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Weird facts about Berlin
In 1448, the first iteration of the Berlin castle was being built on the site of today’s Humboldt Forum by Frederick II the Elector, aka Iron Tooth. The good burghers of Cölln-Berlin - enraged about the Hohenzollerns’ grip on their city - flooded the construction site in protest during the spring. The little rebellion has since been known as the Berliner Unwille or Berliner Indignation and had little effect — the then dual-city lost its independence to the royal interlopers.
… more people lived in Berlin in 1910 (3.7m), 1913 (4m) and 1933 (4.2m) than now (3.7m)? Imagine the lines at Mustafa’s in 1910!
One-third (1.3 million) of Berlin’s 3.7 million residents can’t vote in the September 26 state and national elections including 789,000 without German passports (the 20%!), followed by kids and people who have had their right to vote rescinded, such as convicted felons.
Germany’s first Autobahn
Germany’s first Autobahn debuted September 24, 1921 in Berlin on part of the former AVUS racetrack. The piece of road is most easily identified by the grandstand built in 1931 as well as an adjacent restaurant.
Franziska Giffey is the second female mayor
Shortly after the Second World War, between 1947 and 1948, the SPD politician Louise Schroeder took over as acting Berlin mayor after the Soviets objected to Ernest Reuter (SPD) in the post, making her the first woman in the job. She was also the first female member in the Weimar Republic parliament in 1919. When Franziska Giffey is named Berlin mayor this fall, she will be the first woman to assume the post thanks to an election.
A garbage incinerator
The city’s first industrial garbage incinerator was switched on October 1, 1921 (and, we assume, has been working overtime ever since).
How Neukölln got its name
The town of Rixdorf - just outside of Berlin at the time - had such a bad reputation as a crime-infested dump and place of ill repute back in 1912, that local authorities went for a total re-brand with a name that harked back to Cölln, one of the twin settlements that formed medieval Berlin. It's debatable whether the new name helped.
Tiefkühlpizza (we call it TKP)
Berlin is home to Europe’s biggest frozen pizza factory. Freiberger in Reinickendorf produces branded Tiefkühlpizza for retailers around the world (hint: Lidl).
The beginning of the deportation of Berlin’s Jews
On October 18, 1941, 1,000 men, women and children were herded into cattle cars at the freight rail station in Grunewald site and transported to Lodz and elsewhere in Poland, where virtually all of them would die in ghettos or death camps.
A truly Berlin cocktail
Futschi is likely the only cocktail unique to Berlin. It’s eight part brandy mixed with two parts cola. The name somehow sounds vulgar, which is also how it tastes.
Das Anwerberabkommen (recruitment agreement)
On October 30, 1961 West Germany and Turkey signed an Anwerberabkommen, or recruitment agreement, allowing temporary Turkish workers to move to the Federal Republic to fill labour shortages. By the time the agreement expired in 1973, about 867,000 people had come. Around half a million Turks returned to their home country but now make up the largest immigrant community in Berlin. West Germany signed similar contracts with Spain, Italy and Greece.
Divorce stats, because marriage is so not Berlin
Corona is messing everything up, even divorce. In 2020, 5,449 people got divorced in the capital, nearly 10 percent fewer than the 5,898 in 2019. Seems weird considering the stress of the pandemic but the city-state’s statistics office points out that courts weren’t running at full-speed last year and couples have to live separately for a year before they can file - difficult during a lockdown (and Berlin’s housing crisis).
Kurfürstendamm has no numbers 1-10
The short version is that part of the street had to be renamed Budapester Straße in the 1920s, eliminating numbers 1-9. Kurfürstendamm 10 disappeared in the Second World War and the space was claimed by Breitscheidplatz.
Water buffalo in Berlin?
Berlin has had two herds of Water Buffalo helping maintain the flora and fauna around the Tegel stream in Reinickendorf since 2015. A herd can also be seen on the Pfaueninsel in Potsdam during the summer, again to help keep weeds in check.
Does Berlin seem crowded? We’re currently about 1 million short of the record 4,478,102 that called Berlin home in 1942.
Sex parties are nothing new in Berlin
An 1891 orgy at the Grünewald hunting palace among 15 members of the royal court led to the unfortunately named Kotze Affair. Leberecht von Kotze is suspected of writing anonymously about the orgy, angering other partygoers. The scandal led to several duels - but no musical about it yet.
Lots of marzipan
Berlin’s marzipan industry is the largest in Germany - historically based in Neukölln. Moll and Lemke have produced the sticky almond treat for over a century here and have spawned smaller craft marzipan makers like Ohde, also in Neukölln.
