Berlin Wedding, or Satan and the Morphine Addict

The devil lives here. Or at least that is what people believed, when the district was nothing more than fields, woods and the odd farm building – all to the west of the Gesundbrunnen district, where a spa existed in 1760. But once Berliners left the safe area of pools and beer gardens behind, they felt they were out in the wild. Since the Middle Ages, Wedding had been referred to as a ‘desert’, a wild place for demons. And there were witnesses (or accomplices). Dorothea Steffin, a miller’s daughter who had been imprisoned for her ‘negligent moral conduct’ in 1728 confessed to having met Satan in Wedding, looking like a ‘well-shaped gentleman’.

Maybe there are some dark traces of the chief rebel angel left in Wedding today, even though he was seemingly exorcised by the forces of modernization, first by the industrialization of the area during the 19th century and finally when Wedding became part of Greater Berlin in 1920.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Wedding is a bad place. After all I’ve been living here for five years now, and I like it. And when I talk about the devil, it is because to me Wedding always had a certain roguishness that so far prevents gentri-beautification.

There is change in Wedding though, as everywhere in Berlin (and why shouldn’t there be?). Around the corner from where I live is a large crematorium from 1912, a beautiful building that has housed an arts center since 2013. But when I walk past, I always remember that one of the people that went up in smoke here was Hans Fallada, another friend of the  people in Wedding.

Fallada (1893–1947) was a popular Weimar writer, always taking the side of the underdog and the downtrodden. He chose not to emigrate after 1933, despite being arrested and declared undesirable by the Nazis. Instead he retreated to northern Germany, where he lived until 1944. A lifelong drinker and morphine addict, in that year he was confined to a psychiatric institution following a drunken attack on his wife. After the war, he was briefly made mayor of a town in Thuringia by the Soviets before returning to Berlin to write. Here he again turned to morphine and spent the brief remainder of his life in and out of hospitals and wards.

In the English-speaking world he is mostly known for one of the classic works of anti-Nazi literature, 1947’s Jeder stirbt für sich allein (Alone in Berlin, or Every Man Dies Alone). Otto and Elise Hampel, the working-class Nazi-resisting couple that were the inspiration for Fallada’s book lived in Wedding, on Amsterdamer Strasse 10. Fallada feverishly wrote Alone in Berlin between September and November 1946 and died just months later, his cremation in Wedding attended by a few friends only.

So Wedding was and is a place for underdogs and vagrants, and it seems fitting that traces of the devil should remain here. Maybe he is responsible for the strange phantom sounds that have plagued Wedding and Gesundbrunnen since 2013, or he is hiding deep in the ruined bowels of the old bunker that is now a viewing platform in Humboldthain park. Whatever the reason, to me it feels as if Wedding is still something of an outpost, a place where neither the plastic capitalism of Mitte with its restaurants and fashion boutiques nor the fanciful artists and hangers-on from Neukölln have yet managed to gain a proper foothold. It is not beautiful, but full of hidden darkness and light, and exploring it on foot is a delight. You never know what well-shaped gentlemen you might meet on the way.

Walk with me and find out all about the area’s history on my audio tour of Wedding.

1. Install VoiceMap for iPhone or Android
2. Sign up with email or Facebook, then look for “Witches, Riots and the Cold War – A Walk Through Wedding” in the Berlin menu.
3. Download all the files with WiFi, then put on your headphones and start walking.
4. VoiceMap works offline and doesn’t require any data.

This is a guest post by Marcel Krueger, creator of the Witches, Riots and the Cold War – A Walk Through Wedding audio tour. A writer and translator, Marcel also works as the books editor of Elsewhere Journal and as a Berlin Spotter for Spotted by Locals. He lives in Berlin, Cologne, and Dublin, and his articles and essays have been published in the Daily Telegraph, Reykjavik Grapevine, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Slow Travel Berlin, the Matador Network, and CNN Travel. His first book, Berlin – A Literary Guide for Travellers, will be out on I.B. Tauris in the UK in June 2016.

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