Ber­li­ner Pra­ter – histo­ry

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.