Amidst all the typical Berlin tenement blocks in Kreuzberg, Riehmer built his courtyard garden as a pleasant, peaceful place to live.
The young master bricklayer Wilhelm Ferdinand August Riehmer wasn’t one to follow the crowd. Instead of building more tenement blocks in Kreuzberg with dark inner courtyards, he dared to put up a magnificent set of buildings with an inviting courtyard garden – come and have a look.
The inventor of the residential courtyard
He was the man who wanted to do everything differently. And he did it with some success. In the second half of the 19th century, when more and more people were coming to Berlin, the city was being taken over by tenement blocks. Town planners with an eye on profits wanted to pack as many people as possible into the smallest space. The only regulation was that the courtyard had to be at least 26 square metres. There was hardly any light or air for the many people living in these tenements.
But Riehmer was different: he wanted people to enjoy living in his buildings. So the smart master builder embarked on his life’s work. It took courage, many hours of work and a long time to build – but it was worth it. Riehmer is considered the pioneer of the residential courtyard. His masterpiece – Riehmers Hofgarten – still stands today in Kreuzberg on Yorkstraße between Großbeerenstraße and Hagelberger Straße.
Construction of the buildings
Between 1881 and 1899, Riehmer realised his dream of providing a place for quiet and pleasant urban living. On his plot bordering on three streets, he built 18 residential buildings, each 5 storeys high with a park-like interior courtyard to relax in. As was usual in those days, the larger apartments faced the street, while the smaller ones – which each however had at least three rooms – faced the courtyard. To attract well-heeled tenants, however, the exterior, or more specifically the façade, had to be just right. The building complex, which was built over a period of 20 years, is decorated by elements from Late Classical to Neo-Baroque. The gardens were also attractively set out, with a 5-metre high bronze statue by the sculptor Gerson Fehrenbach. Grand portals provided access to the park-like courtyard.
One of the hundred most important buildings in Berlin
Not even Riehmers Hofgarten was immune from the ravages of war. Its left wing was completely destroyed in the Second World War and was not rebuilt. Nevertheless, the fin-de-siècle building was listed in 1953 and the façades were restored ten years later. Today, the famous address in Kreuzberg is home to offices, medical practices, cinemas and a hotel. When his first building draft was rejected, Wilhelm Riehmer could hardly have imagined that it would become such a valuable architectural ensemble – because it is now classed as one of the hundred most important buildings in Berlin.