I came to Berlin to study literature, so it has always fascinated me to find the places where various writers lived and did their writing and what buildings were immortalized in their novels. A walk through Berlin's city centre turns up traces of the past with every step, even in those places which have been completely transformed.
This walk starts at the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof, a cemetery on Chausseestraße. This is the final resting place of numerous great Berlin thinkers and writers, including playwright Bertolt Brecht and his wife, actress Helene Weigel, novelist Heinrich Mann, philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, playwright Heiner Müller and architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. A visit to the cemetery is thus a walk through German intellectual history. A short detour will take you to Französischer Friedhof on Liesenstraße, where author Theodor Fontane is buried. Fontane painted vivid portraits of Berlin and rural Brandenburg society in the late nineteenth century.
The house into which playwright Bertolt Brecht and actress Helene Weigel moved in 1953 is next door to the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof. After Brecht's death in 1956, Weigel continued living here until her own death in 1971. Their rooms can be visited. The Literaturforum im Brecht-Haus hosts a regular programme of cultural events here.
Mori Ôgai Memorial
From there it's not far to Luisenstraße 39, where Japanese doctor, writer and translator Mori Ôgai sublet an apartment for two months in 1887. Mori, considered the founder of Japanese modernism, wrote about his experiences in Berlin in "Maihime" ("The Dancing Girl", 1890), Wita sekusuarisu (Vita sexualis, 1909) and in his Germany diaries.
The next stop on the walk is Pariser Platz at Brandenburg Gate, once home to Berlin's literary salons. Achim von Arnim was born in the palace at Pariser Platz 4. Arnim, together with Clemens Brentano, became famous as the editors of the folk song collection published as Des Knaben Wunderhorn, later set to music by composer Gustav Mahler. The palace is long gone and its site is now home to the new building of the Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts) that opened in 2005. The Liebermann House, the former residence of famous painter Max Liebermann located at Pariser Platz 7, has been rebuilt and opened as exhibition space in 1996. Novelist Theodor Fontane modelled for the painter several times at this location. Palais Raczynski at Unter den Linden 39 was the home of writer Bettina von Armin from 1835 to 1844. Sister of Romantic poet Clemens Brentano and wife of Achim von Armin, Bettina von Arnim became famous for her correspondence with German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and her socially critical text Dies Buch gehört dem König (This Book Belongs to the King, 1843). Next door was the inn where Goethe, not an admitted fan of Berlin, would stay when he came to the Prussian capital.
A little further down Unter den Linden and then right down Friedrichstraße is the Gendarmenmarkt. Where the Four Seasons Hotel now stands was once the location of the Lutter & Wegner wine cellars, where Romantic author E.T.A. Hoffmann was a regular guest. The wine bar has gone down in opera history in Jacques Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann". Hoffmann's home, located at Charlottenstraße 56 at the corner of Taubenstraße, has now appropriately become the Lutter & Wegner restaurant. Nearby, a relief sculpture by Georg Kolbe serves as a reminder of author Heinrich von Kleist's former home at Mauerstraße 53. From 1850, Swiss writer Gottfried Keller spent five years in Berlin, living at Mohrenstraße 6, among other locations. During his time in Berlin, he finished Der grüne Heinrich (Green Henry, 1855) and the first volume of his short story collection Die Leute von Seldwyla (The People of Seldwyla, 1856). Taubenstraße 32 near Gendarmenmarkt was poet Heinrich Heine's third home in Berlin. His Briefe aus Berlin (Letters from Berlin, 1822) are his literary testimony to the city. Heinrich Heine frequented Rahel Levin's salon which had become one of centres of literary Berlin at the time, where writers such as Adalbert von Chamisso, Friedrich Baron von Motte Fouqué, Ludwig Tieck, Kleist, Hegel, the Humboldt brothers and Friedrich Schlegel would gather.
Bebelplatz is the site of one of the darkest hours in Berlin's history when, on 10 May 1933, Nazis burned the books of the writers they had ostracised. Unknown to them, Erich Kästner was present as his books were destroyed in the fire. Today, a memorial remembers the book burning with a glass pane in the pavement at Bebelplatz looking down into a library with empty shelves.
What Frederick the Great thought about writers...
Back to Unter den Linden, make sure you take a close look at the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great, the most important monument made by artist Christian Daniel Rauch. On the pedestal, important Prussian figures are shown with philosophers Immanuel Kant and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing under the horse's tail – a prime opportunity for ridicule from the people of Berlin.