And we went down to the river…
We climb down from the S-Bahn inside the new hall at Ostkreuz station, all shiny and bright before dropping down the staircase to street level and into edgeland. Somewhere beyond the junkyard is a football pitch. Abandoned buildings peel in the shadow of the new train station. A lonely pair of houses still show some sign of life, and the memory of when they must have been part of a much longer row before… what? Bombs? Socialist planning? A change of mind?
One patch of wasteland by the river Spree has been snapped up, no doubt cheaply, by a company specialising in team-building exercise, and they have turned it into a giant playground for adults, complete with tree-houses and rope-slides, beach volleyball courts and a launch to get corporate middle-managers and their kayaks out onto the open water. As we pass it seems as if the day’s activities have come to a close, as the group sits on benches, with bottles of beer to toast a good day’s work.
Here at Rummelsburg the river hits a dead end, a Bucht (bay) created by the Stralau peninsula that juts out and down into the Spree. Beyond the team-building playground we reach the first apartment blocks of the massive new building complex that has taken place here over the past decade or so, including new townhouses and the re-development of old industrial buildings and a prison to give professional couples and families a sense of space in the heart of the city. It looks like a pleasant place to live, with the gardens, the riverside promenade, and easy access to public transport. This may be in the wild East, but the real estate agents have no problem shifting any properties that pass across their desks.
Before there were apartments and townhouses this stretch of riverbank once housed military buildings, storage space for a concrete company, and a prison that – during the years of socialist rule in the old German Democratic Republic – was where they housed young prisoners of a “political” persuasion, which basically meant the rebels, the punks and the others whose lifestyle choices somehow threatened the regime.
With the fall of the wall they were mostly released, and the very last prisoner to sleep in those cells, with the whole complex to himself except for the odd prison-guard, was Erich Honecker. The former leader of East Germany spent three days at Rummelsburg before his exile to Chile. Will the last one to leave the building please turn out the lights?
We walk through the prison complex, now re-arranged as modern living for modern families. The sky grows overcast, the clouds heavy with rain. The wind whips down the river, rocking the boats moored at Rummelsburg’s small collection of jetties. A lot of people now live here, in this new village on the water, sandwiched between the old industrial transport links of the Spree and the railway. Honecker’s short-term home now the long-term future for those families who have moved down to the riverside.
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig