Before the city gates – Grocery and Kalbo`s Concert Garden 1831-1863
Map of the northern surroundings of Berlin 1841.The Schönhauser Gate and the causeway to Pankow, today’s Schönhauser Allee, which winds past windmills and the Jewish cemetery to the Barnim plateau, are clearly visible. The intersection where Kastanienallee, Pappelallee and today’s Danziger Straße come together is also marked, as is the parade ground, today’s Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark. Manoeuver plan of the area surrounding Berlin 1841 © ZLB
Advertisement for Kalbo’s Concert-Garten (end of page). Among the other advertisements is one for Puhlmann’s pub across the street. Berliner Intelligenzblatt, 6.7.1856
Construction drawing of the facade of the newly built residential building at Kastanienallee 7, 1856. This two-story building exists to this day, albeit with numerous alterations. © Archive Museum Pankow
In 1831, the stone merchant and house painter Christian Friedrich Porath built a small residential building along with a greenhouse and stable on part of the later Prater property. The Porath family sold groceries in their house of one story and – when exactly is unknown – began serving beer.
At this time, the Kastanienallee was still before the gates of Berlin, surrounded by fields, pastures, windmills, and only a scant few other farmsteads. The northern city boundary ran along the customs wall at the level of today’s Torstraße. Before the Rosenthaler Gate, on the Wollank family’s former vineyard, there was a popular excursion restaurant. A little further east, beyond the Schönhauser Gate, the country road towards Pankow and Niederschönhausen commenced, today’s Schönhauser Allee.
The Porath couple and their four children dwelled in the house on Kastanienallee for a good ten years. The store was located on the first floor of the front building. During this period, a separate taproom didn’t exist yet, but there may have been outdoor seating. Directly opposite, between Kastanienallee and Schönhauser Allee, was another pub, which later became known as Puhlmann’s Lokal.
In the fall of 1852, the experienced restaurateur Johann Joachim Kalbo bought the Kastanienallee property from the Poraths‘ heirs. This sale marked the beginning of a long period of family ownership of what would later become the Berlin Prater. This continuity was unusual: in those years, the operation of inns, pleasure gardens, and excursion venues was usually marked by many changes in ownership and rarely saw a handover within a family dynasty.
In the front house, the Kalbo family continued the Poraths‘ grocery business. But behind the house, the Kalbos expanded the family business: Kalbo’s Concert Garden was now a place for food and drink, music and dancing. In 1856, they built a new, larger, two-story house with an adjoining dance and meeting hall, and in the early 1860s, the first open-air stage in the garden for theater and variety shows.
The whole kit and caboodle – Hustle and bustle in the Berlin Prater 1863-1917
Picture postcard of the Berlin Prater, circa 1900. The beer garden, the many shady trees, and the garden stage built in 1866 are clearly visible. © Sammlung J.N.
Martha and Arthur Rannow, around 1914. © Museum Pankow Archiv
Picture postcard of the Berlin Prater, circa 1908. For a few years, the theater building operated under the name Bürgerliches Schauspielhaus, an attempt at elevation meant to emphasize the stage’s respectability © Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin
Picture postcard of the Berlin Prater, circa 1895. At the top left is the dancehall and ballroom, which had already existed since 1856 and had to make way for the new theater building in 1906. © Sammlung J.N.
Since 1863, Johann Joachim Kalbo’s sons had been running the restaurant, first the twins Adolph and Hermann Kalbo, then Adolph together with his older brother Luis Kalbo. The new generation of operators gave the garden restaurant its name, by which it is known to this day: Berliner Prater.
By the turn of the century, the Berlin Prater had evolved from a rural and suburban garden restaurant into an urban entertainment venue. In addition to serving coffee, beer and wine, giving concerts and dances, there were short plays and variety shows, as well as puppet theaters, simple carousels, lottery booths, and shooting galleries. The neighborhood before the Rosenthaler Gate was characterized by a proletarian and petty-bourgeois population, gatherings and festivals of the organized workers‘ movement played an important role.
The Prater offered low-cost entertainment. Families could afford to visit the Prater “with kith and kin”. Women often came to the garden unaccompanied, mothers spent afternoons here with their children, and unmarried young women came to dance and meet their peers.
At the end of the 1870s, the Kalbos sold the Prater properties. They now belonged to the neighboring Schneider & Hillig brewery, later known as Pfefferberg. The day-to-day running of the pub, however, remained in the Kalbos’ hands. In 1919, both the Pfefferberg brewery and the Berlin Prater were taken over by the much larger Schultheiß brewery, which was also located in the neighborhood.
As of 1898, a new generation ran the Prater business: Paul Kalbo and his wife Martha. Yet Paul Kalbo died in 1901, and his widow Martha married Arthur Rannow. After more than 50 years, the name Kalbo vanished from the Berlin Prater. Martha Rannow, however, remained associated with the enterprise until the late 1920s.
In the summer of 1906, extensive remodeling and new construction took place while the restaurant was still in operation: The residential building and auditorium became a full theater with stage, iron curtain, and electric lighting for close to 600 spectators. For a few years there was a theater company with a permanent ensemble in the Berlin Prater, which put on farces and comedy plays, but also multi-act plays and a classic now and then.
During World War I, actors and technicians were drafted into the army, dancing in public venues was prohibited, international travel by vaudeville artists was no longer possible, and the increasingly precarious supply situation caused problems for the catering and entertainment industries. Notwithstanding, the Berlin Prater continued to stage entertaining plays, intended to offer distraction and diversion to the populace.
„Wife or husband, large or small, the Prater is beloved by all“ – Movie theater and outdoor terrace 1917-1945
Picture postcard of the Berlin Prater, around 1923. The cinema hall had just under 800 seats. The cinema was frequently overcrowded, or at any rate well attended. © Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin
Program booklet, August 1929. Here, the slogan „Mother, daughter, son and father love the Berlin Prater“ was used for the first time, which was readily taken up again in later decades. In the late 1920s, a shooting gallery and several lottery booths were also in the Berlin Prater. © Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin
Program booklet of the Berlin Prater, May 1923. During the inflation the meager program booklet cost 100 marks. © Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin
Program booklet of the Berlin Prater, 1938. The variety program was organized by the variety section of the Reichstheaterkammer. Additionally, advertisements for Wehrmacht uniforms and Nazi organizations were printed. © Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin
Picture postcard of the Berlin Prater, circa 1930. After several rainy summers, the Prater management had a tent roof built in front of the summer stage in 1929 in order to continue performances in event of rain. © Archive Museum Pankow
During the First World War, the Rannows converted the Prater’s theater hall into a movie theater. The first film screenings in the Prater had already taken place 20 years before, but now they adapted their entire operation to the new mass medium, in accordance with the public’s wishes and preferences.
The early 1920s weren’t an easy time for an entertainment venue in the newly founded district of Prenzlauer Berg: the public could spare little money for leisure activities, building materials were scarce, investments were strictly monitored by the authorities, the vaudeville business was slow to recover from the restrictions of the war years, prices rose to dizzying heights during inflation, and several cool, wet summers brought little to no income to beer garden proprietors.
The Prater-Lichtspiele showed American adventure films, romantic historical dramas as well as politically critical films, all accompanied by a stage program. The beer garden and the summer stage adhered to the time-honored formula: Families could still make coffee, beer from the neighboring Schultheiss brewery was still served. Variety and operetta performances were staged on the garden stage, while some fairground attractions were presented in the garden. 50 years before, there had been dozens of such entertainment venues in Berlin, yet by the end of the 1920s, the Berlin Prater was already a relic and one of the city’s last garden stages.
After Arthur Rannow’s death in the late 1920s, changing tenants took over the cinema operation. The long era of the Kalbo/Rannow family dynasty had ended. The Great Depression concluded the so-called „Golden Twenties“ – the Prater as well had to contend with huge financial problems. Nevertheless, the management purchased a sound film system in 1931 and showed „talkies“ from then on.
Superficially, the year 1933 and the period of Nazism may not appear to have been a fundamental change for the Prater. Directors and ownership did not change, the auditorium remained a cinema, and music and theater continued to be performed in the garden.
However, the staff’s working conditions and the content of the programs shown did change. Only films approved by the censors were shown; Jewish filmmakers could no longer participate in any productions in Germany. The same applied to musicians, composers, vaudeville artists, and actors. Solely plays not written or composed by Jews were performed. Nazi ideology, persecution, and oppression did not halt before the seemingly banal and quotidian realm of entertainment.
Volksbühne, DEFA Movie Theater – and District House of Culture 1945-1989
Heinz Litten, director of the Volksbühne in East Berlin, July 1948. Litten had fled Germany during the Nazi regime. Under his direction or directorship, the Volksbühne presented in the Prater, among others, „The Weavers“ by Gerhart Hauptmann, the pacifist comedy „Lysistrata“ by Aristophanes, which was a success, and the period play „The Lion in the Marketplace“ by Ilya Ehrenburg, which was panned by critics.
In front of the DEFA cinema on Kastanienallee on the occasion of the screening of „Ernst Thälmann, son of his class“, 1954. The premiere was accompanied by great propagandistic fanfare. The image shows two members of the VEB „Aktivist“ talking about the film. © Bundesarchiv Bild / Günter Weiß
Demolition work in the Berlin Prater, 1958. After several years of planning, a far-reaching reconstruction of the Prater garden took place at the end of the 1950s.The effort was supported by over 50,000 construction hours of volunteers of the Nationales Aufbauwerk.© Archiv Museum Pankow
In the pantomime theater of the Prater, around 1980. Eberhard Kube’s pantomime group initially formed independently of the district house of culture in the early 1960s. After being incorporated into it, the group lost independence but gained financial support and performance opportunities. In the 1980s, it even offered classes in tai chi and break dancing. The latter was banned in public places. © Archiv Museum Pankow
Rehearsal of the women’s choir, around 1980. The district’s almost 50 amateur art groups were meant to be encouraged and guided to actively participate in cultural life through the work of the district house of culture. © Archive Museum Pankow
Skat players in front of the new open-air stage, May 1, 1960. The opening of the renovated Prater garden took place as part of a public festival on May 1. The achievements of the volunteers and enterprises involved were honored, and a fashion show, sports demonstrations, music, as well as a variety program were shown. (Bundesarchiv Bild)
The Berlin Prater survived the Second World War largely unscathed. As late as the end of January 1945, the Hitler Youth had organized boxing matches in the Prater’s movie theater. But as early as mid-May 1945, the Prater-Lichtspiele resumed screenings at the express request of the Soviets.
As many ballrooms, cinemas, and theaters had been destroyed during the war, the comparatively large and intact Prater building now gained a hitherto unknown significance. The Prater theater became the venue for the Volksbühne, which was unable to move back into its main building on today’s Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz until the mid-1950s. However, the political conflicts of the Cold War also influenced the cultural world. The Volksbühne movement split in early 1947 into the Volksbühne in East Berlin and the Freie Volksbühne in West Berlin.
From September 1949, the Prater auditorium became a cinema again. However, it did not reopen as one of Prenzlauer Berg’s numerous neighborhood cinemas, but as the premiere cinema of DEFA, the newly founded nationally owned film company of the GDR.
Meanwhile, in the Prater garden, young people met to dance, boxing and wrestling matches took place, and the black market for liquor thrived. The activities in the Prater garden were a continual annoyance to the Volksbühne and DEFA. Therefore, in the mid-1950s, the state-owned trade organization HO took over management, while the „Konzert- und Gastspieldirektion“, also a publicly owned enterprise, took over the reigns of the cultural offerings. The Berlin Prater was thus nationalized.
At the end of the 1960s, the DEFA theater moved out and the entire Prater became a cultural center, eventually the district house of culture for Prenzlauer Berg. Amateur art groups and circles now convened in the Prater’s rooms and halls for cultural leisure activities. There were children’s programs as well as events for senior citizens, disco as well as tea dances, fashion shows and competitions in judo and weightlifting. As a district cultural center, the Prater also took on administrative, model and supervisory functions for other cultural institutions in the district.
An important address for artists was the Galerie am Prater, which opened in the late 1960s in a store at Kastanienallee 100, directly opposite the Prater, and showed numerous exhibitions of contemporary art and Berlin artists until the mid-1990s.
Volksbühnen spectacle and tourist magnet – The Berlin Prater since the 1980s
Guest with rat in the Prater garden, around 1986. The artist Wolfgang Krause described the Prater of the 1980s as a „place for the whole mix of artists, families, antisocials,“ a very special mixture that existed only in Prenzlauer Berg. © Archiv Museum Pankow
„Fummelfete“ in Berlin Prater, November 1990. This is where East and West Berlin’s LGBTIQ community celebrated together. The museum director Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (right) is appointed „Woman of the Evening.“ © Bundesarchiv Bild / Köhler
An exhibition opening at the Galerie am Prater, Kastanienallee 100, 1992. © Archiv Museum Pankow
While the Prater became a paradise for Berlin’s experimental art and theater scene, senior citizens met every Sunday at the Prater restaurant for a tea dance, unfazed by performances and installations © Archiv Museum Pankow
The Prater’s frontage with the announcement for the 2nd Prater spectacle „Mistakes of Madness“, 1996. © ullstein bild
As early as the 1980s, an increasing number of young people who longed for self-determination moved into the crumbling old neighborhoods of Prenzlauer Berg: Writers, performance artists, dissidents and opposition figures, punks or so-called Müslis (granolas), and hippies. They, too, came to the Prater to drink beer or act in plays.
Like most of the old buildings in the district, the Prater was in a state of disrepair by 1990. Nevertheless, cultural activities continued under new management. German unity was already prefigured during many events before October 3rd , 1990: The literature ball was organized in cooperation with Kreuzberg, Prater guests celebrated a „dance into the D-Mark“ on June 30th , and at the first all-German performer’s ball, East German performers were intended to be placed at West European theaters.
Nevertheless, the Prater’s future was initially uncertain. In the end, the Berlin Prater remained in municipal hands, yet the restructuring was considerable, the job cuts were massive, and the cancellation of fee funding led to the discontinuation of almost all groups and circles. In addition, there were urgent construction measures with scarce funds alongside unresolved ownership issues; the Prater remained a construction site for years.
A new breath of life and new impulses came to the Prater when it became the Volksbühne’s second venue in the mid-1990s. A loyal theater community convened for productions by Frank Castorf, Christoph Schlingensief, Lukas Langhoff, Christoph Marthaler, and René Pollesch. Residents of Prenzlauer Berg old and new met in the beer garden.
In the course of the ongoing renovation of old buildings, an unprecedented population exchange was enacted at enormous speed: The old and the poor moved away, young people moved in, art projects, cafés, and pubs sprang up everywhere. Yet as redevelopment progressed, even younger people were soon no longer able to afford the rents in the refurbished buildings. The working-class and lower middle-class district became one of the hippest and most expensive in Berlin. The Prater also underwent a transformation: The senior citizens‘ dance was discontinued in the 2000s, but the beer garden continues to flourish and is now part of the tourist must-see itinerary.
„Ringelpiez und Schwofen“ – Couplets and marching music – The Berlin Prater as a music and dance venue for young and old alike
The entrance to the garden, the summer stage, and the dance hall. Picture postcard from around 1900 © Archiv Museum Pankow
In the Prater garden, around 1980 © Archiv Musuem Pankow
Dancing in the Berlin Prater, around 1980 © Archiv Museum Pankow
Children’s day in the Prater garden, 1986. Music and dancing were also offered for children and young people. © Archiv Museum Pankow
Since the 19th century, „Ringelpiez mit Anfassen“ has been a colloquial, casual, somewhat suggestive and coarse term for a cheery, social get-together with dancing.
Musical performances and dance events are a recurring theme in the history of the Berlin Prater. In 1856, for example, Kalbo’s Concert-Garten offered a „grand concert by a strong orchestra,“ a „grand concert of stringed instruments,“ or, as a special highlight, a „rose festival and double concert,“ at which every „lady received a bouquet of roses“ upon entry. After the concerts, one was invited to the „Bal champêtre“ in a simple open gazebo, that is, to the summer and „rural“ dance in the open air. „In the salon“, ladies‘ dancing took place from 6 to 7 pm, followed by a so-called „cavalier’s ball“.
Garden restaurants were public venues accessible to women. While men often kept to themselves in pubs until the 20th century, outings to the countryside were with the entire family. Increasingly, young working and dance-crazed women populated the garden restaurants. They were mainly salaried employees, but workers and maids also reveled in the Berlin Prater on weekends.
