It should be noted that the three sections of the NRK were roughly the same length – around 100 metres, although by my reckoning the Mittelbau (Centre Section) is slightly longer than the other two.
Source: Google Earth
So the West Wing (in yellow) was roughly 100 metres long and ended at the Mittelbau (in red) which was set back behind a balustrade from Voss-Strasse. The East Wing is in orange and the two streets highlighted in green did not exist at the time of the NRK. The West Wing contained offices, a courtyard and a cafeteria for the office staff. It also contained the Great Reception Hall which we’ll look at when we get to the interior. Here’s what it looked like when it was new:
(If you’re in Voss-Strasse you may agree with me that the street looks a lot wider back in the day.) In the middle of the West Wing above – where the 9 metre high columns are -was the entrance ( Voss-Strasse, Number 6):
How can you tell which wing you a looking at in a photo? Here’s a tip: the two eagles – one on each wing – are looking at each other, thus if the eagle (as above) is looking left, you’re looking at the West Wing. If he’s looking right, you’re looking at the East Wing. Simples!
So if you count out 50 metres from the corner you will be roughly where this entrance stood. This was roughly the spot when I took this photo in 2011:
The area is rapidly being built upon but some parts are still used as a carpark, including the part where the HJ were decorated (more on that later). This entrance was roughly just past where the ugly box building ends:
Alas, hard times befell the West Wing – the whole building in fact:
Note: Once again I have no intention of detailing the history of this building – all such info can be found on any decent search engine. Instead I hope to indicate where things were (and what’s there today) and to provide anything of interest that may provide some curiosity value.
Now that you’ve walked up the south side of Voss-Strasse from east to west, cross the road at these traffic lights and while crossing you will see Potsdamer Platz on your left. Don’t go and have your photo taken with some faux guard or bear just yet. (We will come back to Potsdamer Platz.) If you decide to have a coffee at Starbucks and should you decide to sit outside, slightly to your left you will see this building:
We are going to use this as a point of reference as it sits roughly where the west (or left) wing of the New Reich Chancellery stood (henceforth NRC):
You should know that the NRC took up the entire north side of Voss-Strasse, from the Palais Borsig up to where you are now, i.e. at the junction of Voss-Strasse and Ebert/Hermann-Goring-Strasse. That should give you some idea of the massive scale of this building. To your left in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate lay the accommodation for the NRC security/SS guards (in red, facing Ebertstrasse):
The SS guard security barracks facing the garden can be seen here on the left (Reichstag in background, photo taken from west wing of NRK):
Now for some orientation, courtesy of Wikipedia:
You are sitting where the small red cross is (far-left). To your left, the buildings with the brown roofs are the SS quarters mentioned above. Number 4 indicates the entrance to the two underground garages and 9 is where the entry to the coal lifts was. Number 2 is one of three Voss-Strasse entrances (number 6 postal address) and 3 is postal address 4. Not shown is entrance 2 which was roughly where the kink starts in Voss-Strasse.
Number 1 is the Mittelbau (middle bit) and the 1 is pretty much where Hitler’s office was. Number 6 is the terrace where the famous footage of Hitler decorating the Hitler Youth was shot:
And Speer’s model may help with orientation. Here it is in its uncluttered iteration:
And here it is with reference points attached. You will be sitting coffee in hand at the top left-hand corner of this photo:
The red line is the frontage to the west (or left) wing, the blue indicates the Mittelbau and the orange the east (or right) wing. On the corner is, of course, the Borsig Palais and the pink line indicates the frontage to the Siedler extension (you will notice Speer has included the Fuhrer balcony so we know this model was built after … anybody? anybody? … yes! 1935! Well done that boy up the back!). The brown line indicates the Old Reich Chancellery. The SS guards’ quarters are behind the green line and in front of the line is a wall separating the guards’ garden(!) from the Chancellery garden. The red arrow indicates the Orangerie (I believe we would call it a greenhouse). A direct line from the Orangerie leads through the ornamental pool, across the Hitler Youth (henceforth HJ for “Hitler Youth”) terrace and through five large French windows into Hitler’s office in the middle of the Mittelbau. The bunker exit outside which the Hitler bodies were burnt was outside the rear of the Old Chancellery.
In real terms the area looked like this at the end of hostilities:
You and your Starbucks coffee are once again at the top centre (red circle), looking down Voss-Strasse with HG/Ebertstarsse on your left. The red arrows indicate (from top) the terrace where Hitler decorated the HJ boys, the ornamental pool and the greenhouse.
This then is the setting for the drama of April, 1945.
OK, finish your coffee, cross the road and cross Voss-Strasse again so that you are standing outside that ugly, box-like building on the left-hand side of Voss-Strasse (see the first photo above if you’re unsure). We will begin our walk past the site of the New Reich Chancellery …
Next to the Transport Building (Number 33) was the very large Wertheim department store which took up a goodly sum of the south side frontage of Voss-Strasse. Like the grand hotels of Berlin, the grand department stores would make an excellent blog on their own, as would the grand railway stations. However we will content ourselves with this particular department store. The Wertheim store was one of a number of large, modern stores in pre-war Berlin (the others included Tietz – unfortunate name – and Kaufhof des Westens, each worth a Google). The owners of both Wertheim and Tietz were Jewish and were eventually forced to relinquish their ownership to the Nazis or approved Aryans. After the war, the remaining Wertheim assets in the eastern part of the city were confiscated by the DDR’s Handelsorganisation.
Description from Wikipedia: “Founded by German merchantGeorg Wertheim (1857–1939), designed by architect Alfred Messel (1853–1909), opened in 1897 and extended several times over the following 40 years, it ultimately possessed a floor area double that of the Reichstag, a 330-metre-long granite and plate glass facade along Leipziger Straße, 83 elevators, three escalators, 1,000 telephones, 10,000 lamps, five kilometres of pneumatic tubing for moving items from the various departments to the packing area, and a separate entrance directly from the nearby U-Bahn station. It also contained a summer garden, winter garden and roof garden, an enormous restaurant and several smaller eating areas, its own laundry, a theatre and concert booking office, its own bank, whose strongrooms were underground at the eastern end of the building (and generated their own history decades later), and a large fleet of private delivery vehicles. In the run-up to Christmas Wertheim was transformed into a fairytale kingdom, and was well known to children from all over Germany and far beyond.”
