the history of ewerk

To some extent, the notoriety of the ewerk name is far greater beyond Germany’s borders than within the country; it is also a name that is experiencing a renaissance of renown today thanks to the recent revitalization of the facility.

Although many people are familiar with the name ewerk and associate a specific place with it, hardly anyone is aware of the facility’s multifaceted history, whose various strands converge in the center of Berlin at a particular place that is reflective of Germany’s destruction during World War II and the country’s postwar recovery and division, the changes that resulted from unification and the beginnings of normality in the early 21st century. ewerk’s history spans the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, a period that saw the establishment of the international concern AEG and the attendant industrial and technical revolution that was driven by Germany’s electrification; the massive destruction suffered by Germany during World War II as a result of Allied bombardments and the house to house combat engaged in by the Red Army; the pall that was cast over Germany by the Cold War and its consequences; the advent of the Berlin wall; the envisaged facelift of socialist East Berlin to keep the latter from coming up short in the competition between capitalism and socialism; the emergence of Berlin as one of the pioneering locales of the techno movement, the mecca of electronic music, and as the be-all-and-end-all of post communism cultural revitalization.

ewerk is a worldwide magnet for technology aficionados by virtue of its being Germany’s oldest preserved commercial power plant, and was thus one of the secret places from which the techno movement achieved peaceful dominion over the world.

There’s another dimension of ewerk’s history that also deserves mention, namely the fact that over the past 120 years a considerable number of attempts have been made to document ewerk’s history and keep its traditions alive. Two representative examples (among many others that could be mentioned) include the documentary work realized around 1895 by a government building planner named Soeder. This documentation today counts as a rare and precious record of the history of Berlin and its buildings. Another example is the work being done by Paul Kahlfeld and Vattenfall Europe’s Achim Grube, who since 1991 have published numerous articles that endeavor to memorialize the architecture of Hans-Heinrich Müller, the former chief architect of Berlin’s heating and lighting utility BEWAG. Kahlfeld and Grube are also making efforts to find new uses for Berlin’s abandoned electrical supply stations. One fruit of these efforts is the multifaceted revitalization of ewerk.

The success of these commemorative projects realized by Vattenfall Europe has been recognized through the awarding of various non-commercially oriented prizes and honors, including the 2005 German Memorial Prize and the 2003 Berlin Memorial Prize.

ewerk - where it´s been: chronicle 1881-1945

From the mid 19th to the early 20th century, Germany’s industrial development was most closely associated with the names Alfred Krupp (for Krupp-Werke in Essen), Gottlieb Daimler (for Mercedes-Benz) Wilhelm Siemens (for Siemens AG and Siemens-Halske), August Borsig (for Borsig-Werke), Ferdinand Schichau (for the Schichau shipyards in Elbing and Danzig) and Emil Rathenau (for AEG).

As head of two electrical utility companies – Allgemeinen Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG) and Berliner Electricitäts-Werke (BEWAG) – Rathenau was instrumental in founding and later positioning AEG as a world market leader in the electricity industry.

This evolution was driven by a series of scientific discoveries that were made during the 1870s and that lent themselves to industrial applications. Rathenau was among the first to recognize the economic potential of some of these discoveries and endeavored to develop them in ways that would promote Germany’s industrial development. These discoveries included the generation of light using electricity, as well as the electrical generator, which made the economically viable generation of relatively strong electrical current possible in the first place.

In 1881 Rathenau acquired the rights to Edison’s patent and in 1883 founded Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft für angewandte Elektricität (“German Edison company for applied electricity”) for the express purpose of commercial exploitation of the Edison patent. In 1887 Rathenau founded Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), the successor to Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft für angewandte Elektricität.

In February 1884, the AEG predecessor company concluded a monopoly agreement with the city of Berlin governing mutually beneficial terms and conditions under which the company that later became AEG would electrify the center of Berlin. In May of that same year, the AEG predecessor company was entered in the Commercial Register and in so doing indicated that its equity capital amounted to 3 million deutschmarks.

