schloß and Grunewaldstrasse the Volkswagen Pavillion is a slightly younger survivor of the postwar desire to redevelop the centre of Steglitz. Looking a bit like a Bauhaus take on a flying saucer it was built in 1951 as a car showroom for Eduard Winter, who had been granted the Volkswagen and Porsche franchise in Berlin after the war. Architect Curt-Hans Fritzsche built the pavillion in the form of a glass rotunda, thereby giving passers by the chance to admire the VW Beetle – initially the only model available – from all sides, while protected from wind and weather by a canopy that ringed the building. The dealership’s meeting rooms were tucked away in the in the middle of the rotunda and today accommodate the bar and kitchen area of the café and bakery chain that currently occupies the building. The pavillion quickly became an essential feature of postwar Steglitz and a symbol of the 1950’s Wirtschaftswunder and like the Schwartzsche Villa it out lasted the threat of demolition and was eventually listed in 1988. Restoration work was undertaken with great care, with the original blue and white Volkswagen colours retained. Only the company emblem, which used to cap the pillar that rises from the middle of the roof, is missing. Now branded the Schloßcafé the pavilion is a good place to sit and watch the ebb and flow of life on the Steglitz’s main street.
Overlooking the Volkswagen Pavilion on the opposite corner of Schloß and Grunewaldstrasse Steglitz’s impressive Märkisch gothic Rathaus still dominates the main meeting of ways at the centre of the village. It has the neo-medieval feel typical of such constructions with windows set below pointed arches, narrow recessed balconies, mock battlements, decorative gables and steeply pitched roofs. Its sturdy, fortress-like corner tower is crowned by a narrow pointed belfry topped with a golden weather vane in the form of the griffin on the Pomeranian coat of arms.
Built on the site of a popular eatery know as the “Dampbahnrestaurant” (Steam Train Restaurant) the new Rathaus was desperately required at a time when the rapid transition from village to suburb was making ever increasing demands on the local authorities. Until 1882 council business had still been done in the farmhouse of the council leader Gottlieb Berlinicke, however the necessary land was purchased in the mid 1880’s and construction of the new building finally began in 1896, based on a design by Heinrich Reinhard, who had also done impressive new town halls in Spandau and Charlottenburg. It opened two years later but such was the growth of Steglitz that it quickly became too small and additional office space had to be rented in buildings nearby. A library was built alongside the Rathaus in 1920 but was later demolished and is now housed in the “Das Schloss” shopping centre which was wrapped around the Rathaus in 2000. The same goes for the Rathaus’s interior courtyard, which is now a the shopping centre’s food court. The building survived World War Two mostly unscathed although the bell that hung in the tower and bore the inscription “he who trusts in God builds well” fell to the ground when the belfry was damaged. It subsequently disappeared for many years until it was rediscovered in the cellar of the Rathaus in Lichterfelde in 1982.
On the Grunewaldstrasse side of the building at street level you should look out for a glass covered stone plaque featuring the symbol of a flying bird that commemorates the founding of the “Wandervogel” movement. A group of pupils from the Steglitz Gymnasium (Grammar School) and their teacher Karl Fischer founded a committee called Wandervogel for the planning of school hiking excursions in the cellar of the Rathaus on November 4th 1901. By 1904 it had given its name to a hugely popular nationwide, back to nature youth movement dedicated to a collective appreciation of the natural beauty and the outdoors at a time of rapid industrialization. The ideals of the Wandervogel were nationalist and based on the ideals of the Romantic Movement and it became the leading German youth movement – especially amongst young Germans of bourgeois background – until outlawed by the National Socialists in 1933 and replaced by the Hitler Youth and Bund deutscher Mädel.
The side of the Rathaus facing onto the Schloßstrasse overlooks the Hermann-Ehlers-Platz, a pedestrianised area dotted with sycamore trees that looks like the kind of space the postwar planners never quite knew what to do with. The square is named after a CDU politician who had been active in the anti Nazi confessional church in Steglitz and went on to become President of the West German Bundestag. Originally named Rathaus Platz, it was laid out in front of the new town hall in 1903, more or less where Steglitz’s toll house had once stood at the side of Friedrich Wilhelm’s chaussee. Construction of the square spelt the end for the village blacksmith’s which had stood on the corner Schloß and Albrechtstrasse and had to be demolished in order to make way for the square’s flower beds and manicured lawns. After the Second World War the area became a scruffy car park and was only redeveloped when the Kreisel complex was built in the 1970s. A subsequent makeover in 1987 at the time of the 750th anniversary of the founding of Berlin brought the tired flower beds and the rather sad fountain which are still its main decorative features. It’s also home to Steglitz’s small fruit and vegetable market, as well as a lively flea market on Sundays.
At the top of the square, right opposite the Rathaus, you’ll find the coats of arms of the three districts that make up the borough of Steglitz reproduced on the ground in cobblestones, while a little further down there’s a post with signs pointing to all of Steglitz’s 15 partner towns – for some reason written in Gothic script. At the side of the Albrechtstrasse a dark red information panel reminds passers by of a particularly grim episode that took place here during the final days of World War Two when a German Wehrmacht soldier was hanged from a tram pylon in front of the house at Albrechtstrasse 2. Presumably he had refused to continue the hopeless fight on the day that Russian troops of the 1st Ukranian front entered the borough of Steglitz from the south and died with the words, “I am a traitor” hung around his neck.
