Walkabout: The borders of Berlin
by Rachel Marks
Kopenhagener Straße , which heads west from Schönhauser Allee station, is now seems a quiet residential street. It's gotten a facelift like so many others in Prenzlauer Berg, but the mood is more peaceful and less self-aware. During the GDR, however, Kopenhagener Straße was the hub of Prenzlauer Berg bohemian life - not a quiet side street - and its fame extended far beyond the Kiez thanks to the hit film Solo Sunny (1980), which portrayed an image of the picturesque courtyards and offered a glimpse into the lives of the alternative residents. Walking down the street, parallel to the Ringbahn's tracks, you would hardly notice that the rails run so nearby; only by taking a few steps onto Rhinower Straße or from the pedestrian bridge, which crosses over the tracks at Sonnerburger Straße, can you catch sight of the deep gorge through which the S-Bahn flows or of the opposite bank. But if you continue ahead you will discover the Humboldt Umspannwerk , or electric distribution station, a beautiful testament to the brickwork of industrial architecture and, farther down the street, a seemingly nameless cafe and bar  that has managed to preserve a hint of the heady days of early 1990s East-Berlin bohemia.
Kopenhagener Straße dead-ends at Mauerpark's most northern point where Moritzhof  is located, an experimental children's barnyard complete with goats, chickens, and horses. Turn right onto Schwedter Straße and then onto Schwedter Steg, a footbridge. The path leads to the north; the house fronts withdraw. Without a moments notice, you are in the wide open, a large, sandy area defined by numerous crisscrossing tracks. One of these, the so-called "Ulbrichtkurve" , was built on the East Berlin side in 1961. It curves in a wide arch toward the north, creating a mirror image of the tracks from the West; together with the Ringbahn they create a wide triangle. Along the Ulbrichtkurve, trains leaving Schönhauser Allee toward Pankow station darted past this border with the West at a clip of 25 mph, making an attempted escape from the S-Bahn door all but impossible.
On the long pedestrian bridge that spans the barren land, the expansive view at sunset is particularly impressive; the rhythmic sounds of the trains approaching and retreating provide the perfect backdrop. A hole in the city, to this day a no-man's land in the middle of everything. Over a century ago, the abrupt transition between the city and beyond was visible to the everyday observer, particularly along the Ringbahn, which created a literal border between inside and out. Of this area Wilhelm Bölsche wrote in 1891:
Nowhere can one better study the transition between city and country as out there, almost on the city's most northern pole, beyond Gesundbrunnen. [...] Streets are there, but not houses. In the distance a few grow - large, abysmally sober tenements of the inornate kind; sallow like naked mounds of chalk, with a hundred lackluster window eyes; monsters, against which the prosaic segments of an old field landscape, the clumsy wooden crates of a windmill, become an aesthetic ideal. [...] Here Berlin theoretically ends. Practically it first begins far back there - there where the sky is so gray. [...] He who strays from the pavement runs the risk of falling into the uncanny moraine of debris that, like a belt, encircles the entire glacierly cold body of the bear [the emblem of Berlin] like a ring of garbage on the border between the sea of houses and the fields of grain: hills of broken porcelain dishes, rusted kettles, old shoes, defect wheat beer jars - everything that Berlin no longer has any need for, the entire flotsam of the ocean of streets. And here and there, between the hills, an uncanny, live being, wrapped in rags, also flotsam just like the shards and old pieces of steel.*
Today the city stretches far beyond the Ringbahn to the north, but the garbage has not traveled far. An ironic reminder of Bölsche's impressions of Berlin's periphery, the neon glow of orange garbage trucks and containers of the local trash collection company are impossible to overlook at the opposite foot of the bridge.
To return to the bustle of the city, follow Behm- and then Schivelbeiner Straße through a quiet residential neighborhood where retirees and kids share a nameless park. Shortly before reaching the station, warm yourself up with a hot coco and a bite to eat at the tiny Café Hainz .
* "Berlin nach der Windrose," cited from Der Berliner zweifelt immer. Seine Stadt in Feuilletons von damals, ed. by Heinz Knobloch, Berlin 1977. In: Die Berliner Moderne 1885-1914, Stuttgart 1987, p 32-33.
1. Kopenhagener Straße | Famous in the GDR through DEFA's hit film Solo Sunny and an epicenter shortly after the fall of the Wall for the new East Berlin bohemia. The street's courtyards look out on the Ringbahn. To this day a fairly original piece of Prenzlauer Berg | Kopenhagener Straße | www.umass.edu/defa/films/sunny
2. Humboldt Umspannwerk | Unfortunately currently not open to the curious public, unless a private leaser has opened the doors. With some luck, you may catch a temporary fashion or art exhibition and use it as the perfect excuse to explore the massive brick complex from the inside. Built in 1926 by Berlin architect Hans Heinrich Müller | Kopenhagener Straße 58 | www.humboldtberlin.com
3. Kohlenquelle | This modest cafe-bar across from the Spannwerk offers a quiet atmosphere for reading the newspaper or enjoying an afternoon beer. Formerly used for coal storage, as the name implies, it has certainly retained a pre-reunification charm | Kopenhagener Straße 16
4. Moritzhof | Looking for an alternative, nature-oriented urban activity? This children's farmyard in Mauerpark has its roots in the squatter scene directly following the fall of the Wall. This green strip where the Wall once stood impressively unites history, nature, and Berliner lifestyle | Schwedter Straße 90 | www.jugendfarm-moritzhof.de
5. Gleisdreieck und Ulbrichtkurve | From the long pedestrian bridge that spans the no-man's land, survey the impressive deserted landscape. In the middle of the city, and yet so distant from it all | Schwedter Steg
6. Café Hainz | Affordable little breakfast and lunch dishes in a cozy vintage atmosphere | Schivelbeiner Straße 7