How 15 Berlin Neighborhoods Got Their Names

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Germany's capital and largest city, Berlin is a sprawling, hectic metropolis and a historic center of the continent. Its eight centuries of history show up in the names of its various neighborhoods; here, we break down a few.

1. CHARLOTTENBURG

Affluent Charlottenburg reflects its namesake: It was christened for Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, queen consort of Friedrich I of Prussia, and it’s where Charlottenburg Palace, their former home, is located. Friedrich became king in 1701, two years after the palace’s construction was finished. Before that, the area was home to a village called Lietzow, and the palace was originally named Lietzenburg. Its name was changed to Charlottenburg in 1705, when the queen died, and Lietzow was officially incorporated into the settlement in 1720.

2. GRAEFEKIEZ

Located in Kreuzberg (“Cross Hill,” for the iron cross on the Prussian National Monument for the Liberation Wars that tops the hill), Graefekiez and its main street, Graefestraße, are named in honor of Albrecht von Graefe, a Prussian eye surgeon and early pioneer in the study of ophthalmology. Von Graefe is buried in the Protestant cemetery in the nearby Jerusalem Church, and in 2015 an area school was named after him.

3. NEUKÖLLN

Neukölln started out in 1200 as a village called Rixdorf. It became Neukölln in 1912, and in 1920 was incorporated into Greater Berlin. The name translates to "New Cölln"—a reference to Cölln, an old medieval town that was once located in what is now the nearby Mitte neighborhood. Even more confusingly, Neuköln is the name of both a borough and the smaller neighborhood contained within it.

4. MITTE

Like Neuköln, Mitte is both the name of a borough and a smaller locality within it, and its name isn’t quite as apt as it once was. Mitte translates to “middle” and was once the center of Berlin, before areas around the city were annexed. It’s still considered by many to be the heart of Berlin, though, especially thanks to its location and history—during much of the Cold War, it was surrounded almost entirely by the Berlin Wall and was the location of Checkpoint Charlie, the famous crossing point between East and West Berlin.

5. MOABIT

A closed-up window and picturesque design in Moabit, Berlin
Nicola Holtkamp, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Another neighborhood within the borough of Mitte, Moabit’s name is probably derived from French Huguenot refugees who were living in Prussia during the time of prince-elector of Brandenburg Frederick William circa 1685. Supposedly, they named the area either after the Biblical kingdom of Moab—seemingly because Elimelech, Naomi, and their family sought refuge there during a famine—or the Plains of Moab, where the Israelites fleeing Egypt camped before entering Canaan. (A less popular theory is that it comes from the word Moorjebiet, which means “swamp” in the Berlin dialect—Moabit was originally an island before the swamp surrounding it was filled in by sand—or even a corruption of a French term such as mon habitit—roughly meaning "my settlement.") The area was also once known as Pulverwiesen (“powder point”) when it was used as a parade ground by the military, since it was near several gunpowder factories.

6. WEDDING

Despite its pleasant name, the neighborhood of Wedding is one of the poorest in Berlin, and its origin story has nothing to do with marriage. It’s named for Rudolf de Weddinge, a 12th-century nobleman whose forest farmstead stood on the banks of the Panke River, and caught fire at least twice before being abandoned in the 1700s. In the mid-18th century, the area was built up as a spa and health resort, and it later became a seedy pleasure district, rife with gambling and prostitution. Today, it’s a working-class area known for its urban gardens, bohemian cafes and galleries, and strong community of artists.

7. TIERGARTEN

A statue on a lake in the Berlin Tiergarten
blondetpatrice, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Tiergarten is the name of both a neighborhood and a huge park included in the neighborhood; its name translates literally to “animal garden” in modern German. But tier once referred not to all animals but to game animals, and in this case, to deer specifically. In fact, the Tiergarten was a deer preserve until the 18th century, and a deer is still featured in Tiergarten's coat of arms. The park itself, one of the largest in Germany, doesn’t have a lot of deer in it, but it does contain the Berlin Zoological Garden and Aquarium.

8. PRENZLAUER BERG

Trendy Prenzlauer Berg shares a name with its hill (“Prenzlauer Hill”), a Prenzlauer being a person from the German town of Prenzlau, which is about 60 miles north of Berlin. The town of Prenzlau, in turn, takes its name from the Slavic men’s name Przemysław, itself a medieval version of the Polish name Przemysł, meaning a person who is clever or ingenious. No word on which Przemysław of yore inspired the town’s name; there were several dukes and kings of nearby Poland who bore the name, but the town seems to have existed before any of them did, with the earliest known mention of the village being in 1187.

