The Lion Queen’s residence
The “lion on the loose” everyone has been looking for is hiding at the abandoned Zambian embassy. Hiding is the wrong word. She’s seeking asylum. Where else would a lion turn in her hour of need? That’s what embassies are for! She’s evidently a Zambian lioness.
Of course, the Polizei would never think of that. Instead of thinking like a lion, they went traipsing through forests with their big heavy boots and truncheons, yelling at each other asking if any had seen a lion, beaming spotlights everywhere, flying loud drones and helicopters overhead.
No wonder they couldn’t find her. What lion would be crazy enough to announce itself to that lot? All the Polizei found were lots of boars, who obviously weren’t too bothered by the antics of their brethren.
You know the rest of the story. The Polizei, embarrassed after days of nothing to show despite their own sightings of a lion, just gave up and hired some “experts” to say the lion that was filmed snacking on a boar was actually a boar scratching his arse on a tree.
Meanwhile, our lioness made her way to the Zambian embassy in Pankow, unaware that it’s actually abandoned. The Zambians bought it in 1999 but never moved in. They’re still lingering in their embassy on Axel-Springer-Straße, afraid to leave in case Bild and Welt across the road write shit about them once they’re gone.
Elsa, for that is her name, said she’d lived in Neukölln for 15 years and no one had taken any notice of her, not even on her trips to the butcher shop – there’s just so many weird and wonderful beings in Berlin, a lion is no big deal.
But rents have been soaring and Elsa didn’t have her own contract. Who’d give a contract to a foreigner? She’d been moving from sublet to sublet but even they’re getting harder to find.
Then the CDU somehow got into power after blaming foreigners for all of Berlin’s problems and promising car owners they could park on pedestrians. Lions are pretty low down on mayor Kai Wegner and car minister Manja Schreiner’s list of priorities.
“I got the feline I wasn’t welcome anymore,” Elsa said.
She legged it, going south initially, then north when the police starting flying around and combing the neighborhood for lions, until she got to the embassy beside Schönholzer Heide and applied for asylum.
Poor Elsa would have picked a different embassy if she’d known about the corpses in the basement.
But we’ll come to them. First, we need to start in the 1880s, when the villa was built as the property of one Ernst Langheinrich, the general director of a Prussian insurance company called Friedrich Wilhelm. A good Prussian name, that.
According to the Berliner Morgenpost, the villa housed restaurants after Langheinrich died in 1898 – “Borussia Park” run by Max Rudolph, the “Tivoli” run by Eduard Schaller, the “Eggert” restaurant from 1914. They benefited from the popularity of Schönholzer Heide as a much-loved recreational location just outside the city gates. There was even a fun park in Schönholzer Heide until they turned it into a labor camp, but that’s another story.
Heinrich Bollenbach, an engineer and entrepreneur, became the owner of the villa in 1918, two years before Schönholz was incorporated into Berlin as part of Niederschönhausen in the district of Pankow.
Bollenbach rented out the building in the form of apartments – yeah, baby! – and various tenants came and went.
Part of it was used as a police station between 1927 and 1934. The villa was converted into an old folk’s home in 1934. Bollenbach died in 1934 and his widow rented the villa out to Martha Richter, who ran it as a nursing home until the end of World War 2.
Of course the Soviets took over anything they could get their hands on after the war and the villa was no exception. They told Frau Bollenbach to take a hike in 1949, and it was used as a police station again, and a registration office. Apparently, Otto Grotewohl, the first DDR prime minister, registered here when he first moved to Pankow.
The villa was used for various commercial endeavors, then served as a municipal retirement and nursing home till 1978, then some other administration center for Pankow until 1985. Some people said the East German army also used the building. The paramilitary “Gesellschaft für Sport und Technik” used it between 1985 up to Mauerfall.
Speaking of the Berlin Wall, it ran right by the villa, which found itself in a restricted zone. You can still find bits of the old Berlin Wall just down the road, protected by a half-arsed fence.
Well, when the East German authorities were expanding their death strip to try and prevent their compatriots from leaving their wonderful country, they dug up a graveyard to the north of the park to make way for it, and they moved the corpses into the spacious cellar of the villa.
It was only when locals kicked up a stink about the smell of decomposing bodies that the officials moved the corpses again. They disappeared overnight. Local legend has it that they were buried in Schönholzer Heide.
The villa was used by the Bezirksamt Pankow after German reunification up until a fire destroyed the roof and much of the building in 1992. Local historian Christian Bormann, the “Indiana Jones of Pankow,” says there were Stasi files in the building and that it was no coincidence that it caught fire. The perpetrators were never found. The villa remained without a roof until 1998.
The Zambians bought the place in 1999 and spared no expense in doing it up. Apparently, they poured more than a million DM into it, all in close consultation with the ambassador’s representative.
But there was a change of ambassador before the renovations were completed in 2002 and the new ambassador wasn’t so keen on moving. Maybe someone told him about the corpses in the basement. It turned out he quite liked the embassy they had already and decided to stay put – leaving the villa to fall back into disrepair for the last 20 years or so.
A tattered sign outside still proclaims the wonderful renovation plans to any passersby crazy enough to believe them.
The doors and windows were boarded up but these things never stay sealed for long. Homeless stayed overnight, others came and went. Anarchists moved in and wrote a long list of house rules on the wall. Yeah baby! They also left their trash scattered all around, so I assume they took great pleasure in ignoring their own rules, true anarchists sticking it to the man.
Another fire gutted the place in June. The astute among you will notice that this was before the publication of this article, so the arsonists were evidently able to find it without consulting Abandoned Berlin.
The photos were taken before the fire but I held off on publication not to endanger the lion’s escape plan before she had time to go through with it. She was born free, baby, and now she’s free again.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Abandoned Zambian embassy
- Where: Straße vor Schönholz 23, 13158 Berlin
- How to get there: Get a train to Schönholz S-Bahnhof, which is just down the road. You can get there from other S-Bahnhöfe. Otherwise hop on your bike and cycle. Here it is on a map.
- Getting in: You were able to get in through a door to the basement before, but that appears to have been bolted up and secured since the fire. It doesn’t look like there’s any easy way in now, though that will probably change with time. Best to proceed with caution. If you can’t make it in, check out the abandoned Iraqi embassy just around the corner.
- When to go: Daytime is best. I do not recommend it as a party location due to the proximity of neighbors who would undoubtedly call the Polizei to spoil your fun. Perhaps you could also claim asylum but I do not know the legal implications and don’t recommend doing so unless you’re sure of your course of action.
- Difficulty rating: 7/10.
- Who to bring: Friends, Zambians, countrymen.
- What to bring: Bring some snacks for the lion, if she’s still there, and some for yourself too, why not? Wine, beer or water, whatever your poison. And bring a torch and camera.
- Dangers: Just don’t piss off the lion and you should be OK. As a wiser fella once said, sometimes you eat the lion, and sometimes, well, the lion eats you.
A strange UFO perches on a mountaintop in deepest darkest Bulgaria. Buzludzha, the country’s former communist party HQ, has to be seen to be believed.
They must have just left the Iraqi Embassy to the DDR with no notice. “We’re leaving. Pack your bags and get out!” The party at Saddam’s house was over.
Haus der Statistik looms over Berlin’s Alexanderplatz with STOP WARS across its bow in big red letters. The DDR’s former statistics HQ is right to be angry.