Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
The house in Engeldamm 70 corner Michaelkirchplatz in Berlin-Mitte, regularly featured in the local news because of the attacks carried out by the stone-hurtling, self-proclaimed crusaders of the radical left, is one of the few original Taut buildings still standing in Berlin.
It was first designed in 1926/1927 by Bruno Taut, one of the leading members of the Bauhaus movement, upon the request from the German Transport Association. However, it was Max Taut, Bruno´s younger brother and likewise an architect, who gave the building its characteristic, modern shape with rounded off corners and the recessed top-floor. Max Taut adjusted Bruno´s plans in 1929 and supervised the construction of the house.
When finished in 1932 it became home to the central administration boards of the free trade unions – those which were not members of the big industrial unions at the time. Expropriated by the Nazis in 1933, the building in Engelufer (the name was changed to Engeldamm only in 1937 and between 1951 and 1991 bore the name of Fritz-Heckert-Strasse) mutated to the seat of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront, the German Workers´ Front as well as the HQ of the Berlin section of the Kraft Durch Freude, the state-run leisure promoting organisation and the then biggest “tourist agency” in the world.
Restored only several years after the war the building lost the remains of its originally dark stone façade and was covered with bright shell-bearing limestone plates instead. After 1961 it housed trade unions again. But this time it was the Free German Union Federation, the East German trade union alliance. That changed, of course, after 1989: the house on the edge of Engeldamm became the seat of the free unions from both sides of the former Wall (which ran, by the way, right in front of its door along Engel- and Bethaniendamm).
In 2002 the construction flaws discovered after the restoration of the building forced the big German union association ver.di to move out and the house stood locked up for almost 8 years. Until the next round of refurbishment and the conversion that lies at the heart of today´s conflict with the militant group of the most radical left, the Autonomen.
In 2014 new inhabitants moved into the by now residential building: private people with families as well as several company offices (occupying the ground-floor). Since then the house is under permanent attack – along with several other buildings around the Engelbecken (the small, man-made pond on the border between Berlin-Kreuzberg and Mitte), it became a symbol of social injustice and the grave consequences of gentrification.
The question is: would this beautiful, listed building whose costs of restoration were extremely high and which, like in the case of so many other Berlin treasures, threatened the Tauts´ design with death by dilapidation, have stood a chance of being saved otherwise? Without the help of wealthy private investors as well as of the flat owners who paid the bill for the refurbishment? Not very likely.