Walking through Kreuzberg makes you wonder all the time. When I lost my way, I found out to walk in a drained canal which is named after the surrounding neighbourhood, of which name became in disuse: Luisenstadt, covering a part of Mitte and the most of nowadays Kreuzberg’s SO36. Luisenstadt itself was named after the Prussian Queen Luise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1776-1810).
The Luisenstädtische Kanal has been a 2.2 kilometer long canal which was dug out between 1848 and 1852 and connected Landwehrkanal with the Spree. The Kanal was used for canalizing the Spree’s floodings as well as material transportation. The canal started, seen from the south, at the Landwehrkanal which didn’t open before 1846. There, the Luisenstädtische Kanal went north inlands – passing the Wassertor after 200 meter, where the ships were controlled. Thereafter, another inland harbour was located at the Thor Becken (nowadays Wassertorplatz). Going further north – the canal passed the Oranienplatz – where trams from the Oranienstraße and the Dresdner Straße travelled over the canal. Further up north, the Engelbecken (Angel’s pool) was planned – an inland harbour with an outstanding view on the to be upcoming St. Michaels-Kirche (build 1851-1861). From the Engelsbecken, the canal bend northeastwards till it floaded in the Spree.
Govermental plans for digging the Luisenstädtische Kanal already existed in 1844, when a group of engineers was asked to investigate the opportunities to realise the Kanal. A state of emergency was needed to make the decision to build the canal – namely the revolutionary atmosphere in Europe after the Parisian revolt in Februar 1848 – while Berlin’s Kartoffelrevolution (potato revolution) of April 1847 was still fresh in mind of the Berliner Magistrat. The building of the canal was, so to speak, a preventive remedy for the workless from revolting.
In October 1848, the 3000 workers saw a steam machine in use for the first time. They feared the risk of being fired and replaced by more steam machines – so the social situation came to a riot after all. The steam machine was demolished before eleven strikers and one policeman found death. In 1996, a memorial site for both parties is erected on the Adalbertbrücke.
From 1852 till 1926, the canal went through a relatively steady time. Markets were established at the Oranienplatz, the Luisienbrücke was build in 1880 – followed by the Elisabethbrücke (1882), Melchiorbrücke (1886) and the Waldemarbrücke (1891). In the meanwhile, Luisenstadt – with Oranienplatz as its core – developed as the most densely populated neighbourhood within Berlins expanding city. The streets around the Kanal were occupied with Mietkasernen, while villa’s around the canal banks were build for the upper class. Warehouses were situated at the Oranienplatz. Right in front of the Wassertor, the Urbahnhafen was opened in 1896. By then, the new inland harbour didn’t form a serious concurrent for the steadily used Luisenstädtische Kanal yet. By the start of the First World War however, the Kanal became in a drastical disuse. Did 2626 ships pass in 1911, only three ships did five years later. Though the canal made a tiny revival after the war with an average over the 100 ships yearly, the lack of streaming couldn’t precause the canal from smell hindrance. Algea was being formed and the hygiene state of its surrounding dropped.
In 1926, the Luisenstädtische Kanal was drained and filled with the upcoming ground of the metroline between Moritzplatz and the Neanderstraße (now: Heinrich-Heine-Straße). The drained canal developed as a park – by design of Erwin Barth (1880-1933). At the Engelbecken, unlike protests of the St. Michaels-Kirche – a public swimming pool was developed under the archangel’s eye. Furthermore, an ‘Indian garden’ was developed – with sixteen fountains, palm trees, various exotic plants and elefant figures out of the landings. Due to a couple of mistakes, the construction of the park had already a delay – before the stock market crash of 1929 made financing nearly impossible. Berlin’s locals gave the drained canal the pet name Der Park, der keinen werden will (The park which doesn’t want to become one). The developing of the park was put on a definite hold in 1931. Especially the southern part of the canal wasn’t fully developed as it should have been in Barth’s plans.