The new company (AEG) then purchased the property at Markgrafenstraße 44 at Gendarmenmarkt and Mauerstraße 80 in the Friedrichstadt district for the city’s envisaged central power station. Construction of this facility began in May 1884 and was completed in August 1885, an event that was marked by the festive illumination of Berlin’s Royal Theatre on Gendarmenmarkt. Markgrafenstraße 44 is today the site of a Vattenfall Europe office building.

Owing to growing demand for electricity in the area that lay between Leipziger Straße und Potsdamer Platz, the authorization process was realized in late 1884 for a second power plant at Mauerstraße 80. Construction of the facility began in mid 1885 and it went into operation on March 1886. The Mauerstraße power plant supplied Hotel Kaiserhof and provided street lighting for Unter den Linden and Leipziger Straße.

In 1888 the Markgrafenstraße power plant was greatly expanded and a new and considerably larger plant was constructed in 1889 on a newly acquired piece of property on Mauerstraße. Further technological innovations followed. In May 1896, the Mauerstraße plant also began supplying 500 volt direct current for Berlin’s first electrical trolley, which was built jointly by Siemens and Halske. In 1912, a converter was built at the Mauerstraße location to supply Berlin’s suburban train line, the S-Bahn.

This system remained in operation until 1924, and elements of it were still running in 1926. It was then razed – except for the structure that is today ewerk building C – to allow for conversion of the Mauerstraße location into a transformer plant.

Beginning in the early 1920s, technological progress allowed for the transport of higher-voltage current over longer distances, which in turn allowed power plants to be relocated to the outskirts of cities or to coal production facilities, which for Berlin mainly meant the coal mines in the southern part of the city. Toward this end, after being generated, the electricity was stepped up to 30/6 KV so that it could be transformed at the location where it was needed and prepared for distribution. This necessitated construction of centralized transformer facilities in big cities, which in Berlin was realized on a large scale by BEWAG beginning in the 1920s.

This construction work was supervised by BEWAG’s chief architect Hans-Heinrich Müller and his assistants Julius Posner and Egon Eiermann, who realized a total of 40 transformer facilities between 1924 and 1930 at an exceptionally rapid clip, and in so doing met highly demanding functional and non-functional requirements.

The Mauerstraße 80 property was integrated into Berlin’s master plan in 1922. Two years later the former central power station there was shut down, whereupon construction was begun on the Buchhändlerhof transformer facility, which was partially completed in 1926 and fully completed in 1928. The facility got its name – which means “bookseller’s center” – from the fact that Berlin’s central book distribution facility was located nearby. A great deal of construction was realized in this district prior to World War II, and as a result space was at a premium. This in turn meant that the available space had to be used efficiently, which led to realization of several unusual functional features such as placing the main control units outside the buildings themselves, resulting in realization of the familiar honeycomb structure.

When the Buchhändlerhof power plant went into operation in 1928, it was equipped with highly innovative technological solutions for its time that allowed for operation of the plant by only four workers. The facility’s service area included the area around Friedrichstraße, the entire complex of government buildings including the Prussian ministry, the imperial chancery on Wilhelmstraße, and the area around Potsdam and Leipzig squares, where the large department stores were.

Beginning in 1936, Albert Speer and his associates Theo Dierksmeyer, Willi Schelkes, Hans Stephan and Rudolf Wolters began planning a makeover of Berlin. Their plans included expanding the Reich Air Ministry in such a way that it would connect with the Berlin’s Tempelhof airport and the Brandenburg gate. In preparation for execution of this plan, the neighboring southern property on Wilhelmstraße was expropriated and for the most part razed. Hence this area (on which the High Flyer was erected in 2006) was cleared to make way for the realization of the Nazi regime’s prewar construction projects.

