“Berlin W. with a Ding at the end!”“
“Berlin W. with a Ding at the end!”“
Hardly any other part of the city can compare to Wedding in the contribution made at the turn of the 20th century in transforming Berlin into one of the world’s leading industry metropoles. Although there’s hardly anything left today of the smoking chimneys – and despite other districts like Borsigwalde and Siemensstadt even being named after great industrial enterprises, nowhere did industry make such a big impact as in Wedding. A stroll through the district will reveal this – starting at a Neo-Gothic red brick gate in Brunnenstraße and then through the streets joining the eastern part of the city centre with the northern districts of Berlin.
The Factory Town in Hussitenstraße
In the days of old Berlin, the impact of the “Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft” (General Electricity Company - AEG) on the image of the city as “Electropolis” was no less marked than that of Siemens. As their first premises in Schlegelstraße soon proved too small, in 1887 the electric company bought another site in Hussitenstraße. Although now part of downtown Berlin, in those days this area was still largely undeveloped. The following years bore witness to the emergence of a true factory town here, making a convoluted, fragmented and intimidating impression on visitors. This was quite intentional as the building was designed by then star architects such as Peter Behrens. A preserved example of this early phase is the assembly plant for large machinery built in 1912.
Workers not welcome at the gate for administrative staff
In the boom period of the electro-industry during the Weimar Republic the AEG machinery in Wedding was working flat out around the clock. Almost everything connected with electricity was produced here – from light bulbs via engines through to large-scale machinery for power stations. After the war for a while, production continued where it had left off – in fact it even increased. In 1966 the “Größtmaschinenhalle” (literally Largest Machine Shop), the largest of its kind in Europe, was built, the foundation stone of which was laid by the then American Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, who specially came to Berlin for that purpose. The end didn’t come until 1978, long after the company board has moved the headquarters away from Berlin, when the plant was closed down. After more than 90 years, the history of AEG in Berlin was finally over. The only reminder of AEG’s halcyon days on today’s premises, now home to numerous service providers, is the “gate for administrative staff”, where workers and administrative staff once had to use separate entrances.
“Gutes Wedding, schlechtes Wedding” in the Prime Time Theatre
Wedding has gone through quite a bit throughout its history – and has many stories to tell. No other organisation has recognised this as well as the Prime Time Theatre. Situated well off the beaten track of the great theatre areas in Berlin-Mitte and Charlottenburg, a creative theatre ensemble has established itself here. After a total of three relocations, the venue has developed from a one-room theatre with 35 folding chairs into a modern stage seating 230 guests. The slogan, however, has stayed the same: “Lieber nah sehen statt Fernsehen!” (meaning something like:- Better to watch something near, i.e. in the theatre than something far away, i.e. the TV at home!). But most of all it’s the theatre soap “Gutes Wedding, schlechtes Wedding” (Good Wedding, bad Wedding, the name itself being a parody of a popular TV soap) that has developed into a long-running series, being in fact a play, strong on local patriotism, about a trio of typical Wedding stereotypes – doner kebab sellers, taxi drivers and “local sluts”.
Tour of the “Berlin Underground Worlds“
Entertainment of a rather different kind is offered by a club at the S-Bahn and U-Bahn Gesundbrunnen. The Verein Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underground World Club) offers tours through one of the most extended system of bunkers in the world, relicts of the Second World War and the Cold War. Down here you will soon understand that Berlin’s history was not only acted out on the ground, but under it as well. One is reminded of the spectacular tunnel built under Bernauer Straße, used by East Germans to escape to the West. Also of the spy tunnel built by the Americans to listen in to telephone calls in East Berlin. Unfortunately, there was an East German double agent involved in the process, and before the Americans could start using it, the Vopos (the East German “People’s” Police) had taken charge of it.
Rediscovering old courtyards
When you re-emerge from under the ground and take a look around you, you soon notice that the tenements there must one have played a big role in determining the image of Wedding. People there used to live packed together in courtyard tenements one behind the other. A well preserved example of the old Berlin backyard culture can still be experienced in Gerichtstraße 23. And following the demolition of many of the former grey tenement blocks in the seventies, one can now almost speak of a rediscovery of the ones still remaining. There’s been a lot of experimenting going on in many of the old courtyards under the slogan “working and living under one roof”. There are now more than 100 of these projects in Wedding.
The triad of world heritage sites: Pyramids, Sanssouci, Wedding
By the way, there are quite a few visitors who still find it difficult to believe it, but living in Wedding is on a par with the palaces of Sanssouci and Versailles. Why, you ask? Well, because the Schiller Park housing estate in Wedding is also listed as a Unesco world heritage site! Built from 1924 to 1930 as one of the first low-income housing developments of Berlin Modernism, this housing estate has been awarded this status along with the “horseshoe housing estate” in Neukölln and the “paint box housing estate” in Treptow. And so we can say – albeit with our tongue firmly in our cheek – that the triad of world heritage sites are: the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China and … Wedding! The Berlin cultural historian and renowned story teller Hans Ostwald may finally feel vindicated, as, when asked where he lived, replied in his inimitable Berlin dialect “There where everybody with class lives, Berlin W. with a Ding at the end! My God, don’t you get it, Berlin Wedding!”.
There are many more Berliner local neighbourhood stories for you in our travel guide “Experiencing local neighbourhoods” that you can order online here.
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