Heinrich is dead. Paradoxically, Heinrich is also rather alive, especially in rush hours and in the early hours of Sunday morning.
He was a writer of poetry and controversial texts, yet also boasts one LIDL, a Kaisers and a bunch of Spätis.
I met him a few months ago when I moved to my current Kiez (a delightful local word describing one’s immediate neighbourhood) in Berlin Mitte and we’ve been crossing paths regularly ever since.
Heinrich (technically, Christian Johann Heinrich Heine) is both a person of note and the namesake of just another bog-standard Berlin street.
Meet Heinrich the wordsmith:
Born to a Jewish family at the turn of the 19th century, Heine became known as one of Germany’s greatest romantic poets before the able journalist and critic turning his caustic wit towards politics.
His outspoken political views caused many of his publications to be banned in Germany and Heinrich left his homeland for Paris, where he remains today, buried in Montmartre Cemetary.
He was one of the earliest to note the dangers of growing German nationalism and you can find him quoted in Berlin’s Bebelplatz, above a subterranean room of empty bookshelves that were installed as a reminder of the 1933 Nazi book burnings.
“That was only a prelude, there
where they burn books,
they burn in the end people..”
I’m slowly learning there is no such thing as a bog-standard street in Berlin. Some may appear this way, but they are simply waiting to be coaxed into giving up their graffiti-clad secrets.
Heinrich-Heine-Strasse is no different.
It only took its present name in 1960, barely a year before the Berlin Wall divided the people of Berlin as it sprung up directly across H-H-Strasse’s southern extremity.
What goods and postal transport as existed between the two halves of the city passed through the checkpoint here, as did two desperate escape attempts from East to West.
The first was partially successful; three men managed to crash a truck through the checkpoint barrier and into West Berlin territory under gunfire, where the driver died at the scene and his two friends escaped, with serious injuries.
Unfortunately, the next — a pair of West Berlin men trying to sneak two East Berlin women across — were less lucky. The hideaways were discovered and the driver shot while he tried to flee on foot.
This site is now marked by a used car storage yard and a small information board.
The Spree River end is much more colourful, but you may wish to be careful of which H-H-Strasse Ubahn entrance you aim for in the weekend.
Choose the wrong (or right) door at the entrance on the corner with Kopenicker Strasse and you could find yourself in fetish dancehall KitKatClub, where the amount of leather on show is outdone only by skin displayed.
If you do make it down into the pale violet underground (the aubergine-hued Ubahn station, that is), take a minute to congratulate yourself on finding one of Berlin’s ‘Geisterbahnhof’, or ‘Ghost Stations’.
This station was one of many sealed off by the DDR after the construction of Berlin Wall, its platform eerily empty as West German trains rattled by on a detour through communist Germany.
It was reopened after 30 years of silence, but still retains its original decor, buskers who appear to be of a similar vintage and a lack of modern trappings such as lifts, escalators and wheelchair access.
Whatever you say about Heinrich, he has character.