Stand of defiance: Professor August Hinderer and his war-torn villa

Filed 15/3/2014 | Updated 3/2/15
You know a house is abandoned when trees grow where the roof should be and where each floor was a roof in turn until there were none. Hierarchy to hieranarchy. The bombs fell from the heavens to open them up.
Nature has been slowly reclaiming this place since the night of March 23-24, 1944, when yet another air raid over Berlin did the business. “BOOM! BOOM!” the bombs went. Or so I imagine. I’m grateful not to be writing from experience.
The villa belonged to Professor August Hinderer at the time. He owned it afterward too, only it was destroyed, engulfed in flames, with family belongings wiped out, the library burned, 20 years’ research work extinguished – all consumed by war’s ferocious appetite.
No one died in the house that night, but all they had was gone. Gone. War destroyed all but everything.
The wooden staircase that went up the side of the house was cut short. It was ended before the end. Now it’s a stairs to nowhere. I didn’t go up. It looked a bit dodgy, but it’s still there, appearing remarkably well for a structure wrecked and abandoned 70 years before.
The glazed red brick walls still stand proudly too, unbowed, and the magnificent arched window frames attest to its former glory. Now it’s literally a shell. A proud shell and an awe-inspiring shell, but a shell all the same.
Professor Hinderer, an old classmate of the novelist and poet Hermann Hesse, wrote a letter on February 6, 1945 in which he gave a glimpse of the ongoing destruction.
Full alarm! The third time in 14 hours! I wonder… Another warning: Full alarm. All clear. Once again alarm, so the end!
Evidently the war was getting on his nerves a bit. His house was already destroyed and he wrote about what was happening the rest of the city, albeit in a reserved way...
“Life in the capital is gradually getting awkward. The inner city looks pretty bad: castle, (Berliner) Dom galleries, universities all razed to the ground.”
Hinderer had Nazis for neighbors, though he wasn’t one himself. He was a big wig in theology, director of the Evangelical Press Association of Germany (EPD) from 1918, and the honorary professor for evangelical journalism in 1927.
By the following year, the EPD, which was independent despite maintaining close ties to the church, produced more than 1,900 separate brochures with a total circulation of 17 million copies. So somebody was reading the stuff.
Hinderer bought the villa that same year, but it wasn’t long before he got into trouble with his neighbors’ pals
A work colleague, Dr. Hans Liepmann, who had been recommended to Hinderer by none other than Theodor Heuss (then a journalist, later the first president of West Germany), wrote of going home on June 24, 1933. He had heard of Hinderer’s arrest by the Nazis and knew that he’d likely be arrested too. Friends “confirmed that there was a gathering of brownshirts in front of our block of flats.”
Both Hinderer and Liepmann had been discharged from all duties without notice.
“Hinderer was re-instated after a fortnight’s incredible activity on our part and controversy between different authorities. We celebrated the occasion in Hinderer’s house,” Liepmann wrote.
Hinderer’s troubles weren’t over, however. He was arrested again following the Night of Long Knives or ‘Röhm affair’ in 1934, when he was incarcerated and almost killed at the Gestapo’s Columbia-Haus concentration camp at Tempelhof.
He survived and stubbornly persevered with his life’s work despite the danger, until the religious publications were halted in 1941. By then, of course, the Nazis were fully in control and Party leader Martin Bormann was leading the persecution of the churches.
“I kept managing under a barrage of all types of hostility so it wouldn’t fall into the hands of [the Nazi-supporting] German Christians or other party officials with their political objectives – partly to take over the church press, partly to manipulate it, partly to destroy it progressively – until the ecclesiastical popular press as a whole was brought to a standstill at the behest of the Nazi Party (Bormann) under the pretext of saving paper for the war,” Hinderer wrote several weeks before he died on Oct. 26, 1945.
If only there had been more like him. Liepmann lamented that others didn’t share the power of his convictions and their failure to take a stand “when Hinderer implored them to do so – at a time when a stand might have made all the difference.”
Liepmann added: “That there could be a spiritual attitude which would make people speak against Hitler, whatever their blood was, or whatever the color of their skin, was not thought possible, which alone, to my way of thinking, condemns the educated classes in Germany and their church.”
Hinderer had a daughter, Diemut, and two sons, Hermann and Fritz. They believed they could restore the ruined house up to the late 1950s. But a lack of money and fear of the Russians put paid to their plans – West Berlin was about to be surrounded by what was in effect Soviet East Germany at this time. Even after the construction of the Berlin Wall, those fears persisted.
“In fact shortly before he died in 1986, my father couldn’t imagine anything else but that West Berlin would be part of the GDR sooner or later. The ‘Iron Curtain’ dividing the land into East and West seemed irrefutable,” Hermann’s daughter told Abandoned Berlin.
“From 1945 to 1954 Papa worked hard to ensure the garden and ruin stayed in the family’s possession,” she said, explaining that he felt his efforts had been in vain.
Fritz Hinderer, who was an astronomy professor at the nearby Freie Universität, was the last of the Hinderer kids. He lived to 79 and tended the gardens and fruit trees right to the end.
“Fritz went missing from August 21, 1991, when we couldn’t get him on the phone,” Hermann’s daughter said. “Days later, police found his body in the ruin. Our dog showed me the place where he must have lain, a few months after that.”
Hermann’s daughter – August Hinderer’s granddaughter – inherited the site. She lives in Munich but makes regular trips to tend to the ruin, and she still harbors dreams of restoring it and living there some day. It’s not easy though.
“I can only say that life is full of detours,” she said. “They may also lead to good things.”
The house still stands despite the bombs and intervening years, as if to remember the stand once taken by its occupant. Defiant, unbowed. There are some things not even war can destroy.

