Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


Image: A section of Straube-Plan from 1910 - the Kriegzeug Magazin stood on the corner of Köpenicker and Zeughofstraße.

Image: A section of Straube-Plan from 1910 – the Kriegzeug Magazin stood on the corner of Köpenicker and Zeughofstraße.

The heavy storm which hit Berlin yesterday evening left the city flooded, confused and forced to push trams in the streets, using their bare hands only. Perhaps you have heard: a tree fell onto the overhead power lines in Oranienburgerstraße, bringing the passing tram to a halt – removing the tree required pushing the vehicle some 30 metres further to allow the fire-brigade to approach the accident spot. A group of eager pedestrians and some of the said tram´s passengers waited for the BVG to turn power off and proceeded to press their whole weight against the front of the car. Needless to say, it worked. This is one of those things that could only happen in Berlin. This is also something they will be able to tell their grand-children about.
Another, much less amusing, consequence of last night´s thunder-and-lightning show was a fire which broke out on the top floor of a residential building in Luitpoldstraße in Schöneberg. The fire was caused by a lightning. The question, of course, is: did the house have a lightning conductor? And if not, why not? After all they have been recommended as a safety precaution for well over past two centuries.
In 1777, on the corner of Köpenicker and Zeughofstraße in Kreuzberg, King Friedrich II had Berlin´s first lightning conductor installed on the Montierungsmagazin (or Kriegzeug Magazin) where the equipment for his army was held. The Prussian monarch knew of Benjamin Franklin´s invention and wished to prevent another horrific fire from breaking out in the city – for hundreds of years, fires were the most common cause of urban area destruction and Berlin was no exception. Interestingly, the name of the street Zeughofstraße refers to the war equipment storage it once housed, the storage for “Kriegzeug”.
In 1798 two prominent Berliners published books about the implementation of lightning conductors: David Gilly, Prussian architect and the architectural advisor, as well as Franz Carl Achard, an inventor and the man whose sugar beet sugar broke the British world sugar cane sugar monopoly. Achard knew what he was talking about – he got to know the destructive power of fire first hand: his own precious estate, where he worked on his numerous inventions, Gut Cunern (Konary in Poland today) burnt down during Napoleonic Wars.
What they recommended was sound and true. And it only confirmed the orders and recommendations included in the “Königliche Feuerverordnung” (Royal Fire Edict) of 1777. Which, by the way, was published exactly 239 today: it was issued on May 31, 1777.

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