Comparable with the industrial areas of Moabit and Siemensstadt, the site in Oberschöneweide is one of the great monuments to Berlin industry and is considered the largest industrial monument in Europe.
It began its rise a good 100 years ago, when the AEG (General Electricity Company) under Emil Rathenau, searching for a suitable location for its constantly expanding production facilities, left the centre of Berlin at the end of the 19th Century and moved to the still undeveloped area on the banks of the Spree River in the south-eastern part of the city. In so doing, the AEG set a process in motion that is known as the Randwanderung der Industrie, the movement of industry to the outskirts of the city. This migration of major businesses to the undeveloped periphery along the banks of the Spree became one of the largest driving forces behind urban development after the turn of the century, made the capital of the German Empire into an “electropolis”, and transformed Berlin in the following decades not only into a first-rate industrial city, but also in every respect into the most dynamically-growing metropolis on the continent.
On what is now Wilhelminenhof Street, the General Electricity Company constructed a long row of factory buildings, which, with their yellow brick facades, are still a defining element of the Köpenick district. Oberschöneweide is thus additionally an outstanding portrait of urban development. The nearly two-kilometre long industrial strip between Spree and Wilhelminenhof Street is to a large extent uniformly designed. The AEG recognised that the architecture of its factories was as important as the design of its products. Thus the AEG commissioned the best-known architects of the time, such as Franz Schwechten and later Peter Behrens, as well as the industrial construction specialists Paul Tropp and Ernst Ziesel, to design its factory buildings.
By the end of the Twenties, a unique ensemble of multi-story factories, spacious production halls, administration buildings, and even residential buildings had arisen, embodying the still-amazing variety of this early phase of modern architecture. The industrial construction sector of Oberschöneweide remains even now a location with distinctive character, affording artists and young companies alike a special image.
After 1945, the AEG transformer station was nationalised. As the VEB Transformer Station Oberspree, TRO for short, its name was extended to include “Karl Liebknecht” during East German times. Until 1990, the factory employed 2500 workers, who jokingly referred to themselves as TROjaner (TROjans).
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the difficulties began. In 1996, the transformer station was closed for good. Peter Barg, former director of the Berlin family business Ruhnke-Optik, bought the 73000 square-metre TRO site on the Spree in 1997 and began to transform it into the “Rathenau Cultural and Technological Centre”.
It seemed that bankruptcy would put an end to this enterprise, but it was possible to generate enthusiasm for the site in an Irish family business and bring them to purchase it. Although a detailed plan of use for the site remains to be found, it has been possible to continue the transformation of Building 79 into a studio building.
The Building 79 shows the typical features for a former industrial area: a yellow clinker façade and ornament gables. It was built 1899 by the architect Paul Tropp. Before the reconstruction took place the ground floor was used as the factory canteen, the raised ground floor was used as the sanitary wing. In the first floor there were the engineering offices. The reconstruction was completed in the end of the year 2007. 36 studios originated by it - very different in size, furniture or quality. The reconstruction was accomplished by the architecture office Archplan under the direction of Joachim Hoffmann and with the collaboration of Mrs. H. Erhard.