Witches, demons and herbs against freckles

Witches, demons and herbs against freckles

The Hackesche Höfe are not just green. Plants that are said to have magical or healing powers grow and thrive everywhere.

Those who want to escape the hot summer weather will find a place of rest in the Hackesche Höfe. The heat does not settle here. The height of the buildings alone shades the courtyards, resulting in much lower and more pleasant temperatures. The people strolling through the courtyards seem relaxed. And those who venture further into the courtyards come across plants everywhere – some of them with special powers. It is quite possible that they also contribute to the sometimes magical tranquility of the place.

In Hof 2, there’s the first example: a small blackthorn on a wall where clematis are shooting up. The blackthorn bears many small, very pointed thorns to protect its fruit. For this reason, in olden times it was considered the guardian of house and yard and was said to keep away demons and evil spirits. Shrubs and bushes that are valued as magical and medicinal in many parts of Germany are growing in the adjoining courtyards as well. Hibiscus, for example, is considered an aphrodisiac and a symbol of passion. 

People sitting on bench under chestnut tree

Then there is an ocean of lady's mantle in Hof 3. This rather low-growing plant is said to possess an abundance of powers, simply because of the shape of its leaves, which have been compared to Mary's cloak. Especially the water secreted through fine pores on the edges of the large leaves was said to have special powers: Celtic druids used the drops for ritual acts. In the Middle Ages, wreaths of lady's mantle on windows, doors or on roof ridges were supposed to protect against lightning. 

Its blossoms, dew and leaves were used to stop bleeding or soothe labor pains, but also to smooth wrinkles or remove freckles. One thing is certain: Lady's mantle contains many tannins. This has an astringent effect, which means that small superficial wounds on the skin or oral mucosa can be closed more easily. 

Flyer for open-air cinema Hasenheide

For us today, lady's mantle is helpful in a completely different way: If it "sweats," it will probably be raining soon. 

According to tradition, many other plants in the courtyards have magical powers: ranunculus, buttercups, hydrangeas, lilies. Or elderberry – the elder bush is said to protect against fire and storms and to harbor good spirits in its roots. Even ilex – also called holly – can be found here. The bush was already sacred to the pre-Christian Celts. Besides, it showed climatic limits in a very practical way: It grew only as far north as Brandenburg. At the border to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania it was too frosty for holly in winter. But that has changed – with climate change, holly is also becoming native to the mixed forests of the north. In a way, the Hackesche Höfe seem like a landscape gardening pilot project.  

In Hof 6, there is a walnut tree that is not yet quite so mighty, but is already bearing fruit that will fall to the ground in August or September. The tree is a wonderful climatic addition to the yard. The temperature cools quickly because of its large leaves. Mosquitoes flee from the haze of the tree. Unlike squirrels, dormice, mice or crows, which love walnuts. Incidentally, the nuts are also healthy for humans and prevent many diseases.

All these fruits in the Hackesche Höfe: walnuts and hazelnuts, chestnuts and even strawberries can be found. Those who then leave the courtyards again, exiting to Sophien- or Rosenthaler Straße, feel soothed by this silence in the middle of the city. What a feeling!

A bicycle stands in front of an overgrown front door
A flower bed in the Hackesche Höfe