Continuing down the square past the point at which its northern side kinks to the left you’ll come to the Spiegelwand Memorial (Mirror Wall Memorial), one of Steglitz’s more compelling postwar landmarks. This intelligent memorial to Jewish life in Steglitz stands close to the house on the Düppelstrasse that was once home to Steglitz’s small, private synagogue. Erected in 1995 at the time of the square’s last face lift, the memorial was designed by the artists Wolfgang Göschel and Joachim von Rosenberg, in collaboration with the historian Hans-Norbert Burkert. It records the names, addresses and dates of birth of 1723 Steglitz Jews deported Nazi to extermination camps together with texts and photographs that document the everyday reality of Jewish life in Steglitz. What makes the memorial special is that this material has been inscribed on a slim and reflective wall of chromium steel which is exactly the same length as the former synagogue. The highly polished surface, which is quite difficult to make out from a distance, reflects the comings and goings on the square as well as the faces of its readers. Going through the lists of names while seeing your own face reflected in the wall certainly gives pause for thought. The memorial was only completed after much controversy. The local branch of the CDU party was against it, claiming the memorial was unnecessary and too large. Fearing negative consequences for Berlin’s reputation the SPD senator for construction Wolfgang Nagel forced it through in the face of opposition from local politicians who then apparently covered themselves in still more glory by not inviting any representatives from Israel to its unveiling
Steglitz’s former synagogue itself was tucked away in the courtyard at Düppelstrasse 41 on the northern side of the square. One of many private synagogues established in Berlin in the late 19th century, it was founded by Moses Wolfenstein, the chairman of the Steglitz Society of Jewish fellow believers, in a converted stable block behind his home in 1897. The synagogue had space for 70 people with a prayer room for men on the ground floor and one for women on the first. Above the entrance portal there was a stone relief featuring the Star of David and a pair of lions holding the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Attempts to build a larger synagogue in the early 1920s were frustrated by the onset of the great inflation and on major feast days services had to be held in the Jewish school for the blind in the Wrangelstrasse. On the day of the “Kristallnacht” pogroms on November 9th 1938 the synagogue was ransacked and plundered along with many Jewish shops and businesses on the Schloßstrasse. It escaped being set alight only because it was located above a joiners business and the Nazis feared the fire could spread to the entire block. All items of value including its century old prayer books were stolen, although the Torah scrolls were saved and were taken to the USA when the Wolfenstein family later managed to escape Germany. They are apparently still being used in Jewish communities in the U.S. and Israel to this day. The Wolfenstein house was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943, however the stable block that housed the synagogue survived. Although no longer used as a place of worship it was listed as a monument in 1989 after a long local campaign and was completely renovated in the 1990s. The entrance portal and the lions still exist but there’s no public access to the courtyard, meaning that this remnant of Jewish life in Steglitz remains hidden behind a run of the mill 1980s façade.
At the bottom of the Hermann-Ehlers-Platz you’ll come to the unyielding band of concrete that is the A103 autobahn flyover, without doubt the most brutal of the postwar projects foisted on Steglitz. Work on the 4.4 km long spur of West Berlin’s inner ring road began in 1961 and was completed seven years later at a cost 95 Million Deutschmarks and the loss of over 500 local homes. Despite being built right alongside the S-Bahn line the new road cut a swathe through the heart of Steglitz and a great number of buildings had to be demolished, including the entire eastern side of the Düppelstrasse.
The motorway also obliterated the fine railway station which had played such a key role in the village’s transformation. Old photos show an attractive brick building with a distinctive, Swiss style overhanging roof that stood on the western side of the line behind where the Kreisel complex now stands. The station is one of the oldest in Germany having first opened as a stop on the Berlin to Potsdam Stammbahn – Prussia’s first passenger railway line – as early as 1839. It closed again just six years later in 1845 – apparently on the orders of General Wrangel who was not a fan – and was not reopened until 1864. A proper station was finally built in 1873 and by 1891 this had been developed into a fully fledged suburban terminus. Today’s commuters pour in and out of the S-Bahn station from a rather grim warren of shops and snack bars underneath the flyover where the station used to stand. The underpass leading to the platforms dates from 1888 when the tracks were raised onto an embankment. This was done after a tragic accident five years earlier had claimed over 30 lives when a passing courier train tore into passengers crossing the line. Today there is little to remind you of the old station beyond the ornate iron supports of the platform canopy and a couple of small kiosks dating from 1909 and 1910 either side of the station’s Eastern entrance on Berlinicke Strasse. The first of these is tucked away on the right as you exit the underpass while the second, known as the Blumenpavillion (flower pavilion), stands a few steps further down the street, its original ironwork barely recognizable under cluttered signage.
