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Humboldthafen: tragic past, bright future

The Humboldthafen shows how dynamic Berlin can be. What used to be no-man’s-land, now turns into an area with modern architecture with lots of glass and tight shapes. In old cities, like Amsterdam or Paris, the city center doesn’t have much room for new architecture, because the old buildings that already exist, are monuments.

The Humboldthafen in Berlin: tragic past, bright future

The Humboldthafen in Berlin: tragic past, bright future

Ralf Roletschek

The first victim of the Berlin Wall fell at Humboldthafen

Berlin was bombed to pieces in the Second World War and was separated in two parts during the Cold War. The result: a lot of no-man’s-land, where nothing was build. In the Cold War Humboldthafen was quite a sinister piece of no-man’s-land. Nobody could enjoy the scenery of the Humboldthafen anymore, because the Berlin Wall was erected near the shore. In 1961 Gunter Litfin was appalled by erection of the Berlin Wall and he was looking for a way out. He dove into the water of the Humboldthafen to try to swim from East Berlin to West Berlin, on the other end of the Humboldthafen. He became the first victim of the Berlin Wall, shot by border police. When he was swimming to the Western docks the GDR guards spotted him and opened fire.  He didn’t survive the bullet rain and was pulled out of the water, three hours later. His brother, Jurgen Litfin, runs a small museum dedicated to Gunter Litfin in a nearby former watchtower at Kieler Strasse.

Creative Humboldthafen

After the Cold War, Berlin turned into a building site with stakes literally booming the city back to life. Areas like Potsdamer Platz where nobody lived or worked, got new, modern offices and shops. But Humboldthafen remained no-man’s-land for a long time. But that didn’t mean nothing happened. Quite the contrary. The urban desserts of Berlin attracted a lot of creativity, and the Humboldthafen was the perfect example of this.

Benjamin Janecke

View on Humboldthafen

After the Cold War nothing was build on this piece of urban stretch. Smart entrepreneurs used the area for their pop up bars. On a hot summer day you could sit here like you weren’t near Berlin’s city centre, but on the beach.  Berliners and tourists came here to play volleyball and relax in bright blue bean bags with their feet in the sand of Humboldthafen. Artists held outdoor exhibitions here as well. It was fertile ground for creativity. Berliners hoped it could stay an urban area where they could play outside forever, but that came to an end, this year. The area is turned into a slick area with apartments, offices and shops for yuppies, with a lot of glass and tight angles that perfectly blend in with the Hauptbahnhof.


More Mitte on Place to be:

neue synagoge berlinNew Synagogue

Policemen carefully walk around the New Synagogue of Berlin. Quite understandable if you know what happened to the Jewish community of Berlin during the Second World war. The few Jewish buildings that survived the war are cherished. Now, the new synagogue shines in the sunlight.


rosa luxemburg platz met volksbuhneRosa Luxemburg Platz

Rosa Luxemburg Platz has a very bloody history. In the twenties of the last century the communist party had their headquarters at the square of Rosa Luxemburg Platz. They often fought with the Nazi’s in this area. Police officers kept a keen eye on both sides, which were the key ingredients for a major row.

scheunenviertel berlinScheunenviertel

The Scheunenviertel is gallery heaven. After the fall of the Berlin Wall many artists moved to this area and that is still visible. Kunsthaus Tacheles was one of the most famous galleries of the area. The Scheunenviertel still has a lot of galleries. Many art galleries can be found in the August Strasse, Oranienburgerstrasse and Rosenthaler Strasse.


Imagine what it is like to be separated by a brutal wall for decades. The Berlin Wall ran straight through the lifes of Berlin families and friends. A lot of people entered and left East Berlin by train. The place where Berliners met and said goodbye soon got a new name: Tranenpalast. Because of the many tears (tranen) that flowed here.

brug met zeemeermannen unter den lindenUnter den Linden

Unter den Linden was build to make visitors look in awe at the buildings. It was set up to show that Berlin was no longer a village, but a big city. The street was filled with landmarks by the Berlin royalty. If you walk along Unter den Linden you will stare at the Schlossplatz, Altes Palais, the Princessinenpalais and Kronprinzenpalais.

invalidenfriedhof met berlijnse muurInvalidenfriedhof

A cemetery where the Berlin Wall ran through and battles of life and death took place. The Invalidenfriedhof in Berlin is a beautiful 18th century graveyard with graves of marshals and officers. Invalidenfriedhof seems to be peaceful and quiet, but that changed in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was erected right at this graveyard.


Alexanderplatz, or Alex as it is called by Berliners, is one of the most popular squares. This has a lot to do with the weird shiny marble on a large stick, better known as the famous landmark, the Fernsehturm. But not all. Alexanderplatz is also popular among Berliners, just for the square. During the golden twenties Alex was the place to be.

uitzicht vanaf Berliner Dom op FernsehturmFernsehturm

The Fernsehturm, build in 1969, is Berlin’s most famous landmark. The GDR-government was very proud of the Fernsehturm, but not so pleased with it when the sun was shining. When the sun is shining on the tower, a radiant cross appears on the Fernsehturm. Berliners call this ‘the Popes revench’ because the GDR-government was very anti-religion.

checkpoint charlieCheckpoint Charlie

You can still feel the awkwardness and fear of the Cold War at Checkpoint Charlie. It was the main checkpoint to cross the border between West and East Berlin for foreigners during the Cold War. Some Berliners tried to flee the city through Checkpoint Charlie and died there cold and alone.


reichstag berlinBundestag

The Bundestag is the stage where democracy failed poorly and rose out of it’s ashes again, after the Cold War. When the Bundestag was built in 1894, democracy was on the verge of collapse. No one knew how to govern the country because there was hardly any experience with governing Germany.

brandenburger tor berlijnBrandenburger Tor

The Brandenburger Tor at the end of Unter den Linden became the symbol of reunited Germany and Berlin. Between 1961-1989 the Berlin Wall surrounded the Brandenburger Tor. East Berlin was on one side – a couple of meters further was West Berlin. It was quite tragic, especially because the Brandenburger Tor had originally been the representation of triumph.

charite berlinCharite

Berlin life starts at Charite. A lot of Berliners are born in this remarkable building with red bricks. Charite is one of the best known and prettiest hospitals of Berlin. But Frederic the first didn’t build it in 1710 to celebrate new life, but out of fear for the upcoming plague.



The Friedrichstrasse is the perfect street to gawp and aw at the prestigious windowsills full of expensive cars, clothes and interesting books. Friedrichstrasse was bombed to pieces in World War two, but soon became a show off street again. You will find bookparadise Dussmann here, as well as glamorous Galerie Lafayette, luxurious hotels and restaurants.

joods monument in de sneeuwHolocaust Monument

At the Holocaust Monument architect Peter Eisenman depicted the horrors that victims of the Holocaust experienced. The Holocaust Monument is a maze of grey concrete. It shows us how terribly organized the brutal acts during the Second World War were. The maze looks just as organized as the brutal Nazi’s.








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