Some wonderful photos of the Wertheim store here (scroll down):
and in fact the Stadtbild-deutschland site is, IMO, the best resource for pre-war photos of Berlin.
If you are standing next to Number 33 and looking towards Potsdamer Platz, the Wertheim frontage on this street roughly corresponds to the vacant lot (all of it) in this Google Earth screenshot:
And here it is in its heyday, facing the other way:
Pretty big, eh? What I haven’t mentioned is that this view is of the rear of the store – the main entrance (shown here) fronted onto Leipzigerstrasse:
The building, one of four in Berlin alone, was remarkable: “The chain’s most famous store, on Leipziger Platz in Berlin, was constructed in 1896. It featured 83 elevators and a glass-roofed atrium, and was one of the three largest department stores (Warenhäuser) in Berlin, the others being Hermann Tietz and Kaufhaus des Westens”
And there was a U Bahn tunnel underneath and a passage to the Kaiserhof U Bahn station for customers. Remember the screenshot from the bunker under Number 33?
In the photo below, you can see (1) the ruins of the Ministry of Transport, (2) Number 33 and (3) the ‘lid’ on the U Bahn tunnel that ran under the Wertheim store. The route of the U Bahn can be seen on the map at the end of this post. The green line here shows most of the Wertheim frontage and the red line shows most of the New Reich Chancellery frontage. The orange line shows the frontage of the Borsig Palais although I’m not convinced that the very undeutsch kink in Voss-Strasse is the original. I suspect the line of Voss-Strasse has been changed slightly since the war but I really haven’t had time or inclination to investigate it further. I further suspect the Borsig Palais frontage in the photo below would have been somewhat shorter:
Another unfortunate aspect for the Jewish owners must have been their view from the back gates – the building across the road was the New Reich Chancellery. (Speer had planned to demolish the whole Wertheim store in line with the Nazis’ “Make Germany Great Again” policy.)
Of course the magnificent building was bombed and shelled to buggery during the war and the ruins were demolished in 1950 (from memory). The site became part of the Death Strip between the Berlin Wall(s) with Number 33 remaining the lonely survivor and owing its reprieve to the fact that it had nothing to do with the New Reich Chancellery (or so I’ve read):
The next photo (below) shows the western end, i.e. the end closest to Potsdamer Platz, of the Wertheim building. The photo was presumably taken soon after the end of hostilities as the building appears to be still burning and there are Russian soldiers milling around. Next to the Wertheim building is the Mosse Palais, an interesting article on which can be found here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lost-maidens-berlin-180969006/
From another angle, the ruins of the Mosse Palais can be seen here on the left just past the Wertheim building:
and again here:
As a matter of interest the last two buildings on the south side (i.e. from Wertheim to Hermann-Goringstrasse) were the Mosse Palais, Number 22 (also Jewish-owned) and the Reich Naval Office, Number 20, which later relocated to the Bendlerblock.
So now having walked the entire length of the south side of Voss-Strasse, we have arrived at Potsdamer Platz where we can pick up those who flew in earlier and who have been waiting patiently for us.
Or drinking so much German beer that they are as full as a bull’s bum.
Remember at the start of this blog I recommended that you get a wriggle on if you want to see some of the surviving historical architecture and other sites in Berlin? Well, here’s why.
As we walk up Voss Strasse towards Potsdamer Platz, on the corner we see the Mall of Berlin. Opened in 2104, it occupies the site of the former Ministry of Transport. Up until 2014, you could still see the ruins of the Ministry with a nondescript DDR wall around them. In fact. the Berlin Unterwelten (https://www.visitberlin.de/en/berlins-unterwelten-museum) used to access the air-raid shelters/bunkers from the ruins of this building.
Here it is in 1946. The building with the red arrow is the only surviving original building and indicates the end of the Ministry of Transport building. The large building next to it (further down) is the Wertheim department store:
And here’s what you missed by not visiting before 2014:
I am not suggesting for a moment that these ruins should have been saved. They were beyond redemption but what you got in their place was this:
Another shopping centre – and quite a good one if “your future dream is a shopping scheme” (Source: Sex Pistols) – but if you happen to be in there buying a fridge magnet or a novelty sign or whatever, it’s worth remembering that you are standing on the site of a building that organised the trains to take so many Jews and others to concentration camps:
He was assassinated in his office in the Ministry of Transport during the Night of the Long Knives. Coincidentally – or come to think of it probably not – he had worked on the Marburg Speech with Herbert von Bose who was also assassinated in the Night of the Long Knives just across the street in the Palais Borsig in 1934. (See Post 10: Getting Around). Here’s what Klausener looked like and a shot of his grave, courtesy of Wikiwand. His gravesite is in St Matthias Friedhof, Berlin.
The last sentence on the plaque is interesting – “Dr Klausener was shot in his office on 30.6.34 by an SS man”. That SS man was Kurt Gildisch. He is worth a Google if you like to read about alcoholic schoolteachers (excuse the tautology):
Moving right along, we come to the only surviving original building on Voss-Strasse, (Number 33 Voss-Strasse) now thankfully heritage-protected. This building had become a part of the Ministry of Transport which had frontages on three streets: Leipzigerstrasse, Wilhelmstrasse and Voss-Strasse. The Leipzigerstrasse frontage still exists and is perhaps also the only surviving period building on that street although I’m guessing. Bearing in mind that Leipzigerstrasse was the staging point for SS and other troops during the battle for Berlin it’s surprising that this building survived as well as it did:
And in its original state (built 1894):
The building has since been modernised/gentrified although the sandstone facade has been retained and the building is thankfully heritage listed. There’s an excellent Youtube clip of the pre-gutted building (including its underground bunker) here:
And here’s a screenshot of the tunnel to the U Bahn lines and the Kaiserhof Hotel:
Next we see the Transport Building in its context, between the main Ministry of Transport building and the Wertheim department store:
and here it is on its oddy-knocky, awaiting the developers to build stuff around it. Yes, it’s the same building: you can make out the Czech Republic embassy at the end of the street. No Mall of Berlin yet (slack, Google Earth, slack!). On the left-hand side of the photo are some DDR aparttment blocks which stand where the New Reich Chancellery stood.