9. ROTE INSEL

Literally “Red Island,” the roughly triangular slice of land called Rote Insel within Berlin’s Schöneberg locality isn’t anywhere near a lake, river, or ocean. The reason it’s called an island is because it’s entirely isolated by train tracks on all sides, making it accessible only by bridges that pass over the track. The “red” part comes from the area’s strong left-wing/democratic socialist population during the late 19th and early 20th century—their official color was red.

10. POTSDAMER PLATZ

An image from the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz
Baptiste Pons, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Potsdamer Platz refers to Berlin’s important public square of the same name as well as the neighborhood surrounding it, with platz meaning “place” in English—or more accurately “plaza.” Chock full of museums and historical memorials, the five-cornered square is a busy public space and major intersection. It started out as a trading post in the late 1600s, established at the convergence of several old country roads. The word Potsdam, meanwhile, is thought to have been derived from the Old West Slavonic term poztupimi, as it was named in 993 by the 13-year-old Emperor Otto III—it translates roughly to “beneath the oaks.”

11. FRIEDRICHSHAIN

Created in 1920, Friedrichshain gets its name from the nearby Volkspark (People’s Park) Friedrichshain, built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of King Friedrich II’s coronation. (The word hain means grove.) In 1933, when Berlin fell under Nazi rule, the district was renamed Horst-Wessel-Stadt, commemorating Horst Wessel, the 22-year-old Berlin Sturmabteilung (stormtrooper) leader who was hailed as a martyr by propagandist Joseph Goebbels after being killed by members of the Communist Party in 1930. (Stadt means city in German.) The name Friedrichshain was restored after the war ended.

12. BERGMANNKIEZ

Many Berlin districts bear the word kiez in their names—it means neighborhood or community. Bergmannkiez is named for its main thoroughfare, Bergmannstraße, which was named after the wealthy Bergmann family, which owned property in the area. Prior to that, the street was called Weinbergsweg (“Weinberg’s Way”), which still exists elsewhere in the city and is named for the nearby Weinbergspark (which is named for a café of the same name that once operated there).

13. ALT-TREPTOW

The Treptowers in the district of Alt-Treptow, Berlin
Ansgar Koreng, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

This area began life as just Treptow, a village inhabited by Slavic people in the 6th century. Treptow itself is a Germanization of the Polish word Trzebiatów, also the name of a town in West Pomerania, which was once part of Germany but is today part of Poland. It’s a place name possibly derived from the Polish word trzebia, which means "clearing." The word Alt was later added to the village’s name—it just means "old."

14. RIXDORF

Although most of the town of Rixdorf was absorbed by the aforementioned Neukölln neighborhood, part of it remains along the Neukölln border. Rixdorf was originally a tiny historic village called Richardsdorf, or “Richard’s valley,” and the area has been inhabited since at least the mid-1300s, but the modern incarnation dates from 1737. (It’s not clear who the eponymous Richard was.) Rixdorf was a just nickname at first, but later became official. Today, it’s part of Berlin proper and is often known as Böhmisch-Rixdorf, or Bohemian Rixdorf, for the Protestants coming from Bohemia who lived here in the 18th century.

15. NIKOLAIVIERTEL

A view in the neighborhood of Nikolaiviertel, Berlin
Pascal Volk, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In Mitte, the neighborhood of Nikolaiviertel—or Nicholas’ Quarter—gets its name from the St. Nikolai-Kirche, the oldest church in Berlin, parts of which date from between 1220 and 1230. Originally a Roman Catholic church, it became Lutheran in 1539. The church was almost destroyed during World War II, but in the 1980s authorities began reconstruction efforts in the area, meaning many of the area’s quirky historic-looking houses were actually built after the war ended.

The History Behind 7 New York City Street Names

deberarr/istock via getty images
deberarr/istock via getty images

Modern life means constantly rushing to get places, especially in New York. Whether it’s the daily grind to get to work or the rush to hit happy hour, residents are probably concentrating more on getting somewhere than carefully considering the details of their surroundings.

But next time you're in New York—or if you're a resident already—try looking up from your phone to take a peek at the street names above you. Along with your more common numbered designations and things like "Park Avenue," you’ll notice the city has some pretty strange denominations. Here are seven of the more eye-catching, and the brief history behind their names.

1. Asser Levy Place

Tucked between the generically named 23rd and 25th streets, Asser Levy Place stands out like a sore thumb. Located not far from Stuyvesant Town, this unassuming street bears the name for a pretty prominent historical figure.

Said to have been born in what is now Poland and Lithuania, Asser Levy was one of the first Jewish settlers to land in the predominantly Dutch New Amsterdam. The governor at the time, Peter Stuyvesant, was “violently opposed” to the freshly emigrated Jewish community, unhappy at the fact that they were now allowed to trade and reside within the area [PDF]. Levy was not only the first kosher butcher in the land but also the first Jew to gain rights of citizenship in the country. Additionally, Levy donated funds to help New York fight the British Crown, and eventually took up arms against the British himself.