It should be noted that expropriation of this area also involved confiscation of a substantial amount of property belonging to Jews, who were relocated to other parts of the city where they were forced to live in squalid conditions. On the ewerk campus in front of the entrance to Mauerstraße 78 there is now a memorial to the Jews who, after being evicted from their homes, were deported. The memorial, which consists of so called “stumbling blocks”, is the work of artist Gunter Demnig and comprises brass plates (referred to as the “stumbling blocks”) on which Demnig hand stamps, ‘Here Lived’ followed by inscriptions of the names of the victims, their birth date, and if known, the date of their death.

Although the transformer facility was severely damaged in late 1944 by Allied bombings, it remained in operation.

In late April and early May of 1945, the facility lay within the final line of defense of the German Wehrmacht and Waffen SS, which were under the command of General Wilhelm Mohnke, who coordinated the final battle with the Red Army 200 meters from the imperial chancery and in the center of Berlin, until Germany surrendered to the Red Army.

During the extensive house to house fighting that characterized this final battle, additional sections of the area were severely damaged, whereupon the transformer facility ceased functioning.

Traces of this battle and the damage it caused can still be seen on the outside of some ewerk buildings, as well as in some parts of ewerk’s event spaces and staircases. Among the structures destroyed during this battle were the entire accumulator structure and the upper levels of the former central power station (today building C) as well as the east and west sections of the transformer facility (today building F).

ewerk - where it´s been: chronicle 1946-1989

At the conclusion of the battle of Berlin in May 1945, the Soviet command decided to repair Berlin’s utility infrastructure, with the result that beginning in August 1945, water, gas and electricity were successively restored to various parts of the city. The Mauerstraße power plant again provided the center of Berlin (most of which had been destroyed by bombing) with power.

Nevertheless, the facility’s full output was never fully restored in the succeeding years, and the existing and damaged sections of the plant were dismantled, or were replaced by new installations.

For example, in order for the Mitte cogeneration plant to provide the East German government offices within the former Reich Air Ministry complex across the street with district heating, large control facilities were realized in these buildings. After the Berlin wall came down in 1998, the German privatization agency (Treuhandanstalt) occupied this building complex, and after this agency was dissolved, the German finance ministry moved in.

The East German government felt that the property should not be used extensively owing to its very close proximity to the borderline that separated Berlin’s various sectors and to the no-man’s land within the borders of the East German part of East Berlin. The eastern side of the area extended into the border security area of the former Allied Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstraße, whereas the southern side abutted the Berlin wall on Zimmerstraße. Any official use of the property was further complicated by the fact that the East German government’s foreign currency acquisition agency headed by Alexander Schalk Golodkowski was located in the neighboring building on Mauerstraße.

The facility’s days of supplying power to the center of Berlin came to an end when the installation’s main components were shut down for good in 1973 and only residual functionalities such as supplying electricity for subway line 5 were maintained.

During the waning years of the East German regime, substantial modifications in Berlin’s cityscape were planned as part of efforts to align the country’s economic and social policies, and at the same time demonstrate the viability of East Germany’s socialist model. The area around Friedrichstraße played a disproportionately role in these plans to give East Germany’s capital city a facelift, which included construction of large department stores and other consumer amenities. Studies were also to be realized to determine whether the existing structures of the central power plant and the transformer facility at Mauerstraße 80 were large enough to house an interim storage facility for the envisaged department stores.

These plans progressed quite far and construction aimed at their realization was begun in the 1980s in the Friedrichstraße Mitte district. This project came to an abrupt halt with the demise of East Germany, although detailed plans had been elaborated by then for renovation of the former transformer facility.

In the late 1980s, while this planning process was ongoing, the area underwent something of a renaissance, with the result that the East German regime granted the transformer facility complex landmark status in 1987. In addition, artists began creating installations, and fashion shoots were realized whose results were published in one of the last East German issues of the leading fashion magazine Sybille.

ewerk - where it´s been: chronicle 1990-1999

After the Berlin Wall came down, ewerk was used for an entirely different purpose that provided a springboard for the facility’s international renown. But before this new page in ewerk’s history could be turned, the buildings of the former central power plant were used as a repository for street lights (until 1991). During this period, the first theatrical pieces were performed at the facility, such as the one by Jannis Kounellis during the “Endlichkeit der Freiheit” (“Finitude of Freedom”) show.

