Berlin was a divided city for many years and the traces of this division are still visible in many places today. Individual buildings, entire streets and neighbourhoods tell the story of separation and reunification. A particularly impressive one is that of Luisenstadt. The city extension named after Queen Luise stretches south of Berlin’s city centre and was the most densely built-up area of Berlin in the early 20th century. Since the mid-19th century Dresdener Straße has led from Kottbusser Tor to the centre of Berlin via Oranienplatz, the heart of Luisenstadt. About halfway up the street, the Luisenstadt School was built in 1865. An imposing four-storey brick building in the style of the time – architect unknown. The name of the school has long been forgotten, the main building destroyed in the war, and yet the site still bears witness to the turmoil of history.
Division and destruction
Luisenstadt is not one of Berlin’s well-known neighbourhoods – when the municipalities and suburbs were united to form Greater Berlin in 1920, it disappeared from the map. The neighbourhood was divided and assigned to the new districts of Kreuzberg and Mitte. In February 1945, an air raid destroyed Luisenstadt. A large part of the school was also razed to the ground, only an outbuilding remained. It now stood directly on the newly drawn state border between the GDR and the FRG. In a makeshift state of repair it served as a eavesdropping facility and switchboard for “border information tasks”. The construction of the Wall in 1961 finally cemented the division of Luisenstadt and the whole area was levelled. All that remained standing on the empty strip of Wall was the school building. In the legendary Wim Wenders film “Himmel über Berlin” (Heaven over Berlin), it can be seen standing directly behind the Wall in the scene of the incarnation of the angel Damiel.
Coming back together
After reunification in 1989, the two parts of Luisenstadt remained under separate administrations. The divided streets were quickly reconnected, but this did not yet result in a common neighbourhood. The former school building on Dresdener Straße was made available to the Freie Waldorfschule Berlin-Mitte. The new use turned the wasteland into school grounds with wooden pavilions, flower beds, a garden and sports fields. For 10 years the school was back in session – then the property became too small and 2001 the Waldorf students moved to a new location. Two years later, the property including the school building was sold by the Berlin real estate office to a group of creative people: an architect, a photographer, two actresses. They repaired the ruinous building and converted it into flats. The architect, Heinrich Schulte-Frohlinde, was particularly committed to the neighbourhood and also covered the surrounding wasteland with buildings. He still has his office in the former school house, since the beginning of this year together with the team of Guiding Architects Berlin.
New Life in Luisenstadt
Schulte Frohlinde Architects are constructing a new, forward-looking wooden building right in front of the old one. It was originally intended to be a house for communal living. In the end, it became conventional flats – but in a shared flat with a kitchen and five individual rooms, the co-living idea is still present. In addition, there is a co-working and communal facilities such as a sauna and swimming pool. The roof terrace and the circumferential balconies will be intensively planted with greenery. The entire supporting structure, except for the floor slab and staircase, is made of wood and remains visible. Thus only a few metres from the old school building, new life is being breathed into the courtyard on Dresdener Straße and the historic brick building is being given a sustainable counterpart.
In the immediate vicinity, many other innovative residential buildings have been constructed in recent years. Alfred-Döblin-Platz on Dresdener Straße has been redesigned and now forms a hinge between the two districts. At Moritzplatz, the architecture and art department stores’ Modulor in the Aufbauhaus attracts the creative scene. The long-divided neighbourhood is slowly growing back together and building its own identity. Perhaps the name Luisenstadt will soon be known by Berliners again.