From the “Schöneberger Wiesen” to grand residential neighborhood
By choosing the Hansaviertel as the show ground for the Interbau building exhibition, the West Berlin Senate chose an area that had developed architecturally in a way that was typical for Berlin. At the end of the 18th century the “Schöneberger Wiesen” was still an undeveloped floodplain, but the quarter quickly grew into an urban residential area in the 19th century. As a result of industrialization and urbanization, Berlin’s population grew rapidly: in 1824 the city still had 220,000 inhabitants, by 1875 almost one million and by the end of the 19th century 2.7 million. The resulting housing shortage was countered by the construction of apartment buildings, initially consisting of a front building with side wings plus a rear building, and divided into apartments, as recommended in the planning design book by the master builder Gustav Assmann in 1862. (1) Assmann did not foresee the densification of the buildings that would result from the housing shortage and land speculation. For workers and low-income earners, rear buildings with up to seven courtyards were strung together. Dark, small and poorly ventilated apartments were built, which were extremely overcrowded. These so-called tenement houses became the enemy of architects and urban planners from the very beginning, especially from the first decade of the 20th century.
Parallel to the densely populated working-class districts, forms of housing also developed for the better-off sections of the population. Spurred by the rising prosperity of large parts of the middle classes, new villa colonies grew on the outskirts of large cities. In Grunewald and Lichterfelde, and from the 1890s in Berlin-Dahlem, areas with detached, generously proportioned residential buildings emerged. On the other hand, inner-city residential areas were also developed for wealthy citizens. The Hansaviertel was also gripped by this bourgeois building boom. After the foundation of the Reich in 1874, the Berlin-Hamburger Immobilien-Gesellschaft began to develop the area and drew up a development plan confirmed by a Royal Order of 21 March 1874. This order is regarded as the founding document of the Hansaviertel. (2) This plan already allows for the intersection of three main streets in a star-shaped square, which was named “Hansaplatz” in 1879 in memory of the Berlin-Hamburger Immobilien-Gesellschaft and Berlin’s Hanseatic tradition. In the following years, the entire residential district was recorded as “Hansaplatz-Bezirk Nr. 211” (3) and eventually as “Hansaviertel”.
The city railway built between 1877 and 1882 connected the quarter to the city center and divided it into a north-eastern and a south-western area. Many prominent architects in Berlin – among them the builder of the Wertheim department store (1896–1906) Alfred Messel and the court architect Ernst von Ihne, who had also built the Bode Museum (1897–1904) and the State Library (1908–1914) (4) – built prestigious, adjoining residential buildings with small front gardens along the roadsides on long and narrow parcels of land. They were typically divided by front and rear buildings with inner courtyards. Some shops also moved into the lower ground floor of the residential buildings. The front buildings, which were limited by the Royal Order of 1874 to one ground floor and two upper floors only, were vividly designed with bay windows, turrets, gables and balconies and formed an imposing street scene.
Elaborately composed facades in the historicist and eclectic styles showed a combination of historical stylistic renderings such as columns, cornices and friezes, some of which were also joined together with timber framing. The neo-baroque and neo-renaissance façades were also designed to satisfy the residents’ need for prestige and their sense of standing. The residential development was clearly demarcated from the adjacent Tiergarten, which was only used for leisure activities. The development of the Hansaviertel was largely completed in the 1890s. In 1895 the Kaiser-Friedrich-Gedächtniskirche was consecrated as a votive church for Friedrich III, who died in 1888. In 1926, a carriage house on the property at Altonaer Straße 22 was converted into a chapel for the Catholic community and dedicated to Saint Ansgar. (5)
An example of bourgeois living was demonstrated in the residential building at Klopstockstraße 22, where two nine-room apartments were located in the front building, each of which extended via a side wing into the intermediate building and to the second inner courtyard. Accessible from the middle of the front building, the grand boudoir, living room and salon were behind the elaborately designed façade and looked on to the street. The smaller rooms for supplies and personnel, on the other hand, were located at the back of the apartment. Each apartment had a so-called “Berliner Zimmer” (“Berlin Room”), which was relatively large, but had only one window to the inner courtyard and was therefore often stuffy and dark. These rooms were mostly used as passage rooms or dining rooms. In addition, the apartments had the typical long, interior dark hallway. In the back building of the second garden courtyard there were two five-room apartments for those with more modest pretensions. As in the tenements, the further back the apartment was, the less comfortable it was to live in.
Residents in the Hansaviertel
During the imperial era and the Weimar Republic, the Hansaviertel was one of the “residential areas of discerning people”. (6) Among those who settled here were merchants, bankers and other wealthy citizens, as well as civil servants and artists who turned the attics into studios. Among the most famous inhabitants of the old Hansaviertel were the painter Lovis Corinth (1858–1925) and the graphic artist Hermann Struck (1876–1944), the lyric poet Nelly Sachs (1891–1970) and the poet Else Lasker-Schüler (1869–1945), the builder of the Berlin cathedral Julius Raschdorff (1823–1914), the banker K. v.d. Heydt and K. Ländsberg and for a short time Rosa Luxemburg (1870–1919) and her secretary Mathilde Jacob (1873–1943). (7)
The proportion of Jewish inhabitants was remarkably high. In the twenties it amounted to 8 %, almost double the Jewish proportion of the total population of Berlin. About 10 % of the houses in the Hansaviertel were Jewish property. Two synagogues were built, located on the corner of Lessing/Flensburger Straße and on the bank of the Spree in Siegmunds Hof. Another synagogue within easy reach on Levetzowstraße was frequented by large numbers of Jews from the Hansaviertel district. (8)
Dr. Sandra Wagner-Conzelmann