Zehlendorf - a brief history


On the first of January 2001, the green district of Zehlendorf became one part of the extensive administrative area of southwestern Berlin, which is run under the name of "Steglitz-Zehlendorf". Like Steglitz, Zehlendorf came into existence on 27 August 1920 as a result of a law that united surrounding residential areas, passed as part of the agenda of an increasingly consolidated Berlin greater metropolitan area. The old village and the later district community were arbitrarily given the name of "Zehlendorf", a district that encompassed through other communities and five "Gutsbezirke". The history of this region will be briefly presented below:

In 1992, the district celebrated its 750th birthday, calculated with reference to a document that mentions the sale of the village by the then governing landlords, Johann I and Otto III, to the Cistercian monks from Lehnin for 300 silver marks.

The Lehninese Monks created a small centre from which they organised their village "Zehlendorf" in 1242. The people who farmed and worked the land here had arrived in this area about forty years previously as more villages in the area were founded.

This region of settlements was founded by the Askaniern as part of a strategic move to protect themselves from the Markgrafen von Meißen. The Cistercians established on the new foundation next to the church a farming-tested structure, a Dorfkrug, a mill and a forge.

The Zehlendorfer "Feldmark", which in 1271 was considerably expanded through the addition of the Krummensee and its settlement, guaranteed the sustenance of about 140 people.

The three lakes, Tusen (Nikolsee), Schlactensee and Krumme Lanke, supplied the village with fish and with Reet for use in constructing roofs. The lands to the west, stretching from the Havel to Wannsee were well-suited for providing the settlers with wood and Weideflächen. The fertile soil to the east, rich in Lehm - and Mergelböden deposits, was cultivated according to the ‚Dreifelderwirtschaft' (crop rotation) system.

For 300 years, until 1542, the Monks administered the area, until, with the coming of the Reformation, church properties were taken over and Zehlendorf came under the administration of the Elector's office of Mühlenhof. From then onwards, the Brandenburg Electors, and later the Prussian Kings, were the patrons of the village church. The small village recovered remarkably quickly from the casualties and economic recession brought about by the Thirty Years War, and, in 1652, the surveyor of Klienitz registered 12 Farms and 6 Kossäten (cottagers). An official 'Gemeine Dorf Ordnungk' (village ordinance) set down, inspired the chaos of the war years, 51 paragraphs of laws and injunctions concerning the rights and moral duties of the residents. A testament to the success of this ordinance is the fact that the oldest surviving church book dates from this same time period!

With the building of the palace in Potsdam, the city on the Havel became the second residence of the Hohenzollerns. Zehlendorf assumed greater importance as the halfway point between the two references, making it a centre for communication and travel. Friedrich II would lounge at the Zehlendorfer Anger while he waited for the horses to be changed, often speaking to the farmers, leading to his agreement that the mud-brick church from the Middle Ages would be replaced with a lighter and brighter octagonal building. His nephew later ordered the building of the first Prussian Chaussee (the so-called stone train) between the two residences, thereby accelerating the speed of travel to an impressive 10km/h.

The 'Prussian Arcades', along with its accompanying grounds, extended to Glienicke und the Pfaueninsel (Island of the Peacocks) in the 19th century, and the Dreilinden hunting palace and the Rittergut Düppel almost reached the small Frederickan church in the middle of Zehlendorf.

With the building of the first Prussian railroad in 1838 through Zehlendorf, which soon became a stop on the line, the groundwork for the development of a western Berlin suburb was laid. 35 years later it would be easily possible to work in the city and live in the country. Along with the building of the railroad, two other reforms made this possible: First, the real estate was restructured through a process known as the "Separation" that transferred the land to the farmers themselves, and secondly, a new land governing administration was set up, which from 1873 also had jurisdiction in Zehlendorf, leading to a gradual realisation of self-administration.

Land surveyors began to buy up whole farm properties in order to sell them to wealthy customers from Berlin, who would then undertake their cultivation. Large country homes, designed by famous architects, villas belonging to middle-class and upper-class bureaucrats, and later communal housing for less well-to-do residents, including the large recognisable complexes of modern apartment buildings today, all characterise the architectural developments of the region from the time of founding through the present.

After the first attempt around 1910 to organise and control the growth of the city, in 1920 the perimeter of the Berlin metropolitan area were redrawn. The farming communities in the southwest of Zehlendorf, Wannsee and Nikolassee, like the Gutsbezirke (domain) of Dahlem, Kleinglienicke, Pfaueninsel and the northern Potsdamer forest, came to constitute the tenth Berlin administrative district of Zehlendorf. Schwanenwerder and the Gut Düppel were added later. Beginning in 1938, the Dahlemer Weg forms the boundary to Steglitz.

The Zehlendorfer community administration resided from 1876 in the old schoolhouse, which has become vacant as a result of the building of a new community school. The community preferred at this time to apply its funds towards this larger school building. For the first time in 1929, the area's mayor could, according to his rank, occupy an office room in the recently built city hall. By 1934 the state building in Kirchstraße / Teltower Damm was just a shell of its former self, and the regional administrative committee was dissolved, along with the district office. In the place of the democratically elected bodies stood six regional officials who reported to the National Socialist mayor.

On 22nd April 1945, a sunny spring day, the first Ukrainian Front under Marshall Konjew prepared to traverse the Teltow Canal. After the failure of a first attack in the region of Lichterfeld, a second attack succeeded on the 24th April - the taking of the Friedrich- Schweitzer-Bridge - allowing the Soviet tanks to reach southern Zehlendorf by midday.

In September 1945 a new statute took effect, and in 1946, after free elections, the district office and an elected mayor took over the reestablished self-administration of the district. Immediate consequences of the expanding responsibility of the district parliaments were the city hall expansion projects of 1953/54 and 1971.

From June of 1945, until their departure in 1994, American troops made their impression on the Zehlendorf scene. Barracks, headquarters, community assistance offices, living quarters, schools and recreation centres were omnipresent in the district. A yearly highpoint was the German-American Peoples' Festival, during which the Berliners could come together and celebrate with the American community. Meanwhile, the Truman Plaza no longer exists and luxury apartments adorn the abandoned military occupation zones.

During the years of the Berlin Wall, there was much people-traffic that came through Zehlendorf en route to and from the border control point at Dreilinden. This changed completely after the fall of the wall. Old ties with Kleinmachnow and the surrounding area were rejuvenated, pushing Zehlendorf out of its peripheral status and back into the historic centre that lies nestled between Berlin and Potsdam.