UPDATE: December 11, 2014 – Updates with more historical background, pictures and corrects some inaccuracies inherited from Tagesspiegel’s original report.
Additional information was provided by Professor Hinderer’s granddaughter, who first wrote to me in August. Over the course of several emails she helped fill in a lot of the blanks on her grandfather’s fascinating story.
She also provided the old black and white photos and is happy for them to be published here. 

UPDATE: February 3, 2014 – For those asking, I removed the location information last September after Professor Hinderer’s granddaughter wrote me a nice email to say she had “better summer trips to make than across Germany to Berlin with a roll of barbed wire to repair the fence, just because some bored hooligans have fun breaking it.”
She was very polite about it all and I felt I should respect her wishes. She later provided more historical details and the black and white photos of her granddad.

Many thanks to Peer Sylvester for the tip. Also to Mark Rodden for copy editing.

Photo fans can check out: https://www.flickr.com/photos/abandonedberlin/sets/72157642710350983/
 
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16 comments

Great photography. The huge tree in picture no.1 reminded me a simpler version of Ta Prohm somehow...

I wish I was in Berlin to explore it. Maybe in a few months.

It's no Ta Prohm! :) But thank you very much for the kind words. I try to take better pictures than I did before.

Thanks for yet another informative article which even made me giggle at the end: "I said hello to your wan when she came out of the house beside but she didn’t reply. Either she didn’t like the cut of my jib or she’s simply a rude cow". Love it.

I went here two days ago with some friends. (June 5, 2014) While leaving in a rush (the neighbor saw us while he was taking out the trash) we found an easier way to get in.

If you are standing on the street facing the house, on your right, directly next to the house, is a small waist high wooden fence separating the sidewalk from the lawns/houses. There is a gate that opens to a small path/driveway closest to the abandoned house. You can either hop over the fence (again, it's waist high) or just reach over and open the small gate.

Walk down this small path/driveway with all the bushes and the abandoned house on your left. A few meters down you will see the chain link fence separating the abandoned house and the path you are on has collapsed. You can step over it and into the side/back yard of the abandoned building.

Just be careful of the neighbors.

howaya spud, this website is the tits .. fairplay on running this show. heading berlin on the 13th of August for the nightlife but also for these abandoned areas. gonna bring my film camera and polaroid and capture it all with a mate. i really hope we make Spree park in time, i will be absolutely gutted if i dont get to go in. hope to bump into you on an adventure, cheers

Why was the address removed? :O There is not much left to be further demolished
I am glad I visited it back then, great place. =)

Is it still worth visiting or got destroyed? Can someone write the address?

Sorry, I removed the address for this in September after Professor Hinderer’s granddaughter wrote to me to say she had “better summer trips to make than across Germany to Berlin with a roll of barbed wire to repair the fence, just because some bored hooligans have fun breaking it.”
She was very nice about it all and I felt I should respect her wishes.

So she wont like people also to ask for permission to enter the premisses? Seems that she is the only one who takes care of the ruins. She must be "far" away. Poor her. I also would not like people to break in :-(
But to take pics only would be sooooooo nice. If only it would be mostly possible to get in touch with the management/owners to ask for permission.

I would know where it is but if it is closed off... Dont know if it is nice to go.

Neighbours are carefully watching the house all day. Especially an old guy retired man.

Hi C... nice of you to respect the wishes of the granddaughter. BUT..a quick google research, and the first thing that pops up is an news article, in which they give the exact address. Was there this afternoon, and had no intention to break or destroy locks or fences. Just had a look from the outside..it's more a ruin than an abandoned place I would say. I can hardly imagine the family restoring the house..

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