Beyond History Blog

Street names: Circle the square and start a new life!

Heike Leiacker - 11. March 2017 - General, Germany, History, Knowledge

As genealogists we often come across addresses. We have written about the topic in this blog before and will do so again. Addresses people had years or centuries ago have often changed names over time. Sometimes it’s important to find out, how streets are called today. Mannheim, Germany, is a good example for even current street names that pose us riddles.


Squares everywhere

In Mannheim you can stumble across addresses like D4, 6. This appears to be very cryptically at first sight and is uniquely for Germany. Mannheim is a planned city, checkered similarly to New York and divided into 144 squares. Most of them aren’t real squares with four equal sides, though. They have rather different four- or sometimes even three-sided forms.

In the city center you will usually look for street names in vain. Some streets have colloquial names for better orientation, but you won’t find these names on street signs. Instead there is a designation for the particular square/block.


Until 1684 the streets had common names, but were then numbered consecutively. At the time this was done in Roman numerals. A combination of letters and numbers for the squares was first introduced in 18th century. Today’s system is used only since 1811. As the city was expanding west and east, the designations had to be expandable in both directions as well.

The designation of the squares starts from the south where the castle is. The Kurpfalzstraße heading north divides the city center into two areas. Seen from the castle on the left side are the squares A to K, on the right side L to U. There is no square J. Within these rows the numbers of the squares indicate the distance to Kurpfalzstraße. They are rising to the outsides. The numbering of the houses is dependent on the square. On the left side of the castle they are numbered counterclockwise, starting at the square’s castle facing corner. On the right side it is the other way around. Thus everything is as symmetrically as possible.

This means, the above mentioned address is in square D4. It is in the fourth row on the left, seen from the castle. Furthermore it is the fourth square from Kurpfalzstraße. The 6 identifies the house number. To get there, you would have to walk counterclockwise from the square’s castle facing corner.


As if made with genealogy in mind

It is also possible to encounter the following stop display on a bus in Mannheim:


We are talking about the bus stops „Zäher Wille“ (tenacious will), „Frohe Arbeit“ (happy work) and „Neues Leben“ (new life). In contrast to the last example these names are talking to us. This is less confusing, but under some circumstances even more amusing. In this case they seem to tell a story. Maybe they are keywords of the life of an ancestor or they even narrate the process of genealogical work: Often tenacious will is needed to face insurmountable looking challenges. If you finally find crucial information, work is fun. And in the end you have a so to speak new life, knowing about the history of your ancestors that is part of your own identity (or in our case the ancestors and identities of our customers).

Actually, this reading isn’t all wrong. The names have to do with a process – of the housing development itself. The Speckwegsiedlung, the residential area in which you can find these strange names, was built in the 1920s and 1930s. It was neighborly constructed. The houses had big gardens for self-supply and were near several factories. The first street was fittingly named „Kleiner Anfang“ (small start). „Zäher Wille“ (tenacious will) and „Große Ausdauer“ (big endurance) were next in line. All seems to have worked out well, as „Guter Fortschritt“ (good progress) and „Frohe Arbeit“ (happy work) followed. Later the streets were named with regard to the big hope („Starke Hoffnung“) to begin a new life („Neues Leben“) in the new residential area.


Fascinating Street names everywhere

The residents of Mannheim seem to have a particular talent to create unusual addresses. But the city isn’t the only one with interesting street names. We will surely report on others over the course of time.

Did you ever encounter something comparable in your genealogical work or at your hometown? We would love to hear your stories in the commentaries!

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