It was love that brought Lutz Oberländer to Siemensstadt. Although he was born in Berlin in the mid-1960s, Oberländer was unfamiliar with the district until the turn of the millennium. What he saw surprised him. The variety of architecture within a few kilometers seemed unique. So, he started to investigate and a vague interest turned into a strong passion. Oberländer is now considered an expert and has published three picture books on Siemensstadt.
Mr. Oberländer, what was your first impression when you arrived at Siemensstadt?
I was amazed, because it’s a city within a city. It’s very different from where I grew up. It has its own infrastructure, including businesses, houses, apartments, jobs, schools – but it somehow maintains a certain distance from the other nearby neighborhoods, meaning Spandau and Charlottenburg.
Did you immediately start researching the neighborhood?
That came gradually. I happened to find photos of Siemensstadt on the Internet and thought, “That’s pretty cool. I’ll set them aside and maybe I can use them later.” Then I kept seeing more and more. And when you want to know what’s in the photos, you buy books, do research on the Internet, and at some point, the whole thing takes on a life of its own ....
You originally came from Neukölln, and now you’re entire focus is on Siemensstadt. What makes this neighborhood so unique? The architecture?
What you need to know is that Siemensstadt doesn’t have one single architecture. It’s actually like a picture book of the last hundred years of architectural history. To outsiders, it seems cobbled together. Analytically speaking, it’s comprised of many small settlements. The first one in around 1900 was the Ring Settlement around Nonnendammallee. It was being built up until the First World War. The settlement where we are now, Siemenssiedlung, was built immediately after the First World War. Additional settlements then followed in quick succession ... the Heimat Settlement on Schuckertdamm, the Great Siemensstadt Estate that was built from 1929 into the early 30s and is now a World Heritage Site. Until the start of the Second World War, construction continued all around Göbelplatz of what is now Charlottenburg Nord.
And some outstanding buildings were created in the process …
Yes. Here in Siemensstadt, for example, the Schaltwerk building is an industry icon, the first high-rise factory based on the American model. Steel construction. Masonry-filled. With flat roofs, large rooms, the latest production methods. The older industrial buildings just are like those of the imperial period, with lots of enclosed rear courtyards, brick structures, and relatively poor ventilation.
Was the architectural landscape greatly affected by the Second World War?
As a settlement, as a residential unit, Siemensstadt suffered very little damage. Only the Siemens factories were largely destroyed. After the Second World War, construction continued on Rohrdamm – here, right across from Siemens-Siedlung. In the mid-50s, mid-60s, additional houses were built in the Rohrdamm West estate. So, each settlement, each part has its own architectural idiom.
So, it’s a sort of map of architectural history that was created gradually?
You must see it as a living entity. Neighborhoods aren’t static. As I said, it started out as a meadow, then came the residential buildings. The conditions of production changed, factories were torn down, new factories were built. Back then was a phase of urban densification. In other words, as soon as there was a little bit of green space, appropriate buildings were inserted to create new housing. We’re now about to start the final process with the new Siemens Campus. Originally they were open spaces or industrial spaces, and now they’re going to be converted to residential spaces.
What do you think of this transformation? Will it take the neighborhood in a new direction?
Siemensstadt will be going in a new direction in any case. With these measures, we’re doubling the population within a short period of time. But the infrastructure buildings that can handle this haven’t been planned yet. So, there might still be a little potential there. The Siemensbahn is supposed to start running, but that probably won’t happen until the residential buildings are finished. So, the need will definitely be there beforehand.
Finally, do you have a favorite place in Siemensstadt?
I have lots of them. Not just one. At the end of Radstrasse is Rodelberg. If you go up there and look around, you see green on all sides. Wonderful! You can then walk down to the Spree. It’s magical! You can visit Jungfernheide and Jungfernheide Lake. Also wonderful! So there are lots and lots of places. Climb the church tower on Schuckertdamm and you’ll have a fantastic view of Siemensstadt, all the way to the Spree and even as far as Spandau. So, it’s not a matter of a favorite place, but of favorite places.