Berlin’s Quirkiest Sights: Futuro House, Nazi Relics, “Stand By Me” Tree and More
Oddities in Berlin, Ha? Remnants of times gone by, like the gun tower in Lichtenberg, the penis frieze in the old newspaper quarter or the tree house that Uncle Osman built on the “death strip”. Have you ever heard of rabbit fields? If you look closely you will find some really weird stuff in Berlin.
Kugelturm in Nöldnerstraße
In 1908, the lead foundry Juhl & Sons erected a rectangular brick tower 38 meters high on top of its office building to manufacture lead pellets (an ancient form of bullet). On the top floor, lead was heated and then poured into a drop tube. In free fall, the lead droplets formed into completely homogeneous spheres and completely cooled and solidified when they landed in the sump. The heritage tower was renovated in 1998.
- Kugelturm Noldnerstrasse 15/16, Lichtenberg
Berliner Stadtmauer – Old Town Wall
Berlin is a fairly young city by European standards (just 900 years old) and, as far as buildings go, even younger. Most of the buildings here aren’t much more than 100-120 years old, so compared to other European capitals like Paris, London or Rome, Berlin is downright young. World wars, massive changes in urban planning as well as the division and construction of the Wall have wreaked havoc on the historic center. Buildings that existed in Berlin before 1850 are very rare today. Fortunately, 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 once walked this stretch of wall?
- Berliner Stadtmauer Waisenstrasse, Mitte
The ‘Stand By Me’ tree in Tiergarten
In 1961, songwriting duo Leiber/Stoller wrote the famous lines: “And darling, darling, stay close to me, ohh stay close to me. Oh stand, stand by me,” but it was Ben E. King who stormed the charts and made pop history with his take. John Lennon then recorded a version of the song in 1975, then support me enjoyed another revival thanks to the 1986 film of the same name. Apparently someone couldn’t get the song out of their head, so he or she carved the lyrics into the bark of a tree in the Großer Tiergarten. Since then, Berlin has had a darker place, the support me tree.
- Grosser Tiergarten at the intersection of Großer Weg and Große Sternallee
Penis frieze on the taz building
Sculptor Peter Lenk created a controversial work in 2009 that caused a medium-sized scandal. Political-satirical wall relief ‘Peace be with you’ shows Kai Diekmann, the former editor of Image, whose erect penis rises several meters high into the sky. The work, also very controversial within the taz editorial, was attached to the office building of the leftist daily, not far from Springer’s headquarters, in the heart of Berlin’s former newspaper district. Diekmann denounced the critics, but Diekmann’s penis remained in the public eye. Whether it’s for their blessing remains to be seen.
- May 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 at Breitscheidplatz – was erected in front of what is now the Tiergarten gymnasium. The needle holds a digital display clock, which unfortunately stopped working after only a few years of weather exposure. In 1983, the ‘Hand with watch’ gained international fame as the backdrop for the video of British synth-pop band Depeche Mode, for the song Everything counts (around 3:10 a.m.). During a major restoration, the original red mosaic cube was replaced with orange concrete.
- Hand mit Uhr Altonaer Strasse 26, Tiergarten
The Grunewald-Forst Cemetery is a specialty among Berlin cemeteries. Ideally located in the middle of the forest, you can actually only access it on foot. Suicide victims were once buried here, which is why it is also known by the eerie nickname “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 became famous as a model, actress and above all a singer with the avant-garde New York group The Velvet Underground, promoted by Andy Warhol. In 1988 Nico died after a tragic accident in Ibiza.
- Grunewald Cemetery (Forst) Havelchaussée 92B, Grunewald
Treehouse on the wall
Back in Kreuzberg in the early 1980s, Osman Kalin, father of six children, discovered a small wasteland filled with garbage in the no man’s land near 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 planning to turn the treehouse on the Wall into a museum.
- Treehouse at the Wall Bethaniendamm/Mariannenplatz, Kreuzberg
The Jewish Corridor is seven meters wide and four hundred meters long and runs along the Jewish cemetery on Schönhauser Allee, where many important 19th century figures are buried. The Jewish corridor behind the cemetery is particularly intriguing because no one knows exactly why it was created. A story goes that Friedrich Wilhelm III did not want to be bothered by the sight of Jewish burials on his way to Pankow. Others claim that the path has religious reasons. No one is certain.
- judengang at Knaackstrasse 41, Prenzlauer Berg
Bench at U-Dahlem Dorf
In the 1980s, the Japanese named the Dahlem Dorf metro station as the most beautiful metro station in Europe. Was it because of the obscure seats designed by Berlin artist Wolf van Roy? Unlikely. The bench consists of a group of wooden folk figures with extravagant headgear and hard-to-miss primary and secondary genitalia. So if you want to lean on wooden boobs 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 for a long time in the premises of the Funkhaus Nalepastraße in Oberschöneweide in Köpenick. The story is rather brilliant: at the end of the 1960s, the mobile home, made in the GDR according to the plans of the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen, revolutionized the world. In total, only 22 of the 36 square meter residential units were built. The Berlin UFO was removed in 2020 and is now about 1.5 kilometers away at the entrance to Rummelsburg Bay on the Lichtenberg side – but is only clearly visible from the water.
- Spreeufer not far from Rummelsburg Bay
The Nazis had this huge concrete cylinder built around 1941. The project of Schwebelastungskörper (heavy body) was absurd: the monstrous thing was intended to serve as a test for the construction of a gigantic triumphal arch. Of course, the project was linked 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 no man’s land between Schöneberg and Tempelhof.
- Schwerbelastungskörper General-Pape-Straße 34A, Tempelhof
Anyone who walks around the city with their eyes open, especially along the Berlin Wall trail, will find little rabbit-shaped pictograms here and there. In 1999, artist Karla Sachse worked 120 of these brass bunnies in the Berlin asphalt. They were intended to commemorate the population of hopping animals that inhabited the Death Strip at the time of the division of Berlin. With the fall of the Wall, the heavily guarded idyll of the rabbits was over.
- Kaninchenfeld Chausseestraße, Mitte (and other places)