Walkabout: Going right to the source
by Gernot Schaulinski / translation by Rachel Marks
The Gesundbrunnen Center  erected here in 1997 is hard to miss as it dominates one's field of vision around Gesundbrunnen station. The architecture recalls an ocean liner, the jutting glass tower its very own command bridge. The shopping center is far from a love boat, and it defies any comparison to the garden city Atlantic . That was the maritime name architect Rudolf Fränkel gave his modern residential colony built in the English fashion in the 1920s. Borrowing from the ideas of Ebenezer Howard, who propagated for nature-oriented and socially responsible living conditions, the fifty some odd houses were allotted small front yards and larger green backyards. Heidebrinker Straße leads you straight through the middle of the colony and has since been established as a preferred atelier location for artists. It was here in an old store that Günther Uecker hammered away at his nail installations.
The wide Bellermannstraße intersects with Grüntaler Straße, where the train line Berlin- Szczecin ran down the middle median straight through the densely packed neighborhood until 1897. Today a large mural of a historical locomotive and the inscription "Graf von Itzenplitz" commemorates the bizarre anomaly of urban planning. The count was known during his time as Prussian finance minister to distribute private railway licenses like hotcakes. The erstwhile train tracks have been refurbished in the last few years as a kind of park, the Grüntaler Promenade , complete with sculptures and playgrounds.
Badstraße, with its numerous shops, runs parallel to Bellermannstraße to the west. The gatehouse bearing the number 62 is home to a bazaar during the day; colorful dresses and shirts hung up in the large passageway blow gently in the breeze of the traffic rushing by. A small path behind the building leads to a collection of barracks shaded by large old trees. Near Eastern music wafts from the cassette players while sparks fly from within the small sheds, deftly guided welding nozzles creating new cars from old parts. The auto yards  maintain a village-like atmosphere full of appealing contrasts. And where else might you see a Trabi and an S-class coupe rusting side by side?
Passing the extravagant Erkan Discount Furniture  on the corner of Bastianstraße, , head north on Böttgerstraße to Brunnenplatz, over which the potent district court of Wedding  has presided since 1906. The structure was modeled on the Albrechtsburg in Meißen near Dresden in an attempt to symbolically reference the "Sachsenspiegel," the oldest book of law dating back to the German Middle Ages. The building's foyer extends up over multiple stories with gothic stairways and galleries. A very 1980s cafeteria awaits visitors on the top floor of the west wing. With its persistent black, white, and red design and the multiple reflective surfaces, the place exudes a palpably new wave charm.
In stark contrast, the Suteki Bonsai Shop  on Uferstraße takes pride in its traditional Asian flair. Here visitors can stroll through a miniature garden and take pause on Chinese lacquer furniture. Nearby, the Panke river flows directly past the Uferhallen . Once quarters for Berlin's first horsecar trams, then the trams and omnibuses, the 470-foot garage built in 1929 is particularly impressive. Today the striking brick structure houses studios for modern dance; erstwhile BVG buildings on the other side of Uferstraße have been revamped as artists' ateliers and exhibition spaces.
Upstream, at the intersection of Badstraße, Luisenhaus  shows its best side. When it still boasted a cinema and ballroom in 1900, this site was one of Berlin's favorite getaways. The façade still depicts the historic pavilion at the source of the Gesundbrunnen spring. On the opposite bank still stands the old Pankemühle , or mill, though it hasn't clattered since losing its wheel sometime after 1844. The miller at the time opened a small beer stand to make some extra money and thus laid the cornerstone for what would later become the 30,000-seat beer garden stretching between Badstraße and Osloer Straße. It was exactly on this site that the mineral spring was discovered, thus giving Gesundbrunnen (or, literally translated, spring of health) its name. Where Friedrich the Great had once financed a high-class operation soon gave way to proletariat merrymaking. The partially preserved Luisenbad with its grandiose hall of putti today houses a library  with an accompanying modern extension. On the way back to the Ringbahn station, a small temple and belfry at the intersection of Brunnenstraße and Pankstraße is sure to catch your eye. The Parish Church of St. Paul  is the true work of architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, despite the 1950s redesign of the interiors. Intense fighting in late April 1945 damaged the building, freeing the way for a "modern" renovation in the taste of the times. Further south of Badstraße, the underground bunker at Blochplatz  provides the ultimate escape from the loud, hectic world above. It is part of an entire complex of bunkers that the Berliner Unterwelten club makes accessible through their guided tours. In the case of nuclear warfare, those hiding in the bunker could pump fresh air down into the secure shafts by simply turning a hand crank, making this one of the safest places in the city.
