Ulrike Heringer

Time Travel by Ulrike Heringer – April 29, 2015

At Berlin’s train station “Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten” one can still imagine how the former center of West Berlin must have once looked like. People who rarely visit this part of town probably feel like finding themselves in a completely different world. Although crowds keep pushing one further, it is worth pausing for a moment and observing the urban spectacle. Homeless next to museum visitors, students next to shopping addicts, Currywurst saleswomen next to fur coat wearers. Here, one can find them all. History was being made here, 1968 students protested against the Vietnam War in front of the America House (today’s C / O Berlin) and, in the 1970s and 80s, the Bahnhof Zoo was known for being the center of Berlin’s drug scene. The area around Bahnhof Zoo is one of the most diverse, shady, busiest and urban areas in Berlin.

Zoologischer Garten Berlin

What is today known as the area around “Bahnhof Zoo”, is still relatively young. In 1947, shortly after the end of the second world war, the area around Bahnhof Zoo was destroyed and large parts were uninhabitable. Therefore, in 1947, the Magistrate of Greater Berlin and the Association “Reconstruction of West-Berlin City 1948” announced the competition “Around the Zoo”. The response was great, more than 100 project drafts were submitted. Two architects, rather committed to classical modernism, won the 30.000 Reichsmark. Much more exciting than the drafts of the winning architects was, however, a draft that has not been realised.

Sergius Ruegenberg (1903-96) worked in the office of Mies van der Rohe and Hans Scharoun as an architect. Although his draft “Non-Stop Airport” did not win a prize in the competition, it was vastly debated in public and professional circles. Ruegenberg was regarded as a specialist in »airports of short distances«. In this sense, in his draft, the airport was directly connected to the train station, so that passengers would have been able to board the aircraft without further ado. A unique feature of his vision was that he placed the runways crossing underneath railways and roads, so the airport would not have to extend across vast areas like other airports do. Aircrafts would have been easily accessible via elevated roads.

Ruegenberg’s idea of ​​flying or more specific of landing also differed from previous systems. Aircrafts landing at his airport should briefly touch the ground and should immediately take off again. The architect compared aircrafts with birds in search of food: the ground isn’t the actual habitat of birds, and they touch it only briefly.

“Like the traces a bird leaves on the ground during approach and departure we only need those two lanes plus everything they imply to create the right spot and the right moment of rest or standstill.” (S. Ruegenberg in: Neue Bauwelt, H. 5, 1949)

Ruegenberg assumed that the needs of a modern city could not be met by roads and railways alone, but that the expansion of air traffic was necessary.

His design neither won a prize nor was an implementation of it even taken into consideration.

Still, it reflects the zeitgeist of the century: After the second world war, when Berlin largely laid in ruins, a fresh start was conceivable in an architectural perspective. Whereas in most times, urban architecture is based on decisions made in the past and is able to change only slowly, Berlin’s architectures had the opportunity to think and implement visionary projects after the second world war. That it seemed possible to build an airport in the middle of the city, today seems unthinkable. And even though the airport was not built, the draft remained a model for future projects, such as the realized “airport of short distances” Berlin-Tegel.

Ulrike Heringer
Ulrike Heringer
 @UlrikeHeringer  ulrike.heringer@urbanist-magazin.de

Ulrike Heringer has a background in cultural theory, anthropology and psychology. She is an editor of the Urbanist Magazine and co-founder of the Berlin Institute for Mobility and Society. She likes photography and cycling.

Cover Photo: Berlinische Galerie, State Museum for Modern Art, Photography and Architecture
Inline Photo: gerrit.photography / This party ain’t for everyone… / Flickr / CC BY 2.0