Recently I had the immense pleasure and privilege of being able to spend two weeks in Germany and Denmark on vacation. While parts of the trip were solely for my own personal amusement, I also made it a point where I could to meet up both with local heathens and to venture to holy sites, depictions of deities and artifacts. One of the very first things I made sure to do when I reached the city of Berlin, was to go pay my respects to a site sacred to the Goddess Hel (or Hella), nestled among the modern and very lushly green city today.
In the Tempelhof area of Berlin (so named for a Templar Knights community that existed there in medieval times), look for the Alboinplatz area which has a small public park and plaza. The park contains a small pond as a remnant of what was once a vast lake carved out by ancient glaciers. While the ancient lake, and vast forests that would have densely populated the site in pagan times is long gone, the quaint dark waters of the pond still offer a connection to the Goddess.
According to local folk tradition, there was a sacrificial stone altar beside the great lake tended by a pagan priest, and Hel (who was believed to dwell at the bottom of the lake) would send up black bulls that emerged from the water. These bulls would help the priest clear the land, and work it. The land itself was blessed, and would provide plenty of grain that kept the priest well fed.
But as the priest grew old, he took it as a sign when one day a Christian monk appeared at the lake that his time on Midgard was ending. He asked the holy man to continue to look after the place of sacrifice. But after the pagan priest had passed from the world of the living the monk refused to honor a pagan Goddess. Hel was greatly displeased and sent Her bulls foaming up from the water after the monk, and the monk was killed. Since then, it is said in some versions of the local folk tales that instead of waiting for others to sacrifice to Her in an age of Christianity, that the Goddess Herself lures victims to Her holy waters, and takes them as drowned sacrifices.
I am uncertain if this particular folk tale has been translated into English, but through the years, and the pagan grapevine I’ve heard of several other pagans who have in one source or another stumbled across this local folk tale. There appears to be other versions of the folk tradition out there as well, such as an alternate version that describes the Christian monk reconverting back to paganism after being chased by the Goddess’s bull, or a version where instead of this being Hel’s pond it belongs to Frau Holle.
Some scholars and believers think that Hel and Frau Holle may be connected, and possibly the same Goddess. While others think that belief is completely misguided. Even this one account (in German) I found online from the local Berlin Körper Geist Seele Magazine tries to convey the claim they are the same Goddess. Certainly they both have some similarities, such as connections with the dead. But I am always personally a little leery of the scholarship that tries to make a vast amalgam of the various deities. A Berlin tourist site mentions it briefly in English and calls it Hel’s Pond.
Perhaps others may argue otherwise, but of those I know of (myself included) who have visited this pond, the unanimous consensus of individual gnosis to date has been that this is indeed Hel’s pond, not Frau Holle’s. But instead of arguing over whose pond it is, I think it’s just more important that if you have the opportunity and visit it. How often do we know where sites long sacred to our deities can be found today?
This tale could have been lost, but it was immortalized in stone. During the 1930’s Germany was undergoing a romantic surge to their ancient past, capitalizing on this trend a public park with benches, walkways, and an over 20 foot tall limestone bull (in connection with the Goddess’s bulls from the folk story) was built at the site of what remained of this ancient glacier lake. The bull statue can be accessed by a pathway that brings you up behind the bull, or can be viewed from a pathway that runs at a lower elevation below the bull, where you look at the bull as it protrudes on an incline of a hill. Today you can walk around the entire pond in about 10 minutes. The pathway is primarily gravel, and may not be very accessible to any with physical handicaps or disabilities.
This park is a bit off the normal tourist path today, and is an area frequented primarily by locals. To find the site, once you’re in the Templehof area of Berlin, you need to look for the intersection of these two streets: Kaiserin-Augusta Straße, and Alboinplatz (or AlboinStraße). To avoid any confusion, it is helpful to understand that the Alboinplatz road actually is a vast loop that encircles the park. At the North and South sides of the park, the Alboinplatz loop breaks off into a street called AlboinStraße that leads away from the park and back into other areas of the city.
There is more than one entrance to the park, but this one does appear to be the main entrance. At this intersection, if you stand with your back towards Kaiserin-Augusta Straße and look south, the park should lie in front of you, and there should be an entrance nearby. Many Americans (especially those who dwell in major metropolitan areas) may be used to public parks being areas that tend to be well manicured, but most of Berlin is not only a very green city, but grass is left to grow and isn’t kept to a very short length as we are accustomed to in America. I like to describe Berlin as being the city hard to see through the trees. Sometimes this can make things a little tricky in navigating as you may end up going right past what you are looking for. So keep in mind that you may not see an entrance initially because of a screen of trees.
Once at the site, my friend and I walked around it. We managed to find a nice little lull on one side of the park where no one else was around where we were able to quietly pour out drinks in offering to the Goddess, and give offerings. We each hailed the Goddess in our own observances. I would say that the offerings were well received because two magpies descended before us on the path, as soon as we finished giving our offerings. The avian duo paused a moment before us on the path, and then flitted away.
If you ever do have the opportunity to go to Hel’s Pond, please keep in mind that this is a public park for most, and a sacred site for but a very small minority. Expect some curious odd looks from the locals (who will most likely peg you as NOT being local), and be aware that you don’t want to do anything to disrespect the site or potentially break some local law. But we lost so many of our sacred sites through conversion, and war, and history that to me it is important to take the time to make use of the ones that are still around today—especially when we know where they are. I encourage you, that if you should ever find yourself in Berlin, to take advantage of this ancient site to honor this ancient Goddess. And for any who have made the journey to this site before, please feel free to comment below with your own thoughts and experiences.
For an additional look at Alboinplatz, try Reinhard Schubert’s 360 degree, interactive panoramic photography: http://www.360cities.net/image/alboinplatz-berlin