Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
On February 23, 1888 Berlin´s “Magistrat”, the city administration, decided to build a new inner harbour to take in an increasingly big volume of traffic on the city´s waterways.
The 1850 Landwehrkanal turned out to be too narrow to manage over 30,000 boats and typical Berlin barges (“Kähne“, today´s equivalent of delivery vans). The new harbour was planned as a large reloading site: the normally 20-metre wide canal had to be widened by another 125 metres and the whole basin reached 560 metres in length.
A 293-metre long loading island was built on the southern end of the harbour and separated from the “mainland” by another, smaller (22-metre wide) canal. The two were then connected by a lifting bridge. In this way, the large delivery barges could circumvent the island.
From 1923, Urbanhafen, like later Osthafen and Westhafen – two big Berlin inner harbours constructed in the early 20th century – was managed by BEHALA.
Urbanhafen – the word “Urban”, by the way, has nothing to do with a city but comes from a much older “Urlake” or “Erlenlake”, a swampy area in today´s Graefekiez dried thanks to the construction of the Landwehrkanal – served the city until the 1950s. In 1963/64 the remains of the harbour were removed and the site reclaimed by filling in the side canal and thus re-connecting it with the loading island.
In 1966-70 a local 19th-century hospital, Krankenhaus am Urban, located next to the old harbour, received a new building designed by Peter Poelzig, the son of a famous German pre-WWII architect, Hans Poelzig (the one of the Kino “Babylon” in Mitte).
It is interesting to know that the extremely popular green area created in front of the new hospital and stretching down to the water used to be Urbanhafen´s loading island.
Another curious fact: in June 1936 Urbanhafen was the site of the first inner-city motor-boat race in Berlin – a tradition continued after the Second World War until mid-1950s. Some of the elder residents of the neighbourhood around the harbour still remember the excitement and the noise.