And here it is, pre-war, and looking pretty:
The building survived the demolition of the New Reich Chancellery (which was just across the road) and was at one stage the only building left on the block. Amazingly the statuary remained fairly intact. Remember, this was the street where the (alleged) appearance of Soviet troops had been reported to Hitler just before he topped himself. I have read that the appearance of Soviet troops in Voss Strasse made Hitler realise that both his time and the jig were undoubtedly up. However, I don’t believe that Soviet troops penetrated to Voss Strasse until Hitler was dead as the Soviet advance was still being held at the Gestapo HQ on Prinz Albrecht Strasse by units of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of SS Charlemagne (1st French) and the Soviets still hadn’t taken Potsdamer Platz at the end of Voss-Strasse (but it does go to show how close the Soviets were when Hitler pulled the plug. They probably would have made a greater effort had they known that he was in – or rather under – the New Reich Chancellery). In the foreground are the ruins of the New Reich Chancellery:
The building itself was a bit knocked around during the Battle for Berlin and still has (or still had in 2017) several interesting, different-calibre spang marks. I photographed the building for the first time in 2011:
and someone came knocking in 1945:
and here it is under renovation in 2013:
and finally rubbing shoulders with other buildings again:
So if you are a lucky building, you survive two world wars and a major battle in your city and you end up a trendy fashion house:
Next post we go shopping in a department store that would have made the Mall of Berlin look like Aldo Godolfus’ deli …
Before leaving the Wilhelmplatz it behooves us to do a little revision, i.e. where everything is. Consider this map:
The no-longer extant buildings are (in blue numbers):
The Old Reich Chancellery
The Siedler extension
The Borsig Palais
The Reich Transport Ministry
The Reich Finance Ministry
The Kaiserhof Hotel
The buildings lined in red are of course the two we’ve just looked at. But if you’re standing in the Wilhelmplatz some time in the 21st century you may want to know where the famous balcony was. Which balcony I hear you ask? This balcony:
The Siedler Extension (1930) onto which the balcony was built abuts the Old Reich Chancellery. Hitler told Speer to build it so he (Hitler) wouldn’t have to lean out of the window(!)
It is claimed that the balcony is lined with steel plate which would have come in handy when the balcony was later turned into a machine-gun nest (note the wooden planks (railway sleepers?) and firing slits.
But where was it? The first thing to remember is that the frontage of the buildings currently lining this section of Wilhelmstrasse, i.e. from Peking Ente to Peter-Behrens-Strasse, are set back – in my estimation – about ten metres. Proof?
Consider the period map below (from 1939) which curiously does not show the balcony. You will note the blue line – also shown in the photo above – shows the 1939 frontage of all the buildings in this section of Wilhelmstrasse.
The green line shows my guess as to the current frontages but if you are already there you will have noticed that all of the commercial buildings and apartments are set well back from the road, so the position of the balcony would have been closer to the edge of the current footpath. Period photographs show that the Wilhelmplatz frontage of the Propaganda Ministry lines up with the edge of the Old Reich Chancellery boundary (orange line) and crowd photos show us that the balcony is some little distance from the entrance to the Ehrenhof and some slightly greater distance to the Old Reich Chancellery, so the black line indicates my educated guess.
and it real terms it should be pretty much here (agreed to by some of my AHF friends, at least the less-argumentative ones):
The street directly facing us is An der Kolonnade (which did not exist pre-1945). The balcony could have been a little further to the left but not by much.
Next, off to Voss-Strasse .. but how to get there?
You are presumably still standing in Wilhelmplatz and looking forward to showing off your knowledge of the area to “friends of lesser learning” to paraphrase H.H. Munro (it’s from “The Reticence of Lady Anne” – read it, you’ll like it). The next photo (below) is not an exact Then-and-Now as I took the modern photo from outside the Czech Republic Embassy (which you will recall stands on the former Wilhelmplatz) but it’s as close as I could get. You will – if you’ve been paying attention – recognise the buildings on the left in the period photo: the Reich Transport Ministry (now the Mall of Berlin); the Borsig Palais -part of the New Reich Chancellery and headquarters of the (emasculated) SA (now the Peking Ente Chinese Restaurant); the Seidler Extrension to the Old Reich Chancellery (now a line of shops) and across the street the Ordens Palais/Propaganda Ministry (now an ugly school). The photographer in the period photo was standing outside the Reich Finance Ministry. We will turn left at the Mall of Berlin and will walk up Voss Strasse in the direction of Potsdamer Platz:
The plan is to walk up the left-hand side of Voss Strasse first, passing in order:the Reich Transport Ministry, the only surviving period building on Voss Strasse andthe Wertheim Department store. We will then walk back down Voss Strasse, looking at the right-hand side which housed the New Reich Chancellery – after a cup of coffee at Potsdamer Platz.
If you haven’t read the previous posts and are just interested in the Propaganda Ministry, you should read Post 9: Checking Out the Neighbours as it has some information on the building and its fate. As I indicated in Post 9, it is possible to get into the building itself as there are often exhibitions or displays. It’s a sobering thought to get inside the building and realise that Dr Paul Josef Goebbels – or the Poison Dwarf if you prefer – had walked the same corridors as he planned the propaganda releases of the day and the seduction of whichever toothsome young lady had caught his eye.