Berlin has 163 square kilometres of forest within its city limits - but it’s in very poor health. Sadly, according to the 2021 annual forest report, only six percent of trees are in a top condition. Drought and rising temperatures over the past few years have led to infestations and diseases on a wide scale, says Berlin’s top ranger Gunnar Heyne. Thanks to more rain this year compared to 2020, though, the portion of trees that are “seriously damaged” has fallen slightly to about one third.
The bitcoin bar
Room77 in Kreuzberg was rumoured to have been the first bar worldwide to take Bitcoin. It began accepting the currency for beer and burgers in spring 2011 and soon attracted crypto-heads from far and wide. It hosted meet-ups and for a while had its own Bitcoin ATM. Room77 closed for good in the autumn of 2020. Corona casualty? Who knows. With the exponential growth in Bitcoin’s value over the past 10 years, one can assume the owner is doing alright for himself. Bitcoin Magazine has the whole story.
Nina Fucking Hagen
Singer Nina Hagen found herself in the spotlight when Angela Merkel surprised many — including the singer herself — by including a song by the 66-year-old godmother of Punk in her military leaving ceremony. For a while now, Hagen has used her distinctive vocal style to pursue an alternative career - as a German voice-over actor. So if you’ve ever seen the dubbed versions of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Spirited Away or Look Who’s Talking Too, you’ll have heard her not-so-dulcet tones. In 2006, Hagen was also in the reckoning for the German-language role of Marge in the Simpsons. Alas, that was one that got away. - Andrew Blackman
Albert Fucking Einstein
On December 10, 1921, Wahlberliner Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in quantum theory and his discovery of the photoelectric effect. At the time he was director of Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, a position he held until the Nazis took power in 1933 - after which Einstein handed in his German passport and left the country for good.
The first traffic light
Ever notice the green tower with a clock face on each of its five sides that stands on Potsdamer Platz? The eight-meter-high structure is a replica of the first traffic lights to be installed in Berlin in 1924. The tower was so successful in controlling the thousands of cars, trams and buses that passed through the intersection every day that it remained in operation until 1936. It took rather longer to rein in the city’s famously bolshy pedestrians, but that’s another (colorful) story. - Andrew Blackman
How many cars
In 1921, Berlin reported that 60,876 automobiles were registered in the city. In 2021 city residents owned nearly 1.3 million.
The 2021 Christmas tree
The official Berlin Christmas tree is on Breitscheidplatz adjacent to the Gedächtniskirche and amidst the capitalist mayhem that is Ku’Damm, KaDeWe and Bikini Haus. In 2021, it couldn’t be more Berlin - it was donated by a Marzahn homeowner who said it had grown too big for their plot.
New Year’s fireworks are a disaster
In pre-corona times, Berliners dumped 400 cubic meters of firework garbage on the streets of Berlin during Silvester (New Year’s) and created 4,000 tons of particulates, or 15 percent of the city’s annual amount, usually created by traffic and industry.
New Year’s 2021 stats
The Berlin cops had 1,600 extra colleagues on-duty during New Years 2021 and wrote 340 tickets, primarily for weapons violations (starter pistols are big during Silvester) and illegal fireworks. They also seized 92 starter pistols. The Unfallkrankenhaus Marzahn (Berlin’s main trauma hospital) treated 15 fireworks victims including two with “amputation injuries” (ouch). In pre-fireworks ban years, the hospital usually treated up to 75 on New Years, according to RBB24.
Where that scene was filmed
The interrogation/execution scene in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 Inglorious Basterds (a Babelsberg production) was shot outside the sprawling Fort Hahneberg, an overgrown Prussian military structure hidden in the forest just off of Heerstraße in Spandau. A local historical association offers tours during warmer months, starting in April.
Auctioning off The Wall
In January 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but before the end of East Germany, East German border troops removed segments of the Wall that had been painted by Kreuzberg artists in the 1980s and shipped them to Monaco, where they were auctioned off for around 2 million deutsche mark (€1.02 million). The deal was handled by a state trading company called Limex, but the funds were supposed to benefit Charité Hospital. To this day, hundreds of thousands of marks remain unaccounted for - they probably lined the pockets of ex-communist officials, the very people who had defended the Wall till the end.
Since it was set up in the early 1960s, Hansa Studios near Potsdamer Platz has drawn countless musicians to Berlin, from Andrew Lloyd Webber to ZZ Top. You’ve probably heard about David Bowie’s late-night sessions in the vocal booth recording iconic tracks like Heroes. But did you know that U2 recorded One in the majestic Meisterhalle, known as the Big Hall by the Wall? Or that when Depeche Mode made Construction Time Again at Hansa, hordes of fans hung out on the long stairway to the studio in the hope of glimpsing their idols? - Andrew Blackman, who recently toured the studio