15 June 2015

Gasometers and die Rote Insel

An article in praise of gasometers is at theguardian.com. This one is just down the road -
Could be anywhere ... and as the article says, they are so big that they serve as landmarks - which this article confirms: "an important landmark and symbol of the Schöneberg district".

The Schöneberg gasometer was built in 1908-10 on the site of the gasworks in the "Red Island*" district, the third largest gasometer in Europe at the time, with a capacity of 160,000 cubic metres. It is 74 metres high. A conservation order was applied in 1994, and in 1995 it was taken out of service, having supplied the gas stoves in Berlin apartments and also street lighting, and been superseded by the supply of natural gas (to replace coal-produced "town gas") and changing energy needs.

In 2011, to finance conservation and stop further rusting, Europe's largest LED advertising screen was attached to the gasometer. (Looks like it's been taken down by now.)

The frame can be climbed at various times during the summer months, and group tours can be arranged. The cost is 22 euros and the duration is 80 minutes - you're advised to wear shoes with non-slip soles, and not to a have a fear of heights.

The Guardian article ends:

" For every amateur enthusiast championing their preservation and celebrating their overlooked formalist beauty, there is a curmudgeonly voice against. It was ever thus, as Edwin Morgan noted in  Gasometer. “I hear those who talk of eyesores…” he wrote, but:
     Day of tearing down, day of recycling,
     wait a while! Let the wind whistle
     through those defenceless arms and the moon bend
     a modicum of its glamorous light upon
     you, my familiar, my stranded hulk…” "
Kirchner's drawing of 1912 shows a train passing the Schöneberg gasometer -
"Its charm is not so much in the frame itself, but in its modest transparency. It is not a ruin, but an exoskeleton. And when the mist descends on Berlin, the gasometer is one of the first things to disappear.", says the lyrical article on Slow Travel Berlin. The gasometer now contains a logo, a full moon lit up at night - hated by many locals because it represents commercialisation and privatisation.

*The Rote Insel district is called an "island" because it lies between two sets of railway tracks, and the only way to get into it is to cross one of the bridges that goes over the tracks. "Red" comes from the politics of the working-class residents, who shared the "island" with the Prussian army until the end of WW1.

The island survived WW2's air raids virtually intact. Marlene Dietrich was born in the district, as was Alfred Lion, founder of the legendary Blue Note jazz record label.
View of the Rote Insel from the Schöneberg gasometer, by Axel Mauruszat (via)
As you might expect, the German wikipedia article has much more information than the English one, with a great deal of information on architecture, buildings, and the gasometer. Buildings are generally five-story apartment houses, often incorporating small shops and workplaces. As parcels of land were small, most buildings did not extend to incorporate the gloomy rear courtyards that are found in other parts of the city. Building went in three phases, from 1882 to 1918. Had Hitler and Speer's plans for the world capital of Germania been carried out, the Rote Insel would have been the first area to be razed. 

Between 1920 and 1960, about 35,000 people lived in the area, which "suffered a tangible social decline" in the wake of inflation after WW1; now the population is about 13,000. The number of shops and businesses has declined - with the exception perhaps of shops related to children - the area has a high proportion of young families, with only 15% of over-60s.

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