2. Maiden Lane

The history behind Maiden Lane’s designation is just as picturesque as it sounds. Known to Dutch settlers as Maagde Paatje (or “maiden path”), this portion of land once ran alongside a brook where women and girls would wash clothing. There are darker associations with the area too, though: Maiden Lane also saw a brutal slave revolt in 1712.

Today the street is one of many centers of commerce for the city, although the concrete still holds remnants of the city’s more ornate past. Passersby can take a look at the Barthman Clock, a 19th-century timepiece embedded into the intersection of Maiden Lane and Broadway.

3. Mott Street

Located primarily in the heart of Chinatown, Mott Street’s modern associations aren’t the most flattering. Once the site of multiple crime scenes and illegal activities, the street has garnered a somewhat seedy reputation over time.

But before it became affiliated with the seedy underbelly, Mott Street had patriotic associations. Joseph Mott, the street’s namesake, owned a tavern used as headquarters for General George Washington in 1775. His descendants proved dedicated to equally worthy causes, with Dr. Valentine Mott rising to prominence as one of America’s most influential surgeons.

4. Pearl Street

Before the concrete jungle fully took over, the streets of New York were dominated by oysters. Due to their bountiful number, the shells of shucked clams would pile up into what archaeologists call middens—large piles of domestic waste that have survived the centuries. One particularly large heap was located on the modern-day Pearl Street, giving rise to the mollusk-related moniker. Oddly, however, these oysters were not the pearl-producing kind—although they dominated a good portion of the New York market for quite some time.

5. Minetta Lane

Speaking of water-related items, did you know a once-babbling creek was paved over by one of the city’s more famous streets? That’s right: Known to the Dutch as Mintje Kill or “small stream,” Minetta Brook was “[a] brisk little brook full of trout,” according to one 19th century source, that was covered by the city’s expansion around the 1820s. It was also where a community of “half free” African Americans resided in the 17th century—former enslaved people that were allowed to live on the land by paying annual fees.

6. MacDougal Street

MacDougal Street is known for its vibrant nightlife and for hosting the early days of Bob Dylan’s career. But it also holds claim to a not-so-well-known spelling error.

The street was named for one Alexander Mcdougall, a Scotsman who emigrated to what would become the United States as a child in 1740 and settled in New York. Mcdougall made a name for himself in the mercantile trade and shipping business and was an early defender of American independence. He openly voiced his opinions against British rule, and was even imprisoned for passing out revolutionary pamphlets. His colorful life saw him commissioned as a colonel in the First New York Infantry during the Revolutionary War, become a member of the Continental Congress, and rise as the first president of the Bank of New York. However, how or why the second L in his name was dropped in the naming of the street remains a mystery.

7. Margaret Corbin Drive

Located at the city’s far northern tip, Margaret Corbin Drive is named for a young Pennsylvanian woman whose tough life molded her into a tougher lady. Her childhood saw the death of her father by Native Americans and her mother’s capture soon after; years later, the British killed her husband during the Battle of Fort Washington. Margaret, who was standing by his side at the time, quickly took his place in the conflict by handling his cannon—receiving several bullets as a result.

The U.S. government recognized her bravery by providing her disability compensation (as well as rum and whiskey rations) for many years. Although sometimes remembered as a “haughty and disagreeable eccentric,” the affectionately called “Captain Molly” is forever memorialized by the street running along the site where her brave acts took place.

Denver's Tiny Home Village Helps Residents Transition Out of Homelessness

iStock.com/Stefan Tomic
iStock.com/Stefan Tomic

In an effort to help the homeless population in its city, the Denver City Council has approved a plan to relocate a village made up of low-cost tiny homes.

According to Denver news outlet KDVR, the homes were unanimously approved for placement in the Globeville neighborhood of the city. Each of the 20 temporary structures will be able to house two residents looking to transition out of homelessness. The tiny home village will include a communal kitchen and two portable toilets, which will eventually be replaced by permanent bathrooms. The land used will be leased by the city to a nonprofit for just $10 a year.

The tiny home village was forced to move from its original location due to plans for redevelopment on the site. The new location has been met with some skepticism by Globeville neighbors, who expressed concern about criminal activity and complained during council meetings that they weren’t consulted on the decision.

To help offset concerns, the Colorado Village Collaborative, the village's organizer, has agreed to exclude sex offenders from the housing and will set up a telephone hotline for residents who have complaints. Occupants will be expected to clear the area of snow, maintain the premises, and open their doors to city inspectors.

Concentrated areas made up of tiny homes have taken hold as a potential alternative to homeless shelters in recent years, with tiny home villages popping up in cities like Seattle, Kansas City, Austin, and Detroit. Of the 19 residents who lived in Denver’s current tiny home location, five went on to permanent housing.

[h/t KDVR]

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