The Schönholzer Heide once was a popular public park with various bars and a former Schloss. During the early years of national-socialism, it even became a lunapark. But when the war broke out, the site hosted 2500 labours who were forced to work for the Deutschen Waffen- und Munitionswerken (DWM) and the Bergman Elektrizitätswerke – a sister company from Borsig. With its 2500 people by the end of 1942, the Luna-Lager became the second biggest forced labour camps in Berlin. What do we know about the history of the Schönholzer Heide and what remembers this remarkable place nowadays?
Initially, the Schönholzer Heide developed as a park by the end of the 19th century. The urban population was able to stop at S-Bahnhof Schönholz since 1877. Here, one could enjoy the spacious park next to the station. At the Schönholzer Heide, various bars and a casino came up. Since 1882, a shooting fellowship was situated in the former Schloss Schönholz. They developed a shooting run with a saloon, a campfire place and a puddle to fish. Yearly, a cultural event Rakatak took place in June. In the 1920s, Berlin expanded and the Schönholzer Heide became a part of the city. Now, a tennis court and a football pitch were build. A luge run was developed in 1927, on an artificial hill made out the earth which was won by the construction work of the metroline U2 between Nordring (now: Schönhauser Allee) and Vinetastraße. In 1922, the silent film Marie Antoinette (Das Leben einer Königin) was recorded in the Schloss Schönholz and the Schönholzer Heide, as well as Ein Tag Film (1928). In 1936, the lunapark at Halensee had to remove for making place for something that was related to the Olympic Games of that year. The attractions were brought to the Schönholzer Heide, among them the Himalaya rollercoaster which was a tremendous 18 meter high. The new lunapark was given the name Traumland (Dreamland) and also brought a Biergarten by the Franziskaner Brau München and a stage where Lilliputians acted as artists. There was a weekly firework show named Schönholz in Flammen each Wednesday.
By 1940 it came to a sudden end of this joy. After the start of World War II, Nazi Germany brought Polish workers to Berlin and made them work in the arms industry. The lunapark was closed and the DWM could developed a camp here. Günter Quand, the head of the DWM and more arnament industries, already had experience with building forced labour camps to let imprisoned (wo)men work for him. By 1943, Quand even developed a concentration camp with forced labourers around Hannover. The development of the forced labour camp at Traumland in the summer of 1940 must have been somewhat spontaneous, since the first forced labourers slept in the restaurant of Schloss Schönholz for over a year. These Polish (wo)men were told that they would go to Berlin and are given a learning programme for several weeks. And even by the end of 1940, many of them believed so.
The DWM fabric was located directly at S-Bahnhof Eichborndamm in Reinickendorf – three stations away. The work was done in two – sometimes in three shifts. On 04:30am daily, the labourers had to attend for a roll call at a central square. Since November 1940, church attendences were organised for the many catholic Polish labourers. It was Joseph Lenzel, the priest from the nearby church, who took this initiative. Already after the first attendence, he was questioned by the Gestapo. The official cause was that the authorities couldn’t control who was Polish or not – because not all of the attenders weared the ‘P’ badge on their clothes. By January 1941, Lenzel was arrested – first he was forced to labour, then he was killed in the concentration camp Dachau in Juli the same year.
By the begin of 1942, many more labourers were forced to work for the DWM and to live at the Luna-Lager – as it was called. The restaurant became too small so it came to the construction of wooden barracks. First, six barracks were build for 1260 people, then another fourteen barracks for another 1200 people. By the end of that year, the forced labour camp consisted of 380 French, 539 Polish, 380 Croatian and 1168 Ostarbeiter (Russian, Belorussian and Ukranian) forced labourers – a total of 2467. The barracks were seperated with barbed wire and guarded. For washing, the Soviets were given less soap than others – so they fitted the Nazi propaganda of ‘dirty people’. Women stole chemicals from the factories, not without serious risk. Although there was a doctor for the camp, he barely supplied medicines. The French labourers were treated better and given nearly the same amount of provisions as the German labourers. All labourers were forced to buy a welfare card and eat together at the barracks. Usually, the meal was a tasteless soup with bread, potatoes or with beets. By 1943, Italian prisoners of war joined the camp. It is said that they were guarded heavily and harassed more than others. The wooden barracks did not shelter the labourers during the bombardments which increased from the summer of 1943 onwards. For shelter, the labourers initially had to dig ditches outside the barrack. Later, bunkers were build. By a heavy allied air raid in February 1945, a bunker was hit – 32 French, 15 Soviets and 3 Croatians lost their lifes. By the end of the war, 97 imprisoned had not survived – among them were twelve children.
Today there is not much at the Schönholzer Heide which directly shows that there have been a lunapark or a forced labour camp. The map I’ve got shows that the fields where the most barracks stood are now used as a football pitch. A number of overgrown Müllkippe (trash hills) confuses you – and so do the remainings of a open-air theater which was build in the 1950s. A bunch of stones amidst the hills may reveal that the Schloss Schönholz may have stood here – unless the lonely water pump does so. Somewhat further, an abandoned barrack reveals that here was once a shelter during air raids. A memorial stone in front of a catholic church is dedicated to Joseph Lenzel. It is situated a ten minute walk within the neighbourhood. One memorial at the Schönholzer Heide is the grave for 350 people. Among them are forced labourers, German civilians, Wehrmacht soldiers and even SS soldiers. Other forced labourers who did not survive the war were given graves across the city – for instance at a graveyard in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, at two graveyards in Marzahn, the Friedhof XII in Pankow – and the French state graveyard in Berlin-Frohnau. A special graveyard is developed for 13.200 Soviet soldiers. They were given an Ehremal (site of honour) at the northern side of the Schönholzer Heide, build between May 1947 and November 1949. This memorial is currently being reconstructed and may be reopened this summer again – I promise to update about it. In the meanwhile, an information table is situated at the northern side of the Schönholzer Heide since 2009.
Taking everything into account, we have seen here a public park with a touch of the Wild West turned into an amusement park, a forced labour camp and mainly into a graveyard now. At the Schönholzer Heide may have situated the second largest forced labour camp in Berlin – there is little that remembers about that era nowadays. Also I’m a bit disappointed in what is known about the cause of death for most of the fallen forced labours, as well as the exact reputation of the camp’s guards. As far as there is information about the forced labour camp at Schönholzer Heide, it raises more questions than it answers them. As long as the site is a bit confusing and the Sovjetehremal is under reconstruction, the Schönholzer Heide has lost nearly everything from its diverse history. Till then, the Schönholzer Heide is mostly a nice, public park – close to the crowded city.
Museumsverbund Pankow, Die Schönholzer Heide. Von einer Vergnügungsstätte zum Gedenkort (Berlin 2007)