Here he is with a couple of mates at the Mooslahnerkopf lookout, Obersalzberg. From left: Josef Thorak, sculptor of monumental Nazi art, Blondi checking Thorak’s credentials, Hitler and Goebbels, unknown female:
And here, in March 1945, congratulating 16 year old Willi Hubner on his award of the Iron Cross. Hubner is the same tyke whose cheek you see Hitler patting in the courtyard of the New Reich Chancellery on March 20, 1945:
You can see the footage here and hear Willi himself describing his actions at 1:24
Here he is with his family. If you stand anywhere near the site of the Propaganda Building it’s worth remembering that all six children were killed by their parents only a matter of a couple of hundred metres away on the other side of Wilhelmstrasse, the oldest son Harald Quandt (from a previous marriage) being the only survivor as he was on duty with the Luftwaffe at war’s end. Thus eight people in this photo died somewhere behind the current site of the Peking Ente restaurant:
If you get into the building and want to take photographs, my advice is: don’t ask permission. I say this because I was at an exhibition and asked permission for photographs and the attendant looked nonplussed and then said NO. I got the impression that he didn’t know whether it was kosher or not but said No just to be safe.
So, to recap. That horrible school building is pretty much where the original wing of the Propaganda Ministry stood. If you walk behind it you won’t get far because the surviving wing is fenced off but you can still see it. The horrible school building is on the site of the main building of the Ministry which had started life as the Ordenspalais in the 18th century and ended life as the Ministry for Enlightenment and Propaganda. Here it is pre-war, with the camera facing the three arched entrances seen before (and which still exist facing Wilhelmstrasse). This is the bit that was demolished:
If that bloke at the extreme right (hmmm … must be a Nazi) were to move his left shoulder, you could see one of the arches. This contemporary photo shows where the original building would have been – the red line shows the frontage corresponding to the previous photo, the two blue lines roughly where the balcony would have been and the green circle is roughly where the bloke with the big left shoulder stood.
Just in case you don’t believe me:
And here it is before the school building was … ummm … built, during the demolition of Hitler’s bunker. you can clearly see the remaining wing to the left:
Now if you walk towards the blanked-off arches and turn left you will find yourself pretty much in the school playground/garden. Probably not a good look for an elderly gentlemen so don’t hang around and don’t wear a raincoat. Best just to trust my photos which I took after school was out. In this one you can see the surviving wing in all three photos:
And here it is from the playground:
On this particular day the fencing was down so a curious chappie could sidle a little closer than usual:
One last look at Wilhelmplatz and the former Propaganda Ministry, this time from across Wilhelmstrasse, a little down from the site of the Old Chancellery. The reinforced concrete in the foreground is probably not from Hitler’s bunker – that is a little way to the viewer’s right. That is probably from the bunker entrance of the Old Chancellery (the Vorbunker). Across the road on the left you can see Hess’ former offices (“Staatsverlag der DDR”) and on the right the buildings which you should be able to recognise by now:
Now let’s have a look at the back of the building in Mauerstrasse. The quickest way is to follow the orange line in the Google Earth photo below. The red area is the site of the original Ordenspalais, the blue lines indicate the surviving Propaganda Ministry building(s), leave the green lined area I’ll explain it later and head for the pale green area which you should recall is now the North Korean embassy, formerly the Hotel … anyone? anyone? … yes, Kaiserhof! Well done!
If you’ve walked this far, you’ve gone too far. See the eagle and swastika on the top right? That’s the end of the Propaganda Building and there is a matching one at the other end where you should have stopped. In fact, if you can see either of those eagles you need to stop drinking the local beer as they haven’t been there for seventy years:
Here it is today. Well, 2010. See? No eagles.
…and here’s where you should have stopped:
When it was new:
… and when it wasn’t:
One last thing before we leave the Propaganda Ministry: I nearly went nuts trying to orient this photo from what I knew of the building:
I counted the windows, compared the number and shape to all the other photos I could find, tried to match the aerials on the bloody roof and finally in despair I threw myself on the mercy of the good chaps at Axis History Forum (https://forum.axishistory.com/). Unfortunately due to the different time zones, all the European … ummm … enthusiasts were sound asleep, still up drinking or watching reruns of “Neighbours”. However, two members of the Forum came to my aid and within twelve hours three blokes from Australia had – courtesy of some sleuthing on the Internet – identified a (still-extant) building from a photo taken over eighty years ago in a city on the other side of the world. What an amazing world we live in! A far cry from my crystal set and going to the pictures in my pyjamas!
So where is this courtyard? The whole saga can be relived here: https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=44&t=235205 but I wouldn’t bother. It’s the courtyard marked in green seven photos above (the one I said I would explain later). Here it is again, courtesy of Google Maps:
At the start of this blog, I said one of my reasons for doing it was to encourage people to go there and see it before it all gets demolished. And here is a final, classic example – once again courtesy of Google Earth. The photo below shows the still intact Ministry building, the modern replacements for bombed/shelled buildings and the reconstructed crossover bridge (red arrows):
The history of European first-class hotels would in itself make an interesting blog but here we are only concerned with those in Berlin and specifically the Kaiserhof.
But first some context: the Grand Hotels in Berlin would include the Adlon – which we’ve already seen on Pariser Platz – the Excelsior, whose main claim to fame was that it was directly opposite the Anhalter Bahnhof and guests could walk to or from the station through an 80 metre long tunnel without having to bother themselves with the pesky real world above. Guests could even buy their train tickets from a booth in the hotel.