The nazi’s never finished the developing. In stead – they renamed all canal banks after martyrs of the nazi movement who fell in the many of the Interbellum’s street riots. In 1943, the sixteen fountains at the Engelbecken were melted and used. The park’s watchmen were used as soldiers. For the rest, the park stayed quite intact – except for the Allied bombardments which affected the canal and it’s area extremely. After the war, the canal banks were given back their names – with the exception of the Engelufer, which was called Engeldamm since 1937 and Franz-Eckert-Straße since 1951 – before it back to turned to Engeldamm in 1991 again. Parts of the park were – sometimes temporary – used to store around 100.000 cubic meters of the city’s Trümmer (ruined buildings).
Since the city’s big-scale reorganisation of municipalities in 1920, the border between Mitte and Kreuzberg was situated at the northeastern part of the Luisenstädtische Kanal. This also meant that a part of the Luisenstädtische Kanal formed the border between East- and West Berlin – and Luisenstadt became a historical term. From the Waldemarbrücke till the Schillingbrücke, East Berlin was responsible for the drained canal.
South from the Waldemarbrücke, West Berlin was in charge of its. After the erection of the Wall in 1961, the Waldemarbrücke till the Spree, the former canal was part of GDR’s Todesstreife (death strip) – the goldfish were taken out the Engelbecken before it dried up and became 1300sq.m. square between the walls, with a Wachtturm next to the former Elisabeth-Brücke (connecting nowadays the Engeldamm with the Bethaniendamm). Another Wachtturm was located at the Melchiorbrücke.
A more light-hearted side effect of the Wall is the construction of the Baumhaus an der Mauer. A small parcel on the Western side of the wall turned out still to be GDR’s soil. Osman Kalin (born 1923) started to grow vegetables and build garden house in 1983. Kalin and his Baumhaus succeeded in their struggles against many authorities – up till now.
The southern of the Waldemarbrücke, which was Kreuzberg’s part, 3700 trees were planted between 1951 and 1955. The Wassertorplatz enjoyed popularity as a sportsfield where running games were hold, till a Verkehrskindergarten (traffic children playground) was finished in 1955. planned to build a highed carway over the former canal, where an interchange should have come at the Oranienplatz. Luckily, plan’s were changed in 1965. For the Internationale Bauausstellung (international building exhibition) of 1984, West Berlin’s part of the drained canal was turned into a park after Barth’s original design. Many smaller developments followed – such as the erection of the Drachenbrunnen (Dragons fountains) on the Oranienplatz in 1986.
After the Fall, Barth’s design from 1926 was found back underneath the dug out Todesstreife. The first lime trees and rose plants were planted on the former death strip in 1991 already. The site next to the Engelbecken was occupied by a caravan camp, which was removed in the summer of 1993. Then, the immergrüne Garten (always green garden) was opened between the Engelbecken and the Adalbertbrücke – followed by the Rosengarten between the Engelbecken and the Waldemarbrücke. At the Engelbecken, the former inland harbour was succesfully dug out – but further development was put on a hold. In 2006 – the ‘Indian garden’ with its fountains and flowers – but without the palm trees – made its first reconstructions. An café was added on the Engelsbecken’s northside. The park between the Adalbertbrücke and Melchiorstraße was renovated in 2006 – the part between the Melchiorstraße and Köpenickerstraße followed two years later. In the former West, a big scaled renovation of the Oranienplatz took place in 2005. Since 2007, discussion is going on whether and how to renovate the park furthermore – up till the Waldemarbrücke. Walking through the drained Luisenstädtische Kanal gives a thrill with its 160 years of history – which is still in progress!
For walking through the former Luisenstädtische Kanal, go to U-Prinzenstraße, walk through the Böcklerpark (former Urbahnhafen) and turn left to cross the Böcklerstraße.
To see the Baumhaus an der Mauer, take a look on your right when you cross the Melchiorbrücke.
Recommanded book: Klaus Duntze, Der Luisenstädtische Kanal (Berlin 2011)