13 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Köpenick

1. Old Town Köpenick, untouched by both Allied bombs and GDR development, retains a good deal of its eighteenth-century charm. It makes a pleasant spot for a wander, with plenty of spots for coffee and cake, ice cream, or a treat from the small market on the Schlossplatz. Mira’s Langos stand sells Hungarian sausage as well as the eponymous fried-dough treats.

Schlosssplatz, Köpenick. Image by Paul Sullivan.

2. The Rathaus Köpenick, an extensive, turreted redbrick Wilhelmine building in the Old Town, was the site of a famous heist in 1906 by wastrel out-of-work cobbler Wilhelm Voigt. The Schuster dressed as a Prussian officer and ordered a contingent of troops inside to the town treasury, where they quickly raided the coffers. A bronzed statue of the moustachioed folk hero, memorialized as the Hauptmann (Captain) of Köpenick, welcomes visitors outside the Town Hall.

Rathaus Köpenick. Image by Paul Sullivan.

3. Covering 18.9 percent of the surface area of Berlin, Treptow-Köpenick—the two have been administratively joined since 2001—is geographically the city’s largest district.

4. With 70 percent of its area covered in forest or wetland, Köpenick is known as the “green lungs” of Berlin. Because the locality embraces stretches of the Spree and Dahme rivers as well as the considerable Mügglesee, Köpenick is, literally, a backwater district, divided physically and psychically from much of the city—with its own strong sense of narrative and identity.

Köpenick’s street trams. Image by Paul Sullivan.

5. Known habitation began with the Slavic settlement of Kopanica (“place by the river”) as far back as the eighth century. “Cöpenic,” as it came to be known, was comprised largely of a fishing colony hugging the banks of the Dahme. Today’s coat of arms, derived from the colony’s traditional medieval crest and showing two silver fish, seven golden stars (the Pleiades, the fishers’ constellation), and a golden key to symbolize Peter, patron saint of fishermen, can be found on many buildings.

6. The Kietz neighborhood, or Fischerkietz, on the eastern shore of the Dahme below the Old Town, with its sleepy, rural feel and steep-roofed, single-story fishermen’s cottages, is easily the most charming outpost of Köpenick. In the Middle Ages, the cottages’ residents paid dues to the nearby castle (on the site of today’s Schloss Köpenick) for the right to fish the river. Some of the settlement’s remaining houses, with their dormers and wood-shingled roofs, are nearing four hundred years old. Narrow cobbled Gassen, or alleys, run down to the river.

Fischerkiez Cottage. Image by Ana Dinescu.

7. The Fischerfrauen, or fish wives, once made a celebrated expedition, returning with a fish-tale-sized catch. The Kietz shoreline, still known in their honor as the Frauentog (Low German for Frauenzug, “gathering of women”), is home to sundry ventures: a solar boat-charging station, bathing beach, waterside dining, and a canoe-rental business run out of a former wash house.

8. Köpenick was long famous as Berlin’s wash house. Located at the confluence of the Dahme and Spree, the spot offered abundant clear water and grassy areas where women could gather to wash clothes and lay them in the sun for bleaching. In 1835, Henriette “Mother” Lustig obtained permission to open the first commercial laundry. Representing the rapid industrialization of the business was Carl Spindler, inventor and owner of an extensive nineteenth-century laundry and dyeworks along the Spree. A number of former wash houses, converted to cafes and other businesses, and the neighborhood of Spindlersfeld in the west end, remain.

9. Across the Dahme from the Fischerkietz, on the Schlossinsel, stands Schloss Köpenick, a sixteenth-century manse and chapel mixing Renaissance and Dutch-baroque styles and now home to a decorative arts museum and small garden.

10. Over on Charlottenstrasse, concrete housing blocks and the odd Trabi hark back to the days before Die Wende. The busy trolley barn (Strassenbahnhof) there, with its fifteen bays, is fun for watching trams glide out of and into service, but entering the grounds without permission is not advised.

Ostalgie in Charlottenstrasse. Image by Ana Dinescu.

11. Swans can be seen floating serenely on the Dahme near the Schlossinsel and in the Spree between Baumgarteninsel and the Platz des 23 April, so named for the date in 1945 when the Soviet army arrived in Köpenick. The square features a monument to the victims of the town’s Blutwoche, or Blood Week, 21 to 26 June 1933. Then the Nazis captured and tortured area Jews, Communists, unionists, and political opponents, killing up to ninety people in an Aktion centered in the nearby municipal court building on Mandrellaplatz. A small memorial exhibit there is open on Thursdays.

12. The far-right National Democratic Party of Germany, or NPD, which is headquartered in Köpenick—and is officially described by the federal intelligence agency as racist, anti-Semitic, and “revisionist”—has affixed a number of demagogic posters to the utility poles ahead of the local elections. One poster, showing a yellow-haired boy, advises that the country needs “German children” (Deutsche Kinder braucht das Land!). An illustrated sign depicts two Eastern “Ali-Baba” types and a minstrelesque, bone-necklaced African on a magic carpet and the caption Guten Heimflug: “Have a nice flight home.” Köpenick is a regular site of reactionary brawling on May 1st.

13. Köpenick is a place of eighteenth-century charm, communist block houses, and bucolic beauty, of folklore and legend and ghosts. Here old stories of ancient fishing communities, nineteenth-century wash houses, and scalawag shoemakers rub up against newer, darker stories about a pure and powerful past, a treacherous present, and a yearned-for return.

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