Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


It´s a scorcher in Berlin today. By late afternoon the temperatures will reach around 31°C. You can either rely on air-conditioning, take a dip into one of Berlin´s numerous lakes (if you are lucky to have day off) or, if stuck in front of your computer at work, you could try and keep cool using traditional fans.

In 1878 a Berlin inventor added one more option to this, admittedly not were wide, array: he invented a cooling hat.

The idea, aimed principally at “the Forces”, was to provide a regular hat or a “Pickelhaube” (a spiked helmet worn by the army, the firefighters and the police in the 19th and early 20th century Germany) 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.

On August 15, 1878, Gustav Niemann, an engineer from Admiralstrase 15 in Kreuzberg, was granted a patent for “Ventilationseinrichtung an Kopfbedeckungen” or “headgear ventilation”.

From Berlin Directory 1878

From Berlin Directory 1878

Funny as it sounds to us, the mostly headgear-free generation, the problem Herr Niemann decided totackle was no trifle matter at all. As anyone who ever wore a hat, a beret or a baseball cap on a particularly warm day would know: underneath it 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”. Lest we forget, 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.

Herr Niemann´s final design was short of 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 the headpiece. The wire placed between the sweatband and the bottom of the crown assured access of fresh air which could then reach 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.

Original drawings of Gustav Niemann´s invention (Kaiserliches Patentamt - the original of the patent with notmsparker)

Original drawings of Gustav Niemann´s invention (Kaiserliches Patentamt – the original of the patent with notmsparker)

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”.

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. Which, as we know, means nothing but that it has not been confirmed yet:-)



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