Friday, February 19, 2016


The word Babelsberg leaves a strange aftertaste in the mouths of many Germans. Eighty years ago Babelsberg was known as Germany's Hollywood with the UFA studios dominating the German film production. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 Propagandaminister Joseph Goebbels became the boss. Although handicapped with a clubfoot Joseph was a womanizer, and no starlet became a star without his blessing. His "mountings" soon earned him an alliterated name: Der Bock von Babelsberg (The Babelsberg's ram).

18 February, 1943: 14,000 people in Berlin's Sportpalst
listen to Joseph Goebbels asking: Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg?
(Do you want all-out war?) ©Bundesarchiv
Last year on my way back from Potsdam to Berlin on the S-Bahn I suddenly read:

and got off the train. My intention was not to visit the film studios but rather to explore old Babelsberg. Note that the studios are still operating where recently the Cold War movie Bridge of Spies was produced.

Babelberg's town hall
Walking down Karl-Liebknecht-Straße I took a picture of the town hall. I went in, bought a small brochure about Babelsbergs historische Mitte (Babelsberg's historical center), and felt hungry. Continuing my walk I passed a restaurant called Domus. Although they announced Babelsberger Küche (Babelsberg cooking) their first dish on the menu was Mexikanischer Feuertopf (Mexican fire pot).

Suddenly my eye caught a café named EXNER fifty meters further down Karl-Liebknecht-Straße. I entered and ordered a Leonardo Light and a raspberry tart. Light means here the opposite to dark. In fact the coffee pot I ordered was not light at all being topped with whipped cream and strangely enough decorated as the Leonardo Dark coffee.

While enjoying coffee and cake I opened the brochure. The first thing I learned was that there is no old Babelsberg for until 1938 the place had been called Nowawes being a corruption of Czech Nová Ves meaning new village. The Nazis did not like the name because of its Slavic origin and ordered that an existing villa district called Neubabelsberg was combined with old Nowawes to form the town of Babelsberg. How come?

Again, it was Frederick the Great, not caring about what his subjects believed, who in 1750 gave Czech Hussite refugees being spinners and weavers a new home in Prussia near his residence in Potsdam. When asked how the center of the new colony should look the king took off his famous tricorne hat and threw it on the table saying: Like this!

Ordnance map of 1835 showing Nowawes (in German Neuendorf)
and the new railway line Berlin-Potsdam passing the small town
without a station. Nowawes's triangular square is surrounded
by many one-story houses (©Gläser/Wikipedia)
In the beginning Frederick's new Czech subjects processed imported cotton but later the king had 5800 mulberry trees planted even around the triangle square to feed silkworms for the production of the luxury fabric that so far had to be imported into Prussia too. Small houses where the inhabitants worked on their weaving looms surrounded the square. In its center the Friedrichskirche (sic!) was consecrated as early as 1753 offering services both in Czech and German.

Having finished cake and coffee I walked further up Karl-Liebknecht-Straße turning right into Lutherstraße and suddenly He was there "in statue" standing in front of the old vicarage holding His Bible out to the otherwise Hussite population.

Old vicarage on Lutherstraße
When I arrived at the triangular Weberplatz (Weaver Square) gusty winds and rain showers tarnished my visit.

A Weberhaus reconstructed in its original style
More weaver houses used as restaurant and wine shop.
Note the mulberry tree in the foreground

There is a sculpture of Ioannes Amos Comenius in front of the church. Comenius wrote about himself: By birth I am a Moravian, my language is Bohemian, and my profession is theologian. Living through the period of the Thirty Years' War he, being a Protestant, had to flee Moravia taking exile first in Poland later in Hungary. Comenius is one of the fathers of modern education demanding basic schooling for boys and girls including poor and retarded children. Education should be peaceful, friendly, and true to life leading to independence, and to individual reasoning. In short: Comenius was an idealist.

This blog is the last in the series describing my November 2015 trip to Berlin and its surroundings.

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