One of Berlin’s most notable addresses is a modest apartment block halfway down an unassuming side street, just to the west of Julius-Leber-Brücke S-Bahn station in Schöneberg.
The 20th century was just two years old when Maria Magdalene Dietrich was born at Leberstraße 65, then known as Sedanstraße, on December 27th 1901, but it was only the first of many apartments around Schöneberg the family would live in over the next three decades.
(plaque at Leberststraße 65. Pic – Brendan Nash)
(plaque at Leberststraße 65. Pic – Brendan Nash)
Maria’s parents, police officer Louis Dietrich and Josephine Felsing, a watchmaker’s daughter, had married in 1898 and immediately taken up residence in the newly-built first floor apartment, which was directly above the police station where Louis was based. Their first child Elisabeth was born two years later in February 1900.
By 1904, the now family of four had outgrown their modest dwelling in Sedanstraße and moved into the ground floor of Kolonnenstraße 48, just around the corner. This was a very quiet neighbourhood and a safe environment for the two young girls. Their father, keen on his children having a good education, engaged private tutors and the girls taught English, French and music from a very early age.
Two years later, the family were on the move again, this time to the stylish and more upmarket Potsdamer Straße 48 (now number 116). But their time here was to be shorter than intended: Louis Dietrich’s became ill and he was admitted to a sanatorium. They moved home again to be near him in the hospital and rented a house at Akazienallee 48 in the Westend.
On August 5th 1908, Louis Dietrich died from a long-standing syphilis infection in the ‘Haus für Gemütskranke’ on Nußbaumallee. His widow and her two daughters immediately had to undergo blood tests to ensure they had not also been infected, and thankfully the results were negative. In later life, Marlene would maintain that her father had died in a horse riding accident.
Less than a year after moving west, the family were back in the city centre in a second floor apartment at Tauentzienstraße 13. Money was tight for Josephine and her daughters, living on only a widow’s pension. However, Josephine was determined to continue her daughters’ private music and language lessons and Marlene struck up an intense friendship with her new French teacher, Mademoiselle Breguand.
(young Marlene Dietrich. Pic- unknown)
This apartment opposite the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche was to be their home for the next six years, with the girls attending the Auguste-Viktoria-Mädchenschule in nearby Nürnberger Straße.
In 1914, Josephine married the best-friend of her deceased husband, Eduard von Losch. It was a very modest ceremony with not even the Dietrich daughters in attendance and with Josephine still dressed in her widow’s attire.
The family moved to an elegant garden apartment at Kaiserallee 219 (now known as Bundesallee).
The two teenage sisters filled their lives with music, playing Bach and Chopin at home and singing along to all the current popular hits at the local ice rinks and dances.
When war broke out in July 1914, their step-father was immediately drafted and, by September, was recovering from injuries in a hospital in Braunschweig. The family spent three weeks there looking after him before he was sent back to the front.
As the war intensified, Josephine moved herself and her daughters out of Berlin to relatives of her husband’s in Dessau, where they spent most of 1915 and 1916. It was the first time Maria and Elisabeth had been away from Berlin. Eduard von Losch was killed in battle in 1916 and Josephine was once again a widow.
By spring of 1917 the family had returned to Berlin and to Kaiserallee, but this time to a fourth floor apartment at No. 135. Maria loved their new abode and thrived at school and in her private tuition. She was becoming very accomplished on the violin and had developed an interest in the performing arts. A huge crush on the silent film actress Henny Porten only increased this interest. On Friday afternoons, Maria would queue outside the Mozartsaal Kino on Nollendorfplatz (now Goya), hoping to catch a glimpse of her heroine as the film stars arrived for that evening’s premiere.
(Mozartsaal Kino on Nollendorfplatz, now Goya)
Josephine was becoming increasing concerned by her daughter’s behaviour, her wild crushes and rebelliousness and, early in 1919, Maria was sent to a musical boarding school in Weimar. This did nothing to dampen her enthusiasm for falling in love and after an affair with a married man was discovered, she was sent back home to Berlin. Now going under the name of Marlene, she returned to her mother’s apartment in Bundesallee 135. However, a diagnosis of severe tendonitis brought an end to her thoughts of a career as a concert violinist.
She had by now auditioned for the Deutsches Theater and was appearing in small walk-on roles and occasional cabarets, much to the displeasure of her mother, who felt the entertainment business was unsuitable. In 1922, and after several failed auditions, she was finally been accepted into Max Reinhardt’s theatre school, making her debut with the company in December of that year.
(Nassauische Straße 30, today. Pic- Brendan Nash)
Marlene’s work rate was impressive: she accepted almost anything that came her way, and by early 1923 had appeared in 17 silent films and 26 stage productions, all in minor supporting roles. She had also met Rudolf Sieber, whom she married on May 14th 1923 at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche. They moved into the first of their three homes in the area, at Nassauische Straße 30, but Marlene soon fell pregnant and by the following year they had moved again, this time back to Bundesallee at No.17.
(Bundesallee 17, today. Pic – Brendan Nash)
Their daughter, Maria Elizabeth Sieber, was born on the December 13th 1924, but by this time, their marriage was all but over. Rudolf had dissolved their wedding vows and given Marlene complete financial independence. However, they continued to live together and in 1925 moved again, into the family home they would share for the next six years at Bundesallee 54.
(Bundesallee 54, today. Pic – Brendan Nash)
Over the next few years, Marlene’s star would continue to rise and she embarked on numerous affairs – mostly with women. Rudi’s lover, the Russian dancer Tamara Matul, also moved into the family home. She was officially a nanny for young Maria and her relationship with Rudi was kept secret, both from the child and from the public.
On the night of April 1st 1930, Marlene attended the premiere of The Blue Angel – her first leading role in a movie – at the Gloria Palast on Kurfürstendamm. She took to the stage after the screening, accepting the audience applause and bouquets, then took a taxi to the Anhalter Bahnhof for a train out of Berlin. She was heading for Hollywood.
Marlene was to have one last home in Berlin, though. After her death in Paris on May 6th 1992, her body was flown home and buried ten days later at the Städtischer Friedhof in Stubenrauchstraße, near her mother and a stone’s throw from her home on the Bundesallee.
(Städtischer Friedhof. Pic- Brendan Nash)
“Hier steh’ ich an den Marken meiner Tage”
The Dietrich/ von Losch/ Sieber family homes:
1898 – 1904 Leberstraße 65
1904 – 1906 Kolonnenstraße 48/49
1906 -1907 Potsdamer Straße 116
1907 -1908 Akazienallee 48
1908 -1914 Tauentzienstraße 13
1914 – 1915 Bundesallee 219/220
1915 – 1917 Dessau
1917 – 1923 Bundesallee 135
1923 – 1924 Nassauische Straße 30
1924 – 1925 Bundesallee 17
1925 – 1930 Bundesallee 54
1992 – Today Städtischer Friedhof, Stubenrauchstraße.
This article was originally written for, and published by, Slow Travel Berlin.