If you can’t travel and experience the city tour live, you have to look for alternatives. How about a virtual city tour of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt in Berlin?
I tested the offer from cpb culturepartner berlin GmbH and took part in a 1-hour online city tour through the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt in Berlin.
Experience Berlin on a live virtual tour
So, on a chilly Saturday lunchtime, I sat down comfortably in front of my laptop and waited eagerly to see how the guided tour of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt would go.
About 20 participants had registered and were there via ZOOM, just like me. Not only I, but also the providers were naturally curious about where the viewers were from. It wasn’t just Berliners, but participants from all over Germany who wanted to go on a virtual journey.
I already knew the tour guide Bernd Gutberlet. I had already discovered Charlottengrad with him and read his book “Die Berliner Mauer für die Hosentasche” with enthusiasm.
He stood on Friedrichstraße waiting for his tour participants with his mobile phone in his gimble. Then he set off and showed us the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt.
Where is the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt located?
Today, hardly anyone uses the term Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt when they are out and about in Berlin. It is the historical name of a district located in the Mitte district. The district is bordered by the course of the old customs wall on Hannoversche Straße, the Oranienburger Vorstadt, Friedrichstraße, the Spree and the Humboldthafen.
The quarter is named after the Prussian King Friedrich William III, and many of the streets still bear names referring to his children (Albrechtstraße, Karlplatz (today: Reinhardtstraße), Luisenstraße, Luisenplatz (today: Robert-Koch-Platz) and Marienstraße).
About a mulberry tree
Still in Friedrichstraße, we are led into a small backyard. In front of the entrance is a statue of a pelican. In the passageway we learn that a French hospital once stood here. However, there is nothing left of it.
The oldest mulberry tree in Prussia also stands here. The gnarled trunk of the tree stands today directly next to a car park. The tree is a very special kind of contemporary witness. It reminds us of a wish that never came true in Prussia. You may not believe it, but until the middle of the 18th century there was actually an attempt to produce silk in Berlin.
The fabric was, in contrast to the linen and wool fabric used so far, very soft and very popular. Unfortunately, silk was also very expensive. Friedrich William I began to promote the production of silk. This required silkworms to spin the thread and mulberry trees to feed the animals. This tree in Friedrichstraße probably dates from the very beginning of silk production in Prussia.
The question of why exactly there were trees for silk production here can be answered quite easily. Many Huguenots lived here. France was a centre of European silk production and some Huguenots in Berlin understood the craft. The ruler’s ambitious programme was to produce a lot of silk. He had mulberry plantations established everywhere and distributed eggs of the silkworm for production. Unfortunately, breeding the caterpillars is not easy and it required more time than the king had thought. In addition, the yield remained far below expectations.
When Friedrich II died, so did the ambitions of silk production in Berlin. Many of the trees were turned into firewood and only the tree in Friedrichstraße is a reminder today.
Culture on the Tour
The tour continued to the Friedrichstadt-Palast. Here you can learn a lot about the history of the house and a short film made you want to see the next programme that will be shown there soon. We were in the Friedrichstadt-Palast some time ago and were able to take a look behind the scenes – an experience I won’t soon forget.
Not far away on Bertolt-Brecht-Platz is the Berliner Ensemble, a well-known theatre in the city. It became famous through the performances of Bertolt Brecht. After we were shown some pictures of the interior, one thing is clear to me, I have to take a closer look at the building.
The Old Friedrichstadt Palace used to stand on Bertolt-Brecht-Platz. Today, a modern building stands in its place. Only a few steps away is the street sign “Am Zirkus”. This small street connects Schiffbauerdamm with Reinhardtstraße. The name reminds us that the “Markthallen-Circus” (later Circus Renz) was established here in 1873 in the building of a former market hall.
One place that is still at the top of my “to see” list is the former Reichsbahn bunker Friedrichstraße, now known as Boros Bunker. We were taken past the listed air-raid shelter on the live virtual tour. The building from 1942 is 18 metres high and has a floor area of 1000 m². The walls are 3 metres thick and made of reinforced concrete. In the 120 rooms on 5 floors, 2000 people once found shelter. Today the building belongs to the collector Christian Boros. He had a penthouse built on the roof and the building houses his art collection. You can visit it by appointment.
We are guided further and arrive at the Deutsches Theater. It is located on Schumannstraße and was opened in 1850 as the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Städtisches Theater. In the beginning, popular entertainment plays were performed here, but later classics and contemporary plays were also staged. Today there are three stages of different sizes in the Deutsches Theater with an audience capacity of 80-600 people.
Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt and Medicine
Then as now, medicine is a big topic in the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt. The city’s most famous hospital – the Charité – is located here. In its immediate vicinity, there used to be many private practices that were additionally run by the hospital’s doctors. In Schumannstraße, you pass a memorial plaque that refers to Paul Ferdinand Straßmann’s women’s and maternity clinic.
Only a few steps further on (Schumannstraße at the corner of Luisenstraße) you will find a large monument erected in honour of the ophthalmologist Albrecht von Graefe. He was an outstanding doctor who strongly influenced ophthalmology.
While walking along the grounds of the famous hospital, one learns interesting details about the history of the hospital. A really highly interesting, historically and architecturally exciting hospital site. As soon as it is possible again, I will definitely take a closer look.
The same applies to the end point of the virtual live tour of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt, the Veterinary Anatomical Theatre of the Veterinary School. The listed building stands east of Luisenstraße and is the oldest surviving academic teaching building in Berlin.
Is it worth taking part in the virtual live tour?
A live virtual tour is really a new experience. I found it exciting to discover the city this way.
It is certainly a little unusual. On a personal tour, a conversation often develops between the participants and the guide, where one question leads to the next. If you sit in front of the screen, you quickly fall into the consumer role and don’t ask questions. However, this is certainly only a training process and once you get to know this format, you will certainly lose your “shyness” about turning on the microphone.
For me, the live tour was definitely more exciting than a prefabricated and edited video that I can watch and interrupt at any time. This is the only way to really experience life in the city live. You experience spontaneous changes of plans during the tour or hear stories that the guide has just thought of and that actually only touch on the topic.
I think it was a lively and varied way to spend the time with little travel and sightseeing.
On the art:berlin website you can find the tours that are currently on offer. The date and start time are given and you book the appointment online.
In good time before the date, you receive a ZOOM link and the access data with which you can log in.
Shortly before the tour starts, you log in with the link you received, make yourself comfortable and enjoy!
A tip: If you don’t have ZOOM on your device yet, you should read the brief instructions sent to you and install the programme in good time.
The virtual live city tour takes place at exactly the time you want to watch it. The tour guide is on the move in the city streets with a camera and microphone. Of course, it can happen that unforeseen events such as demonstrations, ambulance sirens or blocked streets force you to improvise. It’s just like being on location and travelling in a group.
A big advantage is, of course, that no matter what the weather, you can sit comfortably at home.
The ZOOM platform offers the possibility to ask questions in writing via a chat function. You can also talk directly to the tour guide via the microphone on your device.
Next to the tour guide there is the “control centre”. From there, maps, images and small video sequences are fed into the transmission. These clarify and expand the tour guide’s explanations.
The tour lasts one hour.
As soon as it is possible to offer live tours again, this tour will take place in groups again. The virtual live tour is a shortened offer and there is much more to see directly on site! So it is worthwhile to do the tour again later.
This article was written as part of a cooperation and is based exclusively on my own impressions.