A Brief History of Nollendorfplatz

In which I highlight a byte of queer Berlin

One more Pride post to round out the month, the subject being something I simultaneously know quite a bit and hardly anything about—the city I’ve lived in for very nearly two years.

Nollendorfplatz—“Nolle” or “Nolli” for short—is a neighborhood I passed through on the days I elected to travel to work via U-Bahn when I lived near Tiergarten (the S-Bahn was more efficient, but sometimes you need to take it slow and smell the Rosen). In fact, its station is one of the oldest in Berlin; it was included in the first-ever U-Bahn line in 1902 and is now part of the U2, which runs from Charlottenburg up through Prenzlauer Berg. I especially like it because it is an elevated station; my favorite parts of the U-Bahn are where it emerges from underground and you’re watching the city go by.

It was formally established in the mid-19th century and named for a Czech village—though the original square was structured to resemble a Parisian boulevard—and has undergone many iterations over time. Most famously, during the economic and cultural boom of the Weimar Republic in the ‘20s, it became a hub for the growing LGBTQ+ community, typified by nightclubs like the Eldorado on Motzstraße. These locations became particularly visible targets as the Nazis rose to power; they converted this nightclub into a paramilitary headquarters in the ‘30s. The area also became a target for Luftwaffe bombings, with large portions, including the U-Bahn, needing significant renovation after the war.

The Pink Triangle memorial outside the station commemorates residents of the area who were sent to camps or otherwise killed. The writer Christopher Isherwood was quick to immortalize the vitality of the community in his novella Goodbye to Berlin and the collection (The Berlin Stories) in which it features. Cabaret mentions the neighborhood as being the home of some of the characters, which I don’t remember, but then it’s been a while since I’ve seen it. Unsurprising, in any event.

Motzstraße has enjoyed a great resurrection, hosting the annual Pride event known as “Motzstraßenfestival” (officially the Lesbian & Gay City Festival) since 1993. The former Neues Schauspielhaus, patronized as a concert hall, cinema, and operetta house for the first few decades of the 20th century, is now the Metropol nightclub; it has already had multiple lives of its own, defining disco in the late ‘70s and pioneering techno in the ‘80s, its latest incarnation having opened in 2019. New bars, restaurants, and queer bookstores have rejuvenated the area. There’s even a Berlin bear painted with the flag.

I took a long stroll or two through Nollendorfplatz shortly after arriving here given its proximity to my home district, but even so I barely scratched the surface. I didn’t do much hanging around amongst the establishments (though what time I did do that yielded up a very good pizza place). It’s only one of the neighborhoods I would like to know better, which I have more hope of doing as increasing numbers of us barrel toward our second dose. This neighborhood is an example of those you’ll find all over Europe that expose the layers of civilization that make their city what it is. That, among other things, draws me to it. I know I’ll be back.

Image: the Metropol, taken by the author on 25 August 2019

Published by Cecilia Gigliotti

Cecilia Gigliotti is a freelance writer/editor/musician/podcaster based in Berlin with a beloved ukulele named Uke Skywalker. Her free time goes toward dancing, reading books new and old, drawing cartoons, trying to finish her Netflix queue, and devoting too much thought to the foibles of her artist-heroes. Connect with her on Twitter (@CeciliaGelato) and Instagram (@c_m_giglio).

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