Towering over the Hermann Ehlers Platz and the S-Bahn station the 118 meter high Kreisel block and its sprawling complex cover what was once the eastern side of the village green down as far as the Wolfensteindamm. The tower’s blue, grey mosaic of windows and cladding rises from a base which includes a hotel, shops, a bus station and a multi-storey car park. Completed in 1980 at huge cost the Kreisel development was one of West Berlin’s most notorious postwar construction projects and continues to be a headache to this day.
The tower and its complex were constructed on an area of wasteland and dilapidated buildings that had stood empty after the completion of the A103 motorway. The initial plan had been for an U-Bahn and bus station but in the end a more ambitious proposal from Berlin architect Sigrid Kressmann-Zschach, which included a 30 storey office block and shopping mall, was given the go ahead. The foundation stone was laid in 1972 but spiraling costs soon drove the developer into bankruptcy and construction came to a halt two years later. This was bad news for the Berlin senate, which had guaranteed the project to the tune of 42 million deutschmarks and was therefore obliged to cover the developer’s debt. Kressmann-Zschach – who was once quoted as having once said that you can never have enough men, houses and money, – was investigated for corruption, but the case was eventually dropped. In 1977 a new investor was found and the building did finally open in February 1980. The offices of the local council moved into the tower and for a while its canteen on the 24th of 27 floors afforded visitors a wonderful view across Berlin. Alas the saga did not end there. Plans for the council to purchase the tower were put on ice after construction defects were discovered which included a leaking roof, badly insulated windows, and a defective fire protection and air conditioning system. When they did eventually buy the building some years later it turned out they had made a big mistake because in 2007 it was found that the tower was contaminated with asbestos. Since then the tower has been empty and although work on its decontamination should have started in 2009 nothing has been done so far, mostly because the potential costs are huge. Future plans for the tower have included a mixture of penthouse apartments and studios for up and coming artists, but there’s still a very long way to go before any such dreams can be realised.
The area now occupied by the Kreisel complex was once home to Steglitz’s leading inn and at least three village farmhouses – one of them the home owned by council leader Berlinicke, which doubled as the venue for council meetings before the Rathaus was built. The few surviving traces of these these buildings were erased forever when the Kreisel site was cleared at the end of the 1960’s. The Albrechtshof, Steglitz’s most popular drinking establishment, stood next door to Berlinicke’s farmhouse on the corner of Schloßstraße and Albrechtstraße. Opened in 1871 by councilor Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Albrecht on the site of its predecessor the Stephaniewirtschaft, the inn was quite large and included a restaurant and hotel rooms. It even had a theatre in which Steglitz’s first ever film performance was held on October 30th 1915. The Albrechthof regularly hosted local dances and concerts and was also popular with day trippers from Berlin. It was somewhat less popular with nearby residents, who complained about noise and the smell of the pigs and chickens kept by the inn well into the 20th century.
One unlikely survivor of the Kreisel project clinging heroically to life in front of the entrance to the tower is Steglitz’s Friedenseiche (Peace Oak). It was planted in front of the Albrechthof in 1871 by Karl Albrecht himself and like other such oaks, was planted to celebrate the Prussian victory over France in the Franco-Prussian war. At a height of 25 meters it seems to be doing reasonably well despite its rather uncomfortable location squeezed between the edge of the Schloßstrasse and the tower.
Just south of the the Kreisel complex you’ll come to the confusing jumble of traffic lanes at the end of the A103 flyover. A short diversion along the Wolfensteindamm and under the railway line brings you to the Carmerplatz, once a fine square and now a slightly neglected patch of greenery which used to be the site of Stegitz’s village pond. The pond, which was filled in at the turn of the 19th century, used to be a popular place to swim, although people and occasionally even horses were apparently lost in its murky depths.
The stretch of the Schloßstrasse beyond the Wolfensteindamm was once lined with farmhouses dating from the mid 19th century. These were later replaced by apartment blocks such as the one still standing at Schloßstrasse 69, which was built by a local farmer on the site of his farm in 1873. Continuing a little further you’ll reach a street named Am Bäkequell (At the Bäke spring) where there’s a rash of greenery at the roadside, with small trees, bushes, reeds, grass and a couple of boulders set around a dry stream bed crossed by a simple wooden bridge. Here a curious attempt has been made to mark the site of the spring of the Bäke stream, which rose on the south facing slope of the Fichtenberg. In fact the spring was actually located further up the hill, just below the viewing terrace in today’s Ruth Andreas Park.
The Bäke provided a vital source of water when Steglitz was first founded and used to meander through the woodland and damp meadows around the village, forming lakes and pools when it rained. When the Teltowkanal was built downstream along the Bäke valley in 1906 this swampy landscape was lost forever. The water table sank, the spring dried up and the Bäke was banished underground for much of its course, having become little more than a rainwater drainage channel.
Today a dry bed, dotted with boulders and the odd weeping willow, now follows the old line of the stream a few hundred meters down Am Bäkequell as far as the S-Bahn railway embankment. You can still follow the rest of its course along tree lined footpath that runs through a pleasant green corridor beyond the railway embankment all the way to the Haydnstrassen. Here in the lovely little Bäke Park the stream emerges from its underground channel and flows briefly through a landscaped valley before draining first into a large pond and from there into the Teltowkanal.
