Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


The summer´s almost over, Here´s something we could all have done with it if it still were hot. And if we had lived some 150 years ago.


From Berlin Directory 1878

From Berlin Directory 1878

Gustav Niemann, an engineer from Admiralstrase 15, is granted a patent for Ventilationseinrichtung an Kopfbedeckungen or “headgear ventilation”. Amusing as it might sound to us, the mostly headgear-free generation, the problem Herr Niemann decided to measure himself against happened to be a grave one. As anyone who ever wore a hat, a beret or a baseball cap on a particularly warm day would know. You sweat. You might avoid getting sunstroke but you won´t escape the sweat. And you´d kill for a bit of fresh breeze over your sculp.

Now imagine that taking the hat off is not an option – either because you are a soldier or because showing up in public without a hat would reduce you to the level of Lumpenproletariat. After all, at the beginning of the 20th century a woman without a hat was considered to be either working class or a prostitute or both, while a man without a hat was either a communist or an artist or drunk. Or all of the above at once.

It was those poor sweating heat-bearing classes, undoubtedly himself included, that Gustav Niemann had in mind when he set off to work on his invention. The idea was to provide a regular hat or Pickelhaube (typical spiked helmet worn by the army, the firefighters and the police in the 19th and early 20th century German army) with a ventilation system which would keep heads cool and at the same time be light, easy and require no significant construction changes to the original piece of headgear.

A typical Pickelhaube from 1915 (source:

A typical Pickelhaube from 1915 (source:

Herr Niemann´s final design was nothing if not ingenious. The heart of the new “cooler” hat was a little 10-winged fan made of solid but light material and fixed on top of it. The wire placed between the sweatband and the bottom of the crown (here I should like to thank British hatguide blog for helping me out with the millinery parlance of which I had no prior knowledge whatsoever – and no wonder) assured that the fresh air could get in and flow up to the little ventilator. The air flow and the temperature difference between the warm air inside the hat and outside of it set the fan in motion – the rotations meant that the air caught inside the, let say, Pickelhaube could get out and the person wearing it would sweat less.

In fact, not only would they sweat less thanks to what Niemann described as “better and unhindered evaporation through constant and self-regulating air circulation” but they would also profit from “hair preservation as well as rheumatism, faintness and sunstroke prevention”.

Original drawings of Gustav Niemann´s invention (Deutsches Patentamt through Maria Curter´s excellent book "Das Erfinderische Berlin"

Original drawings of Gustav Niemann´s invention (Deutsches Patentamt through Maria Curter´s excellent book “Das Erfinderische Berlin”

Whether Gustav Niemann´s invention became a huge success with headgear manufacturers and eventually with hat wearers of Berlin and beyond is unfortunately impossible to tell – despite extensive research into the field of local millinery we were unable to find even one sample where the Ventilationseinrichtung would have been used. It is rather doubtful, however, that it had become a hit considering than it would have made all those wearing it look and sound like Karlsson On The Roof long before Astrid Lindgren got a chance to attach a little fan to her character.

But we would be, of course, grateful for being proved wrong.


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