Saturday, 6 August 2016

Luisenstadt Canal

Is it woeful that after coming up to two years of living in Berlin, I still got very lost around Kreuzberg until about a month ago? Even now I that I pretty much live in it - and certainly work in it - I still can't exactly claim to know it.
Yet it's the most mythical part of Berlin; even people who haven't visited the city have heard of it and maybe even know a little bit about it. I think it is hard to disagree that the spirit of Berlin is encapsulated inside the 10.4 km² of Kreuzberg.

I wander around those criss-cross streets of the Wrangelkiez, hemmed between Skalitzer Straße and Köpenicker Straße, and think, 'Where the hell am I?' Seriously - if I don't have a pre-planned destination, there's no way of orienting myself. The streets reach North American levels of criss-cross that make it very confusing if you don't have a map to hand.

Wrangelstraße (St Thomas Kirche in background)

Mariannenstraße

Waldemarstraße

Waldemarstraße/Adalbertstraße

Yet the part of Kreuzberg I find myself the most drawn to is the Luisenstadt, which shares a border with Mitte - i.e. the former East/West border. I find it supremely unattactrive yet fascinating - the only classic exception to its ugliness being St Michael's Church. (For a while, I thought this was the same thing as St Thomas' Church on Mariannenplatz, which also imposingly skims the Wall trail nearby.)

What's more, there is a spooky, parallel existence around here that predates the Wall era. As you admire the Michaelkirche and the stark contrast in the architecture flanking it due to post-War division, you may be standing or sitting right where water used to be: the Luisenstadt Canal.
I don't find that anybody ever talks about it. I guess that everything else that went on in Berlin after 1926 - when the canal was filled in - sort of eclipses its existence. But gosh, how differently would we be looking at Kreuzberg if there was still this waterway running through it?

I had always been curious about why there were so many Damms in Kreuzberg - Engeldamm & Bethaniendamm, Leuschnerdamm & Legiendamm, Segitzdamm & Erkelenzdamm. Funnelled between each of these partner Damms, running between the Spree and the Landwehrkanal, was this fabled Luisenstadt Canal. Of course!

The Engelbecken is the dark blue square, the light blue is the former Luisenstadt Canal, the red line is the path of the Wall dividing Mitte and Kreuzberg (x)
The former Luisenstadt Canal slices Kreuzberg in two - it demarcates Kreuzberg 36's western boundary (x)

Luisenstadt Canal in 1900, looking south over the Engelbecken (x)
Alevite meeting place (mystical Turkish branch of Islam) on Waldemarstraße, metres from where the Wall stood

Today, the portion of the old Luisenstadt Canal between the Engelbecken and Oranienplatz is a lovely garden that floods a little when it's been raining - like flashes of the past.

Looking north from Oranienplatz - the Wall ran just parallel behind the bridge

Gardens down in the old canal
View looking northwest: St Michael's Church, Heinrich-Heine-Platz
Leuschnerdamm/Bethaniendamm - a twilight zone in every sense
Account of living on this intersection in the Wall era on Café Deutschland (in German)

Wedding cakey buildings on Heinrich-Heine-Platz

Sometimes I do a slightly longer cycle home, going from Kreuzberg into Mitte back into Kreuzberg again (Köpenicker Straße, down Engeldamm, then down Adalbertstraße to Kottbusser Tor). There is still so much for me to discover in this city and endless inspiration for starting some kind of psychogeography project.

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