A couple of hundred meters beyond Am Bäkequell past the southern boundary of the old village and at the point at which Schloßstrasse becomes Unter den Eichen you’ll come to a building with a dark history. The broad terracotta coloured block with lines of boxy, sober windows used to be the headquarters of the SS-Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Main Office for Economic and Administrative Affairs), the department run by Oswald Pohl responsible for managing the financial and business affairs of the SS. Its activities included the industrial and economic exploitation of Europe’s Jews and the day to day running of the concentration camps. By 1945 it had become a burnt out ruin but it was restored after the war. An information panel outside the building serves as a memorial and provides further information including that Pohl was hanged in 1951 after standing trial in Nürnberg.
Around the Village and Further Afield
Along the Rothenburg Strasse and up to the Fichtenberg
The land on the Eastern slope of the Fichtenberg to the northwest of the village – once part of Steglitz’s estate park – has been one of the borough’s most affluent and desirable neighbourhoods ever since being divided up into building plots around 1878.
A good place to start exploring the area is at the pretty, redbrick vicarage on Rothenbergstrasse, which runs along the foot of the Fichtenberg. The street is named after the aristocrat Friedrich Ernst Freiherr von Rothenburg who left his fortune to the Johann August Zeune Blindenschule (School for the Blind), thus enabling the school to purchase land for a new facility at the foot of the Fichtenberg. Von Rothenburg had apparently been eternally grateful to the school after having taken refuge within its walls in Berlin Mitte during a cholera outbreak in 1831. The vicarage stands at number 32 and is connected to the Matthäuskirche by a short, tree-lined walkway. It was built in 1897, seventeen years after the church was completed and included flats for two pastors, thereby more than making up for the fact that Steglitz didn’t get its first own protestant pastor until 1893.
Just opposite the vicarage at Rothenbergstrasse 12 the house with tall, white shutters, set back from the street in a walled garden on the corner of Schmitt-Ott-Strasse, was built in 1909 for the widow of the banker Theodor Henoch. It stands on the site of a neoclassical villa which had been built for the banker himself after he’d purchased the plot in 1873 and which Frau Henoch had decided to have torn down. The architect of the new house was Paul Baumgarten, who was later to become one of Hitler’s favourite architects and designed a host of theatres in the 1930s and 40s. The gardens surrounding the house, which you can only see by peeping through the wrought iron gate, are partly the work of Gustav Meyer who was a student of Lenné’s. They contain some trees that date back to the late 19th century. The house was acquired by the Nazi party during World War Two and made available to the SS. After the war it was used for a time by US forces. In 1950 the Berlin state government gave the villa and its grounds to the Technical University of Berlin and today they are home to its Institute of Ecology and Biology. The garden serves as an open air plant laboratory and includes a so called teaching garden, in which students can be shown native plant communities as well as those from other geographical zones.
A glance up Schmitt-Ott-Strasse – named after the Prussian Minister of Culture Friedrich Schmidt-Ott – shows just how much of a hill the Fichtenberg really is. It may only be 68 meters high but the streets leading up it are surprisingly steep. Until the early 20th century the hill was more accurately known as the Kiefernberg (Pine Hill), given that it had actually been planted mostly with pine trees. Although it’s not always easy to make out the Fichtenberg today due to all the building that has taken place since the late 19th century early villa owners would have had fine views, not only to the rooftops of Berlin and Charlottenburg but also to the fields Dahlem and the Grunewald to the west and over rapidly expanding Lichterfelde to the south.
Just beyond the Schmitt-Ott-Str the baptist hall at Rothenbergstrasse 12a-13 stands on the site of the villa of „Reichsfrauenführerin Scholz-Klinck, the leader of the National Socialist Women’s League. Apparently Frau Scholz-Klinch fled when Russian soldiers arrived in Steglitz in May 1945, leaving the house to be looted by her servants.
Set back from the road on the slope of the Fichtenberg just beyond the Baptist hall the grand, redbrick Johann August Zeune Blindenschule (Johann August Zeune School for the Blind) with its distinctive bank of six arched third floor windows and ornate cornices is part of a complex that also includes a museum and a workshop. Founded in 1806 as the Royal Prussian School for the Blind it’s the oldest school of its kind in Germany and was the third in Europe after schools in Paris and Vienna. It was initially opened by Johann-August-Zeune in Gipsstrasse in Berlin Mitte and only moved to its new home in Steglitz in 1877 after Friedrich Ernst Rothenberg’s generosity had enabled a large plot of land to be purchased. Run as a boarding school the Blindenschule originally had rooms for 80 pupils, each of which had a portrait of the Kaiser on the wall and which the pupils could of course not see.
