Stinking cesspools and barricade fights, a debauched nightlife and chic restaurants, destruction and division by a border, resurrection as a shopping and entertainment mile.
In its more than 200-year history, berlin’s friedrichstrabe has experienced many highs and lows. Now it could reinvent itself once again for a while.
Next weekend (5./6. October) the section between franzosischer strabe and mohrenstrabe near gendarmenmarkt in the heart of the capital will be closed to cars. For two days, people will be able to experience what a big city feels like without traffic jams and the smell of gasoline. Instead, there will be fashion shows, music and champagne in the open air.
What sounds quite banal borders on a revolution in the auto city of berlin. For many people in berlin, the car is still their favorite child, even though it often takes them a long time to get around in the city. Now the test in friedrichstrabe could become a blueprint for the traffic turnaround away from cars, which the red-red-green senate has been propagating for three years and wants to implement step by step.
"At the moment, friedrichstrabe is one thing above all: uncomfortable, noisy, not really inviting," says the district mayor of berlin-mitte and initiator of the project, stephan von dassel (grune). Many people in the city want "more flat justice," a better quality of stay and sustainable mobility.
Von dassel is already planning the second car-free phase on friedrichstrabe around the open second advent weekend. And next year, a trial lasting several weeks is to follow, with the involvement of the senate transport administration, which will then be scientifically monitored to investigate the effects on roads and traffic flows in the surrounding area, for example.
The fubganger lobby likes the project and can imagine extending it to other streets. "It is to be hoped that this will revitalize friedrichstrabe," says roland stimpel of the fubverkehr trade association in germany. More flat areas to linger, more outdoor seating, easier access to shops and restaurants – stimpel believes this could also boost their sales.
The shopping mile, which was given a new lease of life after reunification and, with its chic boutiques and the luxury department store galeries lafayette, temporarily outstripped the kudamm in the west of the city, was in crisis. Today, more and more stores are giving up, and there is talk of a vacancy rate of around 20 percent.
"We are very interested in increasing the attractiveness of friedrichstrabe," says etienne galvani of the galeries lafayette about it. "Therefore, we are open to many things that can contribute to the positive change and development of the location."The city is therefore "curious" to see what the car-free weekend, during which residents are allowed to open their stores on sundays, will ultimately achieve.
Will pedestrian zones bring more sales in addition to cleaner air?? The chief executive of the berlin-brandenburg trade association, nils busch-petersen, does not see this as an automatism. There are problems in the old town of spandau, for example, and ups and downs in wilmersdorfer strabe – both of which have been rough fubganger zones for decades.
And in general: "it’s amateurish, also in terms of traffic policy, if you can’t think of anything else than closing individual sections of the road," says busch-petersen. Residents are not involved enough. He lacked an overall concept, the question was where the traffic should go instead. "This is not worpswede with its village street," busch-petersen grumbles. "Center is a complex system."
Berlin is not alone in germany in its efforts to give more space to pedestrians and cyclists alike. In frankfurt/main, for example, cars were locked out of the northern bank of the main river near the city center for an initial year. In mid-2016, munich began a test project to make the sendlinger strabe shopping street car-free. More old town streets to follow. In hamburg’s city hall district, some streets have been off-limits to cars for three months since the beginning of august, with exceptions for delivery traffic, for example.
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