The “Cottage-Apartments”

Alt-Stralau 46
On this location still stand two of the three apartment buildings built by the owners of the Stralau Glassworks for their workers in 1890/91. Compared to the usual Berlin tenements, these apartments, designed by Heinrich Mittag (1859–1920), were exemplary.

The five-story building housed 26 two-room apartments, each with a large kitchen, running water, and steam heating. Bathrooms and laundry were located in the basement, and behind the buildings were a garden and small playground. The company also provided a generous rent subsidy. Its aim was to retain the workers, the majority of them gaffers (glass-smiths), at the glassworks for the long term and to keep the political influence of the Socialists at a minimum.

As a result of working and living together, a strong and special sense of community grew among the residents. Beginning in 1890, the workers in the glass industry organized themselves into the “Zentralverband der Glasarbeiter und Arbeiterinnen Deutschlands” (Central organization of men and women glass-workers in Germany). The union was headquartered in Stralau beginning in 1897 and went on to lead the general strike of 1901 from its seat there. The union chairman was the gaffer Emil Girbig (1866–1933), who managed a tavern at Alt-Stralau 17 from 1897 to 1900.

During the Weimar Republic a number of Stralau residents aligned themselves with or sympathized with the Communists and participated in the early days of resistance to the Nazi dictatorship. Raids, arrests, and a trial resulted. During the Second World War, the younger members founded the opposition group “Die Rote Flamme” (the red flame). Among the active families were the Willhagens: Max and Anna and their sons Heinz, Walter, and Erich. Max Willhagen died in 1938 as the result of a one-and-a-half year imprisonment. A Stolperstein or memorial “stumbling stone” has been laid in his honor. Anna Willhagen, cooperating with others, rescued two Jews and two forced laborers who had escaped.

The front apartment building was destroyed by air raids in 1945. In 1990 squatters moved in. Today the two remaining buildings have been renovated and modernized and are under protection as historical landmarks.

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