The Excelsior allegedly was the Nazis’ first choice as a hotel for Hitler and his mates but the manager, one Curt Elschner, wasn’t mad keen on Nazis so he gave them the bum’s rush, a decision he came to regret. Hitler moved to the Kaiserhof and the Excelsior was boycotted by the Nazis for all events. Party members were forbidden to patronise it and the loss of income bit Elschner hard. He tried to curry favour by demonstrating a new commitment (or so I’ve read) to Nazi ideals but Hitler was still in a huff and remained at the Kaiserhof. Elschner (surprisingly, IMO) survived the war and died in 1963. The hotel stood in today’s Stresemannstrasse so if you really want to see where it was, you can find the (empty) spot opposite the ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof. Here it is in its heyday:
… and the Anhalter Bahnhof in 2011. This ruin can be found about 500 metres from Potsdamer Platz:
Another Grand Hotel of interest was the Esplanade, which was almost completely destroyed during the war but a section of it survived and can be seen at Potsdamer Platz today. If you’re a fan of the movie “Cabaret” some interior shots were filmed in what was left. (http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Hotel_Esplanade_Berlin)
So much for context. If you check the previous maps, you’ll see the Kaiserhof took up a whole block. Hitler stayed there, Goring had his (second) wedding reception there (the actual wedding – to actress Emmy Sonnemann – was of course held in the Berliner Dom) and visiting dignitaries also stayed there. here is the Wikipedia link:
However, a word of warning: Wikipedia is often wrong. In this case, the Kaiserhof was not “located next to the Reich Chancellery “. It’s about a good eight-iron away, unless you’re Jordan Speith in which case it’s probably a sand wedge. For me the most interesting thing about the Kaiserhof is this exchange I had on Axis History Forum in which some bloke (an Australian would you believe?) claims Hitler personally strangled Dr Ludwig Roselius in the Kaiserhof in 1943! Must’ve been a slow day for Adolf …
This following photo shows some cool dudes parading past the Kaiserhof in 1936 (check out the Olympic pennant on the extreme right of the photo and the foreign flags outside the hotel). Mind you, if I owned that car I’d be doing a bit of parading too:
The Kaiserhof site is now the Republic of North Korea embassy. If you walked down to Mauerstrasse in 2015 and turned right, you would find the entrance to this embassy. There are – or were – numerous posters of goosestepping North Korean soldiers waving bright red flags on a board out the front. I’m guessing there’s no word for irony in a North Korean dictionary.
And one last interesting thing about the Kaiserhof … (found on page 439 of Robert Forbes’ excellent “For Europe”):
During the afternoon of April 29, 1945, Dr Gustav Krukenberg, SS Brigadefuhrer and commanding officer of the remaining French SS soldiers in Berlin, awarded the Knight’s Cross to 21-year-old Unterscharfuhrer Eugene Vaulot for destroying eight Soviet tanks in 24 hours. Shortly afterwards, Vaulot was ordered – hopefully not by Krukenberg – to lead a patrol from Krukenberg’s HQ in the Stadtmitte U Bahn station to the Kaiserhof Hotel to find some table linen, which he did. Table linen? I can’t believe that was the sole reason for the patrol especially when you consider that the Kaiserhof was around 550 metres from the German front line in Prinz-Albrechtstrasse.
Eugene Vaulot Ritterkreuztrager (Source Axis History Forum)
So when you’ve finished looking at the site of the Kaiserhof/North Korean embassy, walk back down to where the Wilhelmplatz meets Vossstrasse and look down towards the Air Ministry building. On the block opposite (but on the same side of Wilhelmstrasse as the Air Ministry) were the RSHA/ Gestapo HQ in which were holed up the last few French SS of the Charlemagne Division. My point? On the day before Hitler shot himself, a French SS patrol went looking for table linen while their compatriots were holding off the Red army 500 metres away. The only troops on Wilhelmstrasse between the Soviets and Hitler were around 50 – 60 French SS. The other 300 or so French SS who had volunteered(!) to drive/march into Berlin were all dead or wounded. Dunno about you but I find that a major spinout.
If that don’t rock your boat, according to Robert Forbes, another Frenchman may or may not (there is some argument if the award was processed correctly) have been awarded the Knight’s Cross in that ceremony, one Oberscharfuhrer Francois Appolot. I don’t know if Appolot got his Knight’s Cross or not but (once again according to Robert Forbes) Appolot was a card-carrying member of the French Communist Party throughout the war and after. You’ve got to wonder …
This stuff is terrific. The DVDs are not particularly expensive and are highly detailed, accurate reconstructions of all the major buildings.
So now you’re at the Wilhelmplatz. If you stand with your back towards the Peking Ente restaurant, i.e. on the corner of Wilhelmstrasse and Vossstrasse and look towards the Mohrenstrasse U Bahn station, you will see this:
Not much chop,eh? There are only two original, i.e. pre-war buildings remaining on the Wilhelmplatz. The gabled building in the distance (House of Soviet-German Friendship during the DDR years) is original but is not on the Wilhelmplatz. The Star Wars type building on the right is the Embassy of the Czech Republic and the building next to it is the Embassy of North Korea. The embassy of North Korea is on the site of the famous Hotel Kaiserhof, destroyed during the war and subsequently demolished. (The building with the Ullrich sign on it is a very handy little supermarket if you are staying in the area.) There are two interesting things about this view: with the exception of the gabled building in the distance, none of the buildings you can see existed in 1945 or earlier and the blue subway sign near the red and white van is the entrance to the Mohrenstrasse U Bahn station. Give or take a metre or two, you are standing where Mohnke and his breakout groups started their dash to freedom (you will have seen this dash in “Downfall”). They dashed across Wilhelmstrasse to that U Bahn station and slid down the artillery-smashed steps into the U Bahn tunnels below. The Peking Ente restaurant stands roughly where the Borsig Palais stood (but back around ten metres from the Wilhelmstrasse, so if you’re standing on the footpath, you’re roughly where the Borsig Palais was. Here it is in its heyday:
The red circle indicates where you should be standing on the corner of Wilhelmstrasse and Voss and the blue line indicates my guess as to where the frontage of the Peking Ente now stands. (The gap with a wrought iron fence to the right of the Borsig Palace is the Old Chancellery). And here is the Borsig Palais and the Reich Chancellery some time after the war. The red arrow indicates where you are standing and where the breakout started and the blue line indicates the Mohrenstrasse U Bahn entrance (called the Kaiserhof U Bahn at the time).
