Two Worlds within Berlin’s Hackescher Hof, and the squatters who saved it

It looked uninspiring on the outside, but the beauty of the nine inner courtyards and the fancy shops to book took my breath away. This collection of nine courtyards looked like a world of opulence different from the grimy hipster East Berlin that it was situated. This is Hackersher Hof, a courtyard shopping complex, and a rather beautiful one at that.

Hackersher Hof has a long history, beginning in the 1600s, people who wanted to move close to Berlin but weren’t able to obtain a place within the city walls moved to settle just outside the city walls in a place called Scheunenviertel where barn and hay were stored. These items had to be stored outside the city because they were easily flammable, the little town became a part of Berlin in the mid 18th century when the city walls were extended and a proper city squre built.

It was here that the Jewish people settled in Berlin, perhaps it was the price of the area, being cheaper than other part of Berlin at the time, but the presence of many Jewish settlers into the area created a heartbeat for the place and a community around the place including a synagogue and a cemetery, the works.

Because it was home to so may Jewish people, Hackersher Hof was therefore also ground zero when Hitler came to power. The Jewish people who did not flee were killed.

A memorial to the Jewish people with little bronze tiles on the floor, listing the name of the Jewish people who used to live in the area and where they were deported too as part of the Holocaust. The memorial uses a former racist joke about Jews (if you fall down, you stepped on a Jewish grave) to make an important point about reminder people about the horrors of war and racism.

Into this story can the rarely told stories of bravery against tyranny, in this case the story of Otto Weidt, Otto Weidt was a blind broom and brush maker who set up shop in Hackescher Hof and employed many Jewish people. Weidt however was not blind to the injustice and cruelity of the Nazi regime and attempted to save as many of his staff as he could from deportation and persecution – he used every tool he had bribery, falsifying documents and physically hiding people in small rooms in his house. And he succeeded in saving his staff.

His story would not have been told if it was not for the squatters who discovered his heroism throughout the war. While the place was actually not too badly destroyed in the war, it was left to rot in its place after the establishment of the East Berlin government. It was at this time, that squatters moved in and maintained the place as a living environment for themselves. It was then that they discovered the story of Otto Weidt.

After the reunification of Germany, and the reconstruction and renovation of Hackescher Hof, turning it into one of the hottest nightlife areas in town, the original landowners and new landowers who returned wanted the squatters out. Money talks and the squatters were forced to move out since they did not legally own the land.

One courtyard however remains for the squatters to stay, this is the most authentically independent one today, a complete contrast with the other more fancy courtyards but it has perhaps the most character.



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