Today I’m in Schöneberg (which, in German, means ‘Beautiful Mountain’). I lived here back in 1991 and fell in love with the neighbourhood with a passion. It wasn’t trendy or hipster (well, it still isn’t) but I felt it had a charm all of its own, and I still do. With a fine choice of of cafes, antiquarian bookstores and gay bars, I sigh with delight every time I walk its streets. Even better, it's off the tourist track, so you'll really get a chance to see how locals live when you journey here.
Schöneberg, some might argue, is calm and bourgeois area, compared to hipster Kreuzberg or up-and-coming Neue Koln, but it’s not dull - no, not by a long shot. Rather it’s what the Germans would call “gemütlich: - cosy. It's also elegant and, whilst bourgeois, not as 'in your face' bourgeois as you'd find in ritzy Charlottenburg or yuppy Mitte.
Personally, I enjoy alighting at Wittenberg Platz u-bahn) because I love the architecture. Designed by Albert Grandner in ‘art nouveau’ style, and with a fine neoclassical facade and entrance hall, it was badly damaged in World War II but later rebuilt, remaining faithful to the architect’s original sketches.
I love the wall designs - they take you back to another era - (the picture above left of the German newspaper can be roughy translated as "Thorough, Objective, Critical..."
Outside is a small sign which many miss - a memorial to victims of the holocaust (this was one of the stations from which trains left for concentration camps). Above reads (and I am translating) “Places of horror which we are never allowed to forget" Actually, this is not the only holocaust memorial in the area - there is also one commemorating gays and lesbians persecuted under National Socialism. Indeed. the Nazis deported more than 50,000 gay men, with pink triangles sewn on their shirts, to camps. Many, of course perished.
Schöneberg (particularly the area around Nollendorf Platz) has long been associated with the concept of 'alternative' living - since the 1920s (the heyday of cabaret, Christopher Isherwood) it's been a gay area Indeed, on Motzstrasse, the notorious 'El Dorado' bar was shut down by the Nazis after they came to power). Today, it's still a centre of gay life, with drinking holes to suit every conceivable taste (from the cute "Romeo and Romeo" cafe to the dimly-lit 'Tom's' bar (which has - or at any rate had, some years ago - a notorious 'dark room.') Indeed. it's not just around Gay Pride that you'll see rainbow flags fluttering in the wind (see below).
Moreover, if you’re a fan of flea markets, don’t miss the one held in front of the Rathaus (Town Hall) each Saturday and Sunday, from 9am until 4pm. (Incidentally, the Rathaus is the venue at which JFK uttered his famous words back in 1961). You can easily spend an hour or two rummaging there and whether you’re after junk or simply serious treasure, I’d recommend arriving early. And if you find yourself peckish, not far away, at Wintefeld Platz, there’s an excellent farmer’s market, full of gourmet delights…it’s open Saturday from 8am to 1pm.
There’s also one more place in this neighbourhood I’m minded to recommend (though I’m well aware that many will think it bizarre to say the least). I’m talking about the “Museum of Unheard (of) Things” which is hidden away in a run-of the-mill building on Crelle strasse. A collection of quirky and rather odd objects, this space (which is slightly larger than an average room) is, in fact, an art project.
The curator, Ronald Albrecht, is a wonderful storyteller and with items that include the hide of a bonsai stag and petrified potatoes, walking around is truly an exercise in re-examining one’s world view. Fact really might be stranger than fiction in this room - and it’s free to visit!
Having written this piece, I suddenly realise I haven’t even mentioned eating and drinking and Schöneberg’s home to any number of cafes, restaurants and watering holes that really do deserve a mention. So until next time...