The Wiesenburg had a long-standing history as homeless shelter – way back in 1868. It was the first shelter for poor people. For everyone. The Berliner Asylverein für Obdachlose was, at the time of its construction, one of the most modern buildings in Europe. It had no borders or restrictions as to whom would be admitted into the house. Men and women of all colors and ages had their spaces.
But I’m a really bad story-teller. This place is magical if only for the woman who owns it now. Her name is Anna, and she is a magnificent, radiant lady. She is around 80 years old, but not a frail thing: she’s energetic and powerful, speaks nine languages, and she has taken over the heritage of the Wiesenburg to continue giving back something good. In her own words, the story of the Wiesenburg sounds so much more impressive than any Wikipedia entry could ever deliver. Then again, this woman can speak of anything and it would consume you… that’s how charismatic and sweeping this person is.
Anna is a poem of Chanel smells and exceptional story-telling, but she keeps her estate very private. With gentle care, she describes how her grandfather, who used to keep the Asylverein, had to defy the bombs being thrown on his people in World War 2. He survived, as well as all the people who were sheltered there at the time – but the building was bombed thoroughly. What was left is nowadays being used as setting for movies and shootings, which is why I couldn’t take any elaborate pictures of the charmed wood that ranks from the old building ruins.
The Wiesenburg was once founded by rich and established people of Berlin. Borsig was one of them, Virchow another for example, but the lady who owns the place now – a descendant of one of the founding members of the organization – and lives in it, as not everything was destroyed during the war, has decided that there’s enough political and official shelter for homeless people nowadays. She founded another organization instead – another Verein to be exact – that takes care of young artists, struggling to make some money in this world, struggling to find a home for their work. For very little money (or for nothing – I wasn’t quite sure about that after all), and from all around the world, artists can get involved in the organization and move their ateliers into the new buildings constructed along the ruins. Anna says that she loves the whole world, but that if an artists can make into her heart, she’ll adopt them and give them everything they need. It’s what she lives for, after spending many years in foreign countries as Doctor Without Borders.
Explaining what it feels like being lead around by this woman, hearing all those stories about the past trying to place them – imaginative, surely – in the ruins of the Wiesenburg is a lost cause. You have to go and see for yourself. The Wiesenburg is also home to the Unbezahlbar, a little dive bar open only every Wednesday and Saturday (and kept by one of Annas own sons). If you find Anna, make sure you have a little chat with her. She’s one of the rare people in the world who can give meaning back to this world.