Bike tour to John Henry Mackay’s grave

John Henry Mackay (1864 – 1933) was a German anarchist and homosexual (with a Scottish father who died when Mackay was still a baby – hence the name).

Under the pen name Sagitta, Mackay published his autobiographical novel Fenny Skaller – A Life of the Nameless Love. He also planned a series of activist writings on the “nameless love,” to be published twice a year with a circulation of 1,000 copies, and sold by subscription only. In 1908, the police seized all his writings. A court ruled them “obscene” and destroyed them.

Hubert Kennedy has written an excellent biography called Anarchist of Love – the Secret Life of John Henry Mackay, and translated several of Mackay’s works into English. Many of them are available as free pdf downloads on his site. Thank you, Hubert! I encourage everyone to take this opportunity to get to know one of the early homosexual activists better.

I like visiting the graves of authors who have meant something to me. I figured Mackay must be buried somewhere in Berlin, and according to this detailed description by jay_h, Mackay was buried at a forest cemetery called Wilmersdorfer Waldfriedhof, next to or part of the Südwestkirchhof, just south of Berlin.

I decided to follow Jay’s directions in my pilgrimage to Mackay’s grave. The bike tour would be about 60 km and my weather widget looked like this:

But it didn’t rain at the moment, so I thought I better get going – it was already 2 pm. The sky was very dark, the air humid – I was prepared for rain and packed a rain jacket, but I never needed to use it.

I took the eastern way to the cemetery, and the western way back. The line on the map is not exact, since it is only possible to save auto routes, and sometimes I used short cuts where cars weren’t allowed. So don’t worry, I didn’t bike on the Autobahn on my way back as the map suggests:


I kept a pretty high pace, averaging over 25 kph/15 mph:

  • Total time: 14:00 – 18:00 = 4 hours
  • Biking time: 2 hours, 22 minutes
  • Distance: 60,4 km (37,5 miles)
  • Average speed: 25,5 kph (15,8 mph)
  • Max speed: 42,4 kph (26,3 mph)

One hour into the trip, I stopped at a Bäckerei to have a belegtes Brötchen and a coffee. Love those German bakeries!

I found the cemetery, but would have picked the wrong entrance if it wasn’t for Jay’s directions – when you enter Bahnhofstraße from Potsdamer Allee you must pass the first entrance on the left (which goes to Südwestkirchhof) and continue for another 100 meter or so, where you’ll find a sign that says Wilmersdorfer Waldfriedhof:

Wilmersdorfer Waldfriedhof, Stahnsdorf, Berlin, Germany.

And again, I wouldn’t have found the grave if I didn’t know, from Jay’s story, that it was in the section E III. A map showed the location of that section (I was the only visitor in this beautiful forest cemetery), and clear signs marked the way:

Feld E III, where John Henry Mackay is buried.

Once there, it was easy to find Mackay’s grave. Here it is:

The grave of John Henry Mackay at Wilmersdorfer Waldfriedhof, Berlin.

The grave wasn’t as well-kept as on Jay’s photo. I cleaned it from old leaves, but all in all found it pretty beautiful in the middle of all the lush. This is where an anarchist and Kämpfer like Mackay should be buried. What would he do on a regular cemetery with cut grass, paved ways and fancy metal fences? Forced to lie between the righteous bourgeois people who most surely despised him – for several reasons. It would be totally out of place for an “anarchist of love” like Mackay. This is where he belongs, in the lush and overgrown nature.

Next to Mackay’s grave is the grave of a Hans Henck. According to Jay’s report, Henck was a man who took care of Mackay’s grave till his own death, and his wish was to be buried close to Mackay. Now he lies next to him:

The graves of John Henry Mackay and Hans Henck at Wilmersdorfer Waldfriedhof, Berlin.

I wonder what kind of relationship they had, if they even knew each other. I have been able to find no information at all on this. Henck died in 1996, that’s 63 years after Mackay’s death in 1933, so hypothetically, they could have been friends.

On my way back to Friedrichshain, the sky was even darker, but still no rain. I chose the bike path next to the legendary Avus highway. Perfect road conditions. At one point I was overtook by another cyclist. That happens very rarely. I tried to hang on for about a minute while we were biking at 39 kph, but then I just couldn’t compete with him anymore. I didn’t lose sight of him though, and finally managed to bike up to him when he had stopped at the red light at Messedamm. I complimented him on his speed and asked if he was a Profi. No, just commuting every day to and from work, he replied.

On Kaiserdamm I found another biker who was as fast as me, but not as fast as the first guy. We took turns drafting each other for several quarters until he took a right turn at Großer Stern, where I joined the cars for a smoother passing. But be damned, somewhere in Tiergarten he biked up to me again, and we enjoyed drafting each other again all the way to Brandenburger Tor, where he turned right and I zig-zagged my way through the tourists under the gate.

I came home at about 6 pm. 20 minutes laters, the first drops of rain started to fall. A few minutes later it was pouring down! What a great timing. Now let it fall for many days while my bike rests in the dry basement.

Some additional photos:

Wilmersdorfer Waldfriedhof, Berlin.

This silent owl also resided in the E III field.

I like pine trees.

I know it almost looks sunny, but this is to show how the rain was hanging in the air when I got home. This is Berghain by the way, the notorious Berlin club.

3 thoughts on “Bike tour to John Henry Mackay’s grave

  1. Thank you so much for making the journey and documenting it all. I’ve recently stumbled upon Mackay’s writings. I am astounded by the stories, of his characters and of Mackay himself. I feel like I have been blowing the dust off of some forgotten goods lost in the attic, and your blog is a part of that discovery.

    1. Thanks for your comment. It always makes me happy to see other people discover JHM and possibly get moved by his writings in the same way as I was.

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