1. Gesundbrunnen-Center | It's hard to overlook. This enormous shopping center sits like a roadblock between the Ringbahn station and Gesundbrunnen neighborhood. The mall's stores are dominated by chains | Badstraße 4
2. Gartenstadt Atlantic | The small front yards and green backyards are the hallmark of this 1920s residential settlement. Never losing sight of the ensemble's ideals, it was privately refurbished in exemplary manner. Artists ateliers, including that of famous German sculptor-installation artist Günther Uecker, have made their home in the Heidebrinkerstraße | Behmstraße Ecke Bellermannstraße | www.gartenstadt-atlantic.de
3. Grüntaler Promenade | The tracks from Berlin to Szczecin ran along Grüntaler Straße's middle median, through the densely built neighborhood, until 1897. The former route was recently transformed into a green space with sculptures and playgrounds | Grüntaler Straße
4. Autohöfe | Sparks fly out of the small workshop as cars of old are being raised from the dead. Some junkyard jewels get a second chance at life after their radical makeover here. Chevys stand alongside Polos; East German Trabis loaf in the company Mercedes coupés | entrances at Badstraße 59 and 62
5. Erkan Möbel Discount | Chaise longues in lilac and champagne, divans in velvet and silk, plastic glory for the bedroom caught somewhere between Versailles and Barbie's dream house. Don't miss this display window | Böttgerstraße 7
6. Amtsgericht Wedding | Built in late gothic style, this magnificent building houses a stunning foyer. The circular staircase in the west wing leads to the top floor, where the public bistro offers small meals in true black, white, and red 1980s style. Falco would be right at home | Brunnenplatz 1
7. Suteki Bonsai Shop | The miniature gardens transform this Wedding factory hall into a world of the Far East. Visitors who stop to rest on the lacquered furniture can study the art of bonsai in the illustrated books lying around | Uferstraße 8-11 | www.suteki.de
8. Uferhallen | Then home to the horsecar trams and their electric successors, now to contemporary dance. Across from the long, elegant brick building lies the former bus garage, which now boasts atelier and exhibition spaces as well as Café Pförtner | Uferstraße 8-11 | www.uferhallen.de
9. Luisenhaus | An overly ornate corner building with a relief of the historic spring. Large illustrated descriptions of the history of the site hang in the passageway. A hobby historian claimed to have discovered the lost spring source in the cellar of the back building in 2008. The press celebrated the "Gesundbrunnen miracle" - until it emerged that it was just brackish water | Badstraße 39
10. Pankemühle | The mill clattered away during the era of Friedrich the Great; today it must make do with just a painted wheel. The production hall of the safe-maker Arnheim - which the Sass brothers were particularly keen on cracking in the 1920s - lies just beyond it | Höhe Badstraße 40
11. Bibliothek am Luisenbad | The little spring house that gave the district its name once stood nearby. The beautiful neo-Baroque building of the Luisenbad was augmented with a modern addition in 1995 and now houses a branch of the city library. A successful synthesis of old and new | Travemünder Straße 2
12. Pfarrkirche St. Paul | A real Schinkel building on the outside, pure 1950s within. Badly damaged during WWII, the church was painstakingly historically restored on its exterior while the interior got a modern design. Classicism with a kidney-shaped pulpit | Badstraße 50-51
13. Bunker am Blochplatz | The two concrete stacks shooting out of the ground between the lanes of Badstraße were built to provide the bunker below with fresh air in the case of nuclear war. Visit the bunker in a guided tour | Badstraße at Hochstraße | www.berliner-unterwelten.de