Jungfernheide, Collage © Björn Paulissen


On a search for the source

by Gernot Schaulinski / translation by Rachel Marks

Arriving with the Ringbahn...your gaze wanders, searching. Where are the "Jungfern" (maiden), where is the "Heide" (moor)? The sparkly, colorfully dressed girls loitering in the station's tunnel have nothing to do with the name, and you don't even want to think about the boys hanging around, putting on their best masculine poses. Passengers hurry by; at the northern exit, a group is practicing what alcohol ads call "merry conviviality." The improvised pub with its 360 degrees of wall tiling can double as a cell to sober up. So there are no answers to be found here: you'll have to look a little further.

To the southwest there lies a quiet residential neighborhood with a vivacious history: on the corner of Osnabrücker Straße and Tegeler Weg towers the Berlin regional court. The neo-Romantic castle was the starting place of the wild 1968 riots known as the "Battle of Tegeler Weg." Before lawyer Horst Mahler mutated into a neo-Nazi, he was involved in the leftist students' movement and was thus to be disbarred. Not only Mahler and his lawyer but also hundreds of protesters arrived for the hearing on November 4. The crowd attempted to break through the police's barriers, to which the officials responded with tear gas and water canons. A nearby construction site lent enough stones for the wrangle to escalate into an all-out battle.

The Spree River runs along Tegeler Weg and creates the eastern border of Charlottenburg Palace's park. Parallel to the Ringbahn and only a few steps from the station, a pedestrian bridge guides passers-by to the Prussian garden paradise in a hop and a skip. Visitors can stroll royally between carp ponds and pheasant fields, but there is no moor to be found. Once a tourist hotspot in divided Berlin, the palace property today leads a periphery existence in the public perception – though wrongly so. The park is one of the city's most beautiful, and the baroque palace, as well as the museums sprinkled around it, harbor exquisite treasures.

But where are the maidens and the moor? We follow the scent to the northeast. Close to the station, a concrete spiral twists up to meet a bridge across the canal and city Autobahn. What a view! With the Ringbahn at your back, the roaring streak of traffic at your feet, you are revealed a sea of huts stretching out to the horizon. Jungbrunnen (Fountain of Youth), Alpenrose (Alpine Rose), and Bienenheim (Home of the Bees) are just some of the names of the allotment gardens colonies – here known as "Laubenpieper" – all expressing the longing for a city escape. Once known as "poorman's gardens" in the early nineteenth century, the units were initially used for self-sufficient production until they were discovered as recreational spaces during industrialization. The proletariat gladly fled their tenement housing for the small green parcels. By the middle of the twentieth century, there were some 165,000 allotment gardens in Berlin; since then their numbers have been cut in half. Today, however, a trend is gaining ground: the garden-gnome mentality is shifting to one of organic-minded renters from the hippest areas.

After wandering north through the colonies, the persistent traveler will stumble upon Heckerdamm and the convent of Karmel Regina Martyrium. This is it: the maidens! They are nuns from the Karmelitinnen order, which has dedicated itself particularly to the memory of the victims of the NS execution site at Plötzensee. But the long-pursued moor does not get its name from these pious sisters but rather from the Benedictine nuns from the erstwhile Spandau convent. Until its secularization in 1558, an extensive area of forest and moor was under their care. Today the woods have been transmuted into a public park that borders the western end of Heckerdamm. Where Prussian kings once went ahunting is today Berlin's largest park landscape after the Tiergarten. A thick forest and wide pastures give us an idea of the original "märkische" beauty. Be it nuns, leftists and "Laubenpieper", royal gardens, public parks, or garden colonies – as it turns out, the journey is the destination.

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