A long scene from the famous DEFA film „Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser“ gives an impression of a „Ringelpiez mit Anfassen“ in the 1950s. The two protagonists, Dieter and Angela, newly in love, meet in the Prater’s dance club (today the Prater restaurant) with its mirrored columns, paneled walls, and curtained windows.
In the district house of culture Prenzlauer Berg, so-called record entertainers played records for the youth. In 1990, the first „Spring and fag ball“ for the reunified city took place. November had a „Fummelfete“ on offer with travesti, erotic dancing, a bodybuilding show, and the election of „Miss Prater“ under the slogan „The most beautiful woman is a man“. The prize was won by East Berlin museum director Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.
Above all, the senior citizens had their place for decades in the Prater for „Ringelpiez mit Anfassen“. Accompanied by live music, they danced outdoors, in the large hall, and at a tea dance on weekends.
Art, Politics and (Last) Chances – The Berlin Prater as a place of art and debate culture
Frontage of the Berlin Prater, 1977. The 11th guppy exhibition of the GDR took place in the hall. © Archiv Museum Pankow
Discussion group in the Prater, 1990. During the Wende, the future of the Prater remained uncertain. District politicians, creative artists, and a newly founded Prater association lively debated the future of the storied house. © Archiv Museum Pankow
Since the end of the 1960s, there was the Galerie am Prater. Here, exhibitions were held on a monthly basis. In particular, workshop exhibitions were planned, in which all sketches and preliminary studies, as well as the artists‘ materials and tools, were on display.
Christoph Schlingensief with fellow campaigners, including actor Martin Wuttke and author Dietrich Kuhlbrodt, at the founding of the „Last Chance Party“ in the Prater, March 1998, © akg-images / Matthias Lüdecke
In addition to music, dance and theater, the Prater was always a place of political debate and art happenings. Various associations and groups organized themselves in Berlin’s Prater around 1900: Social Democratic agitation events took place, for example a large gathering to enforce women’s suffrage. There were also numerous charitable festivals of various trade union organizations, such as the summer festival of the Internationale Artistenloge, the trade union organization of variety performers. In general, the organized labor movement considered the Prater to be one of its regular venues.
From 1967, the Prater became the socialist cultural center of the district, the Kreiskulturhaus Prenzlauer Berg, a venue for socialist popular art. The culture houses organized events and provided spaces for circles and workgroups where citizens could pursue cultural leisure activities. The district cultural centers also served as models for various other cultural institutions, such as youth clubs. Thus, they were amateur art and event centers, management offices, cultural counseling centers, while also fulfilling a political control function.
Events at the cultural center had to be approved by the police. All artists and all course and circle leaders needed a state license, the so-called „Pappe“ (cardboard). In the early years, there was still some political leeway. For example, jazz concerts with song lyrics in English were tolerated, contrary to cultural policy. Other performances by artists critical of the GDR, such as singer-songwriter Stephan Krawczyk, were banned, and police and Stasi came to monitor unwelcome events. Especially in the last years of the GDR, censorship became stricter: programs and texts for events had to be submitted and approved in advance.
After the future of the Prater was uncertain at the time of reunification and district politicians, investors, and citizens‘ initiatives argued about various uses and ownership models, the Prater became the second venue of the Volksbühne at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in the mid-1990s. In 1998, Christoph Schlingensief and various allies founded the Chance 2000 party, also known as the Last Chance Party, in a circus tent erected in the Prater. In May, the party invited people to spend nine days in the Prater for the „Sleepover at Chance 2000“. The performance artists staged a theater event in the shape of a camp, which was supposed to enable „recreation and agitation, tuning out from everyday life“ as well as „getting involved in the movement“. Schlingensief wished to create „lived theater“; there were neither stage directions nor a dramaturgy: instead, a „lived-in party headquarters“ and „approachable politics“ were to be implemented.
„They swiped my pickle off my schnitzel” – The Prater as garden restaurant
Hans Baluschek: Families can make coffee here. 1895. mixed media on cardboard, BröhanMuseum, © bpk / BröhanMuseum / Martin Adam
Image left: The coffee kitchen of the Berlin Prater, around 1905. © Archiv Museum Pankow | Image right: In the Rosenthaler Vorstadt, breweries were a major industry, and their commanding edifices still bear witness to industrial culture around 1900. The Schneider & Hillig brewery, later Pfefferberg, was founded in 1841 at Schönhauser Allee 176. They took over the Berlin Prater in 1879, securing a beer garden in the immediate neighborhood as a lucrative taproom.
