Hohenzollerndamm, Collage © Björn Paulissen


The rise and fall of a dynasty

by Mathis Sommer / translation by Max Bach and Rachel Marks

Noblesse oblige, even at a highway bridge. Berlin's history is tied up with no family so closely as with the Hohenzollerns. Prussian electors, kings, and later German emperors, they accompanied the provincial city's rise to imperial capital and industrial metropolis. Only after the death and destruction of World War I did the people deflect, and William II had to flee to the Netherlands in 1918. The street Hohenzollerndamm and its Ringbahn station got their name in mere deference to the dynasty in the early twentieth century when the Prussians' monarchical world was still intact. A stone eagle strives towards its place in the sun on the prestigious station, an imposing building with art nouveaux elements from 1910. A well-to-do neighborhood financed by a private development group was to be built here on the growing city's southwesterly arterial road around the turn of the century, but today it is the Autobahn and its on and off ramps that dominate the landscape.

A 23-story aluminum-clad high-rise (built in 1977 by the pension fund Deutsche Rentenversicherung) looms in the distance. Tellingly, the same Department 80 is responsible here for everything concerning rehabilitation. The German retirement plan was implemented in 1891 with roots in Bismarck's social policies, so there is a certain continuity to be found here in conservative, middle-class Wilmersdorf as a center of the bureaucratic machine. Similar buildings, among them some from the National Socialist era, can be found to the east on the monumental Fehrbelliner Platz.

Following Fredrick the Great's guiding principle - "every man must go to heaven in his own way" - religion in Prussia was always paired with a pragmatic openness, and is proven by the villa-lined Berliner Straße. A three-aisled basilica built in Russian-Byzantine style for the Russian Orthodox congregation was built by the Prussian Building and Finance Agency in 1938 as a replacement for the building taken over by the German Labor Front. The National Socialists sponsored the congregation because of its anti-Soviet Communism stance.

The Wilmersdorf mosque, built in 1925 and modeled after the Taj Mahal, is the oldest in Germany. (In 1915 the German Empire paid for a mosque of wood for Muslim prisoners or war in Wünsdorf, the so-called "half-moon compound.") Up until the terror of the Third Reich, Wilmersdorf also had a large Jewish community. The synagogue opened on Prinzregentenstraße was burned to the ground only eight years later during the Reichspogromnacht (the Pogrom Night or "Night of Broken Glass" in November 1938).

Tucked in the space where the Autobahn 100 intersects with the A104 south of the S-Bahn sits the Sportpark Wilmersdorf, where a surreptitious plaque commemorates its creation after World War II. One million cubic meters of rubble were moved to the spot over the years; the result was an athletic stadium for 50,000, an ice rink, swimming pool, and other facilities, serving "as a place for peaceful youth competition," stamped out in the wasteland between industry and traffic. Anyone looking for a concentrated workout during the week away from Tiergarten's promenade is sure to find it here on this supposedly well-calibrated 400-meter stretch.

The spatial caesura caused by the Ringbahn and Autobahn, only divided by a completely marginalized median, defines Hohenzollerndamm. The two historical caesuras of the World Wars, so closed tied to Germany's own history, today overshadow Hohenzollerndamm's once-glorious namesake. Somewhere between retirement, religion, and stadium grounds there is the buzz of tension in the air, louder than the cars rushing by.

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