More information on the breakout itself can be found in O’Donnell’s book:
So, let’s re-enact the dash, avoiding the Wilhelmstrasse traffic. When you get down into the U Bahn station you will see this:
Take a close look at the walls: they are faced in unpolished marble (actually granite). Here’s a closer look:
For many years it was believed that this marble/granite came from the New Reich Chancellery which you will recall was demolished by the Soviets (and which was only a few hundred metres from the U Bahn station). However, it has since been determined by petrographic research that this marble/granite came from Thuringia, not Voss Strasse.
So you’re demolishing a large building and repairing a nearby U Bahn station? “Well we could use some of that lovely material from the Chancellery or we could – for no apparent reason – bring some from Thuringia which is roughly 250 kilometres away.” I’m inclined to believe the ‘petrographic research’ findings were published to deter neo- Nazis from making a shrine of the place although the thought of latterday stormtroopers travelling to Berlin to worship a railway station makes me smeck somewhat (although if you are a marble/granite -worshipping stormtrooper you should go to the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park because that is dressed in marble/granite from the Chancellery.) I believe the cladding on Mohrenstrasse U Bahn station is the real deal, petrographic research notwithstanding. If the granite were brought in from Thuringia, why was only Mohrenstrasse so clad?
But back to Wilhelmplatz…
So from here the ten or so groups made their way to Stadtmitte and thence to Friedrichstrasse and the Weidendammer Bridge where the fun really started. I will trace the routes of the various breakout groups if I ever get time. Bugger it! Chuck Anesi has already done a great job (for Bormann’s group at least):
Here’s a map of Wilhelmplatz pre-war. Sorry about the quality but it’s the best I could find. The red line indicates the former Palais Marschall/Ordenspalais, subsequently the Nazi Propaganda Ministry and the blue line indicates the Ritterschaftsdirektion which Wikipedia informs me was a sort of loan office for run-down nobility. The green line indicates the frontage direction of the Kaiserhof Hotel and shows that the current Czech embassy is built on part of the Wilhelmplatz itself, not on the site of the Reich Finance Ministry as some Internet sites claim. More on that later …
These are the only two surviving pre-war buildings on Wilhelmplatz.
Let’s check them out. Walk back up the U Bahn steps and cross the road to the Ullrich store. Walk away from the Peking Ente/Borsig Palais in this direction:
and you will come to this building, seen second on the left above. It was the Ritterschaftsdirektion but I have no idea what it is now:
Big woop I hear you say? For me the interesting thing about this building is that it appears in so many period photos. Compare the one above with this Getty image from the Kapp Putsch:
A good way to differentiate this building from others on the Wilhelmplatz (especially the Finance Ministry) is the round window above the doorway entrance. And check out this carefree dude as he adds a new dimension to the word “louche”:
BTW, that building to the left of the Ritterschaftsdirektion was the US Embassy up until (I’m guessing) 1932 when it moved to its current location on Pariser Platz near the Brandenburg Gate. And next to it you can just make out the three arches which yet survive of the Propaganda Ministry.
As I said, the Ritterschaft appears in so many period photos:
… and consider this one, taken pre-war by a Norwegian visitor:
…and this, taken at the turn of the century during an outbreak of head-eating giant hats:
This one might help you orient yourself better, given there are now hideous buildings between the Ritterschaft and Wilhelmstrasse:
Here she is being turned into a Guest House on Thalmannplatz (formerly Wilhelmplatz) while under new (DDR) management in 1949:
Freshly scrubbed and refurbished:
The next couple of shots show the demolition of the New Reich Chancellery in Voss Strasse, this one shows our old friend in the background, the Ehrenhof having been demolished:
And below (circled), Wilhelmstrasse crossing left to right, Vossstrasse following the wall under “The Berlin Mall lives here now”:
This (below) is an interesting shot. It must have been taken fairly soon – I’d guess a few months – after the fall of Berlin. There’s an American army truck in the background and what appear to be a couple of British soldiers eyeing off the comely young maidens in left foreground. The low ‘walls’ on which they are sitting are actually water reservoirs for emergency supply during/after air raids:
Now the next time you see a shot of the Wilhelmplatz in a (shudder) documentary or book you’ll be able to impress your friends – if any – by pointing to this building and announcing that it’s one of only two original buildings on the square and was used pre-war as a charity office for nobles who had fallen on hard times. As if …
And finally – for a while at least – one particularly interesting photo. This last one shows the Ritterschaft at left, a big pile of rubble (possibly from the destroyed and no longer visible water reservoirs) and the Kaiserhof at right. Why is it interesting? Well, IMO at least, the photo was almost certainly taken from the balcony (See Post 15) of Hitler’s New Reich Chancellery across the Wilhelmplatz:
I believe the photographer was standing just inside the doorway where Hitler is standing in this (Spiegel) photo:
Now you know where you can have a meal and a beer, time to familiarise yourself with the immediate area. For the purposes of the next few posts, we will be concerned with the area bounded by Unter den Linden, Friedrichstrasse, Vossstrasse and Hermann-Göringstrasse … sorry, Ebertstrasse. One SBS documentary too many.
Now let’s start by walking from Unter den Linden down Wilhelmstrasse in the direction of Tempelhof, i.e. you start with the British Embassy on your right. This is the same route you will have previously taken to get to the offices of the Apartments am Brandenburger Tor except today you are continuing down Wilhelmstrasse towards the previously-mentioned Wilhelmplatz. Here is the British Embassy, pre-WW2 and pre-bombing by British and US air forces:
And here it is in its current iteration:
Ironically, this whole block as far as the front of the Adlon (far right) is today protected from terrorist bomb attacks by bollards. Directly opposite is this original-ish building – the former Education Ministry during the Third Reich (you can see the aforementioned anti-terrorist bollards):
You will notice also from this map that this building was originally the Marine Ministry.