Picture postcard of the Berlin Prater, around 1900 © Archiv Museum Pankow
Food and drink make one forget one’s sorrows, according to an old adage, and certainly Johann Joachim Kalbo, the „beer tavern owner“ and „restaurateur,“ knew this when he bought what was later to become the Berlin Prater. It remained a family business until the end of the 1920s. In addition to the festivities, there were also the culinary offerings, in particular the serving of drinks and the consumption of food in the garden. As in almost all Berlin garden restaurants, the custom of so-called family coffee-making was part of everyday life in the Berlin Prater since 1860.
„The old custom is not abolished, families can make coffee here“ – a sign with this saying hung at the entrance of almost all Berlin garden restaurants, including the Berlin Prater. At these locations, patrons could bring their own coffee or barley coffee powder. In coffee kitchens, they borrowed the china, and solely purchased the hot water to make the coffee. This custom caught on everywhere in and around Berlin and persisted in some venues until the 1950s.
The journalist Julius Rodenberg vividly described a typical evening at the Berlin Prater and explicated the culinary offerings: All patrons „must stock up on provisions for these occasions, because such a pleasure takes a long time.“ At the Prater, sandwiches and sausages were sold at one table, and „beer, Weiße, and Gilka were served at two buffets“. Gilka was a well-known brand of caraway schnapps. By the end of the evening, however, „the garden and tables were covered with torn paper, as most of the patrons brought their own meals.“
The beverages on offer at the Prater were many. The back of a program booklet from 1870 detailed the drinks offered along with their prices: 1 cup of tea or chocolate, for example, cost 2 Silbergroschen (Sgr.) and 6 Pfennige (Pf.). A large glass of lemonade cost as much as 5 Sgr. For a glass of Weiße- the traditional top-fermented Berlin beer – the guests had to pay 2 Sgr. and 6 Pf., 1 stein of bottom-fermented „Bavarian“ beer, on the other hand, cost only 1 Sgr. and 6 Pf. Even wine and champagne were on the menu: wine prices started at 20 Sgr. per bottle, champagne cost 2 Taler and 2 Sgr. In view of these prices, it becomes clear why families with many children were happy to take up the inexpensive offer of familial coffeemaking.
„Climbing on the tables and chairs is politely forbidden!“ – Variety, theater, „Tingeltangel“, and other popular amusements
Stage and auditorium of the Prater Theater after the reconstruction in 1906 © Archiv Museum Pankow
Advertisement by the Kalbo brothers, in which, among other things, Miss Euphrosine, the „Queen of Ascension,“ was advertised. Berliner Intelligenzblatt, 2.8.1863
Playbill with many advertisements under the direction of Arthur Rannow. Arthur Seelen was the artistic director, June 1904. © Theatersammlung FU Berlin
Bubi Scholz’s second fight at the Berlin Prater, May 1949. He met Helmut Hörauf in the fighting ring, who lost in the first round after a hook to the liver. © Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin
Traditionally, the summer season of Berlin’s garden restaurants began in the early hours of the Pentecost holiday. The Kalbo brothers announced a large double concert with 62 musicians for Pentecost in 1863. In addition, there were variety performances as well as various so-called popular amusements in the garden, fairground attractions such as simple carousels or swings operated by muscle power, shooting galleries or games of chance, puppet theaters or show booths. Tightrope walkers often performed in the Berlin Prater. For example, Miss Euphrosine, the „Queen of Ascension,“ made several appearances. Her real name was Klara Braatz, and during one of her performances, she took a basket of doves with her and let them fly while standing on the rope.
In 1869, the Kalbo brothers obtained their theater license. They were now allowed to perform comedys, farces, and operettas. For the time being, however, the Prater did not stage full-length plays. Musical performances continued to dominate the entertainment program. In addition, there were short „vaudevilles,“ musical comedies with and without dancers, clowns, and pantomimes. Those not entertained by the stage program could amuse themselves at bowling or billiards.