But after the repository was cleared out, things really got going when, in 1992, Andreas Rossmann “discovered” ewerk, which three years after the fall of the Berlin wall was still for the most part shut down except for a few residual energy supply functions. In his capacity as location scout, Rossmann was looking for a kind of construction of which a fair number were to be found in the center of Berlin at that period. These were buildings whose architectural particularities, physical condition, or geographic location – or sometimes pure chance – made them suitable for celebratory subculture events and that greatly contributed to making Berlin a habitat in which robust and positive dimensions could be integrated into the emerging post Cold War world. One such institution, known as Planet Club, had set up shop at various locations in Berlin’s somewhat chaotic eastern half, and Rossmann was now seeking yet another new location for it.

Rossmann then rediscovered the spectacular Mauerstraße location for which an initial project was planned in early 1993, the so called Evidence Party, which was held in the current building F with Low Spirit and Westbam performing. It was a bitter cold evening and the now legendary fire installation was more reminiscent of the Bronx than Berlin.

The Mauerstraße location was found to be so intriguing that continuous efforts were made to develop it into something more permanent, and this culminated in the (re)opening of the club in April 1993, with DJ Clé’s spinning the first record. As a club, ewerk soon became a very special venue in Berlin’s high-powered pop music scene, a status that indisputably was fostered by the congenial chemistry of the self-styled “glamor crew” consisting of Hille Saul, Andreas Rossmann, Ralf Regitz and Lee Waters. Hille Saul, who was the soul of the venue and the guiding hand behind the club’s music, initiated a series of events such as Saturday TWIRL featuring ewerk regulars and international guest DJs, as well as Dubmission on Fridays with regular Paul van Dyk. Other formats were developed as well such as Lee’s Ranch, and there were ad hoc modes such as Love Parade events.

ewerk soon distinguished itself from the panoply of diversions Berlin had to offer and soon achieved cult status in large measure thanks to the attention it received from a number of renowned German and international institutions, including (to name but a few) the Prodigy concert during the 1994 MTV European Music Awards 1994 and the Chromapark Techno Art Exhibition (1994-1996) which combined media events with the art of partying. The performers at these events included 3D Luxe, Elsa For Toys, Attila Richard Lukacs, Ali Kepenek and Wolfgang Tillmans.

The club’s success at bringing together an extremely diverse group of cultural happenings in one place – ranging from a Massive Attack concert to a Versace gala dinner to Katharina Thalbach’s production of Don Giovanni in cooperation with Christoph Hagel and Mediapool – shows that ewerk was one of the top clubs in the 1990s in terms of both its underlying concept and its track record.

The club counted among its regulars Clé, Woody, Westbam, Jonzon, Terry Belle and Disko, and there were guest appearances by the who’s who of the techno scene, including (to name but a few) Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Sounderson, Carl Cox, Laurent Garnier, Sven Väth, Hell, and Paul van Dyk.

The ewerk of this period and the attendant club generated a host of legends, many of which can be justly described as exaggerated or blatantly false. But these narratives remain living proof of the major extent to which the music scene was associated with the ewerk club back then. At the same time, heart rending scenarios were constantly played out just outside the club entrance when people that were dying to get in were turned away. And inside too a number of events gave rise to memorable stories such as the time Laurent Garnier, upon entering ewerk, got down on bended knee and expressed a fervent desire to be buried at ewerk. An even more dramatic event occurred when a restroom attendant caught supermodel Naomi Campbell doing something illegal in the restroom and dragged her out of the stall by her hair.

The club closed its doors in 1997, but definitely ended its days with a bang rather than a whimper, i.e. a three day long event that attracted 4000 people from around the world who were fortunate enough to experience the club at its whitest of white heats. The trembling of the double bass from this final event still reverberates in the minds of Berlin officials, who were weren’t exactly thrilled to learn that one of the club’s former honchos was still trying to find a new function for ewerk.

