Faces of Berlin: ‘Iron Gustav’ Hartmann

As part of our redesign in 2014, the hotel’s architect Jan Kleihues, designed the Faces of Berlin’This concept celebrates some of Berlin’s most beloved personalities in feature walls through the hotel and every month we present the background on some of these personalities. Previously we profiled Marlene Dietrich, and former heavyweight champion of the world Max Schmeling.  Last month we learned about the life of playwright, poet and theatre director Bertolt Brecht and this month we bring you the life and times of ‘Iron Gustav’ and his extraordinary journey from Berlin to Paris and back.

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Gustav Hartmann was born in 1859 in Wannsee and became somewhat of a local hero after driving his horse and cart from Germany to France in 1928. Hartmann’s wife’s family had started a horse and cart business and on inheriting it from them, Gustav built it up over many years to be a successful family enterprise. However the business suffered after the first world war and as the rising automotive industry took a further toll on the business, Hartmann decide to make a protest of sorts in an attempt to keep cars off the streets of Berlin. On the 2nd of April 1928, Berlin’s oldest hack driver Gustav Hartmann hitched his cart to his horse ‘Grasmus’ and departed for the long journey from Berlin to Paris. The scars of war were healing in the two countries and Hartmann’s crossing from Germany to France was considered triumphant as a result. News of his inspiring trip spread fast and soon the media of the day came to greet him as he came close to reaching Paris. Ironically he was also greeted by numerous people in automobiles.

Iron Gustav postcard

Historic postcard depicting Iron Gustav's journey

His journey ended on the 4th of June 1928 which was also his 69th birthday. Gustav spoke no French, and on arriving in Paris at the Porte de Pantin, raised his top hat from his head and waved it at the crowd to be greeted by cheers of ‘Vive L’Allemagne’, a phrase that had not been uttered by the French for more than a decade. His story was all over the newspapers in Germany, and he was welcomed back with great fanfare at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin later that year.

The return of 'Iron Gustav' to Berlin from Paris Image © Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-06534 / CC-BY-SA

The return of 'Iron Gustav' to Berlin from Paris Image © Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-06534 / CC-BY-SA

Crowds welcome Iron Gustav's return to Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate Image © Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-06536 / CC-BY-SA

Crowds welcome Iron Gustav's return to Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate Image © Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-06536 / CC-BY-SA

But his story would reach wider audiences a decade later when the novel ‘Iron Gustav’ was published in 1938. The main character was inspired by Hartmann and the name give to humbly the taxi drivers of Berlin, after his strength and energy. The book became a modern literary classic for its depiction of family life in Berlin during the difficulties of war. The book was followed in 1958 by a film of the same name.
The memorial plaque to Iron Gustav at his former home in Alsenstrasse 11, Wannsee. Image © Wikicommons

The memorial plaque to Iron Gustav at his former home in Alsenstrasse 11, Wannsee. Image © Wikicommons

Iron Gustav Hartmann died in Berlin in 1938 at the age of 79. He was buried in the old cemetery in Wannsee, and a memorial plaque exists today at the front of the house in Wannsee where he lived from 1900 – 1938. The plaque, roughly translated, says: ‘In this house, from 1900 – 1938 lived the delivery driver Gustav Hartmann, called Iron Gustav, 4th June 1859 – 23rd December 1938. On the 2nd April 1928 he started from here with his horse Grasmus and cart from Berlin to Paris to Berlin.’ In central Berlin, a memorial statue was placed at the edge of the Tiergarten close to the canal in Potsdamer Strasse in 2000.

 

 

 

Melinda Barlow is an Australian freelance writer and editor, based in Berlin since 2012. Melinda works with print and online media and has a natural curiosity that informs her work. She is passionate about travel and great content. She loves to write most about the world, its people and why we all do what we do.