East and West Berlin were physically and ideologically divided for twenty-eight years. Viewed as the “Wall of Shame” by the West and the “Ant Fascist Protection Rampart” (Antifaschistischer Schutzwall) by the East, the Wall was actually a complex series of measures, consistently reinforced and expanded throughout its lifetime. Within the boundaries of this structure lay the Death Strip, a No-Mans-Land of raked sand and gravel, flood lit at night and designed to offer no hiding place to human escapees.
From the early 1960s until the late 1980s, a thriving population of rabbits called this area home. Having the ability to scamper and tunnel between East and West without restriction, the rabbits came to represent the freedom that the people had lost. The rabbits had no regard for the border itself, the guards, or the demands and restrictions of the Communist regime. Berliners on both sides of the wall looked upon the rabbits fondly. Sadly, a return to freedom of movement for the citizens of Berlin meant the end of such free-living for the rabbits. As the wall was destroyed, the place they called home was no longer a protected area. Human invasion chased the rabbits out and redevelopment destroyed their burrows and warrens.
The former peaceful residents of the Death Strip may be gone, but they are not forgotten. The area around the former border crossing at Chausseestrasse in the Wedding district of Berlin is scattered with the life-size brass silhouettes of running, crouching and hopping bunnies. The “Kaninchenfeld” or Rabbit Field was designed by artist Karla Sachse as a reminder of this lesser known aspect of the cities past.
Sadly, just as progress destroyed the real life inspiration for this charming and thought provoking piece of Berlin art work, the brass rabbits of the Kaninchenfeld are in decline. Although there were originally 120 laid down, on a recent visit we counted forty or so. Careless development and road resurfacing has taken some and ongoing construction work probably accounts for few more we couldn’t see. Sadly, I think a good number have been permanently lost
If you want to find the rabbits, head to Chausseestrasse and look for the Total Garage as a starting point. The nearest U bahn is Schwartzkopfstrasse. Don’t forget to look on the road too, where the brass rabbits are slightly easier to spot being polished under the wheels of the traffic. From this area you can make a pleasant stroll along Chauseestrasse and Oranienburgerstrasse to the pleasant Manitou Park. There are many places to stop for a coffee or a bite to eat along the way.
Berlin might be famous for its cheerful mascot bears, but I think the rabbits of the Kaninchenfeld are just as charming. Details of this and other art projects that mark former crossing points can be found here.
Until next time,