14 September 2018

The gardens and story of
a new ‘Creative Quarter’
in an old corner of Berlin

A morning stroll through the gardens in the ‘Creative Quarter’ in Berlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The apartment I have been staying in on Tucholskystraße is in an interesting part of Mitte and Spandau close to the centre of Berlin. It is only a 15-minute walk to Unter den Linden, the once-elegant boulevard that runs through the centre of Berlin, from the great museums in the east to the Brandenburg Gate in the west.

The front of the apartment opens onto Tucholskystraße, close to its corner with Oranienburgerstraße and the dome and towers of the Neue Synagoge (New Synagogue), while the main windows of the apartment look onto Auguststraße, and the bedroom windows look out into a courtyard and the gardens of the ‘Creative Quarter’ in the Heckmann-Höfe complex that was once the stables and carriage area of a 19th century brewery proprietor.

These three courtyards and their gardens lead from Auguststraße down to Oranienburgerstraße, and they are surrounded by residential buildings with ground-floor shops, galleries, art shops, cafés, bars and restaurants. Most of the buildings are listed buildings.

The Heckmann farms are originally located in the Spandau suburb between the Postfuhramt and the Neue Synagoge, extend from Oranienburgerstraße to Auguststraße and Tucholskystraße.

The Heckmann farms date back to the 17th century, but they were developed after 1691 into an area known as the Spandau suburb. The Spandauer Tor, which separated the district from the rest of the city, was demolished in 1750.

The Oranienburger Straße area was built up in the early 19th century. A carpenter named Koehne built in the yard a coach house in the yards for his horses and carriages as the residential buildings on Auguststraße were being built.

The area had taken shape by 1871, and in 1872 a new building was built at the corner of Tucholskystraße 34 and Auguststraße 9, where I have been staying this week. This building now forms another courtyard and is the final boundary of the area enclosed by Tucholsky and Auguststrasse to this day.

Friedrich Wilhelm Heckmann, son of the industrialist Carl Justus Heckmann, bought these buildings in 1905 and so it became Heckmann-Höfe.

Friedrich Heckmann’s heirs kept their interests in many of these buildings. But in 1950, a decree was issued by the East Berlin city council converting the property into the property of the people, and the management of the buildings was handed over to the Municipal Housing Administration.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the former Spandau suburb was discovered and revived by artists. Many of the buildings were still intact, and they attracted artists, fashion outlets, clubs and squatters too. Dieter Heckmann, his brother and another 40 or so heirs to the property, had the properties reprivatised, and soon they all agreed to renovate and rent the remaining properties.

A Berlin private investor acquired the area in 2014, with plans to develop a creative quarter. The building complex of Heckmann-Höfe has been converted into apartments and townhouses, the former warehouses have been leased to individual shop owners who value creative products, as well as the Galli Theatre and Garda, an Italian restaurant.

We have strolled through the gardens in the mornings and again in the evenings, and had dinner last night in Garda.

Sometimes above the trees and through the arches we catch glimpses of the dome and towers of Neue Synagoge and older buildings, reminders of the past and promises of hope for the future.

The dome of the Neue Synagoge seen from the gardens in the ‘Creative Quarter’ during a morning stroll (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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