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Most of the days look the same at the Görlitzer Park. When you arrive at the park, you’ll always bump into small groups of people with a peculiar relaxed, or even bored, attitude. Inside the park, the grass looks like it’s been worn out after a hundred years, giving it a ‘cheap’ or ‘trashy’ look. The same mix of young families and alternative, young people populate the park as yesterday. Year after year, I see the same men playing with a frisbee in the summer. Then, the same collectors have their same old spot to pick up empty bottles for its deposit. Nevertheless, during its history – the Görlitzer Park has gone through nothing less than a surprising transformation which hasn’t finished yet. The Görli is even still under construction. What is the historical account of the Görlitzer Park? What happened here and how much can we find back of that?
The history of the Görlitzer Park goes back to Bethel Henry Strousberg, nicknamed the ‘Eisenbahnkönig‘ (‘King of the Railways’). Strousberg took the initiative to build a railway track between Berlin and the Saxon town of Görlitz. In the year 1865, the construction of the Görlitzer Bahnhof started. Under command of the architect August Orth, the station in Renaissance Revival style was finished within two years. This Bahnstrecke Berlin–Görlitz was 208 kilometers long. From Görlitz onwards, trains departed towards Vienna and Breslau (now: Wrocław in Poland). Strictly seen, the Görlitzer Bahnhof and the 208 kilometer of railway track was the business man’s private property. And it wasn’t even the only railway track which this Eisenbahnkönig owned!
Strousberg must have thought it was right time to settle down in Berlin. After the smooth construction of the Görlitzer Bahnhof, the Eisenbahnkönig clearly found his favorite architect. Strousberg gave Orth the assignment to build his new mansion. This ‘Palais Strousberg’ is build at the Wilhelmstraße 70, not far from Unter den Linden. The mansion had the newest and overwhelming domestic luxury for that time, such as hot water heating, washing machines and a bathroom. Even more decadent was the floor at street-level, which was only designed to entertain guests with for example a ball room, a library and a billiard room and a private art gallery. Unfortunately for him, Strousberg was declared bankrupt in 1875 and lost his Palais. To be fair, not many Berliners felt sorry for the downfall of this demigod. Orth continued building in Berlin. His notable Emmauskirche (build 1890-1893) at the nearby Lausitzer Platz was designed to fit harmoniously in the architectural sphere of his earlier Görlitzer Bahnhof.
Obviously, the Görlitzer Bahnhof is named that way because it had a railway track going till Görlitz – and so does the Görlitzer Straße. Also the nearby squares Spreewaldplatz and Lausitzer Platz are references to regions, which the train passed by these landscapes on its way to Görlitz. The street seperating the Spreewaldplatz and the Lausitzer Platz changed it name from Lausitzer Kommunikation to Skalitzer Straße in October 1868, which is named after the Battle of Skalitz ever since. It was only two years before this change in name that the Prussian Army besieged the Austrian one near the town of Skalitz (in Chech: Skalice). Moreover, nearly all the streets around the station which constructed between 1870 and 1874 refer to cities – such as the Lübbener Straße does to Lübben in Brandenburg, the Oppelner Straße to Oppeln (now: Opole in Poland), the Sorauer Straße (Sorau, now: Żary) and the Liegnitzer Straße (Liegnitz, Legnica). Clearly, the streets refer to towns which used to be part of Germany when the street were build – but are part of Germany’s lost territory after the Second World War. The exception here is the Ohlauer Straße, which refers to Ohlau (now: Olawa in Poland) since August 1949 – when it wasn’t a German town already. Before, this street was named after the nearby town Grünau since 1880 – but Grünau became part of Berlin in 1920.
At the turning of the 20th century, the area around the Görlitzer Bahnhof changed due the construction of the U1 – an aboveground metro railway over the Skalitzer Straße. The closest metrostation was named U-Bahnhof Oranienstraße since it’s opening in 1902. The Berlin’s passengers succesfully lobbied to rename the station as U-Bahnhof Görlitzer Bahnhof (Oranienstraße) in February 1926. Now, we may think this is confusing. By then, it was clarifying since the Görlitzer Bahnhof was a so-called Kopfbahnhof (terminal). Nowadays, that is comparable to the Regionalbahnhöfe such as Ostbahnhof, Hauptbahnhof or Südkreuz. In the meantime, the Görlitzer Tunnel has been excavated underneath the railway tracks. This tunnel was nicknamed ‘Harnröhre‘ (‘Urethra’). In contrast of what your first instinct would say – the tunnel was actually called that way since the low groundwater level gave it a musty smell. It connected the neighbourhoods (the Wrangelkiez and the Reichenberger Kiez) at both sides of the Görlitzer Bahnhof.
At March 19th 1938, Adolf Hitler arrived at the Görlitzer Bahnhof after he visited the freshly occupied Czechoslovakia. At the station, Hermann Göring waited for him in tears – before he speeched which was, according to Hitler’s renomated biographer Ian Kershaw, “embarassing even by the prevailing standards of sycophancy”. Within seven years, the station’s building was damaged during the bombings.
Remarkably, it was still in use till 1951 for human traffic. A highlight may have been the arrival of 295 refugees of nazism, who came all the way from Shanghai. Their travell was even organised by the United Nations. In the days before their arrival on the 21st of August 1947, this group travelled from Naples to the Görlitzer Bahnhof – probably over Vienna and Görlitz. Since most of these refugees were from Jewish descent, they gave a boost to the extremely reduced Jewish culture in post-war Berlin. Public traffic from the Görlitzer Bahnhof stopped in 1951, when civil traffic between the East and the West already became harder.