The most important legacy of the ewerk club is that in retrospect, all concerned – guests, artists and management – felt as though they were part of something that was not only unique, but that was also part of a relaxed political and institutional ambience that allowed for non-replicable creativity and even some insanity. The club remains one of Berlin’s most powerful and beautiful memories of the post-communist period, and this little segment of memory lane will undoubtedly bolster the legendary status of the club as time goes by.

After the club closed, beginning in 1998 various attempts were made to find a long term and sufficiently challenging role for ewerk, but all of these efforts failed for various reasons. These projects included an energy forum, as well as a plan to create office space for “new economy” businesses. This resulted in an increasing number of requests to use the space for individual events.

ewerk - where it´s been: chronicle 2000-2005

In 2000 the Berlin based high tech company SPM began searching for a location for its head office. The company wanted a location that looked completely different from conventional office buildings but that also met extremely high functional and aesthetic standards.

Several feasibility studies later, it became abundantly clear that while there was a large selection of conventional investor solutions for a 500 workstation office space in the center of Berlin, none of them met SPM’s functional and aesthetic requirements. The company then decided to look around for something completely different.

In late 2000 Paul Kahlfeldt introduced Vattenfall’s Achim Grube to the party that later became the investor in the site. The ensuing negotiations catalyzed an evaluation process indicating that the Mauerstraße location (ewerk) was the best investment option. A feasibility study was then carried out, and in so doing care was taken to ensure (in close cooperation with the Dr. Kahlfeldt’s architecture firm) that the numerous usage restrictions resulting from the previous uses of the building, the effects of World War II on the building, as well as permit related requirements could be reduced to a minimum and that the project would in fact be feasible.

The architecture firm of Hoyer, Schindele, Hirschmüller and Partner then drew up plans and realized the requisite design work for the project.

Before construction got underway, a number of high class events were held at the venue, including the Art Director Club awards ceremony. In addition, Levis presented its new engineering product line, which featured an Outcast concert, and NoUfos sponsored the (to date) last Love Parade event at ewerk.

In December 2003, in its capacity as the parent company of the investment company, SPM was sold to SAP. As a result of the acquisition process, SPM’s investment activities were spun off so that the ewerk project could continue without interruption and the functional components of the project could be realized independently of SAP.

In late 2002, following a period that was marked by excellent cooperation with city officials, the initial construction phase began, involving installation of a rectifier for subway lines 2 and 6 under Friedrichstraße. The project’s general contractor MBN completed construction work in late 2003.

In early 2004 a general contractor’s agreement was concluded with the Oevermann company for rebuilding ewerk’s office space, and the work was completed in mid 2005. Soon thereafter SAP moved into the new office space, whereupon ewerk sent out invitations for the reopening celebration.

A third phase of ewerk’s revitalization that was initiated in mid 2005 involved modernization of the apartment buildings on Mauerstraße, which is slated for completion by mid 2006.

today´s story

Today more than ever, ewerk is a venue bursting with life in a dynamic cosmopolis, a place where people live, work and relax in a mutually beneficial and synergistic manner.

ewerk’s colorful past is expressed in the multifaceted and versatile manifestations of its modern incarnation – particularly within the event spaces that are available for use by the general public. The events that are held at ewerk mirror the stakeholders, issues and tendencies that mark today’s society.

Even the office space at ewerk is situated within a historical context that is manifested through a host of artefacts of the past. But ewerk’s infrastructure meets the most up to date standards for modern office space. SAP is ewerk’s main office space tenant.

ewerk is also a residential space. Its apartment buildings, which were built in 1886, have 12 apartments ranging in size from 110 to 160 square meters.

These apartments were first offered on the property market in Summer 2006.

The fact that Berlin’s subway system operator BVG maintains a rectifier for the 2 and 6 lines at ewerk as it has for many decades now means not only that ewerk is still connected to its past, but also shows how versatile the facility really is.

In ensuring that ewerk remains true to its roots while at the same time transferring to the present the facility’s long tradition of progressive usage modalities, we are adding new and we hope suitable dimensions to the annals of this truly unique place.