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Gasometerbunker Fichtestraße

The Fichtebunker in Kreuzberg is the only surviving large bunker of its kind in Germany. Interestingly, the facade of this building, erected between 1883 and 1884, gives away little about the actual purpose of the building. It was originally a substation of the Kreuzberg gas company, serving as a gasometer for the city's street lights. The advancing electrification of the city in the years of the Weimar Republic rendered it obsolete and was not used anymore. Beetween 1940 and 1941 it was converted into a large bunker for families. This new building technique saved a lot of wood and labour as the concrete just had to be poured into the existing facade.

Unlike the surrounding area, the bunker survived the bomb attacks during the war completely intact and was used as a hostel for refugees, as an OAP home and as a shelter for the homeless until 1963. After that, it was turned into a storage depot for food with a capacity of some 7,000 tons as part of the so-called “senate's reserves”. It served this purpose until 1990.

Many plans and concepts for its future were made – all of them have come to nought until now. The future of the installation is yet to be decided. It has been standing there for over 120 years, this giant with a diameter of 56 and a height of 21 metres, crowned by a cupola consisting of steel segments which in itself has an impressive height of 12 metres. We are talking about the oldest and only remaining gasometer made of bricks in Berlin. It can be found in the Fichtestraße in the district of Kreuzberg. From the outside, it still looks as it always has, with hardly anything indicating the dramatic developments which took place inside. For thousands of people that building was of great relevance – it saved their lifes!

The gasometer was constructed 1874–1876 according to the plans of of the city's gasworks “technical conductor” Reissner. It was the second out of a set of four which fuelled the city's street lights. They already became obsolete in the years of the Weimar Republic when the street lighting was switched to electricity. In late 1940, this gasometer and two others in the Müllerstraße of the Wedding district were converted into large air raid shelters for 6,000 people each.

This undertaking drastically changed the gasometer's interior: It now had six levels with some 120 chambers each. These levels were connected by 5 staircases and three lifts. In addition, 24 kitchens, two heating chambers, a diesel power generator and air supply systems were installed. The bunker was fitted with new outside walls which were 1,80 metres thick and a ceiling some 3 metres strong. These works were carried out by prisoners of war and slave labourers housed in barracks right next to the building. The conversion progressed quickly and in 1941, the fitting-out was installed. During the bomb attacks on Berlin, which steadily increased in velocity, more and more people sought shelter in the bunker. According to air raid wardens, some 30, 000 people were in the bunker during the bombing raid in the night of 2nd/3rd February 1945. Even the local police stations brought their prisoners there in order to avoid them escaping during the chaos of the bomb attacks. For this purpose, some prison cells were even built in the bunkers. The end of the war saw the gasometer's end as an air raid shelter. But people still continued to be there – refugees, old age pensioners, young offenders and, finally, the homeless who could rent a chamber there for 2,50 deutschmarks per day. After that, new types of residents moved in. They were called, for example, “Unica”, “Armada” or “Hennecke” and are commonly known as sardines, apple puree and tinned beans. These stocks, part of the '“Senate's Reserves” – emergency supplies mainly intended to ward off shortages should there ever be another Soviet blockade – were kept until the end of the cold war in 1990.

The building was subsequently mothballed. Ten years were to pass until it was opened to the public: As part of the “Day of the Open Monument” in September 2000, the Berlin Underworlds organisation offered guided tours with a slide show to illustrate the history of the gasometer. Some 1,700 people made use of this opportunity. Such a positive response underlined the point that the bunker is still of great interest to many people. And, perhaps, it is only the solid construction of the building which allowed its survival. Otherwise it would possibly, like the other bunkers at that site, have been blown up in 1952.

Facts 

Size: Diameter 56 metres, height 21 metres
Purpose: Gasometer, air-raid shelter
Condition: Intact, open to the public: see Tour F

Author: Reiner JanickStatus: 15.04.15 Top