The Rosa Behind the Platz

If you live in Berlin you probably passed by Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. It is where you can find Volksbühne, Babylon cinema, many cool bars and trendy restaurants, and also the house of the German left party ‘Die Linke‘ in Karl-Liebknecht-Haus. 

The Platz was named after the communist leader and philosopher Rosa Luxemburg. It got its name during the GDR (DDR), first only named Luxemburgplatz in 1947 and later renamed Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in 1969. Behind this peaceful square hides the bloody story of a powerful woman – Rosa Luxemburg. She was a Polish Marxist, philosopher, economist, anti-war activist, and revolutionary socialist, who became a German citizen at the age of 28 and died a tragic death when she was only 47. 

Rosa Luxemburg was born in Poland to a Jewish family in 1871. She spoke Polish, German and Russian. When she was 13 years old, she attended a prestigious secondary school (The Zweite Frauengymnasium) that rarely accepted polish applicants and even rarer still accepted Jewish applicants. When she was only 15 years old she joined the Polish left-wing Proletariat Party. In 1889 she moved to Switzerland, where she attended university and studied philosophy, history, politics, economics, and mathematics. There she also completed her doctoral dissertation named “The Industrial Development of Poland”. Again she stood out, as not many women had a doctorate at that time.

a woman stand in front of U-Bahn station

In 1983 Rosa and Leo Jogiches co-founded the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL). However, for Rosa it wasn’t enough, she wanted to move to Berlin in order to be in the center of the party struggle. She was able to move to Berlin in 1898 after she married Gustav Lübeck (1897) to gain German citizenship. Their marriage was only for reasons of convenience and they officially got divorced 5 years later.

After Rosa moved to Berlin she became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The party stood for the liberation of the industrial working class and all minorities and they believed it could be achieved only by revolution. During the time before the First World War she spoke passionately to prevent the coming war. Her idea to unite all European workers’ parties in an attempt to stop the war was accepted at the Socialist Second International Congress in Stuttgart in 1907. However, in reality, it did not happen and SPD agreed with the government not to strike during the war. As a result, Rosa left the SPD and founded the ‘Spartacus League’. They mainly wrote and distributed illegal anti-war pamphlets. She and Karl Liebknecht were imprisoned for two and a half years Due to their anti-war actions. Imprisonment did not make her stop writing her opinions, and with the help of her friends she managed to publish them.

Rosa was freed from prison in 1918, just in time for the German revolution. The first wave resulted in the replacement of the monarchy with a democratic republic and the USPD and SPD assumed power. However, Rosa, the ‘Spartacus League’ and others were not happy with the leadership of Friedrich Ebert. On the first of January 1919 Karl and Rosa founded the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). On the 8th of January she published a statement to suggest the impeachment of Friedrich Ebert. As a response the German Chancellor Ebert ordered the Freikorps to destroy the left-wing revolution. A few days later Rosa and Karl were captured, tortured and executed. Rosa was shot and flung into the Landwehr Canal. Their death inspired a new wave of violence in Berlin and across Germany. Her body was found only 4 months later, and she was buried in Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde (in Lichtenberg).

In life and in death Rosa inspired many. Lenin praised Luxemburg after her death as an “eagle” of the working class. The GDR (DDR) idolized her as a communist martyr, and she is still idolized today by the current left party ‘Die Linke’. Brecht even wrote a poem about her.

Red Rosa now has vanished too,
And where she lies is hid from view.
She told the poor what life's about,
And so the rich have rubbed her out.
May she rest in peace.

Written & illustrated by Adi G.

Adi G. is a graphic designer and illustrator, she moved to Berlin 7 years ago from Israel. The thing she missed the most about Israel is her family.

Döner for Beginners

You might assume that the Döner Kebab was invented in Turkey but according to Tarrkan Tasumruk, chairman of the Association of Turkish Doner Manufacturers in Europe ATDiD, the Döner was actually invented in Germany. There are a few who say that they came up with the idea. Nevzat Salim claims to have invented the Döner in 1969 a town of Reutlingen, Mehmet Aygün says he opened the first-ever Döner stand in 1971, but the most solid claim belong to Kadir Nurman who opened a Döner stand in Berlin next to Zoo station in 1972. While there are other possible “doner inventors,” Mr. Nurman’s contribution was recognized by the ATDiD in 2011.

In Germany, the Döner Kabab sales reach 3.5 billion euros a year, and 600 tons of Döner meat are consumed each day. Just in Berlin, there are more than 1000 Döner shops – making Berlin the Döner capital of the world.

Angela Markel eating döner

So how did this popular dish come to be?

