Tuesday, June 13, 2017

AEG-Stadt, Berlin

Photos by DC unless noted

This past May, we went with our friends Emily Pütter and Michael Neil to the industrial district of Schöneweide, along the Spree, in the far east of Berlin. Emily and Michael had studios here and lived here for several years, until they were forced out by gentrification (among the players now is Eric Olafsson).

This was the heart of the AEG industrial empire, much of which I had thought was designed by Peter Behrens. But I searched in vain for his famous Turbine Hall (1909) – it turns out to be located in the neighborhood of Moabit, in the west (Huttenstraße 12-16, for next time).

Museum of Technology, Berlin

I didn't see anything as architecturally smashing as the Turbine Hall, but the overall impact of the two-kilometer stretch of massive factory complexes along the river is very powerful: block after block of multi-story, substantially-built yellow-brick buildings, with high floors, tall windows and multiple courtyards, many with a myriad of small businesses, studios, artists lofts and so on inside.

One block, now called the "Rathenau Halle", features a large vaulted space with a double-angled gable like the Turbine Hall. It is the Neue Montagehalle, built a few years later (1915–16) by the industrial designer Paul Tropp.
Neu Montague Halle. From Wikipedia

One of the buildings is still functioning as a cable factory, and several others belong to the
University of Applied Sciences for Engineering and Economics.

It turns out that Behrens' only major building there, and not one of his best I would say, is the factory and administrative offices for the AEG automobile plant, the Nationale Automobil-Gesellschaft (NAG, 1913-17).

Peter Behrensm NAG Administrative offices. From Wikipedia

A Wikipedia page listing the architecture of the area brings up another surprise: this "Bootshaus Elektra" or "Electric Boathouse" (1910-12) by Behrens "with Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris", aka Le Corbusier . It can be found a bit downriver at An der Wuhlheide 236/23.

Behrens with Le Corbusier, Boathouse, from Wikipedia

For the full Wikipedia listing of architecture in the area:

Meanwhile, the AEG had factories and other buildings designed by Behrens all over Berlin. See: "PeterBehrens - AEG Electricity Company Buildings":


AEG Small Motors Factory, Berlin-Wedding (1910-13); photo: Emil Leitner, ca. 1925

AEG Workers’ Housing, Hennigsdorf (1918-19)

AEG Locomotive Factory, Hennigsdorf (1913)
Here is the edited Google translation of a webpage about the Schöneweide district:

"The industrial estate in Oberschöneweide is one of the most important monuments of Berlin industry and is regarded as the largest connected industrial monument in Europe. The rise began around 1895, when the AEG under Emil Rathenau moved to the still-undeveloped Spreeufer in the southeast of the city in search for a suitable location for their constantly expanding production sites. Within a few years Schöneweide became one of the largest sites of the Berlin electrical industry and, at the same time, the world's largest location for AEG."

"Since the beginning of the twentieth century, no industrial branch has shaped the economy and everyday life as decisively as the electro-technical industry. The unique concentration of this innovative industry helped the German capital rise to become the "Elektropolis" of Germany, and made Berlin an industrial city of the first rank in the following decades."

"The "General Electricity Society" … was a modern company that shaped the structure and the cityscape of Oberschöneweide. Schöneweide is therefore also called "AEG-Stadt" or "AEG City". "

Ernst Ziesel, Building A 8 (AEG Telecommunication Cable Factory), 1927-28, demolished 2006. Wikipedia
"In the Wilhelminenhofstraße, AEG erected a long corridor of factory plants, which with their yellow brick façades still characterize the almost two-kilometer-long industrial area between the Spree and Wilhelminenhofstraße today. AEG commissioned the most famous architects of the time, such as Franz Schwechten and later Peter Behrens, as well as the industrial building specialists Paul Tropp and Ernst Ziesel. This unique ensemble of factories, production halls, administrative buildings and residential buildings embodies the beginnings of architectural modernism."

The AEG empire was built by Emil Rathenau and his son, Walther. The original family estate in Schöneweide still stands; in Walther's time the family moved to the wealthy suburb of Grunemwald in the west. For a quick portrait of Walther and the AEG, see the following, quoted below:

Nigel Jones
"The Assasination of Walther Ratenau"
History Today

"(Walther) Rathenau was one of the most formidable figures in early 20th century Germany. A Jewish industrialist, thinker and diplomat, he built the enormous AEG electronics and engineering conglomerate into a powerhouse of the German economy. During the First World War, when Britain’s naval blockade was starving Germany of vital raw material imports, Rathenau became his nation’s economic overlord."

"Playing a role similar to Albert Speer in the Second World War, Rathenau husbanded Germany’s dwindling resources and directed its industrial production, brilliantly improvising to give a lease of life to its failing war effort. His work, according to some historians, prolonged German resistance by months or even years. It also sowed the seeds of hatred in the minds of Germany’s anti-semitic nationalists, who saw in Rathenau, not a great patriot brilliantly managing scarcity, but a rich Jew cornering markets."

"After the war the infant Weimar Republic sought out the talented Rathenau, making him foreign minister. ... Rathenau duly stoked the Right’s rage in 1922 by negotiating the Treaty of Rapallo with the nascent Soviet Union, while insisting that Germany had to fulfill the provisions of the deeply unpopular Treaty of Versailles."

The crane now houses a riverside cafe

Photo: Eniily Püetter and Michael Neil

Mary Dreyer took some terrific pictures too:

Same view as my first shot, better exposed. Michael, myself and Emily are otherwise engaged...

Moments later....
Moments later still...
A courtyard

More broken gables

Behrens' NAG offices

Back to the bar...

Solid! Tectonic! Shadow-molding!

Finally, my friend, the artist Angela Bonanni, offers the following video work with images of the district in 2000-2001, when she had a studio there, and when it was far more deteriorated:

Liste der Kulturdenkmale in Berlin-Oberschöneweide 

Peter Behrens - AEG Electricity Company Buildings 

Startseite Schöneweide Historie Die AEG-Stadt    

Nigel Jones  
"The Assasination of Walther Ratenau" 
History Today
Vol. 63, Issue 7, July 2003


  1. I think one could add a link to my video "German for foreigners, a walk through Oberschöneweide"(https://vimeo.com/52465079) in which I documented the decadence of the district in 2000-2001, where I lived for six months in the Wilheminenhofstrasse complex on an artist's grant. Ten years later I documented the initial gentrification in an installation called "Let your heart take you there", and took pictures of exactly the same spots, while asking visitors if they could recognize the place.

  2. Thanks, Angela, very interesting. The neighborhood certainly has changed dramatically in the intervening years.