The destruction of the station’s building only started a decade later, in 1961. Under protest of civilians who lived around the Görlitzer Bahnhof, the deconstructions took place till 1967. Thereafter, a slower desconstruction of the railway tracks started – although the trains had to pay a GDR tax as soon as it crossed East-Berlin’s territory across the Landwehrkanal. Still, a few railways tracks were extensively used for freight transport till 1985, till the bridge over the Landwehrkanal was blocked too. Plans were made to fill up the unused site with new apartments – or even with a highway. None of these plans succeeded. After the railway tracks were out of use, a slow changing started to develop the no-men’s land into a park. Already in 1981, a children’s farm opened at the park. And at the former location of the station’s building, a swimming pool (‘Bad am Spreewaldplatz‘) is build between 1982-1987. At the former location of the railway turntable, a hill is artificially constructed. Although it’s not where the most people are found, there is no doubt that you’ve got the best view over the city from here on.
In 1989, the Harnröhre was excavated. It is likely to think that the pit, in the middle of the park, is dug out shortly after. In the same year, the Mutoid Waste Company made use of the Görlitzer Park. This group of artists made sculptures from the behated scrapheap, which was located at the south of the Görlitzer Park. When most of the scrapheap was replaced, a pool at this location. In 1991, the sculpture by Rüdiger Preisle was revealed to the audience. I’m unsure what this fourteen-meter high ‘Schreitender Mensch‘ (Walking Human) symbolises. It could be that the sculpture’s top are two arms which connect two legs – while the sculpture makes a stroll. The direct translation of ‘schreiten‘ is ‘to be on the spree’. Could this sculpture make a reference to make a spree towards the Spree river? The two arms seem to direct the right direction.
In 1994 it came to another change in the park. The travertine terraces in Pamukkale (Turkey) were copied on a smaller scale. It was finished in 1998 – although the joy didn’t last forever. Due to a construction failure and a draining problem, the terrace was heavily damaged after one winter only. It had to close and be rebuild, while the responsible artists and construction workers were accused and convicted to pay a reimbursement of €1.1 million. In 2009, the repairment construction was finished or set aside. Artificial turf was dumped over a part of the construction and the terraces were opened again. In front of this all, there are the only two remaining buildings left – which are used as bars. One bar is named the Isa Mitz, famous for is blacklight minigolf course inside. The second bar is the famous Edelweiß – which used to be a storage next to the platform. One can still notice that the platform used to be somewhat higher than the railway tracks right next to it.
Last decade, the Görlitzer Park has not been unforgotten in popular culture. In 2003, the Berlin rapper P.R. Kantate produced the song Görli, Görli. The lyrics are not that much more than a summery of typical locations in Berlin where he doesn’t live, because he lives around the Görlitzer Park. Perhaps we can learn of this song that his initials P.R. stand for ‘Plattenreiter‘, which is the direct translation of Disk Jockey. The number is more or less a cover from Girlie, Girlie by Sophia George, which was a reggea-hit in 1986. To some extent more valuable is the film ‘Der Adel vom Görli‘ (‘Görli’s Nobility’) which Volker Meyer-Dabisch produced in 2009. The film is mostly a serie of interviews with the alternative people who populated the park by that time. Some of them, such as the sunglassed frisbee player with long hair (nicknamed Alberto ‘Jesus’ Frisbee) were already hanging around here – and who knows how many years longer.
Since 2011, a group named the Kiezwandler SO36 -a local transition town movement- planted apple trees in the Görlitzer Park. With this, the Kiezwandler SO36 try and break the urban anonymity, as well as making one aware of the local environment and bringing more collective ownership into the park. After all, most visitors of the Görlitzer Park don’t have a private garden around. In March 2012, the Kiezwandler SO36 extended the number of trees with another nine units. Last year, the planting day took pace after it was postponed with a month, due to the long winter. From this year onwards, there will be 27 apple trees blossoming in the Görlitzer Park. The Kiezwandler aim to develop information panels next to the trees since the species are quite rare. For instance, the ‘Brettacher Gewürzapfel ‘ stands next to the ‘Rotgestreifte geble Schafsnase‘ (Red striped yellow sheep’s nose) etcetera. On this map, one can see which species can be found. The Kiezwandler plant these rare types to balance the domination of five species of apples which are produced on a huge scale and sold in all the supermarkets. Interestingly, tomorrow there is a demonstration against a firm which tries to own the patent of all European seeds (as far as I got it). Ironically, given the struggle between the corporate lobby and the demonstration – we don’t know whether we can plant more trees next year or not!
Taken everything into account, the Görlitzer Park has been anything but repetitive. Starting as a terminal in an unpopulated area, it’s been responsible for most of the streetnames around the neighbourhood. It’s been bombed, destroyed and thereafter even turned into a scrapheap. Furthermore it’s hosted a children’s farm, football pitch, an excavated tunnel, sculptures, a circus and an apple field. The only original things which still remember the century-old history are the two bars. Than there is a minor memorial to the arrival of 295 refugees at the swimming pool (since the station was located here) – and a part of the ‘Harnröhre‘ which is still visible in the park’s pit. Also, some traces in the city which are left by Strousberg and Orth are still visible. In contrast to the Görlitzer Bahnhof, Orth’s Emmauskirche survived the bombings of the Second World War and still dominates the architectural landscape around the Görlitzer Park. And although Strousberg and his reputation ended up bankrupt, he still has a humongous family grave at the Alten St. Matthäus-Kirchhof in Berlin-Schöneberg. So we’ve seen the König of the Görli coming up and falling down – making place for the new Adel vom Görli is here to stay!