It all began in 1961 that West Germany made a labor recruiting agreement with the Republic of Turkey, inviting Turkish workers to immigrate to Germany. When the agreement was first enacted, the ‘guest-workers’ were only given short-term contracts, to prevent the ‘guest-workers’ from settling in Germany permanently. But soon enough Germany realized that it took too much effort and money to train new workers every two years, so the ‘guest workers’ from Turkey were allowed to stay longer, and later they were even given permission to bring their families to Germany with them. Between 1961 and 1973 (when the ‘Gastarbeiter’ program ended) around 750,000 Turkish nationals arrived in West Germany to work. About half of them returned to Turkey while the other half stayed in Germany, thus changing Germany’s demographic and its food culture forever. 

Kadir Nurman was one of those who came to Germany from Turkey during those years. He moved to Germany in 1960 and in 1966 he came to Berlin to be a fitter for printing machines, but as a salesman, he immediately saw a potential by feeding the working-class people. He took inspiration from the Turkish royal cuisine, and simplified it – instead of fancy meat skewers served with rice and salad, he sliced lamb or beef from a standing spinning pole and combined it with Turkish flatbread and onions – making it the perfect to-go dish. Although this style of street food wasn’t really new and other variations already existed like the Greek gyro or the Arab Shawarma, the Döner was a completely new Turkish-German hybrid invention.

Adi G. is a graphic designer and illustrator, she moved to Berlin 7 years ago from Israel. The thing she missed the most about Israel is her family.

This is Bohemian-Rixdorf

In the middle of Neuköln, between U-Bahn Karl-Marks-Straße and S-Bahn Neuköln lays a little quiet square called Bohemian-Rixdorf. This square holds an interesting history. About 280 years ago this place was a refugee settlement, and from that the little village grew to the neighborhood we know today as “Neuköln”.

After the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, Bohemia (today Czech Republic) was recatholicized, Protestants from the area were persecuted and killed. They fled to Germany, which welcomed them. 305 refugees were invited by King Friedrich Wilhelm I to settle in Rixdorf (a small village next to Berlin). The People of Böhmisch-Rixdorf kept their Bohemian traditions and their language for a very long time. For 60 years all community records were in Czech; until 1820 all tombstones were bilingual; town ceremonies were held in Czech until the First World War.

a couple dancing in Rixdorf
*inspired by the folk song “In Rixdorf ist Musike”

In 1912 Rixdorf was renamed as Neukölln, because of Rixdorf’s bad reputation. The town was known for its frivolous entertainment, fun, and of course bad morals. 8 years later Neukölln became the 14th district of Berlin. 

There are a few buildings still standing from that time:

Bethlehem Church (Richardplatz 22), known as the “Rixdorfer Dorfkirche”, which dates from 1481. The old church was destroyed but rebuilt by the bohemian settlers that came in 1737 and it is still in use today.
The Museum in the Bohemian Village (Kirchgasse 5) is one of the best-preserved historical buildings in Böhmisch-Rixdorf. This building was a school from 1753 until 1909, Today there is a small museum there.
The Böhmischer Gottesacker is a cemetery (Karl-Marx-Platz 10) that was built in 1751 and it is the second oldest cemetery still in use in Berlin.
A Historic Smithy (Richardplatz 28). It originally belonged to a blacksmith from Berlin who drove here once a week. In 1797 a Bohemian blacksmith settled there, his descendants ran the smithy for 150 years. The smithy is still in use today but its function is artistic and restoration. Every year the smithy takes part in the traditional Alt-Rixdorf Christmas market.

Until today there is an expression in German that refers to the Bohemian settlements „Das ist mir ein böhmisches Dorf“ which means “That is completely foreign to me”, or “I don’t understand this”.

In Rixdorf ist Musike 
Auf den Sonntag freu’ ich mir.
Ja dann geht es ‘raus zu ihr
feste mit vergnügtem Sinn
Pferdebus nach Rixdorf hin.
Dort erwartet Rieke mir
ohne Rieke kein Plaisir.
Rieke Riekchen Riekake
die ist mir nicht pi-pa-pe.
Geh’ mit ihr ins Tanzlokal
Rieke Riekchen woll’n wir ‘mal?
Kost’n Groschen nur
für die ganze Tour.
Rieke lacht und sagt: “Na ja
dazu sind wir auch noch da!”
Und nu geht es mit avec
immer feste weg.
Rieke feste angefasst!
Rechts herum links herum
immer mang das Publikum
kreuz und quer hin und her
das gefällt mir sehr ja sehr.
Balancez ach herrje
Rieke tanzt wie eine Fee.
Tritt sie mir tret’ ich ihr
das gehört nun zum Plaisir.
… In Rixdorf ist Musike, Musike, Musike,
da tanzen Franz und Rieke,
die letzte Polka vor .-
… In Rixdorf ist Musike, Musike, Musike,
da tanzt die alte Rieke
mit ihrem Zickenbock.

written by Adi G.

Adi G. is a graphic designer and illustrator, she moved to Berlin 7 years ago with her cat. She still struggles to say Kichererbsen.

Rachel K. is an illustrator. She moved to Berlin 12 years ago with her husband. She is still confused when people say igel and refer to a hedgehog and not an eagle.