If history would have had its way, this delightful old building in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood should have vanished in the past century, at least a couple of times. After somehow surviving and prospering through several wars, the building’s storied bricks have a history that is uncannily representative of the city’s shifting social and political landscape.
The Krankenhaus Bethanien was originally built in the mid-19th century, on the orders of Prussia’s King Frederic William IV. It was used by the Deaconess, a non-clerical order of Protestantism, which was seeing a resurgence in Germany at the time. Inheriting its name from the biblical city of Bethany, where Jesus raised dear old Lazarus from the dead, the hospital complex housed hospital and welfare facilities, and somehow emerged structurally sound from World War II.
However, it was slated for demolition after being closed in 1970. But in 1971, some squatters took over part of the hospital, and renamed it the “Georg von Rauch House,” in honor of the leftist radical who had just been killed by a plainclothes police office.
The Cold War and After
Over the next decades, as the Cold War heated up and then eventually cooled down, the Bethanien continued to house various social and public projects. In the typically post-war period of ridiculously low property prices, the building was planned to be privatized. But again, some upstanding citizens stood up and then sat down, figuratively; another part of the building became another squat, in a typically post-war Berlin fashion.
In 2011, the Georg von Rauch House burned down, but was resurrected the following year.
Today, some would say that the old brick beast still heals: there are art galleries and a reasonably-priced café in the building; outside there’s a quiet garden and a portable screen where you can watch movies in the summer time.
Find the Krankenhaus Bethanien in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood, at Mariannenplatz 2.