This is the hundredth post on Under a Grey Sky. Before we begin, I would like to take the chance to thank everyone who has contributed to the website, as well as all of you who have taken the time to read it. Here’s to the next hundred…
A week or so ago we took the tram from where we live in Berlin-Wedding across the north of the city to Hohenschönhausen; part family outing, part mission to discover some of the secrets of this neighbourhood. It is not the most famous of Berlin’s districts, but as with everywhere in this city the streets of Hohenschönhausen had plenty of stories to tell.
There was Berlin history of course – from the site of the first Plattenbau built in the early 1970s to solve East Berlin’s housing shortage, via the only private house designed by Mies van der Rohe and a lesser-known housing estate by modernist architect Bruno Taut, to the thick walls of the Stasi Prison and a small, sidestreet Soviet memorial – but more personal than that were Katrin’s stories, as this is the neighbourhood where she lived throughout her teenage years.
I have to admit, the first time she took me out there I was nervous. It was the “wild east” you see, full of stocky men with cropped hair just waiting to stomp on someone speaking with a foreign accent. But over the years I realised that you can meet those stocky men anywhere (and only if you are unlucky) and that Hohenschönhausen is a neighbourhood that, if you search around and between the seemingly anonymous socialist-era housing blocks, is full of nice corners, fascinating stories, and a couple of really beautiful lakes.
During the walk we passed by the building where Katrin’s grandparents once lived, wandered close to where she went to school, where her friends lived at that time and the ice cream store that was a Sunday afternoon family favourite. There was the building where her father once worked, the sports school where her brother once played tennis, and the cemetery where her uncle and grandmother were laid to rest. Most of these stories Katrin did not need to tell me as we walked, as we have been around those places many times before. But it is a good reminder that in this city, where every street seems to have a story related to the great movements of history, it is often the personal tales that are the most meaningful.
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig
An excellent post, Paul – good to see another side of Berlin. As a matter of interest, is the yellow Trabant in the Stasi photo there purely by coincidence or has it been deposited there for purposes of ‘Ostalgia’? – it does look to be in very good condition.
Congratulations on now having 100 posts.
I honestly don’t know. On that side of the wall of the prison are normal houses, and it was just parked across the street. Maybe something to do with the prison, I don’t know.
Actually, increasingly the only Trabis you see in Berlin are one’s either for tourism or as people’s pride and joy, and they are often in good condition. When you head out into Brandenburg, then you see Trabis that are not hobby-cars or marketing devices, but continue to be used as family transport…
Great post, Paul … and photos, Katrin. As you’d expect I was drawn to the Stasi prison watchtower above the Trabi. It brings it home how prisons can be so close you take them for granted and pass by the suffering of captives just a few feet away; a different world, an island beyond the prison wall. Many congratulations on the first 100 posts … you’ve created a fine site.