The more modest building to the right of the school, which was once the former headmaster’s residence, today houses the Deutsches Blindenmuseum (German Museum for the Blind). The oldest museum in the borough of Steglitz, it was founded in 1891, and contains exhibits dedicated to all aspects of blindness with a particular focus on education and reading. A permanent exhibition also focuses on Louis Braille and Braille writing system. On the outside wall of the museum there’s a plaque commemorating the work of Betty Hirsch, one of the school’s former pupils. She set up the private Silex Schule for men blinded during the First World War on the Blindenschule site together with the ophthalmologist August Silex in 1914. Hirsch was Jewish and was forced to leave Germany in 1934, shortly after the Nazis came to power. There’s a small statue of her and her guide dog (?) titled Frau Mit Führhund (woman with guide dog) on the narrow lawn in front of the museum.The Blindenmuseum is located on the second floor of the building and is open on Wednesdays between 15:00 and 18:00 and for guided tours every first Sunday in the month at 11:00.
To the left of the main school building a much smaller annexe houses of the shop of the Berlin Blindenhilfswerk, which has sold furniture and basket weave products made by blind people since 1928. The workshop was founded by the director of the Blindenschule in 1886 and aimed to give blind people a productive task while at the same time encouraging their economic independence.
Continuing along the Rothenburg Strasse the recently renovated, sandy coloured building with pointed external towers and steeply roofed gables at 16-17 was once Steglitz’s Finanzamt (tax office). Completed in 1911 by the architect Hans Heinrich Müller, who was the borough’s official architect at the time, it has a mosaic featuring a black Prussian eagle with the words Königliche Einkommenssteuer-Veranlagungs-Kommission (Royal Income Tax Assessment committee/board Office) above its main entrance. Today the former tax office has become an extension to the Fichtenberg Oberschule (Fichtenberg High School) which stands next door a few meters further along the street. Slightly larger and similarly styled the handsome school is also Müller’s work. It too dates from 1911 and was built as a new home for Steglitz’s first high school for girls, which had been founded in 1904. The school started life under the name Auguste-Victoria-Lyzeum and went through 12 changes of name during its 100 year history until becoming the Fichtenberg Oberschule in 2004. Müller gave the mustard yellow building a particularly impressive main entrance, featuring a steeply pitched roof an external tower and a pair of wood framed oriel windows set above arched portals, one of which bears the inscription Lyzeum 1 und Studienanstalt. On the pavement in front of the school there is a Stolperstein (stumbling block) dedicated to the Jewish pupil Ruth Veit-Simon, born 1914, who was sent to Theresienstadt in 1942 and died a year later.
At the end of the Rothenburgstrasse a turn right into Am Fichtenberg takes you uphill to the pretty little Ruth-Andreas-Friedrich Park on the south western slope of the hill. Although only 1.5 hectares in size it’s a pleasant place to flop on the grass in summer and probably makes for an excellent sledging run on snowy days. Its tree-lined lawn slopes downhill rather like a golf fairway and from the top of the park you have a good view of some of the palm houses in the Botanical Garden. During the Second World War an underground bunker was built for the SS-Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt at the top of the park by Soviet and other forced labourers who were imprisoned at the small concentration camp on Wismarer Strasse in Lichterfelde. The bunker was used as an air raid shelter and for storing documents and was hidden under the park’s observation terrace at the end of Carl-Heinrich-Becker Weg. The entrances to underground complex were blown up after the war and are apparently hidden on the edge of the park close to the children’s play area halfway down the hill. CHECK WITH HEIMATVEREIN. Just below the observation terrace you’ll also find the original site of the Bäke spring, long since capped and dried up.
Continuing out of the park along the Carl-Heinrich-Becker Weg until it meets the Schmitt Ott Stasse brings you to the heart of the villa colony on the Fichtenberg – see feature box for tour of Fichtenberg for a tour of the main villas. Before becoming a residential area towards the end of the 19th century the only building on the hill had been a weird Gothic folly known as the Belvedere, which was constructed at its highest point, close to today’s water tower by the owner of Steglitz manor, a Herr von Kamecke at the end of the 18th century. The folly was eventually demolished in 1865 and its stones used in the foundations of some of the first villas to be built on the hill (such as the house at Schützenstrasse 8). The sale of 89 plots of former estate land on the Fichtenberg, to Berliners who wanted to move up and out of the city, began in 1870 and by 1885 24 houses and villas stood on the hill. The first house to be completed in 1873 still stands today at Schmidt-Ott-Strasse 21, as do two houses from 1894 at Arno-Holz-Strasse 17/19 and Schmidt-Ott-Strasse 6. The sumptuous new residences on the hill were equipped with luxuries such as lifts, ice cellars, coach houses and large garages with private petrol pumps. Large conservatories looked out onto extensive gardens which had ponds, pavilions, grottos, marble statues and bowling greens and were more like little parks. It was only much later, after World War Two, that this open building pattern was altered by the insertion of smaller villas and even some terraced housing and apartment complexes, which today give the hill a somewhat different look. A colourful mixture of the great the good were soon living up on the Fichtenberg. The idyllic, elevated location became especially popular with academics and was known for a time as the “Gelehrtenrepublik” (Republic of the learned). Residents also included a mixture of literary figures, musicians, actors, artists, publishers, high level bureaucrats, politicians, bankers and industrialists. Famous people such as Erich Pommer, producer of the films Metropolis and the Blue Angel were attracted to the leafy neighbourhood as well as the paper industry magnate Max Krause, who’s idea it was to sell writing paper in packages together with envelopes. The new Fichtenbergers were referred to by old Steglitzers living down in the village as “die dort droben” (them up there). Even today you do really feel in a very different world up on the Fichtenberg compared to down in Steglitz.
Right at the heart of the Kolonie am Fichtenberg on the corner of Carl-Heinrich-Becker-Weg and Schmidt-Ott-Strasse you’ll find the Villa Anna, one of its finest houses. Half covered in ivy the house is a wonderful fairy tale-like mixture of half-timbered walls and clinker brickwork with a steeply pitched overhanging roof and a round, pointed neo-gothic tower, topped by something that looks like a witches hat. The state architect Otto Techow built it for himself in 1884 and named after his wife. Just around the corner in Schmidt-Ott-Strasse the Wasserturm (water tower) is the best know landmark on the hill and also Techow’s work. The squat, 38 metre high redbrick tower with 3.8 metre thick walls once had a water capacity of 2000 cubic metres. It looks a bit like a late medieval fortification complete with battlements and is topped by a dome. It needed to be built because the hill was not an easy place to supply with drinking water. Indeed, wells for the first houses to be built had to be drilled over 50 metres deep. The Charlottenburg water company solved the problem by building the tower close to the top of the hill in 1886 as well as laying water pipes along the newly laid out streets. During the winter of 1895 heavy frost caused a drainage pipe in the tower to burst and water cascaded down the Schmidt-Ott-Strasse transforming it for a short time into a glacier. Today the tower is the home of the Meteological Institute of the Free University of Berlin.
North of the Village and along the Schloßstrasse
The area to the north of the old village is focussed on the Schloßstraße, Steglitz’s main axis. The street follows the route of Friedrich Wilhem’s chaussee into central Berlin. Since the Second World War it has become one of Berlin’s premier shopping streets, boasting four major malls and a host of department stores, which together provide over 200,000 square meters of retail space and more than 1000 shops, cafés and restaurants. The name Schloßstrasse goes back to 1871, when the local council decided to name the street after Wrangelschlösschen. It has played a major role in transformation of Steglitz from village to major urban centre. The streetscape is an interesting jumble of styles that never quite seems to be complete. A walk up the Schloßstraße is like two kilometer long architectural journey from the Gründerzeit to post millennium shopping paradise, via art-deco, postwar Aufbau and a bit of seventies utopianism. The most recently built shopping centres are still interspersed with good number of smaller and even some independent shops that have somehow survived in the retail jungle. Halfway along, the street is cut by the brutalist wound of the Joachim-Tibertius-Brücke flyover, however there are also architectural gems such as the quirky Bierpinsel tower, the Titania Palast cinema and the surviving façade of the Wertheim department store. In more recent times an attempt has been made to make the busy street a more pleasant place for pedestrians, with car traffic reduced to a single lane, wider pavements, cycle paths and a tree-lined central reservation. A campaign to promote smaller, specialist shops and gastronomic establishments on the Schloßstrasse’s often pleasant side streets also serves as a counterbalance to chain dominated shopping centres and makes a stroll along the street more interesting. Plenty of cafés and eateries
Heading north beyond the Rathaus and the Das Schloß shopping mall – with its rather chintzy styling and semicircular windows aping those of the Wrangelschlösschen – the north side of the Schloßstraße is lined with a fair number of buildings that have survived from just after the turn of the 19th century. There are particularly fine examples at numbers 32, 27 and 26, all dating from around 1905 with plenty of external decoration. The tree lined streets off to the left – Muthesiusstraße, Zimmerstraße and Ahornstrasse – are for the most part still lined with fine apartment buildings and give an idea of what an attractive area this once was to live in and in many ways still is. Well worth a look are the blocks at Zimmermanstr 33, 34 and 35, which have particularly attractive Jugenstil decoration, including monkey motifs at number 34. It’s in these streets that you’ll also find some of the more quirky shops referred to in the Schloßstrasse side streets campaign (see shop listing below).
At little further on at Kieler Strasse on the right had side of the street the white building, with a slim, pointed corner tower, is the one in which Jewish businessman Moritz Feidt opened the Schloßstrasse’s very first department store in 1907. A remembrance plaque at the entrance to the building tells of how the property was confiscated by the Nazis and for a time became Textilhaus Sommer CHECK! After the war the Wertheim chain moved in for a few years, until they opened their own flagship store further up the street in 1952. At the entrance to the Kieler Strasse you’ll find the snack bar “Zur Bratpfanne” which opened back in 1949 and claims to be the oldest such eatery in West Berlin. A recent makeover is all shiny, modern metal and glass but their Currywurst sauce recipe is said to be 60 years old and still being served. It’s well worth going a few steps further down the Kieler Straße for a glimpse of the lovely Roman Catholic Rosenkranz Basilica (Rosary Basilica). The church was built between 1899 and 1900 based on a design by the Kassel born architect Christoph Hehl, who designed a large number of Roman Catholic churches (including those in nearby Lankwitz and Lichterfelde). Although the styling is predominantly neo Romanesque, there are some decidedly Märkisch in its red brick façade and the sturdy, thirty meter high tower. Once inside however you almost feel like you’ve been transported to Constantinople. The dark Byzantine interior is laid out in the form of a Greek cross topped by a large central cupola with 16 windows. Chandeliers hang down from the ceiling providing subdued lighting and the walls are covered with a series of paintings featuring scenes from the bible, which were apparently not completed until 1930. The two largest of these, on either side of the nave, depict Christ’s birth and crucifixion. Having survived World War Two in one piece the basilica became Berlin’s Catholic cathedral for a short time after 1945, while St Hedwigs Cathedral in Mitte was rebuilt.
