Discover Major Berlin Historical Sites Away From the Crowds in Karlshorst
Karlshorst is one of those leafy, quiet suburbs where, at first glance, you think nothing significant every happened. But during my many jogs in the area, I accidentally stumbled upon major historical sites. From DDR watch towers to an abandoned airport to the place where World War II officially ended in Europe, Karlshorst is teeming with historical spots. I quickly saw that very little exists about Karlshorst online, at least in English. Fortunately, a few German websites – in addition to stories from locals – helped me put the pieces together. So, in this blog post, get ready to discover 4 major Berlin historical sites few foreigners know about.
Karlshorst’s Villa Colony: Dahlem of the East
The colony of Karlshorst saw the light in 1895. This new settlement was commissioned by the Emperor in order to address Berlin’s growing population. In the following decades, the green, tranquil setting attracted wealthy Berliners, politicians and prominent artists. Karlshorst was synonymous with country homes and stately villas, thus earning the nickname, “Dahlem of the East”. Many of the original villas, farmhouses and churches are still in perfect condition. A good place to start your historical Karlshorst tour is the corner of Marksburgstraße and Gundelfingerstraße.
The 1895 Racecourse, Still Operational Today
At the turn of the century, one of Karlshorst’s biggest attractions was the racecourse. Berlin bourgeoisie flocked from all over to place bets, see and be seen. During Soviet times, some of the expansive property, including an onsite casino, was destroyed, but racing did not stop. Today, a local Verein is in charge of the racecourse. On top of going to the races, people can sign up for riding lessons. Plus, the stables are open to everyone, so if you’re looking for a bit of country life in the city, go for a wander around the dirt roads behind the track and say hello to the horses.
Berlin’s Oldest Airport, Abandoned in 1920
You may remember that I mentioned a pink palace in my post about the most Instagrammable places in Berlin. This castle’s owner was none other than Werner von Siemens. In 1907, he decided to build an airship (Zeppelin) terminal in a field in Karlshorst, a couple of kilometres away from his palace and main residence.
As World War I menaced, he was forced to give up the airfield. The German army transformed it into a military airport, and this is also where pilots trained as of 1917. In 1920, ceding to the Treaty of Versailles, all airport operations stopped.
Apart from becoming a makeshift shelter for people whose homes had been destroyed during the Second World War, the airport was completely abandoned. Today it is mostly in ruins, surrounded by walking trails, greenery and a bee sanctuary. However, 3 main hangars are still visible from the road. You can also get very close to the remaining watch towers at the edge of the field.
The Spot Where the German Army Surrendered in 1945
Karlshorst is, once more, a stage for global history two decades later. In 1945, as fate would have it, the Red Army marched into Berlin and Karlshorst was right on its path. Russian soldiers consequently took control of the local Wehrmacht headquarters. This was the somber-looking villa where, on May 8th, 1945, Nazi Germany military leaders signed their country’s unconditional surrender, thus ending the terrible Second World War on the European front. For decades to follow, the villa was the center of KGB operations. Today, it houses the German-Russian Museum, where you can dive deeper into these topics.
After the German army’s surrender, Karlshorst became a military zone and cut off from the rest of Berlin. As a result, the Red Army forced German residents to leave their homes. According to our landlord, the owner of our house at the time refused, so soldiers shot him in the doorway. A few decades later, his daughter was able to take possession of the house once more, and told him this gruesome story.
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Getting to Karlshorst
It is extremely easy to get to Karlshorst. Simply take the S3 towards Erkner and get off 3 stops past Ostkreuz.
So, Will You Visit These (Almost Secret) Berlin Historical Sites?
As you can tell, much happened in Karlshorst, although this is not a name history books often point to. If you’re interested in 20th century German, European and, in fact, global history, definitely spend a day exploring Karlshorst and see these Berlin historical sites for yourself.