The journalist Julius Rodenberg vividly described the „popular entertainment locales“ at the intersection of Kastanienallee and Schönhauser Allee: „In the background is a small theater, where, outdoors, sentimental singers and dance artists perform in alternation, comedies and magic shows are shown, of which, however, scarcely a third of the spectators standing or sitting crowded to the outermost edge can understand a word or catch a note, no matter how eagerly they listen.“
In the summer of 1906, Arthur Rannow, the Prater’s new operator, converted the old ballroom into a theater. For a few years, the stage was called „Bürgerliches Schauspielhaus“ and showed a varied repertoire. There were farces and comedies such as „Minna von Barnhelm,“ fairy tale performances for children, classical dramas such as „Hamlet“ or „Mary Stuart,“ and even political plays such as the social drama „Expelled,“ which dealt with the political persecution of Social Democrats during the Socialist Law.
After the Second World War, boxing and wrestling matches were often held in the Prater garden. Twice the later European boxing champion Gustav „Bubi“ Scholz won fights in the Berlin Prater. A fight at a dance in the Prater garten was the key experience that awakened his passion for boxing. He was all the more delighted when he won for the first time in 1949 in the ring of „his“ pub. His whole clique was there, and his father, a blacksmith from Choriner Straße, was „as touched after the victory as only at Christmas,“ Scholz recalled.
Flicks and movie theater – „Come on Anneliese, let’s go to the movies“
The cinema entrance of the DEFA film theater Kastanienallee on the occasion of the premiere of the DEFA film „The Blue Swords“, 1950. © Bundesarchiv Bild
The first film to premiere at the DEFA Filmtheater Kastanienallee in 1949 was „Rotation“ by Wolfgang Staudte. Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel, among others, attended the ceremonial opening. The DEFA orchestra played and the director of DEFA, Sepp Schwarz, gave a ceremonial speech. Poster for the premiere of the DEFA film „Rotation“ in 1949 © Bundesarchiv Bild
Entrance and gateway to the Prater with advertising for the West German film „Gift im Zoo“, which was shown at the DEFA Filmtheater Kastanienallee in July 1955. © Museum Pankow Archiv
Parentless, the fate of an orphan in 6 acts. Yeah, I’ll take a look at that. The orchestrion belted. Admission 60 pfennigs. A man to the cashier: ‚Miss, isn’t it cheaper for an old Landsturm without a belly? ‚ -‚ Nah, only for children under five months with a sucker. ‚-‚ Done. That’s how old we are. Newborns paying it off. – Well, fifty then, let’s go … intermission time. The long room was packed to the rafters, 90 percent men in caps, they’re not taking them off. Three lamps on the ceiling are covered in red … Then it gets dark and the film starts …“ (Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1929)
The Prater in Berlin in the 1920s must be imagined like this scene. The tenements in the area were mainly inhabited by people with low incomes. Since 1917, the theater had been used as a movie theater. The Praterlichtspiele seated about 800. At first, silent films were shown, American adventure films, for example with the cowboy actor Tom Mix, romantic historical dramas, and sometimes also socially critical films. In 1931, the era of silent films ended, and from then on, the Praterlichtspiele had a sound film system.
At the end of the Second World War, the city lay in ruins, the Prater, though, was hardly damaged, and the Soviet authorities wished cultural activities to quickly resume. And so, as early as May 13th , 1945, the Prater showed Soviet films, initially in Russian, later also with German subtitles or dubbed.
In 1949, DEFA, the newly founded nationally owned film company of the GDR, took over the Prater cinema. The „DEFA-Filmtheater Kastanienallee“ was the premiere theater of the GDR, here, for example, the premiere of „Rotation“ by Wolfgang Staudte was held. At Christmas 1953, the most successful DEFA film ever was shown, the fairy tale film „The Story of Little Muck“, also by Wolfgang Staudte.
In the mid-1960s, DEFA converted its cinema in Kastanienallee to „Totalvision,“ a widescreen format developed specifically in the GDR, and showed, among other films, the successful U.S. film „The Old Man and the Sea.“ Shortly thereafter, the cinema was renamed Filmkunsttheater Panorama, but by the end of 1966, it had already moved to Küstriner Platz in Friedrichshain. This move ended the history of the movie theater at the Berlin Prater.