Back on the Schloßstraße a curved glass expanse the corner of Deitmar Straße covers the front of the Naturkaufhaus which opened in the mid 1990’s and claims to sell Berlin’s largest collection of natural products. On the opposite side of the street on the corner of Ahornstrasse the sober, boxy building with a grey mosaic façade of windows and cladding is a good (and listed) example of late Wirtschaftswunder architecture. Built in 1960 it dates from the days when the Schloßstrasse became known the “Schuhzentrum Berlin” for its variety of shoes shops and it is still home to a branch of the Salamander footwear chain today. The new Sport Scheck store on the opposite corner stands on the former site of the old Woolworths department store which opened in 1963 and was one of a large number of similar shops to open along the street during the 1950’s and 60’s. Another of these was C&A which is still open for business today, a little further up the street alongside the Tiburtius Brücke flyover. Its shiny new home bears little resemblance to the sober design of the original store that opened on the site in 1956. As you approach the flyover you can’t miss the so-called Bierpinsel (Beer Paintbrush) tower which has become one of Steglitz’s major postwar landmarks. This quirky little bit of pop art futurism opened in 1976 as the “Turmrestaurant Steglitz” and looks as if it would fit better into Tokyo’s streetscape than on Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm’s former Chaussee. The 47 meter high and almost circular tower comprises three floors supported on a single concrete pillar. Access is via a lift and an elaborate external concrete staircase which is attached to the flyover. The once bright red Pinsel was originally built as a bar, restaurant and discotheque and got its name partly due to the fact that it was a drinking establishment and because it is said to look like an inverted paint brush. Architects Ralf Schüler and Ursulina Schüler-Witte, who also did the controversial ICC Berlin exhibition centre in Charlottenburg, wanted it to resemble a tree and integrated the tower into the design of the Joachim-Tiburtius-Brücke in a (largely failed) attempt to soften the impact of the flyover on the streetscape. Unfortunately the tower’s tenants came and went rather too frequently and with major renovation required both inside and out it was closed in 2002. Attempts to reopen it have so far failed, although a project named “Turmkunst (tower art) 2010” has resulted in the tower becoming a canvas for the work of international street artists.
The bold design and colours of the Bierpinsel at least partly make up for the grimness of the Tiburtius Brücke, a further example of the car focused planning of the 1970’s that blights parts of Steglitz to this day. The bridge, completed in 1971 and named after a Berlin senator, was supposed to be part of a four lane flyover stretching all from the Breitscheidplatz to the A103 motorway. Mercifully the project was never completed but the bridge with its brightly lit underworld of bus stops, snack bars remained. One little gem tucked away under the concrete is the hobby store Werken, Spielen, Schenken. Founded in Steglitz in 1968 and opened under the bridge in 1973 the shop has become a local institution and is a good example of a specialized, independent business that has survived the relentless encroachment of malls and chain stores. The shop is crammed full of toys, models and craft equipment and includes a model railway department that will delight aficionados.
