Monday, February 16, 2009

Berlin is built on sand

This may not be too much of a revelation as such but the sheer amount of structures which have been built into these sandy foundations certainly is! The city's development from a little village in the Mark Brandenburg province to Germany's biggest metropolis has to be seen in context with the utilisation of Berlin's underground for the urban infrastructure – like the sewage, gas, water & electricity networks and public transportation.

The Association “Berliner Unterwelten” (Berlin Underworlds) researches these historical developments and documents them. It was founded in 1997 by people from all walks of life who are interested in the diverse aspects of the underground. Its ranks include academics (such as architects, historians, lawyers, art historians, economists, town and regional planners and students) but also craftsmen, justice officials, teachers, policemen, OAPs and pupils who contribute to the organizations in many different ways.

Focusing on the history of Berlin's underground, the organization is dealing with largely uncharted territory and consequently attracts a lot of public attention. The indicators of this success are the books written by organization members, which are already published in multiple editions.

At the moment, the organization consists of more than 230 members who coordinate their work in several independent sections. The decision-making bodies of the Berliner Unterwelten e.V. are the Department Speakers' Council and the members' meetings. Every member has the right to participate in these gatherings. Membership fees are 60 € or 30 € (concessions) per year. Members also receive the periodical “Schattenwelt” (shadow worlds), a Quarterly which reports on the organization's broad spectrum of activities, discusses literature on the subject, features a travel section and serves as a forum for discussion. The travel and literature sections can also be found on the website under the heading Suggestions.

Our primary aim is to explore and document the city's underground architecture and make it accessible to the public. Underground buildings include caverns, air raid shelters, disused railway tunnels, derelict brewery vaults and other places the public normally has no access to. We try to conserve historically relevant underground structures and preserve them for future generations. Our message has spread and we are nowadays often approached by investors and public bodies whenever questions dealing with the underground arise.

The organization's headquarters are located in an air raid shelter within the Gesundbrunnen Subway station (U 8 line). In order to provide an insight into Berlin's underworld, this particularly interesting structure has been renovated by the organization. It also managed to get the bunker listed as a protected building in 1999. The organization's members meet there every Wednesday at 18.00. Membership meetings and special events such as concerts, theatre performances and exhibitions also take place in that structure. There are also special guided tours through underground installations for members of the association only.

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