Oddities in Berlin, hä? Relics from bygone times, such as the shot tower in Lichtenberg, the penis frieze in the old newspaper district, or the tree house that Uncle Osman built on the ‘death strip’. Ever heard of the rabbit fields? If you look closely, you’ll find some truly weird stuff in Berlin.
Kugelturm in Nöldnerstraße
In 1908, the lead foundry Juhl & Sons erected a rectangular, 38-metre-high brick tower on top of their office building in which to make shot pellets (an early form of bullet). On the top floor, lead was heated and then poured into a drop tube. While in free fall, the droplets of lead formed into completely seamless spheres, and completely cooled and solidified when they landed in the catch basin. The tower, which is under heritage protection, was renovated in 1998.
- Kugelturm Nöldnerstrasse 15/16, Lichtenberg
Berliner Stadtmauer – Old city wall
Berlin is a fairly young city by European standards (a mere 900 years old), and as far as buildings are concerned, even younger. Most of the buildings here are not much older than 100 to 120 years, so compared to other European capitals such as Paris, London or Rome, Berlin is downright youthful. The world wars, massive urban planning changes as well as division and the building of the Wall have taken their toll on the historic centre. Buildings that existed in Berlin before 1850 are very rare today. Luckily we can still enjoy this last piece of the historic city wall on Waisenstraße in Mitte. Who knows which executioners, knights, mendicant monks and princesses walked along this section of the wall in years gone by?
- Berliner Stadtmauer Waisenstraße, Mitte
The ‘Stand By Me’ tree in Tiergarten
In 1961, the songwriting duo Leiber/Stoller wrote the famous lines: “And darling, darling, stand by me, ohh stand by me. Oh stand, stand by me,” but it was Ben E. King who stormed the charts and went down in pop history with his take. John Lennon later recorded a version of the song in 1975, and then Stand By Me experienced another revival thanks to the 1986 film of the same name. Apparently someone couldn’t get the song out of their heads, so he or she carved the lyrics into the bark of a tree in the Großer Tiergarten. Since then, Berlin has had one more obscure place, the Stand By Me tree.
- Großer Tiergarten at the intersection of Großer Weg and Große Sternallee
Penis frieze on the taz building
The sculptor Peter Lenk created a controversial work in 2009 that caused a medium-sized scandal. The political-satirical wall relief ‘Peace be with you’ shows Kai Diekmann, the former editor-in-chief of Bild, whose erect penis rises metres high into the sky. The work, which was also highly controversial within the taz editorial team, was attached to the office building of the left-wing daily newspaper, not far from the Springer headquarters in the heart of the old Berlin newspaper district. Diekmann railed against criticism, but Diekmann’s penis remained in the public eye. Whether it is for their blessing remains to be seen.
- Peace be with you (wall frieze) Charlottenstraße 85, Kreuzberg
Hand mit Uhr – Hand with watch
‘Hand mit Uhr’ is the name of a sculpture in Berlin’s Hansaviertel. In 1975, the bronze sculpture by artist Joachim Schmettau – who also designed the fountain on Breitscheidplatz – was erected in front of today’s Tiergarten Gymnasium. The hand is holding a clock with a digital display, which unfortunately ceased functioning after just a few years exposed to the elements. In 1983, the ‘Hand with watch’ gained international fame as the backdrop for the video by the British synth-pop band Depeche Mode, for the song Everything Counts (around 3:10). During an extensive restoration, the original red mosaic cube was replaced with orange concrete.
- Hand mit Uhr Altonaer Strasse 26, Tiergarten
Grave of Nico
The Grunewald-Forst Cemetery is a specialty among Berlin’s cemeteries. Idyllically located in the middle of the forest, you can actually only reach it on foot. Suicide victims used to be buried there, which is why it is also known by the grim moniker ‘suicide cemetery’. Christa Päffgen, who was born in Cologne in 1938 and went down in history as Nico, was buried here next to her mother Margarete. She rose to fame as a model, actress and, above all, singer with the New York avant-garde band The Velvet Underground, promoted by Andy Warhol. In 1988 Nico died after a tragic accident in Ibiza.
- Grunewald Cemetery (Forst) Havelchaussee 92B, Grunewald
Tree house on the Wall
Back in Kreuzberg in the early 1980s, Osman Kalin, father of six, discovered a small wasteland filled with rubbish in the no-man’s-land by the Wall. This man, known as Uncle Osman, decided to build a garden, complete with a handmade dacha. The bizarre project on the centrally located property miraculously survived the turmoil of German reunification and still exists today. The creator of this open space died in 2018, and his son is considering turning the tree house on the Wall into a museum.
- Tree house at the Wall Bethaniendamm/Mariannenplatz, Kreuzberg
The Jewish corridor is seven metres wide and four hundred metres long, and runs along the Jewish cemetery on Schönhauser Allee, where many important figures of the 19th century are buried. The Jewish corridor behind the cemetery is particularly intriguing because no one knows exactly why it was created. One story says Friedrich Wilhelm III did not want to be disturbed by the sight of Jewish burials on his way to Pankow. Others claim the path has religious reasons. No one knows for sure.
- Judengang at Knaackstrasse 41, Prenzlauer Berg
Bench at the U-Dahlem Dorf
In the 1980s, the Japanese named Dahlem Dorf subway station as the most beautiful subway station in Europe. Was that because of the obscure seating designed by Berlin artist Wolf van Roy? Unlikely. The bench consists of a group of folkloric wooden figures with extravagant headgear and primary and secondary genitals that are hard to miss. So if you want to lean on wooden breasts or sit next to a wooden penis, this is the place for you!
- Dahlem Dorf U-Bahn station
The ‘Futuro’ house is a round bungalow reminiscent of a UFO. The strange object was long on the premises of the Funkhaus Nalepastraße in Oberschöneweide in Köpenick. The story is pretty great: in the late 1960s, the mobile home, produced in the GDR according to the plans of the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen, revolutionised the world. In total only 22 of the 36-square-metre residential units were built. The Berlin UFO was removed in 2020 and can now be found about 1.5 kilometres away at the entrance to Rummelsburg Bay on the Lichtenberg side – but it is only clearly visible from the water.
- Spreeufer not far from Rummelsburg Bay
The Nazis had this massive concrete cylinder built around 1941. The project for the Schwebelastungskörper (heavy-duty body) was absurd: the monstrous thing was intended as a test run for the construction of a gigantic triumphal arch. Of course, the project was related to Hitler’s plans for the ‘world capital Germania’, as Berlin was to be called after the “final victory”. That didn’t happen, but the 12,650-ton block is still a heritage-listed building in the no-man’s-land between Schöneberg and Tempelhof.
- Schwerbelastungskörper General-Pape-Straße 34A, Tempelhof
Anyone who walks through the city with open eyes, especially along the Berlin Wall trail, will find small pictograms in the shape of a rabbit here and there. In 1999, the artist Karla Sachse worked 120 such brass rabbits into the Berlin asphalt. They were intended to commemorate the population of hopping animals that inhabited the death strip at the time of Berlin’s division. With the fall of the Wall, the heavily guarded rabbit idyll was over.
- Kaninchenfeld Chausseestraße, Mitte (and other places)