The red line indicates your route down Wilhelmstrasse. I do not intend to identify every period building site as there are a number of historical markers which will show you what used to stand where. I will just (as above) indicate the origin of sites if there is no historical marker and/or supply additional information where appropriate:
You will notice also that Behrenstrasse originally stopped at Wilhelmstrasse. Today it continues through to Ebertstrasse and if you continue down Wilhelmstrasse, about halfway to Leipzigerstrasse and just before Wilhelmplatz:
You will find this building:
which is the former office of Rudolf Hess.This is the doorway through which he walked on his many official and other excursions. At some point in time, he walked through this doorway for the last time. There has been a lot written about Hess, much of it speculative. The man apparently flew to Scotland on a peace mission, was captured, declared mad by pretty much everybody and locked up for the rest of his life. He spent the last thirty years or so of his life as the sole prisoner in Spandau Gaol.
The book that caused a huge stir in 1979 was “The Murder of Rudolf Hess” by Dr Hugh Thomas. Thomas claims to have examined Hess in Spandau and discovered no evidence of him ever having been shot, despite Hess’ medical records indicating he had been wounded during the First World War. Thomas’ argument is that Hess was murdered and replaced by a double. I find the first proposition possible but the second highly improbable. A recent (Sphere, 2001) publication entitled “Double Standards: The Rudolf Hess Cover-Up” offers some additional and more revealing information despite being, IMO, in places poorly written and poorly argued. The “Double Standards” book provides – for me at least – evidence that makes the whole Hess situation less muddy although I still don’t believe the ‘double’ argument. The most intriguing argument suggested by “Double Standards” is that Hess was expected in Scotland in 1941 by a fairly influential peace movement, possibly involving the Royal Family, and was even to be aided in his return to Germany. This possibility, if true, goes a fair way to explain some of the more bizarre subsequent occurrences in this saga. If you want to read a useful book and make up your own mind, I recommend “Double Standards”. Both books are readily available online.
The Padfield book will give you an overview but if you are already familiar with the case you might want to consider the Melaouri book: he was a male nurse who looked after Hess and wrote this book without permission after working with Hess in Spandau. He arrived at the scene of Hess’ death and is not convinced that Hess wasn’t murdered.
If you are interested in the Hess case, you might find this interesting: I went to Spandau Gaol in 1982 just to have a look and to take a photo or two. On arrival at the gaol I was naively surprised to see signs warning against approaching the gaol and stern warnings deterring photographs, including the warning that lethal force might be applied. Someone was obviously afraid that there might be an attempt to spring their only prisoner. While I was outside wondering whether to risk a clandestine photo, a jeep came out of the main entrance and a red-faced officer and two MPs confronted me. The officer started yelling threats at me in German and ordered me to surrender my (brand-new and expensive) camera. I, being young, stupid and Australian, replied aggressively in English that that wasn’t going to happen whereupon he stopped – appeared to consider the publicity issues of getting involved with what was obviously a young, stupid Australian – and then dropped his voice. He then said between his teeth words to the effect of “All right, I’ll tell you what. You keep your camera but if you don’t fuck off now, we’ll take you inside and give you a fucking hiding.” I momentarily thought of saying something like “I’d like to see you try you fat bastard” but decided that honour had been satisfied and that a wiser course of action would be to fuck off which I did. I got some distance down the street, stuck my camera on the roof of my mate’s car and hit the timer. We pretended to look in a shop window and ten seconds later I had my photo of the gaol. At some safe distance. I will post the photo when I find it but it’s really just a long distance shot of the gaol. Don’t bother going to Spandau to replicate my performance as after Hess died/was murdered the gaol was demolished to stop it becoming a neo-nazi shrine. Or so they said …
Continue walking and you will come to the Wilhelmplatz.
Let’s assume you have booked into your accommodation, had a shower and turned on the TV to discover to your great joy that there are multiple channels. When you realise however that some of them show “Big Bang Theory” (dubbed into German) 24 hours a day you may wish you had chosen Bankstown instead of Europe for your holiday. Be warned also that some Berlin TV channels show episodes of “The Saint” from the Sixties with a suave Roger Moore speaking Berliner dialect.
OK, towel yourself dry, put some clothes on and get ready to explore Berlin.
First up, walk back to Pariser Platz. If you’ve been paying attention you will walk back to the Brandenburg Gate. If not, Google Pariser Platz. When you get there, the Tourist Information Office is in the little temple-shaped building to the left of the Brandenburg Gate, helpfully marked here with a red arrow for those who think 24 hour reruns of “Big Bang Theory” is a good thing. There is also a red sign with a white “i” in the window for the chronically inattentive:
The office is generally crowded but offers a supply of good-to-great tourist merchandise. Before you dive into the treasure trove of Berlin fridge magnets and tea towels go to the information desk and buy two things. First get a travel pass. They come in various denominations: day, three-day, six-day etc (from memory). They are well worth the money and will get you all over Berlin. They work on the U Bahn (a subway-like rail system), the S Bahn (sometimes a subway, sometimes a train) and buses. You must remember to validate your ticket the first time you use it. It’s a bit like an Opal card (if you’re Australian, or at least a Sydneysider) or an Oystercard (if you are a Pom, or at least a Londoner) except you only validate it the first time you use it. When you get on your first U Bahn/S Bahn train or bus there is a small machine just inside the door, or alternatively there’s usually one on the platform. (They are red I seem to recall.) Bung your ticket in (the correct way) and you will hear a ding! unless you are deaf like me in which case you won’t hear much at all. This deafness is not such a bad thing on some German trains as will become apparent. Once your ticket is validated you then have a day, three days or six, depending on which one you bought, in which to travel throughout the city of Berlin and you don’t have to ding your ticket again. The first time marks the time and date you started your adventure: just be sure not to overstay your allotted time.
The really bizarre thing about the Berlin U Bahn is that periodically, i.e. almost every trip, some of those serial harassers you avoided at the Hauptbahnhof (see second post) will turn up on your train with musical instruments. I kid you not. Some of these instruments are amplified and you are ‘treated’ to a rendition of some bloody awful folk song or other atrocity. Seriously, these people will get on your train and just when you are daydreaming about whether to start your Berlin holiday with a Berliner Kindl or a Radeberger ale, your thoughts will be interrupted by someone bellowing out an old ex-favourite like “Wooden Heart” or “Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop”. Now what would normally happen in Australia is that the passengers would patiently wait until the train crossed a bridge and would then unite to throw the pest, instrument and all, out the door. The Germans are more tolerant of unsolicited noise than they are of people being thrown from trains (or at least they are these days) so no-one, except me, complains when these musical terrorists then pass the hat around for donations. Once again, politely decline and they will leave you alone.
