Schönhauser Allee Cemetery

Two arterial roads fork from Senefelderplatz, creating a triangular plot of unused land quite typical of the urban planning found in the Prenzlauer Berg district. This site, with its magical atmosphere, is bisected by a lonely road – a public thoroughfare, according to the land register – that runs along the wall of the Jewish “Place of Eternal Rest” established in 1827, hidden between the garden-sheds and Wilhelminian tenements of Kollwitzstrasse. On Kollwitzplatz Square, two stars of David adorn the tall portico that opens onto to this so-called Jew’s Path (“Judengang”). This path was also commonly known as the “Way of Communication”. The 7.5-metre-wide alleyway, which is 400 meters long and follows the length of the cemetery wall, was at one time also flanked by another wall, which no longer exists. This mysterious Totenpfad (path of the dead) dates back to 1827, the very year the cemetery was opened. It was intended as an easterly access into the burial ground. Legend has it that the Prussian king ordered its construction so he could bypass the miserable-looking Jewish mourners from Eastern Europe who populated the Scheunenviertel (stable district, a poor quarter), an area through which he had to pass on his way from the city castle to the Niederschöhausen Palace, in the Pankow district. After all, magnificent funeral corteges such as those for Giacomo Meyerbeer in May 1864 were rarities. It was far more typical to see throngs of poor souls from Schendelgasse, Hirtenstrasse, Dragonerstrasse, and Grenadierstrasse following the funeral processions that started at the Schönhauser Tor and ended at the cemetery – a pitiful sight, to be sure.

In the 1840s, local tenants began to parcel out sections of the alleyway into gardens; they used flowers, lanterns and discarded furniture to turn it into a leisure-time paradise where they would spend Berlin’s long summer evenings. Other sections of the alley remained unused, and eventually nature took its course. Recently, Berlin authorities restored the alley and turned into a pedestrian zone, open to the public – its intended purpose. However the gate that used to be opened for funeral processions remains closed. Burials no longer take place at this “House of Life”, a name that Jews give their cemeteries: places where the deceased can find eternal rest. A Jewish cemetery may not be removed, as it is forbidden to disturb the peace of the dead. Desecration of a gravesite is thus considered especially reprehensible.

The so-called magical triangle between Schönhauser Allee, Kollwitzstrasse and Knaackstrasse is shrouded in ivy and populated by maple, linden and chestnut trees, which shade the more than 25,000 graves in summer and leave it open to the sun in winter. This is a vivid history book of Jewish life and of Berlin culture, illustrated by the fine and priceless tombs erected there. However, it is also a hilly triangle where the graves of many of the Scheunenviertel’s unnamed residents also lie hidden under tangled ivy. The cemetery was erected on the grounds of an old brewery and dairy farm. The remains of several cisterns can still be seen on the property. Reportedly, during the final weeks of World War II, German soldiers deserting the Wehrmacht hid in one of these cisterns, only to be discovered by the Gestapo and executed – strung up and hung on the trees of the cemetery. A memorial plaque recalls this episode: “They wanted no more killing; and that meant their death” (“Den Tod anderer nicht zu wollen, das war ihr Tod”). The last two people buried here were Vera Frankenberg, a young girl killed on the cemetery grounds during a grenade attack in 1945; and Martha Liebermann, wife of the painter Max Liebermann. She chose suicide rather than face impending deportation in 1943. Only in 1960 were her remains transferred from the Weissensee cemetery and laid to rest next to the grave of her husband, who had died in 1935.

In 1827, after the closure of Berlin’s first and oldest Jewish cemetery, on Grosse Hamburger Strasse, the Jewish community purchased the property on what was then Pankower Chaussee Avenue. The community converted the grounds and existing buildings into a second cemetery. To the left of its main entrance stood the memorial chapel as well as other buildings. Today, a sandstone block monument recalls the buildings that had been destroyed. Designed by Ferdinand Friedrich, the memorial was erected in 1961. Its inscription reads: “You stand here silently, but when you turn to leave, do not remain silent" (“Hier stehst du schweigend, doch wenn du Dich wendest, schweige nicht!”).

In 2005, the entrance to the cemetery was restructured and a lapidarium constructed to house those gravestones that the Nazis had once tried to destroy.

Although it is uncommon and even unwanted for likenesses to be placed on Jewish graves, three stones with portraits of the deceased can be found at the cemetery: Sophie Loewe’s portrait is attached to her pyramid shaped tomb. She died in 1876. The gravestone of Paul Model, who died in an accident in 1895, as well as the tomb of restaurateur Berthold Kempinski (namesake of the deluxe chain of hotels), who died in 1910, also bear portraits.

Historically significant are the graves of 18-year-old Alexander Goldmann and 21-year-old Simon Barthold. Both died of wounds suffered following the revolution of March 22, 1848. In 1998, the Jewish community remembered them and the other Jewish victims, most of whom were buried at a cemetery in the Friedrichshain district, in a ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of the revolt.

A monumental obelisk with a spherical top recalls the fallen Jewish soldiers of the wars of 1866 and 1870-1871.

The list of prominent scientists, entrepreneurs, writers, academics and artists laid to rest in the cemetery is long.

Several of the prominent figures buried here are:

  • Jakob Liepmann Meyer Beer, who in 1822 adopted the pseudonym Giacomo Meyerbeer. He composed many renowned operas and operettas, including “The Huguenots” (which was also staged as "The Guelfs and the Ghibellines" as well as the "The Anglicans and the Puritans") and “The African”. He was born 1791 in Berlin and died 1864 in Paris. His body was transferred back to his city of birth and interred at the Beer family burial plot, which was originally erected in 1850.
  • Max Liebermann’s grave is the most visited plot at the cemetery. The world-renowned painter and honorary citizen of Berlin was the long-time president of the Prussian Academy of Arts. When he was laid to rest on February 11, 1935, a bad omen was already hovering above Berlin’s Jewish population – also evidenced by the fact that only 38 mourners signed the condolence book. State dignitaries and officials of the various associations of the arts stayed away from the burial ceremony.
  • It would be impossible to list all the interesting names among the cemetery’s 22,500 individual graves and 750 family crypts. Some highlights not to be missed are the graves of publishers like Albert Mosse and Leopold Ullstein and as well as that of art collector and patron of the arts, James Henry Simon, banker Joseph Mendelssohn and  entrepreneurs Ludwig Loewe and Georg Haberland, David Friedländer, champion of Jewish emancipation and Berlin’s first Jewish city council member, as well as Bernhard (Benda) Wolff, founder of Wolffs Telegraphen-Bureau, Germany’s first telegraphic news agency, in 1849, are all buried here. Another highlight is the grave of Gerson von Bleichröder, banker to the Prussian court and financial advisor of Bismarck. His prowess catapulted him to the most important financial position under Bismarck.

The cemetery officially closed its gates to further burials following the establishment of the Weissensee Cemetery in 1880. However, prior to 1942 and after 1945, a number of interments continued to take place here in family plots and crypts. The cemetery was not deliberately destroyed during the Nazi years, but rather was considerably damaged as a result of war.

  • Many graves of prominent members of Berlin’s Jewish community are also located in protestant churchyards.

Source: "Jüdische Orte in Berlin", Andreas Nachama/Ulrich Eckhardt.  Copyright by Nicolai Verlag

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Friedhof Schönhauser Allee

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