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Berlin - Around Town : Central Berlin: Scheunenviertel (part 1)

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The Scheunenviertel, literally the “barn quarter”, Berlin’s former Jewish quarter, has experienced a unique revival in recent years. Originally, the thriving Jewish community lived in neighbouring Spandauer Vorstadt, beyond the city limits, while the Scheunenviertel was better known as a red-light district. The Nazis, however, applied the name of “Scheunenviertel” to both areas, in order to tarnish the Jews. After World War II the district was much neglected and gradually fell into decay. Today, many of the historic merchants’ yards and narrow side streets have been restored, reviving the Scheunenviertel’s unique and lively character. Many pubs and restaurants, galleries and shops are now based here and the area has become very fashionable with locals and visitors alike, especially at night. The tragic history of its former inhabitants, however, remains unforgotten.

Jewish Berlin

In the 19th century, Berlin had a population of 200,000 Jews, the largest such community in Germany. Apart from wealthier Jews in the west of the city, it also attracted many impoverished Jews from Poland and Russia who settled in Spandauer Vorstadt. One part of the district, the criminal red-light district, was also known as Scheunenviertel. Nazi propaganda used the name to denote the entire Spandauer Vorstadt, in order to tarnish the Jews by association. Today, the Jewish quarter is still known under its “wrong” name as “Scheunenviertel”, although very few Jews live here now. Only some 5,000 Jewish Berliners managed to survive between 1933–45 in hideouts.



Top 10 Sights

  1. Oranienburger Straße

    Like no other street, Oranienburger Straße, in the centre of the old Scheunenviertel, symbolizes the rise and fall of Jewish culture in Berlin. Traces of its Jewish past are visible all along the street, such as the Neue Synagoge and several Jewish cafés and restaurants. Some 18th- and 19th-century buildings bear witness to the street’s former splendour – the Postfuhramt, for example, or the house at No. 71–72, built in 1789 by Christian Friedrich Becherer for the Grand Lodge of the Freemasons of Germany.

    • Mitte, between Friedrichstr. and Rosenthaler Str.

    Tacheles, Oranienburger Straße
  2. Neue Synagoge

    The New Synagogue, built in 1859–66, was once the largest in Europe. In 1938, it managed to survive “Reichskristallnacht” thanks to the vigilance of a brave guard, but it was damaged by bombs during World War II. Behind the Moorish façades are a prayer room and the Centrum Judaicum.

    • Oranienburger Str. 28–30

    • 10am–6pm Sun–Thu, 10am–2pm Fri

    • 030 8802 8300 00

    • Free admission

    Neue Synagoge
  3. Hackesche Höfe

    Berlin’s largest and most attractive group of restored commercial buildings, Hackesche Höfe extends between Oranienburger and Rosenthaler Straße and up to Sophienstraße in the east. The complex of buildings, comprised of nine interconnecting courtyards, was designed around the turn of the 20th century by Kurt Berndt and August Endell, two leading exponents of Art Nouveau. The first courtyard especially features elements that are typical of this style: geometric patterns are laid out in vibrant colours on glazed tiles, covering the entire building from the foundations to the guttering. What had lain in ruin after 1945 has now been carefully restored, and forms today one of the most popular nightlife centres in the city. Restaurants and cafés, the Varieté Chamäleon, galleries and small shops have all settled in this area.

    • Rosenthaler Str. 40–41

    Hackesche Höfe
  4. Sophienstraße

    Narrow Sophienstraße has been beautifully restored and now looks exactly as it did in the late 18th century. A number of shops and arts and crafts workshops are now based in the modest buildings and courtyards. Close by stands Sophienkirche, the first Protestant parish church, founded by Queen Sophie Luise in 1712. Next to the Baroque church is a small cemetery with some 18th-century tombs.

    • Große Hamburger Str. 29

    Sophienstraße
  5. Tacheles

    The ruins of the former Wilhelm-Einkaufspassagen, one of Berlin’s most elegant shopping centres dating back to the turn of the 20th century, have been transformed by artists into an alternative arts centre. It now houses workshops and cafés and offers a regular programme of events.

    • Oranienburger Str. 54–56a

    • 030 282 61 85

  6. Museum für Naturkunde

    The Museum of Natural History – one of the largest of its kind – has the world’s largest dinosaur skeleton: a brachiosaurus found in Tanzania. Also displayed are fossils, meteorites and minerals .

    • Invalidenstr. 43

    • 9:30am–5pm Tue–Fri; 10am–6pm Sat–Sun

    • 030 20 93 85 91

    • Admission charge

  7. Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof

    Many celebrities have found their final resting place in this charming cemetery, dating back to 1762. To the left of the entrance are the graves of Heinrich Mann (1871–1950) and Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956); further along stand the pillar-like tombstones of the philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831). On Birkenallee (left off the main path) you can see the graves of master builder Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841) and the architects Friedrich August Stüler (1800–65) and Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764–1850).

    • Chausseestr. 126

    • summer: 8am–8pm daily; winter: 8am–4pm daily

    Schinkel, Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof
  8. Brecht-Weigel-Gedenkstätte

    Bertolt Brecht, one of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights, lived here with his wife, Helene Weigel, from 1953–6. Original furnishings are on display alongside documents and photographs.

    • Chausseestr. 125

    • 10–11:30am Tue–Sat exc Thu; 10–noon & 5–6:30pm Thu; 9:30am–1:30pm Sat; 11am–6pm Sun

    • 030 2005 718 44

    • Admission charge

    Bertolt Brecht’s study
  9. Gedenkstätte Große Hamburger Straße

    Before 1939, this was one of the most important Jewish streets, with several Jewish schools, the oldest Jewish cemetery in Berlin and an old people’s home. The latter achieved tragic fame during the Nazi period – the SS used it as a detention centre for Berlin Jews before transporting them to the concentration camps. A simple monument commemorates thousands of Jews who were sent to their death from here. To the left of the home is a Jewish school, on the site of an earlier school founded in 1778 by the Enlightenment philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729–86). To the right of the monument is the Jewish cemetery, where some 12,000 Berlin Jews were buried between 1672 and 1827. In 1943, the Nazis almost completely destroyed the cemetery. Only a few Baroque tombs, or masebas, survived; these are now embedded into the small original cemetery wall. The place presumed to be Moses Mendelssohn’s tomb is marked by a new monument.

    • Große Hamburger Str.

    Memorial on Große Hamburger Straße
  10. Postfuhramt

    The richly ornamented Postfuhramt (post office transport department) dates back to the 19th century. It is now an exhibition hall for alternative photography and art shows and a centre for performance art.

    • Oranienburger Str. 35

    Frieze on the Postfuhramt façade
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