Immediately north of the Tibertius Brücke, where the Wertheim Department Store used to stand, its surviving façade is now part of the massive new Boulevard Berlin shopping complex. The Wertheim store was the Schloßstraße’s first major postwar shopping development and the first store of its kind to open in Berlin. The company had originally planned to build on the site as far back as 1927, having acquired the land from the heirs of Johann Adolph Heese, but the great depression and the subsequent rise of the Nazis (who eventually confiscated the Jewish owned company) prevented the project from going ahead. The architect Rudolf Salvisberg, (he of the Gemeindehaus), had already been commissioned to design the store, which was to be built in the style of an ocean liner with a rooftop sun deck and terrace restaurant. When the Wertheim company was re-formed after the war it was decided to the ??? dormant project and the Hamburg born architect Hans Soll took over, basing his design on many of the ideas first put forward by Salvisberg. The shop that finally opened in 1952 featured even more maritime elements than had originally been planned. On the corner of Treitschkestraße the building was smoothly rounded like a ship’s bow while at the opposite end a five storey stairwell section with tall corner windows and portholes rose like a ship’s bridge. The roof terrace that served as the ship’s panorama deck terrace offered shoppers views up and down the Schloßstraße and was partially covered by a light, concrete canopy that protected diners enjoying the delights of the rooftop restaurant. The store was and was completely overrun on the day of its official opening, which was even attended by West Berlin’s mayor, Ernst Reuter. However, despite boasting over 5000 square meters of floor space the building quickly became too small for the demands of a new generation of Wirtschaftswunder shoppers. Extensions added in 1955, 1963 and 1967 gradually watered down the elegance of the original concept and by the 1970’s the entire building had been clad in a coat of metal slats in order to give a more unified look. When planning began for the Boulevard Berlin project the architects recognized that there was a modernist gem hidden under the cladding and decided to retain the original façade and the outer stairwell. Wertheim finally closed its store for good in 2009, and when construction began the façade was immaculately restored with stone tile sections from later extensions used to repair damage to the original building. Today you can enjoy it in at least part of its original splendor, including the restored black, steel framed shop display windows and original door handles. Even the roof terrace has been reopened as a food court, so customers can again enjoy the view from the ship’s sundeck.CHECK
Behind and beyond the Wertheim store the huge Boulevard Berlin complex stretches along the axis of a galleria all the way through to the small Harry-Breslau-Park. This impressive retail nirvana is now the second largest shopping centre in Berlin with over 120 outlets and a lavish food court. The mall includes the remodeled Karstadt department store, which first opened its doors a little further along the Schloßstraße from Wertheim in 1967. Like Wertheim, Karstadt had bought land in Steglitz in the 20’s but didn’t finally build on it until much later after the war, due to the fact that there were tenement blocks on the site that could not be demolished due to the postwar housing shortage. The assemblage of glass and concrete boxes that opened in 2009 as the first phase of the Boulevard Berlin project is not all that exciting, but it certainly looks no worse than the dull white, windowless hangar that Karstadt first erected back in 1967.
The same should certainly not be said of the mustard coloured Titania Palast, which stands further along the street between Markelstraße and Gutsmuthstrasse. This groundbreaking cinema built at the height of the short lived Weimar Republic is undoubtedly one of the Schloßstrasse’s architectural highlights. The solid stone exterior with its clean lines, narrow Bauhaus windows and art deco tower as well the innovative lighting and distinctive signage would have stood in stark contrast to the buildings around it when it was built. Today it still more than holds its own amidst the retail dominated landscape on the upper reaches of the Schloßstrasse. Designed on a grand scale the cinema was one of the most opulent in Germany when it opened on the site of a former fairground in 1928. The enormous auditorium seated 1,920 people and could accommodate a 60 piece orchestra that would play during silent movies. The building had a spectacular art deco foyer with a café and a huge cloakroom. The exterior lighting elements and in particular those on the 30 metre high tower with its 27 luminous rings of opal coloured glass, were a sensation at the time. The building even needed its own transformer/generator? The Titania was one of the few major venues in Berlin to survive World War Two unscathed and hosted the first performance of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra just weeks after the cessation of hostilities. In December 1948 it was the venue for the founding ceremony of the newly formed Free University of Berlin and when the first Berlinale festival was opened in 1951 the Titania Palast hosted the showing of the opening film, Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Despite the fact that the auditorium was said to have poor acoustics the Titania also became a major venue for concerts in the 50’s and 60’s, hosting artists such as Louis Armstrong and Marlene Dietrich. Sadly it began to lose its status as the 1960’s progressed. Not only did the building of the Berlin Wall cut it off from a part of its audience but new venues were built as cultural life moved back to the centre of West Berlin. The cinema was closed and for a time there was a grave danger that the building would be demolished. Eventually however it was converted for multipurpose use with retail space for shops and the building was finally listed as a monument in 1984. In 1995 it underwent a complete renovation in which the former auditorium was converted into a seven screen cinema along with the creation of space for shops and boutiques. Although many of the interior art deco elements were lost they are still visible in some of the spaces that house the cinema. It’s also well worth trying to see the building at night when the art deco lighting can be enjoyed at its best.
Next door to the Titania Palast, just across the Gutsmutstrasse, the Forum Steglitz mall marks the northern end of the Schloßstrasse. A survivor from the 1970’s the functional looking complex at Schloßstrasse number 1 was ground breaking when it first opened back in April 1970. Not only was it the the Schloßstrasse’s first shopping centre but it was only the second such development to open in Berlin. For many years the mall, with its moving walkways taking customers up to the first floor (now long since replaced by escalators), was the retail draw on the Schloßstrasse, partly because, unlike existing department stores, it accommodated a wide variety of individual shops, cafés and restaurants under one roof. All things considered the Forum Steglitz has aged rather well. The styling is a little Meccano like and it looks a bit cluttered with all the brand logos stuck on the front, but the building has a pleasing symmetry when viewed from the front. It was built on site of the Bornmarkt, which had been Steglitz’s main open air market since 1908 and was a major meeting place for locals. As part of the project the architects were obliged to include space for the market stalls within the new building and these were eventually accomodated on the ground floor at the back of the complex. A major renovation in 2007 finally spelt the end for the market but it gave the building a face lift and brought it up to date. Today the Forum Steglitz still houses around 60 shops and manages to survive alongside its newer and shinier competitors. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall the shopping centre also hosted the office for Besuchs- und Reiseangelegenheiten in which West Berliners could apply for visas to the GDR, which was run by the same department that was responsible for the STASI.