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Culture

Multimedia in Historic Walls

In Berlin, multimedia companies have discovered the charm and the advantages of the city's decaying factory buildings. One of the most famous, "E-Werk", plays host this week to an international media arts festival.

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The "E-Werk"'s past as world famous techno disco is over

Just off a main road in Berlin Mitte, the city's central district, a trail of rubble on a nondescript parking lot huge leads the way to one of the city's architectural treasures: Here, a huge, dirty red brick building stands, tucked away from the hub-bub of Berlin's busy city centre streets.

Only a broken record, lying discarded on the floor before the building's entrance is a reminder of the days when the walls of trembled to the throbbing beats of hard, pure techno, and hundreds of sparsely clad teenagers raved the nights away – in a building which once served as a transformer station for Berlin's city centre.

Better known as the "E-Werk" ,this techno disco closed three years ago. Now the whole transformer station has been sold and is undergoing renovation, drawing a line under yet another Berlin myth. This week, E-Werk is one of the hosts of Transmediale, a week-long international media arts festival.

Cocktails in saucepans

The days are over when numerous warehouses, apartment blocks and electricity stations stood forlorn and empty, due to uncleared ownership claims after the fall of the wall, the result of confiscation once by the communists, and earlier, by the Nazis.

In the confused aftermath of the fall of the wall, no one knew who owned what, and many of these buildings remained empty for years to come.

The young people in Berlin, however, could hardly believe their luck, and seized the opportunity to hold secret gatherings in these disused flats and dark backyards.

Creativity and innovation flowed freely and many a party took place by candlelight, with food cooked on a gas cooker and cocktails mixed in saucepans. Camouflage became a must, as the majority of these hidden meetings were not licensed, and a night on the town was sometimes more like a treasure hunt.

The disused transformer station was just the place for these kind of gatherings. The huge, dark rooms, with their high ceilings, numerous small side rooms and rusty machinery, several metres from any neighbouring building or road, seemed perfect to rave in the turmoil of post-unified Berlin. Ravers flocked to the "E-Werk" as it was called in the early nineties, especially during the Love Parade .

A building with a history

The transformer station in the city centre, built in 1928 by architect Hans Heinrich Müller, was one of twelve of its kind. It was once a status symbol for a city, which succeeded in supplying its households with electricity at such a fast pace, that it was soon regarded as one of the most modern capitals in Europe.

Squeezed in between various other buildings in the narrow streets of Berlin´s busy centre, space was rare, and Müller had to extend in height, in order to fit in all the necessary equipment.

During the Second World War, the transformer station at Buchhändlerhof, as the area was called, was badly damaged. Situated in the east of the city, the GDR government left the station to decay and the red brick neogothic façade, once Müllers pride and joy, crumble.

When the E-Werk had to shut its doors, a chapter in the history of Berlin closed too. The owners, the Bewag, an electricity company which has had state monopoly in Berlin since 1922, put it up for sale, hoping for buyers from the multimedia or internet branch. They advertised the ideal shape and size of this tall, lofty building and its prime location right in the heart of the city.

With the major development of Berlin's streets, the inofficial gatherings and parties slowly disappeared. In the city centre, Mitte, factory buildings, wharehouses and the tall houses characteristic of the area have undergone complete renovation and modernisation. Multimedia and internet companies, design and music firms are now the clientele to occupy these buildings, all of which have their very own specific history.

The E-Werk was sold this year to "SPM Technologies" who is planning on turning the building into an IT-centre. The complex will also have space for restaurants, clubs and larger events - but it is a new chapter in this famous building's history.

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  • Date 08.02.2002
  • Author Louise Brown
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/1Mve
  • Date 08.02.2002
  • Author Louise Brown
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/1Mve