On the outskirts of Berlin, near the end of a subway line, an oddly-named neighborhood pays homage to a famous and flawed American abolitionist novel from 1852. When Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a decade before the start of the Civil War, the novel sold as well as the Bible. It soon attracted a loyal following overseas, especially in England, where slavery had been abolished two decades earlier.
The book was also translated into German in 1852, and it apparently made an impression. According to a history of Berlin subway stations, a local resident named Thomas opened a biergarten in the 1880s, on the edge of Grünewald forest. To help visitors stay dry, he built several huts that were apparently nicknamed “Tom’s cabins,” and they are said to have reminded visitors of the novel. The name spread to a nearby street, still called Onkel-Tom-Straße, and a local cinema, Onkel Tom Kino, that no longer exists.
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