The second thing you should buy at the tourist office is a copy of this:
but only if you are interested in this period of German history. The book is excellent, so much so that, IMO, a wise person would order a copy over the Internet (Abe Books has it, for example) and use it as pre-reading for your trip. Any of the books by Tony Le Tissier would serve as an excellent guide but they are a bit bulky to be lugging around and you would stand out as a tourist like the proverbial male canine’s reproductive storage units:
However, if your idea of learning about history stems from watching The World at War, The History Channel or SBS documentaries you should have gone to Disneyland instead.
Berlin is full of great restaurants. I will recommend only three, all on the Wilhelmstrasse and all within a block or two of each other. I’ve already recommended the Viale, on the corner of Behrenstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse. The Viale is mainly a pizza place but is a little more upmarket than your basic Crust pizza. Not cheap but good. It’s only a short block from Unter den Linden, past the British Embassy. This is what the Viale looks like again, in case you missed the earlier post (the green line indicates where the Hitler Youth had established a barricade against the Russians in 1945, just a block or so from Hitler’s bunker):
Further down Wilhelmstrasse – about one block, maybe two if you count An Der Kolonnade as a street – which I suppose it really is these days although it didn’t exist before 1945 – is the Peking Ente, a Chinese restaurant. If you are going shopping at the Berlin Mall (great pun, BTW) you will walk past it as it is on the opposite corner to the Mall. This building – the Peking Ente – is interesting for a number of reasons. If I’ve read James P. O’Donnell’s “The Bunker” correctly, the Mohnke breakout group smashed a cellar window from this site after Hitler’s suicide and ran across the road to Mohrenstrasse U Bahn station (which at the time was Kaiserhof U Bahn station) to start their breakout. When you get there you’ll be surprised at how close the Peking Ente is to the entrance to the station. Mohnke’s breakout group would have had to run about 100 metres. The O’Donnell book is, IMO, the best book on the bunker even though – or maybe in this case because -it is written by a journalist:
Secondly, the restaurant advertises itself as being on the site of Hitler’s Chancellery. It isn’t. It’s on the site of the Borsig Palace which was the only building on the right-hand side (facing Potsdamer Platz) of Vossstrasse not to be demolished during the building of Hitler’s New Reich Chancellery. Also, the line of buildings currently on that part of Wilhelmstrasse is, IMO, moved back about ten metres from the original Wilhelmstrasse frontage. The Borsig Palace served as the headquarters of the emasculated SA after the Night of the Long Knives. Albert Speer was ordered to convert the building into the new SA headquarters so Hitler could keep the new leaders near and under careful watch. On starting the work, Speer saw a pool of blood in one of the rooms. It was the blood of Herbert von Bose, one of von Papen’s assistants (page 94, first Sphere edition). For more on this assassination, see Post 16: Voss Strasse: The Left-Hand Side if the bloody thing ever loads.
So it’s worth remembering as you tuck into your Combination Soup that you could well be sitting within metres of where this bloke breathed his last. It goes without saying that you are also only a few hundred metres of where Adolf and Eva Hitler and the Goebbels family died, not forgetting the many others who also perished in close proximity.
Herbert von Bose in 1934, obviously before June 30. Wikipedia
For some reason, ( according to the excellent DVD series Atelier-Neubauer, it was because the Borsig family had been keen supporters of Hitler in the early days) Hitler and Speer decided to incorporate it into the New Reich Chancelleryt. Here is what it looked like:
In the photo above, the Mohrenstrasse U Bahn entrance is just behind the statue of the General at lower right, so the breakout group had run across this road from roughly where the Borsig Palace was. This is what it looked like after the war:
If you’ve been paying attention, you will now know that all of those buildings on the left of the photo have been replaced by the Berlin Mall. The only surviving prewar building on either side of Vossstrasse is the one arrowed (with the balconies) and there will be a post on this building later. This what it looked like in 2013 ( you will notice that the statue of the General has been replaced, pretty much in the same spot):
And here is where the restaurant stands on almost the same spot as the Borsig Palace today:
The Peking Ente is a very good if a little expensive Chinese restaurant. Their other selling point is that some American star ate there – I think it may have been Barbra Streisand. If you find this a sufficient motive to eat there, you should be watching “The Block” or “My Laundry Rules” or something.
My favourite Berlin restaurant, however, lies roughly between the Viale and the Peking Ente at (from memory again) 77 Wilhelmstrasse. It’s the Alt-Berliner Wirtshaus and it’s such a great restaurant I feel like getting on a plane back to Berlin now. Not too pricey and it has that wonderful gemütlichkeit (means … um…’comfortable’ or ‘hospitable’. Difficult to translate) often found in cosy English pubs.
Despite the racket found on their website: http://www.altberliner-wirtshaus.de/ they don’t have that hokey German folk music blaring out like in some Sydney faux German restaurants. Just great food and great beer and it’s especially nice if you’re there in good weather as you can sit outside and watch the girls pass by in their summer clothes enjoy the sunshine.
A Word of Warning:
Generally speaking you don’t get to make a booking at German restaurants. Most of them are sort of halfway between being a pub and a restaurant: you can sit there all day and drink beer if you like or you can order food if and when you feel like it. You can make a booking for a special event – for example if you and Bob Dylan are celebrating being nominated for the Nobel Prize for Doggerel or maybe you’ve just won a contest to see who can watch reruns of “Big Bang Theory” the longest – but generally you just bowl up and say “Haben Sie Platz frei?” (pronounced “Harben zee plutz fry?”) and if you don’t have a stupidly long grey goatee they usually welcome you in.
The reason most people don’t sit in the restaurant all day drinking beer is because you can buy it much cheaper in your local supermarket.