Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
According to the article published in the Staatsbürger-Zeitung, it all began on Monday night at around 2.30 AM. The storm clouds reached Berlin from the north-east and by 3.00 AM heavy hail came down, turning some of the streets back into winter landscapes. By 3.30 AM the layer of thick lumps of ice that covered the roads and the pavements in the south and the south-west of Prussian capital was up to 10 cm thick. It seemed it could not get any worse. And then, of course, it did.
After a perfect Sunday with clear blue skies and warm air inviting Berliners to go out and be merry, between 2.30 AM and 8.45 AM on April 14th, 1902 Berlin lived through the worst storm ever recorded in the city up to that day – the next such tempest would hit it only 62 years later, in 1964. The hail turned into torrential rain accompanied by an usual for this time of the year cannonade of thunders and lightings. By 4.30 AM it was the north of Berlin that stood directly under the main cloud masses.
Despite pumping stations working at full capacity, moving millions of litres of water out of the city and onto the Rieselfelder (irrigation fields) outside Berlin, as well as leading the flooding water through a special system of emergency canals towards the river Spree, its level kept rising. Within what felt like minutes practically the whole of Gesundbrunnen in Wedding was under water. Firemen were fishing out children helplessly floating down the streets on their beds, and babies – some of them still asleep – carried in their cribs by the torrents .
Still, it was getting worse by the minute. By now the tempest was raging and causing havoc all over the city. Many streets and squares were so badly flooded that they resembled not thoroughfares but lakes and rivers. Having washed sand and even paving stones off the streets, pushing them along with big lumps of hail into the gullies, the masses of water clogged the access to the storm sewers lying under the city. The drainage and sewerage systems were overwhelmed with such high levels of rainfall: that night the weather station in Teltower Strasse 8 (Obentrautstrasse today) in Kreuzberg recorded 92.8 mm of rain, the stations in Invalidenstrasse and Scharnohornstrasse (both in the north-west of Berlin) 155.9 mm and 166 mm respectively. On the same night the weather experts working in Baumschulenweg (the eastern borough of Treptow today) could write “0.9 mm” in their books…
Rainwater mixed with the contents of the sewerage system or cesspits and caused the manhole covers to pop out from below, releasing whatever that was that had gathered underneath. In the lower areas of the city like in Yorckstrasse, for instance, the pedestrians trying to make their way to work in the morning had to wade through 50 centimetres of this smelly sludge.
But the stench or the potential risk of another outbreak of cholera in Berlin were (at least for that moment) not the biggest worry. The torrential rain damaged foundations of many houses causing them to collapse and leaving their residents literally without a roof over their heads. The lightnings exploding above Berlin that night hit numerous tram masts. As a result, several fires broke out.
Berlin´s railway was another victim of the flood: the water washed out the embankments of the Nordbahn (the Northern Line) and the resulting embankment slip brought all train traffic to a halt for several days to come. What´s worse, the houses along the line were badly affected as well: those that did not collapse immediately often had to be demolished later. They were unsafe and unfit for living in.
After the skies cleared again and the water slowly disappeared from the streets of Berlin, and after the cellars were dried and the families living in them could move back in – being that much closer to developing tuberculosis and rickets – Berlin´s government decided to build the Nordgraben (The Northern Embankment) to protect the worst affected areas from the same fate in the future.
On April 17th Neue Vetschauer Zeitung, published in Brandenburg south of Berlin, informed its readers: “Lightning after lightning flared downwards onto the city, and each flash was followed by a tremendous thunder. Luckily, no grave accidents were recorded.”