Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Guide: Berlin - Große Hamburger Straße

(Photo: Memorial to Jews who lived on the Große Hamburger Straße and were murdered at Auschwitz. You can find the memorial laid into the pavement at the Oranienburger Straße end of the street)

Berlin Places: Große Hamburger Straße

I decided to start the Berlin Review guide to Berlin Places with the Große Hamburger Straße in Berlin-Mitte, one of the most fascinating streets in the city. Running from Koppenplatz just south of Torstraße to Oranienburger Straße, Große Hamburger Straße is not very long, and yet there is a pile of interesting things to see.

Along its short length there is the Sophien Church, the only baroque steeple left in Berlin, one side of which is still peppered with bullet holes from the Second World War, left unrenovated as a reminder of the past. Then there is the house opposite, which took a direct hit from an allied bombing raid. Now, the gap in the building created by the bomb is marked by placards with the names of those who died, attached to the wall in the approximate position of where they were sleeping when the bomb struck.

There is also the Jewish Gymnasium and graveyard, on the site of which there is a very moving memorial to the Jews that were deported from Berlin to die in the concentration camps. This point on Große Hamburger Straße was used by the Gestapo as the deportation point for the district, right in the heart of what was the Jewish neighbourhood of Berlin. The graveyard was used during the Second World War to bury many of the dead in the city, especially during the arrival of the Red Army in the last days, and there are hardly any gravestones left in place. One that is belongs to the philosopher, Moses Mendelsohn.

The school, the memorial and graveyard are very moving places, and somehow it creates an immediacy that other memorials often don't manage. Berlin is full of small memorials, such as the one I took a photo of at the top of this post, and sometimes I think these small reminders, often more personal, to be discovered by accident as you walk the streets, are often much more powerful than larger, more impressive structures.

Another of these can be found on the Koppenplatz, at the opposite end of Große Hamburger Straße, which is a very simple sculpture of two chairs and a table, one chair knocked to the ground. Again, simple and small, at one end of a play area in a quiet square, the impact is quite and quietly impressive.

As well as reminders of the past, there are a couple of good entertainment tips along the Große Hamburger Straße. First up is the Sophie'nEck, a wonderfully atmospheric restaurant on the corner with Sophienstraße. Lots of dark wood and cozy corners, the Sophie'nEck serves good German cuisine in a very relaxed atmosphere. Especially good for this occasionally homesick expat are the pints of Murphy's on offer behind the bar.

Also on Große Hamburger Straße is the Mudd Club, run by one of the guys behind the legendary club of the same name in New York. There are various different nights on, as well as live concerts, but the best of the bunch are probably the Balkan Beats events, dance floor pounding to souped-up sounds of South Eastern Europe, often becoming one of those nights where you find yourself well into the next day when you finally emerge from the Mudd Club basement.

What else? There's a Catholic hospital, a shop selling wooden toys, a couple of good falafal places at the Oranienburger Straße end of the street, and an American diner. Quite a lot for one small street.

Große Hamburger Straße on the map: Berlin Stadtplan

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