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Workshop @ Mehringplatz
Street Rights Map Workshop at Community Now? The Politics of Participatory Design
at LivingLab Mehringplatz.
19 February 2015
The symposium is a German-Israeli Design Research Project by:
DGTF, UdK Berlin, Bezalel Academy of Art and Design Jerusalem
A short history of the Mehringplatz area:
Mehringplatz – or formerly Belle Alliance Square – marks the southern end of Friedrichstraße and of Suedliche Friedrichstadt. The neighborhood was founded in 1688 and named after the Prussian King Frederik the First and became an early extension of the historic center of Berlin. Among the rst residents were many religious refugees from France, the Huguenots, and speci cally the economically strong groups within this Huguenot minority.
Because of its proximity to the city center and to important political institutions, the neighborhoods has always played an important role during moments of social and political upheaval: Street fights and barricades during the revolution of 1848; after WW I in 1919, communists and socialists occupied the building of the Social Democratic Newspapers Vorwärts, close to the Jewish Museum, and were violently evicted with many people being tortured and killed, by right wing paramilitary groups. During WW II many of the businesses in the area, including editorial houses, used forced labor.
In 1945, Friedrichsstadt was heavily damaged by US-air raids. The East-West division that followed on the heels of the war went right through the neighborhood, and the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961 – Checkpoint Charlie is only a couple of blocks away from here – further damaged the existing buildings and structures.
Reconstruction of the Mehringplatz as we can see it today, started somewhere around 1965 and went well into the 70s, with further projects being realized during the International Building Exhibition in 1984.
There is much more going on here than just post-war Social Housing. Only a few blocks away, for example, you can find the Tommy Weißbecker House. It was squatted by activists in 1973 and named after Tommy Weißbecker, who was a member of the radical left guerilla group Bewegung 2. Juni, which came out of the ‘68 movement (together with RAF), and was shot by the police. Today, the house is an alternative cultural center and also offers services and housing for homeless people.
Today, the neighborhood is extremely polarized. Friedrichstraße north of Checkpoint Charlie is a symbol of the reuni cation of Berlin with high end consumerism, expensive of ces, and luxurious residential apartments. Checkpoint Charlie itself is a major tourist attraction and a magnet for hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to Berlin. The southern end, around Mehringplatz, is very poor. Unemployment is high around here. More than 5000 people live in the extremely dense housing structures around the square. Demographically, it is very diverse with almost 70 percent of the residents having an immigration background. But it’s a different kind of diversity than around Unter den Linden and Friedrichstraße, with many neighbors coming originally from Turkey or Arab countries, but also from many other European countries. Since 2011, the city has started a revitalization program for this area, but many neighbors fear that it will bring rising rents and gentrification into the area, rather than help the residents, and simply integrate Mehringplatz with the fancy rest of Friedrichstraße.