In an old railway yard, Berlin

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Alongside the railway tracks at Warschauer Straße, in the Friedrichshain neighbourhood of Berlin, is a former railway repair yard that has been turned into a post-industrial cultural oasis, with bars and clubs, a skatepark and a climbing centre, amongst many other small and medium sized projects. This is the “RAW-Gelände”, from the wonderfully German word “Reichsbahnausbesserungswerkstatt” – the repair yard of the national railways.

This was the oldest company Friedrichshain, founded in 1867 for the Prussian railways and in particular, the “Ostbahn” which ran from Berlin to Königsberg and East Prussia (present day Kaliningrad). By the end of the nineteenth century the repair yard was employing over 1000 workers, and it continued operations through the GDR years when it was named for the Bavarian communist Franz Stenzer, who was murdered by the Nazis. In 1991, following reunification, the yard was closed, and since the end of the twentieth century it has begun its new life as a cultural hub, although walking through the complex you still get a sense of what it used to be – which is part of the attraction.

Over the weekend I ran another Wedding tour, and as with the old “RAW” complex in Friedrichshain, I was reminded again how many different buildings and spaces are being re-imagined and re-used for purposes very different than they were built for. On the tour alone, in a couple of hours of walking through Wedding, we passed an old bus yard and tram depot, a former artillery factory, a former safe-making factory, small industrial workshops, a swimming pool and a crematorium, all of which are now being used for cultural or artistic projects. As with the RAW complex, it is the reminder of the former purpose and its integration into the new projects that are why these places “work” as locations, bringing new life and new activities to structures that have served their purpose and would, presumably, be otherwise destroyed, or left to rot.

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Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig

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