Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


The main entrance to the building today (photo: notmsparker)

The main entrance to the building today (photo: notmsparker)

This impressive house on the corner of Linden- and Alte Jakobstrasse was designed by Erich Mendelsohn and Rudolph Reichel and built between 1929 and 1930 for the powerful Industriegewerkschaft Metall or “Industrial Union of Metalworkers”.

 The Union commissioned Mendelsohn as one of the leading German architects of the modernist movement: Neue Bauen (new way of buidling or new architecture).

 The style´s fans can enjoy the sight of several other Mendelsohn buildings in Berlin and around it today: Einstein Tower – the solar observatory – on the Telegraphenberg in Potsdam, the WOGA-Komplex and Universum-Kino or Schaubühne in Berliner Ku-Damm as it is known today or, our personal favourite, the Mossehaus in Schützenstrasse.

 The latter was converted by Mendelsohn in 1923 after the original Cremer&Wolffenstein building from 1901 was badly damaged during the Spartakists´ Uprising in 1919.

 In 1933 IG-Metall-Haus was taken over by Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF) or “German Labour Front” – a nationalist socialist trade union that replaced the non-Nazi structures after Hitler´s rise to power.

The exhibition "Gesundes Leben, Frohes Schaffen" (Healthy Living, Happy Creating/Producing) organised by DAF in IG-Metall-Haus in 1938 (photo: Bundesarchiv)

The exhibition “Gesundes Leben, Frohes Schaffen” (Healthy Living, Happy Creating/Producing) organised by DAF in IG-Metall-Haus in 1938 (photo: Bundesarchiv)

 Erich Mendelsohn, a Jew born in Allenstein (today Polish Olsztyn), left Berlin in Germany in the spring of 1933. His chances for further work or even survival in Berlin were close to none: his name was immediately struck from the registers of the German Architect´s Union and of the Prussian Academy of Arts.

 After a short stay in the UK he moved to Israel where he designed not only the famous Weizmann House and the labs for the Weizmann Institute of Science but also several other significant public buildings which represented a new style in architecture: the International Style.

 In 1941 Mendelsohn, now called Eric (he changed his first name while in the UK), emigrated to the USA where began designing again (although not without initial difficulties due to his status as an immigrant) and teaching at the University of California in Berkeley.

 Meanwhile, in 1945 a great fire devastated the IG-Metall-Haus in Berlin. One of the last truly significant jobs Mendelsohn found while in California was designing the so called “German Village” – replicas of average German housing estates so typical of the working-class boroughs of Berlin. They were needed in order to maximise the efficiency of the air-raids and the fire-bombing planned for German capital.

 Seen from this perspective it was almost as if the master destroyed his own masterpiece.

 The Haus des Deutschen Metallarbeiterverbandes was renovated seven years after the end of WW2 in 1952. Until today it remains a gem of modernist architecture in Germany´s capital and a pleasure to the eye when cycling past it on the way from Kreuzberg towards Berlin-Mitte.

 Erich (Eric) Mendelsohn died in San Francisco in 1953.

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