A storied locale
by Sven Olaf Oehlsen and Mathis Sommer / translation by Max Bach
The train platform is eye-level with the city's Autobahn, underneath runs the street Bundesallee, still deeper is the U-Bahn line nine, and between its tracks is a car tunnel for throughway-traffic. Housing blocks to the north edge up against this traffic knot (during construction also called Buddelplatz, or "burrower's square"), and a church tower twinkles to the south. Here lies the gateway to Friedenau, idyll and trendy neighborhood in one.
Celebrities of all stripes opt for the particular mix of province and prominence, Rosa Luxemburg and Theodor Heuss, Erich Kästner and Klaus Kinski. Across from the public cemetery on Stubenrauchstraße, which nowadays contains memorials for Marlene Dietrich and Helmut Newton, the Comedian Harmonists formed in the 1920s; later on, Goebbels wrote his Sportpalast speech on Fregestraße. A lively literature scene in the twentieth century stretched from Kurt Tucholsky across Max Frisch and Günter Grass and over to Uwe Johnson. Since the 1960s, Wolff's Bookstore and Niedstraße were centers of attraction for a guild of writers, and even today, next to gastronomical facilities fit to whet one's mind, first- and second-hand bookshops still testify to Friedenau's thorough maintenance of language.
The building and development of the area began under William II's reign (c. 1890s); no old village square interfered with this plan. The big private city planner Wilhelm von Carstenn initiated a striking horseshoe-shaped basic plan of streets and ornamented squares, with Friedrich-Wilhelm-Platz and its neo-gothic church "Zum guten Hirten" (The Good Shepard) in the middle. The early real estate tycoon went bankrupt and died in a mental home; consequently, the development of parcels of land with expensive villas and country houses was halted. Until 1914, as the city's population steadily grew and grew, rowed apartment buildings lined with gardens and elegant décor were built closely together.
Placed between these two bourgeois centers, the Ringbahn station received the name "Wilmersdorf-Friedenau" in 1929 (from 1939 on just "Wilmersdorf"). After being discontinued, then rebuilt and reopened in 1993, it took on the more precise designation of "Bundesplatz." Over the main exits, confusedly colored depictions of the crests of all 16 federal states refer to the station's meaning-loaded name. The renaming of the square itself (formerly "Kaiserplatz") already happened in 1950 with the inauguration of West Germany's federal building to demonstrate Berlin's affiliation to the spatially-removed Federal Republic.
The station's inconspicuous eastern exit still shows evidence of the walls of the old S-Bahn station, whose underpass arch has been converted into a 24-hour open convenience store. The south exit leads you out to cafes on Varziner Platz. Here, away from traffic and at the entrance to the neighborhood with streets named after characters from Wagner's operas, you can dive right into the stately and artistic Berlin of the past and stroll between numerous landmarks. Sieglindestraße's mix of galleries, design offices and children stores strikingly proves that Prenzlauer Berg is not the only the current creative bourgeois milieu – vive la bohème!
As famous as Friedenau would like to be, it was the Bundesplatz that made the area into a film star. One might not expect it, seeing how it is situated, roaring with traffic and its formerly grand greenery cut off by the tunnel entrance, but since 1985 the square has been in the spotlight of the long-running documentary "Berlin – Ecke Bundesplatz." Over the years, filmmakers Detlef Gumm and Hans-Georg Ullrich have been observing the social milieu, following various residents of the neighborhood and primarily documenting small everyday concerns. The result: A "sociogram of the hood" that has received an overwhelmingly positive response and is a recurrent guest at numerous film festivals. To be continued!