Moabit continues to surprise me. Despite officially belonging to the Bezirk Mitte ive never been really drawn in to explore the area. Like so many areas of Berlin, Moabit doesn’t have the best of reputations (im looking at you Lichtenberg and Wedding) but as ive mentioned plenty of times before – Berlin is always good for a surprise. Whilst strolling past Berlin Hauptbahnhof in search of the remnants of the ULAP (check out the ULAP post here), I noticed a large brick wall which seemed rather out-of-place. Upon closer inspection it turns out that I stumbled across the Zellengefängnis Moabit, a former prison turned into an educational park.
*Warning – Zelllengefägnis Moabit Info*
The Zellengefängnis Moabit – or to use its original name “Preußisches Mustergefängnis Moabit” was commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm IV – King of Prussia in 1842. It was designed by Carl Ferdinand Busse as a copy of the British Prison Pentonville in London (which is actually still in use) and at the time of its completion in 1849, it was considered to be one of the most modern Prisons in Germany due to its use of single detention cells rather than communal cells. The Prison consisted out of 5 wings, a chapel, several tower in which the guards housed and a cemetery.
In the 1940s, parts of the prison were used by the Wehrmacht – and after the assassination attempt in 1944, the Gestapo moved in and suspects involved in the resistance against the Nazis were imprisoned here.
In the night between the 22 and 23 of April 1945, 16 Prisoners – including Klaus Bonhoeffer (the U8 Station Karl Bonhoeffer Nervenklinik is named after his father) and Albrecht Haushofer – were led to the ULAP grounds nearby and executed by an SS Squad.
The prison structure survived the war relatively undamaged – but the church was bombed out, and the complex itself was heavily looted after the collapse of Germany. The allies used the prison from October 1945 until March 1955, and set up the West Sectors only execution ground in 1947. From January 1947 to May 1949, 12 people were executed there.
The Prison Complex was torn down in the years 1957 and 1958 – with only the outer wall and 3 of the staff houses surviving. The cemetery was concentrated and opened up for allotments (little garden patches). The rest of the property was levelled and used as a parking lot for the Poststadion (A football stadium – it was also used for the 1936 Olympics).
In 2003, the city decided to turn the grounds into a a historical/educational park – the “„Geschichtspark Ehemaliges Zellengefängnis Moabit“”. On the 26th of October 2006, the 3.1 Million Euro park was opened to the public.
I must say I was rather impressed by this Park. It looks so unassuming form the outside. all you see is a gigantic brick wall – but when you walk in through a small concrete “tunnel” you are greeted by a sea of green. There are 3 “pathways” which all lead down to a central cube – which represents the Panopticum (the central observation room of the prison).
Depending on which entrance you walked in through (we came in through the Invalidenstraße) you will spot a pile of interestingly marked stones. It took me a while to figure out – but it turns out the markings are actually star constellations. Of course if you looked at the central stone first, it would probably have become evident rather quickly. The stones and the granite floor are actually remnants of the prison.
Walking further down past the giant cube, you encounter a large row of Copper Beech hedges, most likely chosen for their impressive colour and German Name: Blutbuche, which translates into Blood Beech. The rows of copper beeches form the outline of the prison wing and the individual cells.
In the middle of the row is a concrete replica/sculpture of one of the cells (original size) with a sound installation by the artist Christiane Keppler. I wasnt aware of the sound installation until I was already inside the cell, and it scared the bejesus out of me.
As you walk towards the end of the path towards the prison wall – a path curves around a large group of Juniper trees. In the ground are circular concrete discs which outline the former solitary prison courtyard, and juniper trees represent the single inmates.
I must admit – the amount of thought that went into this instalation is amazing, but I didn’t realise the true meaning of most of the stuff until I got home and took the time to read about it. While wandering through the park I did notice that there was some meaning and purpose to all the trees and “installations”, that it was all done on purpose, but I would have never figured it out on my own.
Tracing along the prison wall you’ll immediately notice the large text on the wall:
“VON ALLEM LEID, DAS DIESEN BAU ERFÜLLT, IST UNTER MAUERWERK UND EISENGITTERN EIN HAUCH LEBENDING, EIN GEHEIMES ZITTERN…
It is part of the poem “In Fesseln” (In Chains) by Albrecht Haushofer from the Moabiter Sonette (Moabit Sonnet) which he had written while being imprisoned for being part of the resistance against the nazis. Despite being murdered by the Nazis at the end of the war, the manuscript survived and was published in 1946.
Continuing on the path you will notice the lowered parts of the lawn – which both mark where the other 2 prison wings used to stand. I was slightly apprehensive of walking on the grass – maybe because im just too german in that sense – but you do become very thoughtful once you stand in front of that gigantic tree, in a sea of leaves.
Further down is another concrete structure – which could also have been mistaken for some sort of sculpture. Far from it. The triangular structure is a life-size reconstruction of the solitary prison courtyards.
Berlin is a giant tombstone – it is filled with statues, plaques and memorials for the dead. Ive always found this to be one of Berlins more depressing aspects. Visiting this memorial felt different though, less heavy, and more open. If you didn’t know its history, this could have been a park like any other. It doesn’t force its history on you, but it makes you want to enquire more about it. It blends in to its surroundings peacefully, yet ist doesn’t go “lost”.
If you ever have some time to spare when you are near Hauptbahnhof (or just looking for something new to discover) then head over the ”Geschichtspark Ehemaliges Zellengefängnis Moabit” – its definitely one of the more peaceful memorials in Berlin. And while you are there you might as well stop by and check out the ULAP Park as well.
For the rest of the Pictures – Check out the Flicker Album Zellengefängniss Moabit
Geschichtspark Ehemaliges Zellengefängnis Moabit
Public Transport: S-Bahn Station Hauptbahnhof
1. Apr – 30. Sep 8-21h
1. Oct – 31. Mar 8-16h
Lehrter Straße 1 / Invalidenstraße
10557, Moabit, Berlin