German Journal Industriekultur 1.24: Berlin as a centre of industrial heritage

"Electropolis" and "Chicago of Europe": epithets like this once applied to a city that temporarily became the largest metropolis on the European continent at the beginning of the 20th century, epitomising modernity and economic growth. The post-war split into East and West and the resulting exodus of entire industries helped to preserve major architectural and technical monuments. The network "Sites of Industrial Heritage Berlin" and the associated ERIH Regional Route, both inspired and coordinated by the Berlin Centre for Industrial Heritage, revive the city's dynamic technological, economic and social history. An overview on this route is provided in the latest issue of the German Journal Industriekultur.

Two ERIH Anchor Points along the route are of particular importance: the German Technical Museum and the Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre. The former - characterised from afar by the "Raisin Bomber" on its roof, a reminder of the Berlin Airlift era - is one of the largest museums of its kind in Europe and interlinks Berlin's rapid technological and industrial history with its impact on urban life. A particular focus is on transport and traffic, as shown by more than 200 cars and lorries, over 40 rolling stock and numerous aircraft. In contrast, the second Anchor Point looks into one of the darkest chapters of German (industrial) history: the Nazi system of forced labour, based on large-scale criminal enslavement and racist violence. The documentation centre in Berlin-Schöneweide is the only institution of its kind in an almost completely preserved forced labour camp in the middle of a residential district. The location at the very place of injustice is one of the reasons why the exhibition "Forced Labour in the Daily Round 1938-1945" is such an intense experience.

Schöneweide also used to be the beating heart of the "Electropolis" because this is where Emil Rathenau established the Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG) in 1887. After the Second World War, the same neighbourhood became the largest inner-city industrial district in the GDR. In 2009, the Industriesalon Schöneweide association came into being here, researching the local industrial history, campaigning for its preservation and offering exciting guided tours of the quarter.

A number of further ERIH sites each shed light on specific aspects of Berlin's industrial history. The Herzberge Boiler House Museum, for example, represents the period towards the end of the 19th century, when the rapid increase in population and new medical discoveries led to a veritable boom in new hospitals in Berlin and the surrounding communities. The boiler house with its boilers from three generations (1892 to 1961) supplied electricity and subsequently heat for hospital operations until this part of the city was connected to the municipal power grid. Another testimony to the rich history of public electricity supply, the Energy Museum in Steglitz, answers some practical questions about electricity generation and distribution, such as "How does electricity get into the socket?". Until the 1930s, the energy for the city's streetlights was supplied by the Gasholder "History Storehouse Fichtebunker", Berlin's last surviving gasometer built of stone for so-called coal gas.

Sites such as Pfefferberg, which owes its name to the Bavarian master brewer Joseph Pfeffer, reflect Berlin's close relationship with beer. The establishment of Pfeffer's brewery in the mid-19th century was followed by various other industrial facilities before the area became home to a thriving cultural and educational scene. The Culture Brewery also traces its roots back to history - in this case the Schultheiss Brewery - and today accommodates creative service providers and a diverse cultural programme.

ERIH article in German magazine Industriekultur "Zeugnisse einer beeindruckenden Blütezeit"